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A Question of Peace
13 November 1999
Many Tamils will share the Sinhala visitor's hopes for peace in the island of Sri Lanka. At the same time, they will be mindful of the cautionary words of the Prussian military strategist Clausewitz more than a hundred years ago:
It has to be said that the struggle of the Tamil people is not simply about securing peace. After all, if it was simply a matter of securing peace, the Tamil people may have been well advised to accept the Sinhala Only Act without protest. Again, if it was simply peace that they sought, they may have been well advised to accept Sinhala colonisation of their homeland, standardisation of admission to Universities and submit to the attacks of 1958, 1961, and 1977, without protest. And, today, they may be well advised to support President Chandrika Kumaratunga's genocidal 'war for peace', accept Sinhala rule of the Tamil homeland - and secure peace.
But, the armed resistance of the Tamil people is not about securing 'peaceful' Sinhala rule. It is not about changing the character of Sinhala rule. It is not directed to securing 'benevolent' Sinhala rule. It is not directed to securing 'fair and just' Sinhala rule. After all, the British too offered to rule fairly and justly (and even benevolently) but this did not prevent those on whom the British sought to impose their alien rule, struggling for freedom.
The struggle of the Tamil people is about freedom from alien Sinhala rule. Sinhala rule is alien rule because the Sinhala people speak a different language to that of the Tamil people; because they trace their history to origins different from that of the Tamil people; and because their cultural heritage is different to that of the Tamil people.
It is Sinhala rule, because the undeniable political reality is that the political consciousness of the Sinhala people and the way they exercise their vote, is clearly determined by their separate language, by their separate history and by their separate cultural heritage - in short by their own separate Sinhala national identity. During the past several decades, in the island of Sri Lanka, no Tamil has ever been elected to an electorate which had a majority of Sinhala voters and no Sinhalese has ever been elected to an electorate which had a majority of Tamil voters. The practise of democracy within the confines of a single state has resulted in rule by a permanent Sinhala majority.
If democracy means the rule of the people, by the people, for the people then it must follow, as night follows day, that no one people may rule another. Democracy and self-determination are two faces of a single coin. The struggle of the Tamil people is rooted in their democratic right to rule themselves.
It is a struggle for self determination which the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam have led with tenacity and determination over the past several years. And their thiyagam has found an answering response in the hearts and minds of hundreds of thousands of Tamils living in many lands and across distant seas. Raj Swarnan has given expression to the feelings of many in a moving poem in Tamil:
That most Sinhala people will be unable to read the poem in Tamil (leave alone empathise with the sentiments that the poem expresses) will serve to underline the separate cultural, linguistic and historical identities of the two peoples who live in the island. It is a divide that will not be bridged by Sinhalese and Tamils talking to each other in English. It will be bridged only by an independent Tamil Eelam associating with an independent Sri Lanka in equality and in freedom.
In so far as the allegations made against the LTTE in respect of violations of humanitarian law are concerned, we do in fact, include links to the reports of the University Teachers for Human Rights (Jaffna Branch) which links appear in the section titled Human Rights & the Tamil Nation. And, that which is stated in the introduction to the UTHR reports will bear repetition here:
Those who deny the right of the people of Tamil Eelam to freedom from alien Sinhala rule and those who deny the legitimacy of the armed resistance movement, would have the Tamil people turn their backs on the LTTE, ignore decades of broken pacts and evasive proposals, and continue to make impotent pleas for 'human rights' and 'justice' from Sinhala dominated Sri Lanka governments who have systematically oppressed the Tamil people during the past several decades.
Admittedly an armed struggle is not a carte blanche to kill. But, having said that, neither is an armed struggle an afternoon tea party. The section on Readings on the Humanitarian Laws of Armed Conflict (at this website) will help to focus minds on some of the issues that inevitably arise as a war becomes total. Additionally, it may be useful to remember the words of Richard Swift in the New Internationalist:
Yes, the Tamil people do yearn for peace. An independent Tamil state can and will live in peace with an independent Sri Lanka. And, the Tamil people led by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam will negotiate with Sri Lanka the terms of that association - and there is everything to negotiate about.
Eriteria, Kosovo and East Timor show that the struggle of the Tamil people for an independent state is not unique. And here, there is a need, particularly for those 'who are interested in peace and prosperity in Sri Lanka and throughout the world' to accept the unfolding political reality of the fourth world. The words of Lila Watson come to mind: "If you have come to help me, you are wasting your time... But, if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together."