UNCEASING WAVES

Why I Refuse to Share Aylan Kurdi’s Picture

Posted in Liberation Struggles, War by Karthick RM on August 14, 2016

Originally published on Huffington Post

For the past few days, liberal activists have been busy on the social media sharing the picture of a Syrian Kurdish child, dead on the shores of a Turkish beach, owing to the refugee boat carrying his family to Europe capsizing in the seas. Liberals lament the deteriorating human rights situation in Syria and urge for Western governments to be more welcoming of refugees, using this image as an emotional rallying point. Indeed, the image of the lifeless 3 year old Aylan Kurdi is soul-crushing.

But I refuse to share it.

Aylan Kurdi and his family hail from Kobane, the town in Northern Syria where the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) have been putting up a fierce and principled resistance to the ISIS gang. YPG is an offshoot of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) that is struggling for autonomy and a democratic confederalist model in the Kurdish regions in Turkey. While these Kurdish organizations have been consistent in their opposition to ethnic fascism and religious fundamentalism, the Turkish state has been consistent in its efforts to hurt them militarily and politically.
Even as the Turkish President Erdogan mourns the death of Aylan Kurdi, the Turkish police continue to kill children as young as the 13 year old Cemile Cagirga in counterinsurgency operations. The offices of the People’s Democratic Party (HDP) have been attacked and their cadres arbitrarily arrested by the police. Erdogan’s assertion that they are more concerned about the PKK than the ISIS is quite revealing of Turkey’s priorities.

Turkey, a NATO ally, is encouraged by the fact that the PKK is still a banned organization in several Western countries and that the US has remained mum over its continued assaults on Kurdish forces, democratic organizations and armed revolutionaries alike. Victory of PKK and their affiliates will alter the entire region of the middle-east. Not only will it halt the march of Islamist fundamentalism, it will also place a check to political and economic systems that engineer conflicts that generates refugees. In other words, a Kurdish victory would mean no more Aylan Kurdis.

But while it is anathema for liberals to support such a radical organization, images of dead Kurdish children find many takers. What is to be mercilessly questioned now is not just the xenophobia of right-wingers in Europe, but also this depoliticized humanitarianism that loves victims and ignores revolutionaries.
A similar thing happened in the case of the Eelam Tamils and the genocide in Sri Lanka. Western liberals, at their best, were ignorant of the resistance of the Tamil Tigers, the leading representatives of the Tamil Eelam national liberation struggle. At their worst, they condemned without heed to context the ‘excesses’ of a popular movement that sought to create an egalitarian, secular, gender-just state because it did not adhere to their human rights standards. Of course, these liberals and their allies were on the forefront marketing gory images and humanitarian sad stories of Tamil victims who were brutalized by the Sri Lankan state – after subtracting core political questions.
But then, it is easier to garner cheap sympathy – and costly funding – with pictures of broken bodies; conveying solidarity with militants fighting for radical change requires a different mindset than what the dominant liberalism offers. At the risk of sounding cold, we must resist the temptation to be charmed by the outpouring of sympathy for images suffering refugees, and also to market such images to feed into the political economy of white guilt. As a lead character in Dostoevsky’s The Devils observed, there is something morally depraving about charity. What is even more depraving is this charitable human rights sentiment shamelessly catering to its own narcissistic guilt by weeping over images of dead refugees while conveniently ignoring those fighting to end the system that creates dead refugees.
Or to put it simply: If you cannot support the Kurds fighting to end the brutalities of racism, fundamentalism and genocide, fighting to create a system based on social and economic justice, do not bother to shed tears over Aylan Kurdi.
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The Master and his Puppets: Some Comments on ‘Tamil Moderates’

Posted in Politics, War by Karthick RM on May 18, 2013

Article jointly written by Krisna Saravanamuttu and myself. Originally published on JDS

Unca Sam's HR concernsAround Geneva, the Rajapaksa regime and its mercenaries raise some self-righteous noise against the ‘neo-colonialists’ in the West. Quarters in the US-led West, tired with Rajapaksa’s intransigence wrt the human rights situation in the island and his supposed inability to provide a stable liberal democratic regime, have been releasing this report and that resolution criticizing the current state of affairs in the island. This contradiction will grow. The US will get angry with Sri Lanka for being unable to provide stability. Its natural allies then will be the Tamils, who are inherently free-market capitalists. And voila, you will have Tamil Eelam on a platter.

Or so some Tamil pundits in the West fantasize. And thus, they believe that it is in the best interest of the Tamil nation to adopt the narrative of ‘reconciliation and accountability’ that is chanted as a prayer in the hallways of Geneva. You don’t want to disappoint your large hearted allies after all.

We wish we could share such colorful dreams, but realpolitik is sadly very sober and requires a ratiocination of the most rigorous kind. Trust ‘Taraki’ Sivaram, senior editor of TamilNet and military analyst, an exemplar of parrhesia, the courage to speak truth to power, and who was assassinated for the same virtue.

In the feature he was working on at the time of his death, ‘US’s strategic interests in Sri Lanka’, noting the defense cooperation between US-Sri Lanka, Sivaram argued that “Stabilizing the Sri Lanka state was considered critical for the US at this juncture to consolidate and cement its strategic interests here. The LTTE was a stubborn impediment to achieving this end – particularly the constant threat to Trincomalee and Palaly. Containing the Liberation Tigers and making them more malleable were also identified as priorities.”

A year later, the west managed peace process collapsed, LTTE was criminalized in Europe under US-UK pressure, and Sri Lanka got a free hand to continue its war on the Tamil nation to the best of its potential. And oh, the Sri Lanka signed the Acquisition and Cross Service Agreement with the USA in 2007, a deal to secure exchanges in logistical support, supplies and services. On another front, the Tamil diaspora was extensively studied by US based defense corporations like RAND in studies like the 2001 publication “Trends in Outside Support for Insurgent Movements” or the 2007 article by William Rosenau ‘Subversion and Insurgency’, where the author describes the LTTE as “Subversion on five continents”.[1] The internationally coordinated COIN ops against the Tamil struggle that led to the climax of the genocidal war in 2009 have been discussed earlier.

