Saturday, May 16, 2009

War in Sri Lanka "over," but it's only just begun

The more than twenty-five year war in Sri Lanka between the Sinhalese and the Tamils appears to be over, with the government there declaring a "victory" over the Tamil Tigers, or LTTE. I am not familiar with all aspects of the conflict, but there can be no doubt that the humanitarian crisis was just a disaster waiting to happen and we're now seeing the results of that. Well, actually we can't since the Sri Lankan government has banned reporters from the last stronghold the Tigers had.
This situation has gone back and forth over the years, but it seems to me that some in the Western world have seen this as a black and white issue, with political parties taking sides depending on how the wind blows and governments changing policies as different parties take power. However, the Tigers do not represent the Tamil community as a whole and it is only in the last few years that governments both left and right have come to realize that the LTTE is in fact a terrorist group that uses very unsavoury tactics, such as extortion, piracy on the high seas, and recruiting child soldiers. One can no more separate the LTTE from its political wing than he or she can separate the IRA from Sinn Féin in both Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic.

The Tamil community does claim a large part of the island of Sri Lanka as its own (as well as the state of Tamil Nadu in India), and it is hoped by many that saner heads can finally prevail and some kind of settlement can be reached that satisfies all communities there -- but for now one has to deal with the immediate crisis, the thousands of refugees that have been created; as well as the almost dead silence we have heard from the Conservatives on this other than the fact they classified the LTTE as a terrorist group in 2006 (as did the European Union).
Terrorism should not be tolerated under any circumstances. To brush all Tamils with the same paintbrush, however, is also intolerable and one can appreciate from that perspective why such tactics as blocking major highways have had to be resorted to. It's important to remember there is a large ex-patriate community in Canada and like other immigrant communities the Tamils vote.
Alienating several hundred thousand voters is not my way of capturing power, it's a recipe for losing it. And people have the right to fly a Tamil flag (which just happens to have a tiger on it) as much as one can fly the flag of the Viet Cong or the Confederate States -- just as people have the right to burn a flag of any country, subnational jurisdiction, or ethnic minority.

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