But why criticize American concern for human rights now? Doesn’t Uncle Sam have a heart after all?

In his feature referred above, Sivaram had said “The ‘management’ of the ethnic conflict, among other things, is also important for the US to “sufficiently” expand and consolidate its military and intelligence relations with Sri Lanka as an important security partner in the region.”

One portion of this ‘management’ was the internationally coordinated war on the LTTE. And the US is pretty honest on this – Ambassador Michelle Sison in an event in Sri Lanka on March 2013 affirmed “The U.S. also helped the government and people of Sri Lanka in every way we could to try to end the LTTE’s reign of terror”. She also talked about reconciliation and accountability.

Moreover, to properly analyze the current American engagement with the Tamil liberation struggle, we must objectively establish the history of US engagement with the island’s politics. To this end, Jeffrey Lunstead, former US Ambassador to Sri Lanka and the Maldives, provides an insider’s perspective in his report The United States’ Role in Sri Lanka’s Peace Process. Though the US publicly espoused its support to a politically negotiated solution, in actuality it provided a “commitment to strengthening the Sri Lankan Armed Forces”.[2] The American strategy marginalized the LTTE in the international arena (i.e. maintaining the LTTE on the Foreign Terrorist Organization list, excluding the LTTE from the Washington Donor Conference) and intensified the US military-to-military relationship with the Sri Lankan government.

Mahinda Rajapaksa was sworn in on 19th November 2006. Two days later Under Secretary Burns said “We also believe that the Tamil Tigers, the LTTE, is a terrorist group responsible for massive bloodshed in the country and we hold the Tamil Tigers responsible for much of what has gone wrong in the country. We are not neutral in this respect. We support the government”.[3]

The Americans provided the Sri Lankans with training, education, and weapons infrastructure. The US played a key role in cutting off the LTTE’s own financial networks yet it handed over millions in foreign military funding to the Sri Lankan government. And Paul Moorcraft, a British military analyst, in his recent book on the war in the island notes the level of assistance that the US gave to Sri Lanka, including the advice to use cluster bombs against the Tamil population.[4] All this while the US insisted that it sought to deter war and not encourage it.

The other portion of this ‘management’ is best observed at, what one diaspora grassroots activist so poignantly termed, ‘the Geneva thiruvizha’. Introducing the US sponsored resolution on Sri Lanka, 2013. No talk on Tamil nationhood. No talk on Tamil genocide. No mention even of the word ‘Tamil’. But yes, “reconciliation and accountability.”

In order to pacify the Diaspora, the backers of US based resolution give the false impression that it is against Sri Lanka and its adoption would somehow benefit the Tamils. The resolution, whose only implicit reference to the Tamil struggle is ‘terrorism’, harps on reconciliation and the LLRC as a solution to the ongoing conflict. The undeniable fact, however, is that the LLRC was conceived as an escape route for Sri Lanka. When legitimate criticism does emerge about the LLRC based approach, the knee jerk reaction of its lobbyists is to simply argue that the UNHRC resolution is a ‘first step.’ A fine ‘first step’ indeed. Towards a political disaster, perhaps.

After the Mullivaaykaal genocide, Sivaram’s analysis of COIN remains critical to assessing American engagement with the Tamil Diaspora. A key COIN tactic Sivaram addressed was “the promotion and propagation of the conceptual/political dichotomy of the moderate and the militant/terrorist”.[5] Today the Diaspora seems to be a target in US COIN strategy, wherein “the global proscription regime is an institutional, structural violence which criminalizes diaspora politics and affective connections to the idea of Tamil Eelam”.[6] Unfortunately, some sections of the Tamil lobby Diaspora developed selective amnesia regarding US intervention to tilt the parity of status earned by the Tamils in favor of the Sri Lankan war machinery.

First, any serious observer of the Tamil Liberation struggle cannot deny the role played by the global Tamil Diaspora. After all, it was the same Diaspora that was criminalized through the US led proscription of the LTTE in the western world due to its moral, political and economic support of the liberation struggle. The U.S. Army & Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Field Manual 3-24 (2007) advises, “Victory is achieved when the populace consents to the government’s legitimacy and stops actively and passively supporting the insurgency”. Thus, to establish victory over the Tamil independence struggle on the international front, the Tamil Diaspora must be conceptually and politically demobilized from its primary objective.

The pro US lobbyists may argue that the Americans looked away in a ‘war without witnesses.’ The sad truth, as seen above, is that the Americans and their allies provided the weapons and the diplomatic cover for Sri Lanka to commit the 2009 genocide. The defeat of the LTTE and the 2009 genocide are an example of what Herman and Peterson called a “constructive genocide” that served the major US interests of stabilizing the island by getting rid of the stubborn LTTE impediment.

With the defeat of the military force of Tamil independence, the US fixed its aims on the Diaspora political force by seeking to reshape and moderate the terms of the debate. Classical COIN theorists like Galula have stressed the importance of the counterinsurgent to work on appropriating and diluting the cause of the insurgent so as to eradicate support while contemporary theorists like Kilcullen have stressed the importance of creating an alternate narrative that excludes the narrative of the insurgent.

To distort and dilute the cause of the Tamil liberation struggle, the LLRC based approach is attempting to change and moderate the debate from sovereignty, freedom, and self-determination to accommodation, integration and co-existence, thus moderating the perception of the oppressed about the conflict rather than helping end the system of oppression itself. The debate shifts from genocide and national liberation to individual human rights problems and political devolution, which can be rectified under a more liberal, democratic Sri Lankan regime. A recent TamilNet feature raised a question whether resolutions and HR reports that fail to recognize genocide or Tamil sovereign nationhood is the other side of a coin where military minds hail the ‘Sri Lanka model’ as a successful addition to COIN theory.

The lobbyists in favor of the US resolution are given the bait of political recognition while those who reject it on principled grounds are deemed as radicals and leftists. The ‘moderates’ are seen to be effective because they can invite their political masters in the west to their meetings and engage in photo ops with them. Yet, the ‘moderates’ can only beg for scraps of justice from their masters but remain powerless to halt, challenge or even address western complicity in the structural and protracted genocide that the Tamil homeland endures.

Why does this same lobby not reject the US approach and demand a more concrete political program of an international investigation and a referendum to establish a sovereign Tamil Eelam? Hair-splitting and claims of being pragmatic aside, the answer is that the pro-US lobby will lose its utility in the eyes of its political superiors at the US State Department. Some take up the ‘reconciliation for all citizens’ narrative as conscious agents, getting perks, grants, and funding. Others do it as unconscious agents, in the best of intentions that by bending over backwards, the world powers will pay heed to Tamil suffering and deliver justice. Either way, the effect is the same.

Of course, the liberal lobbyist brigades will argue that they are keenly aware of the broader strategy at play. These ‘moderates’ insist that they are politically savvy and clever enough to navigate through the western agenda and secure Tamil liberation. Sadly, it is one thing to think like an American and an entirely different thing to think the way the American wants you to think. Confused and impotent, they forget that the dog can wag the tail but the tail can never wag the dog.

Through the use of a resolution that is impotent as far as the Tamil nation is concerned and reports that do not address the crucial questions facing the Tamil nation, the US is pushing for a more user-friendly regime in Colombo. Emphasizing the paradigm of human rights and reconciliation over liberation and justice will in the end only help Sri Lanka rehabilitate itself in the world when a more liberal regime takes over from Rajapaksa.

Like the butchers Pinochet, Pol Pot or the recent Efrain Rios Montt, it can be argued that the US may someday discard Rajapaksa when his usefulness to them is over – or it may not. Rajapaksa’s personal fortunes or misfortunes are of no concrete concern to the Tamil nation. The point is whether Tamil Eelam is to be or not to be. And those who choose to obscure it are by definition against it. It is that simple.

But do puppets ever see the strings attached?

Notes:

1. William Rosenau, “Subversion and Insurgency”, RAND Report prepared for the Office of Secretary of Defence, 2007, p12

2. Jeffrey Lunstead “The United States’ Role in Sri Lanka’s Peace Process: 2002-2006.” Colombo 7: The Asia Foundation (2007), p17

3. Ibid, p39

4. Paul Moorcraft, “Total Destruction of the Tamil Tigers: The Rare Victory of Sri Lanka’s Long War”, South Yorkshire: Pen and Sword, (2012), p110

5. Mark Whitaker, “Learning Politics From Sivaram: The Life and Death of a Revolutionary Tamil Journalist in Sri Lanka”, London: Pluto Press, (2007), p152

6. Vicki Sentas’ “One more successful war? Tamil diaspora and counter-terrorism after the LTTE” in “Counter-Terrorism and state political violence: The ‘war on terror’ as terror” edited by Scott Poynting and David Whyte, Routledge (2012), p111

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Genocide as Counterinsurgency – Brief Notes on the “Sri Lanka Model”

Posted in Politics, War by Karthick RM on October 12, 2012

Originally published on Sanhati

Speaking at a conference at Trinity College, Dublin on 24th May 2012 titled ‘The Local and the Global: The Geopolitics of Peace and Conflict’ exiled Sinhala journalist Bashana Abeywardane, opined that genocide was used as a Counterinsurgency (COIN) strategy by the Sri Lankan state to crush the armed struggle for a sovereign state of Tamil Eelam led by the LTTE. Citing British military strategist Frank Kitson, who had played an important role in suppressing the Mau Mau uprising and the insurgency of the Malayan Communist Party, Mr. Abeywardane said that when you want to neutralize an insurgency movement, you must destroy its “genuine subversive element” – arguing that in the case of Sri Lanka, the genuine subversive element in the island was the Tamil population as such. He further cited geo-political factors that influenced the decision of the world powers to support the Sri Lankan state’s military offensive leading up to May 2009, arguing that the island held geo-strategic importance only if it was a unitary political entity.

COIN, as the term suggests, is a war manoeuvre used against insurgents by states. While the principal feature of COIN is to ensure that a state facing an insurgency does not lose its constitutional-legal monopoly over violence in the territory it controls/seeks to control over to the insurgents, there are specific cases where COIN gains additional features as well. According to David Kilcullen, a leading COIN expert based in the US, counterinsurgency “is an umbrella term that describes the complete range of measures that governments take to defeat insurgencies. These measures may be political, administrative, military, economic, psychological, or informational, and are almost always used in combination.” He further adds that to understand strategies deployed in particular conflicts it is necessary to take into consideration “the nature of the insurgency being countered, the nature of the government being supported, and the environment—especially the human environment—in which the conflict takes place.”

As a phenomenon, countering insurgencies is as old as states and empires. As a concept, study in COIN gained momentum in the colonial period so as to deal with frequently occurring rebellions in colonies as well as to counter the “communist menace”. As a science, it grew with late modernity and the rise of what ‘Taraki’ Sivaram (iconic Eelam Tamil journalist, military analyst and senior editor of TamilNet who was assassinated by Colombo in 2005) called “counter-insurgency nation-states”. We must understand that COIN has developed as a science, deployed by specific actors in specific conditions as a science. And by virtue of its being a science, each deployment – whether successful, partially successful, or failed – is closely followed, studied and applied by various states engaged in COIN operations according to the particular conditions they encounter.

Some refined political analysts, understanding the geo-strategic importance of Sri Lanka, have argued that the Sri Lankan war machine was ideologically and materially equipped in its COIN operations against the Tigers by a confluence of world powers. Reflecting on this, Mark Whitaker writes in his biography of ‘Taraki’ Sivaram that “by the middle 1990s Sivaram had come to view Sri Lanka’s conflict as a kind of military-political laboratory in which the various repressive forces of late modernity (local and international) were testing their clever, often cruel, counter-insurgency tactics”. Just that the lab rats favoured by the world powers in the island had genocidal intentions.

From here, we need to chalk out those points that need to be outlined so as to further study the ‘Sri Lanka model’ of COIN – both objective conditions and subjective forces that existed in the island.

Objective conditions:

1) Location of the island of Sri Lanka makes it geo-strategically important. The position of the island between the routes of the Straits of Malacca and Hormuz make it an excellent base for a power seeking to exert influence in the Indian-Pacific waters;

2) Demographic distribution in the island, with the Eelam Tamils identifying the North and East region as their traditional homeland (i.e. Tamil Eelam).

Subjective forces:

3) A virulent strain of Sinhala/Sri Lankan nationalism that seeks to forcibly assimilate Eelam Tamils through Sinhalization, which possesses a neanderthal paranoia about external Tamil conspiracies to take over/divide its Sri Lanka, seeing the entire island as primarily Sinhala property, and exercises control over both repressive and ideological state apparatus;

4) An Eelam Tamil nationalism that had manifested itself as an armed struggle, that aspired for a political solution based on the right of nations to self-determination;

5) World powers with vested interests in preserving the unitary state structure of Sri Lanka.

The author needn’t spend time in elaborating on point (3). The inherent appeal for genocide that such a strain of nationalism would possess should be evident to readers. Suffice to point out that the ideological patriarch of Sinhala nationalism, Anagarika Dharmapala, a xenophobic monk who expounded theories of Sinhala race superiority and the need for their lebensraum, was greatly impressed by Japanese militarist nationalism. No wonder that what his sons did at Mullivaikaal is compared by Tamils to the Rape of Nanking.

Point (4) needs some observation. The armed struggle for Tamil Eelam led by the LTTE was categorized under “Identity-Focused Strategy” by the US Field Manual 3-24.2 on ‘Tactics in Counterinsurgency’ (April 2009). According to the manual, “The identity-focused strategy mobilizes support based on the common identity of religious affiliation, clan, tribe, or ethnic group. In this strategy, legitimacy and popular support are tied to their identity and, often, no effort is made to garner popular support outside their identity. Rather, communities often join the insurgent movement as a whole, bringing with them their existing social or military hierarchy. External support is garnered from international elements of the same identity.” Further, it is argued that this strategy “Protects what it considers the interest of the identity”, and “Mass base easily aligns with insurgency objectives.” In other words, the goals of this type of an insurgency includes preserving and protecting political, historical and cultural symbols that are of core value to the community, and the strength of this type of an insurgency is the support it enjoys amongst masses adhering to an identity.

To use Sivaram’s analysis [1], the LTTE, after it developed into a conventional army effectively challenging the monopoly of violence that the Sinhala state possessed, required the following conditions:

(A) A politically motivated population from which to raise battalions;
(B) An economy to raise resources to clothe, arm, feed and deploy its forces;
(C) A secure territory to train and barrack the forces;
(D) An efficient logistics system;
(E) Facilities to treat a battalion of wounded fighters.

To this, I would like to add another crucial condition (F), namely, a rear base to withdraw should a situation emerge when the best fighting forces risk complete annihilation. The Tigers had this in Tamil Nadu till the point when the Indian government turned hostile towards the Eelam Tamils’ struggle. The neutralization of the rear base by India cut-off the only possible, strategically favourable sanctuary the insurgents had in the region.

Other than this, the LTTE’s de facto state that emerged after hugely successful military operations against the Sri Lankan military secured all other conditions. Popular support among the Eelam Tamil people, a civilian infrastructure that functioned like a ‘normal’ government with its system of taxation, funds from a million strong diaspora, medical facilities to treat the wounded, a political and military stronghold in the Vanni region, and logistics system secured mainly through control of the sea with the Sea Tigers.

It was this force that the Sri Lankan state faced. From the conditions that the LTTE secured in their de facto state, we can map out those measures taken to destroy them.

Measures adopted by Sri Lankan government to destroy the LTTE:

(I) The measures taken by the co-chairs (the group of US, EU, Norway and Japan who were ‘managing’ the peace process initiated between the LTTE and the Sri Lankan government since 2002 till its collapse in 2006) in the ceasefire period to restrict taxation by the LTTE in the territory in governed – but considering the taxation of the Sri Lankan government as legitimate [2];

(II) The measures taken in the ceasefire period to restrict the movement of the Sea Tigers, thereby affecting flow of logistics;

(III) Foreign intelligence supplied to the Sri Lankan military to target and attack the Sea Tigers’ bases, boats and supply channels;

(IV) Proscription of the LTTE in Western countries where the Tamil diaspora is present, arrests of diaspora activists and criminalization of fund raising for political or relief purposes [3];

(V) Sri Lanka’s undeclared embargo on food, medical and other basic supplies to LTTE controlled regions;

(VI) Sri Lanka ‘compelling’ the pull-out of relief organizations and NGOs after the collapse of the peace process in 2006;

(VII) Sri Lankan military’s systematic targeting of hospitals, educational institutions and food supplies so as to leave the Tiger’s civilian infrastructure in complete disarray;

(VIII) Making the secure territory of the insurgents insecure for the population;

(IX) Collective trauma inflicted to hurt not the insurgent alone, but the population as such, so as to destroy their political motivation. A study of the patterns of claymore attacks, Kfir bombings, and artillery shelling by the Sri Lankan military would show that these were intended to target the Tamil population primarily. Add to this cordon and search operations in Sri Lanka overrun Tamil territory, creation of High Security Zones and military enclaves, military checkpoints that make the Sinhala repressive state appear omnipresent, destruction of Tamil cultural and political symbols, routine tortures, rapes, interrogations, disappearances etc. The point is, reduce the population to subhuman conditions that let alone being political, even to be treated as something close to a human would appear as an act of benevolence by the Sinhalese.;

(X) Finally, with all external factors in its favour, with the political space for the Tigers completely blocked, and the internal factor of Sinhala nationalism being at an all time high, using the moment to inflict as much casualties as possible on the Eelam Tamil people as a warning of what would happen to those resisting Sinhala hegemony.

The adoption of these measures led to Mullivaikaal, with 40000 plus dead and many more disappeared. An observation of these measures shows that while the genocidal intention of internal actors in the state influenced the manner in which they handled conditions (A) and (C), the counter-strike to conditions (B) (D) (E) and (F) was dealt wholly or largely by external forces. Or, the external forces, which had vested interests in the island, created favourable conditions for the Sri Lankan state to unify the island through whatever means possible.

It all these known factors taken into account that made the ‘Sri Lanka model’ tick.

What followed after shows Sri Lanka’s operations did not stop with the military defeat of the Tigers. They are listed out as points to give readers a general overview – ideally, each of the points merits separate analysis – of what is happening in the so-called ‘post-war’ era. Some of these factors have been listed by Sivaram much earlier as being part of a COIN strategy.

— Increased military presence in the North and East and creation of military bases in Tamil areas. A report published in the July 14, 2012 issue of the Economic and Political Weekly titled “Notes on the Military Presence in Sri Lanka’s Northern Province” states that military to civilian ratio in the North is as high as 1:5 – higher than Kashmir. The Sinhala military monitors, dominates and penetrates all aspects of social, cultural and political life of the Eelam Tamils be it civil society protests, religious festivals or birthday celebrations. Paul Virilio contends that “Whoever controls the territory possesses it. Possession of territory is not primarily about laws and contracts, but first and foremost a matter of movement and circulation.” Sinhala military control of Tamil territory equals Sinhala possession over it, to facilitate smooth access of the Sinhala state apparatus to all corners of the island.

— Settlement of Sinhalese from the South in places where Tamils have been displaced. Tamil activists argue that this is a system of colonization intended to destroy the territorial integrity of the Tamil homeland by bringing about demographic changes that would make them a minority in their own areas.

— Building of Buddhist statues and monuments celebrating Sinhalese triumph in Tamil areas often carried side-by-side with destruction and desecration of places of political or cultural importance to the Tamils.

— Parcelling out Tamil lands to foreign investors through a military-corporate nexus. A combine of free-market capitalism that respects no borders and a militarist state that is bent on breaking the sovereignty that the Tamils aspire to, works towards facilitating exploitation of human and material resources available in the Tamil homeland.

– Induced proliferation of drugs, alcohol and pornography among the Tamil people. Likewise, a high prevalence of sexual abuse of Eelam Tamil women by the Sri Lankan military and police forces has also been recorded. An ICG report on “Sri Lanka: Women’s Insecurity in the North and East” credits this to the overwhelming military presence in the Tamil areas. However, the analysis and conclusions of this report has been criticized by Tamil feminists and scholars for failing to recognize the genocidal nature of the sexual violence perpetrated on the Eelam Tamils. Analysts further say that all of these processes have been intended to systematically tear the socio-cultural fabric that binds the Tamil people

— ‘Disappearances’ and routine psychological harassments of ex-LTTE cadres not just to make them broken persons, but also to warn those around of the consequences of rebellion. Particularly affected are women combatants. A TamilNet analytical feature details how women cadres have been subject to abuse and in many cases, forced pregnancies, in the course of ‘rehabilitation’. The fate of about 2000-3000 women cadres is still unknown, the feature notes.

What is to be noted here is that none of the world powers that aided the Sri Lankan state with ammunition and ideas, some of who have now started to ask the Sri Lankan government to speedily implement the “positive recommendations” of the ‘reconciliation’ commission setup by it, have addressed even one of these issues with the seriousness it deserves. Likewise, while the Sinhala nationalists justify/deny the above in the name of security, other observers call these processes a protracted genocide, results of structural violence. These are the effects of the ‘Sri Lanka model’ on the Eelam Tamil nation.

The science of COIN will add the ‘Sri Lanka model’ in its ambit. Already, numerous states across the world facing insurgencies have threatened to do a Sri Lanka on the rebelling people. Turkey of late has been making most references in public to this model to the Kurds. But as mentioned above, the success of the ‘Sri Lanka model’ depended on a combination of internal and external factors, objective conditions and subjective forces, none of which will be found at a different time and a different place – the laboratory and the lab rats would not be the same elsewhere. We must also realize that international legitimacy, ideas and weapons from all directions given to the internal actors who had genocidal intention played the major role in effecting the defeat of the insurgents and the concomitant genocide than the internal actors themselves. Other states needn’t have all the advantages that Sri Lanka had.

Then again, no COIN expert worth his salt would suggest a blind imitation of this model. It needs to be restated here that there is no pure model of COIN – each one influences the other and in turn is influenced by others. What will happen is that those aspects of the ‘Sri Lanka model’ that can find applicability in other conflicts will be studied deeper and applied accordingly.

One can see at least 3 general lessons emerging from the ‘Sri Lanka model’ that other states might find appealing to deal with insurgencies.

– Military solution first. Display ruthlessness in securing your hegemony and the population will be willing to accept any political solution you throw at them later.

– Winning ‘hearts and minds’ is outdated. Break the spine of the population; throw fear in their hearts and numb their minds. They will be grateful to you for letting them to just live.

– The press does nothing to influence public opinion that you don’t want it to. If they are against you, they are with the ‘terrorists’ and are to be dealt accordingly.

What this would mean for people involved in struggles against various oppressive governments is left to the reader’s imagination.

Notes:
[1] See Mark Whitaker, “Learning Politics From Sivaram: The Life and Death of a Revolutionary Tamil Journalist in Sri Lanka”, London: Pluto Press, (2007) p. 146.
[2] For further information on how the LTTE’s Peace Secretariat viewed the tilting of the parity of status by the co-chairs through various means during the peace talks, click this link.
[3] For a more elaborate account of how the criminalization of Tamil diaspora politics is still taking place in the West so as to arm-twist them to drop the demand for Tamil Eelam, refer to Vicki Sentas’ chapter “One more successful war? Tamil diaspora and counter-terrorism after the LTTE” in “Counter-Terrorism and state political violence: The ‘war on terror’ as terror” edited by Scott Poynting and David Whyte, Routledge (2012).

Deconstructing Sri Lanka’s reconciliation discourse

Posted in Politics, War by Karthick RM on June 18, 2012

Originally published on JDSLanka

When the Lankan government triumphantly announced the ‘defeat’ of the LTTE on May 19th 2009, there was great jubilation among chauvinist forces in the island. While there are more than enough credible evidences to show what happened to the Eelam Tamils during this period and after – killing of civilians, mass rapes, routinization of torture, denial of medical care to the sick and the injured, to name a few – popular enthusiasm for the regime that made this possible was at its peak in the south.

And after the smoke in Vanni subsided and the diaspora began turning on the heat for an independent international investigation to probe charges of genocide, a word started entering the discourse around Sri Lanka in a big way. Reconciliation. Gotabaya talks of it. The opposition talks of it. Liberal Sinhala and Tamil activists talk of it. India and the West talk of it. NGOs talk of it. But many Tamils remain cynical of the word, three years after Mullivaikaal.

The LLRC

An elaborate report tabled by experts handpicked by the Sri Lankan government called the ‘Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission’ waxed eloquent on measures to be taken so as to achieve unity in the island. While the report completely exonerates the government, let alone from charges of genocide, from even the liberal accusations of human rights violations, it lays the blame for the misery of the Eelam Tamils squarely on the most committed defenders of their interests, the Tigers. Adding the necessary points on the need to address this or that grievance to give itself some credibility to observers, the report brims with enthusiasm for building a united Sri Lanka. Multi-lingual schools, bilingual anthems, pluralist approach to culture, people to people contact, and yes, mechanisms “that would effectively address and discourage secessionist tendencies and safeguard the sovereignty and integrity of the State.” Over the bones of the more than hundred thousand dead Tamils, that is. The real message of the devisors of the LLRC seems to be that Tamils have learnt a lesson and must reconcile to the fact that they are a minority at the tender mercies of the state, not a nationality, and that the there is no imagination beyond the unitary Sri Lanka. And yes, that the LTTE and its ‘secessionist’ project is a ghost of the past.

The same spirit was reflected in the recent US backed resolution in the Geneva UNHRC session, which called for a speedier implementation of the LLRC (a resolution rightly criticized by the civil society in the island, activists in Tamil Nadu and politically informed organizations in the diaspora for being grossly inadequate). Unfortunately for the international powers, GoSL and all the mechanisms it might promote through the recommendations of the LLRC, some ghosts do haunt the Sri Lankan and Eelam Tamil polities. This was evident in the commemoration of Heroes Day in many parts of the territory of Tamil Eelam despite open threats from the occupying Sri Lankan military, and in the continuing apprehension of Rajapaksa that the Tigers may come back with their ‘secessionist’ project. But again, why retrieve the dead? Why to exorcise ghosts when they can be written away by such reports promising harmony in the future? Or, why is it that the Sri Lankan model of ‘reconciliation’ appears a joke for the Tamils?

Questioning ‘reconciliation’

The term ‘reconciliation’ originally is derived from the Christian theological concept of ending the gap between god and man, through atonement of the latter. In politics, it is a liberal concept where one socio-political group of people – which formerly was privileged in a system that worked against the detriment of another group – constitutes a series of legal and symbolic acts, mostly with assistance and participation of the affected group, with or without external mediators, so as to create political and more importantly psychological conditions to generate a social harmony that was lacking in the past. To draw an analogy from the Christian concept, let’s say, the dominant group atones for its sins against the oppressed group.

One can presume that that the cynicism shown by atheists to this theological concept that material sin can be expiated through symbolic gestures will be shared by radicals towards the political concept. As the flaw with liberalism goes, the system is not radically restructured, only reformed so that certain grievances of the affected group are addressed and the psyche of the group is assuaged that some credible changes have taken place. Case to consider: South Africa, where despite the much talked about reconciliation process and the feeling of empowerment among the Blacks post-apartheid, the vast majority of wealth is still in White hands. The effects of reconciliation, we must understand, are meant to be more psychological among the oppressed groups than material.

Nevertheless, to be fair to the liberal pundits of reconciliation theory, psychological impacts do affect material conditions to some extent. A feeling of social harmony can effect some positive political changes within a system, though these changes needn’t be the ones that the oppressed group had initially desired. Elaboration is not necessary on how illusions of the justness of a political order can maintain it. So let us consider here the arguments of Dr. Alexander Boraine, by no means a radical, one of the main architects of South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the co-founder of International Centre for Transitional Justice. On reconciliation, he writes “At its best, reconciliation involves commitment and sacrifice; at its worst, it is an excuse for passivity, for siding with the powerful against the weak and dispossessed.” [1]

He further argues, “Unless the call for reconciliation is accompanied by acknowledgment of the past and the acceptance of responsibility, it will be dismissed as cheap rhetoric. Perhaps one of the ways in which to achieve at least a measure of reconciliation in a deeply divided society is to create a common memory that can be acknowledged by those who created and implemented the unjust system, those who fought against it, and the many more who were in the middle and claimed not to know what was happening in their country.”

Based on this, certain questions can be posed to those who argue for reconciliation between the Tamils and the Sinhalese in the island.

Will the Sinhalese, obviously the privileged group in the unitary Sri Lankan system, acknowledge that what happened in the past was not a ‘war on terror’ but the continuation of a protracted genocide of the Eelam Tamils, genocide conducted to maintain the system that structurally privileges them?

Will the Sinhalese recognize that those who fought against the genocide enforced by the Sri Lankan state apparatus through armed struggle were not terrorists but the only credible representatives of the Eelam Tamils?

Will the Sinhalese recognize that the Tamils not just have a right but also an obligation to retain the memory of both the civilians and the fighters who died in the Eelam wars and to commemorate them publicly?

These of course are only moral questions. The appropriate political question would be to ask the Sinhalese, (along with the above three, for the line between politics and morality is always blurred), whether they would push for an independent international investigation to identify and punish the perpetrators of genocide in their state and for a referendum to be conducted among the Tamils so that the Tamils can determine their future. But are the Sinhalese in a state of mind to answer at least the three moral questions?

The Sri Lankan system and Reconciliation

At the risk of sounding cynical, one can say that apart from a few exceptions, the answers to the above questions would be in the negative. To push it further, there is a high probability that even the legitimacy of these questions will be questioned.

Why is there a general state of denial of the state of affairs in the island? Of course, in this media age, should anyone make a claim that he was not informed, one can only scoff at him. Sri Lankan society suffers from what Zizek terms ‘fetishist disavowal’ – the Sri Lankan knows what happened (genocide), but he refuses to accept the consequences of this knowledge (prosecution of offenders, a corresponding political solution), so that he can continue acting as if he didn’t know it.

Hannah Arendt points out how mendacity became a general part of the German character under the Nazis by the acceptance of effective lies. The most effective of these was the Nazi slogan “the battle of destiny for the German people”, which made self-deception easier on three counts – that there was no “war” in the proper sense of the term, that it was started by destiny and not by Germany, that the Germans need to annihilate or be annihilated, a matter of life or death. One only needs to look at Rajapaksa’s speeches, editorials of some mainstream Sri Lankan newspapers, blogs and sites run by Sinhala ‘patriots’, the writings of some JHU leader, or even better, the articles of certain self-proclaimed intellectuals to get the same message. The Lie that the Sri Lankan state had been spreading for ages about a global Tamil conspiracy, of Tamils as impure alien invaders, the uniqueness of the Sinhala race, the chauvinist concepts of blood, religion and soil, found acceptance as Truth by a vast majority of the Sinhalese. And this made many of them immune to any moral indignation at the obvious sufferings inflicted on the Eelam Tamils by their state.

A condition after the military defeat of the LTTE has been arrived at now. Actual subjective violence on the Tamils needn’t even happen – the omnipresence of the jack-boot and the rifle butt, the panopticon of the police-military institutions and the intrusive symbols of the colonizer, besides being an open threat of direct physical violence, creates enough psychological violence against the Tamil body to keep it in a permanent state of trauma. The argument that the absence of any major uprising in the so-called ‘post-war’ era signals the Tamils’ acceptance of the unitary state and the success of reconciliation is as ridiculous as the one that slavery is justified when slaves don’t revolt. The Sri Lankan state knows well that to crush the possibility of any mass outbreak of protest in post-Mullivaikaal period, it needs to create such a scenario where the Tamils would be made to know, would be made to feel, that any protest against the powers would be futile and suicidal.

Can’t it be otherwise in the future? Remember Col. Mathieu from The Battle of Algiers who responds to the questions of the French reporters on human right abuses in the colony with one of his own. “Should France stay in Algeria? If your answer is still yes, then you must accept all the consequences.” Structural genocide and violence against the Tamils must continue as long as Sri Lanka occupies the Tamil homeland. At a further degeneration, annihilation is the solution that unitary Sri Lanka can provide, with an intensification of subjective violence on the Tamils. With a possible betterment, assimilation is the best solution it has to offer, where the Eelam Tamils will lose all sense of identity and become ‘authentic Sri Lankans’ i.e. mimics of the Sinhalese. Either ways, violence on the Tamils will only shift forms in unitary Sri Lanka. But it is the latter that the Sri Lankan system desires, since it believes that it has cowed the Tamils with the possibility of the former through what it did during Mullivaikaal. It calls this reconciliation.

Conditions for reconciliation

There are two broad conditions in which reconciliation in the island can happen.

One is a long term possibility. If we can recognize that ‘reconciliation’ in the current context means nothing more than the acceptance of the superiority of the Sinhalese by the Tamils and a willingness to assimilate as Sri Lankans, it can proceed successfully through a combination of factors which include intensification of Sinhala colonization/Sinhalization to make claims of a Tamil homeland impossible, neutralization of activists in Tamil Eelam, Tamil Nadu and the diaspora to accepting the unitary state as the final solution, erasure of memory of the struggle for Tamil Eelam and its symbols and so. If this is allowed to happen, a stage will be reached – looking at trends in the island, it is likely to be within a decade if left unopposed – when the Tamils are but a scattered minority throughout the island without the possibility of a homeland of their own. At that time, maybe there will be a benevolent regime in Sri Lanka that recognizes that what happened to Tamils was a grave mistake, maybe even a genocide, for which they are genuinely sorry, and would ensure that the cultural and economic rights of the Tamil minorities are strongly safeguarded. This would be a genuine reconciliation, with a touch of irony albeit. For it is contingent on the idea of Tamil Eelam and retributive justice for what happened over the past 60 years breaking completely among the Tamils not just in the homeland, but in Tamil Nadu and diaspora as well allowing things to reach such a stage.

The other possibility, which needs to happen soon, is for the Sinhalese en masse to answer the three questions in the affirmative, to pressurize for prosecution of war criminals from the bottom to the top in the Sri Lankan state, to press for an immediate removal of Sinhala military and colonies from the Tamil homelands, to call for a referendum to ascertain the political aspirations of the Tamils, and to ensure material reparations for the losses that the Tamil Nation suffered. Unless this sounds like an idealist pipedream, this is the only way through which reconciliation in the island can happen between the two nations. If this does not happen, ‘reconciliation’ is likely to join the list of swear words in Tamil.

To end, the Christian concept of reconciliation was probably the inspiration behind the proverb “to err is human, to forgive divine”.

The Tamils, of course, cannot be expected to be divine considering that the other side largely tolerates a regime that was and continues to be inhuman.

Notes:

1. See Alexander Boraine’s “Retributive Justice and Restorative Justice: Contradictory or Complimentary?” in “Genocide and Accountability” edited by Nanci Adler

Ideology Behind Military Rape in ‘United Sri Lanka’

Posted in Politics, War by Karthick RM on March 7, 2012

The pathology of the Sri Lankan army in the episode of Mullivaikaal would have been all too obvious to those who watched the Channel 4 video on ‘Killing Fields’ in Sri Lanka released last year – a phenomena that Tamils have been exposed to for decades, but now on prime time. While the zeal that the soldiers in the 99% Sinhala military showed in executing bound prisoners of war shocked audiences world over, many were unprepared for their drive and ‘call of duty’ in dealing with captured Tamil women – as shown in the scenes in the C4 video where Sinhala soldiers vividly describe the naked bodies of Tamil women combatants whom they had sexually abused before executing with words that would make a pornographer blush.

But what is the rationale behind these ‘excesses’? Is there an ideology behind this or is it just yet another crime committed during a counterinsurgency war?

Those who followed what happened after the release of the documentary would be familiar with the crass sexist, gender-insensitive remarks made by Defence secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa on one of the female war witnesses who appeared in the video. While observers looked at it as the rant of a paranoid, what was missed was that same sentiments, if not worse, were expressed by the Singapore based Sri Lankan ‘counterinsurgency expert’ Rohan Gunaratna in one of his lectures on ‘Defeating the LTTE on foreign soil’ recently.[i] The gentleman, who has a few books printed in respectable publishing houses to his credit, instead of addressing the allegations of war-crimes and genocide placed by some prominent Eelam Tamil women war witnesses, was more interested in commenting about their looks and personal lives. An intimidation tactic? Or does an ideology lie behind this?

To paraphrase Mao, the best weapons the oppressed could use are framed by the enemy. Very well then.

The Sri Lankan liberal website Groundviews had a few days back published an article titled ‘History after the war: Challenges for Post War Reconciliation’.[ii] The author Dr. Dewasiri, a Sri Lankan academic, raises some interesting points regarding the dominant ideology in the ‘united island’.

1. In the Sinhala-Buddhist ideology the unitariness of Sri Lanka is not based on modern premises, but on a belief that this has been so for ages.

2. The ‘Tamil North’ in the island is a place to be conquered and occupied.

3. The military defeat of the LTTE, which had put a checkmate to this Sinhala conquest ever since its inception and the concomitant Sri Lankan military presence in the Tamil homelands alone was not enough. Tamils had to be de-nationalized and the Sinhala-Buddhist presence had to be increased in the North and East of the island.

That the author fails to deduce and state from this the genocidal intent of the Sinhala apparatus leading to Mullivaikaal, the protracted nature of the genocide of the Eelam Tamils aimed to culminate at a moment of complete Sinhalization, and the ethico-political need to support the demand for Tamil Eelam, is of course not his fault. A liberal academic, this is as far as he can go.

But his admission of the desire of Sinhala nationalist ideology for the conquest of Tamil lands gives us hints to the problem at hand.

Classic aggressive colonization of a land always imagines and equates conquest of land with control of that land’s women. While in action it usually works out in different forms – enslavement, rape, prostitution etc. in the level of discourse, it works as desire for seduction and possession of the native. From Said on to Chinua Achebe, a variety of postcolonial scholars have written on such ideological functions of colonial literary canons. The narration of ‘white man seducing and possessing the native and living together happily ever after’ has always been accompanied in real life by a most brutal pillage of the land of the natives, which it masks in romance.

Consider this personal narrative of a Sinhala gentleman married to a Tamil woman published on Groundviews.[iii] At surface level, it seems to ooze with sexuality and sentimentality. But as one goes towards the end, the theme is clear. Through an idealization of his relationship with his partner, the idea of ‘they’ existing as a distinct nation is dismissed and only ‘us’ is upheld as ideal. There is no guilt on the fact that over 100,000 of the nation of his ‘Other’ was killed fighting for a separate state by the government he pays taxes to. Only a frustration that despite her willingness to be as Sri Lankan as the Sinhalese, there is still discrimination. The desire for his partner becomes transposed through his narration onto a desire for a united Sri Lanka, which incidentally practices structural genocide against the Other nation.

The cynical multiculturalist argument – ‘Oh, they are not so much different from US after all. And they try to be like US too. So why cant we all just be US?’ To use an argument that Zizek used in his dissection of Avatar, beneath the politically correct words of this narrator, an array of brutal racist motifs exist. For his plea is only for those who are willing to be part of ‘us’. An Isaipriya, who would have never been part of ‘them’, was raped and killed. Along with hundreds like her.

Then, the logic of the soldier who believes that by raping a Tamil woman he is inflicting a blow on Tamil nation/culture is precisely the practical reflection of the logic of the Sinhala male who believes that by his wooing of the Tamil woman, the unitary state of Sri Lanka is possible/preserved.

(Does this mean that love cannot exist between individuals of the two nations? The author would never suggest that. But, if this ‘love’ translates into a discourse, a narration that justifies/upholds/masks an oppressive structure, it ceases to be an emotion. It becomes political. Moreover, in the time of Genocide even love, especially love, is a political act.)

A more obvious example would be the Sri Lankan High Commissioner for Australia, Admiral Samarasinge (himself an individual accused of war crimes) stating to Australian parliamentarians about the success of reconciliation in the island by giving the case of a “recent marriage which had taken place between a Sri Lankan soldier and a former LTTE combatant.”[iv] Meaning is this. The wedding of a Sinhala soldier, emblematic of all that is ‘good’ in Sri Lankan society, to a Tamil Tiger combatant, emblematic of all that is ‘evil’ in Tamil society, shows that the island is finally one. A symbolic conquest par excellence of the hated/desired Other.

Frantz Fanon in his brilliant analysis of the role of Algerian women in resistance in the article ‘Algeria Unveiled’ notes how the colonizer viewed the veil as an impediment to his penetrative gaze, his desire to possess the feminine body of the colonized. “The European faced with an Algerian woman wants to see. He reacts in an aggressive way before the limitation of his perception. Frustration and aggressiveness, here too, evolve apace.”

Tamil Women's Power through the Barrel of a Gun

The ‘veil’ in this case is, of course, the Tiger uniform. The female cadre is a revolutionary subject militantly fighting the objectification of the Tamil feminine body by Sinhala patriarchy, creating history on the field through herself, by virtue of her uniform and her weapon. Considering that the women combatant of the LTTE often outshined their male comrades in inflicting crushing defeats on the Lankan army, her body and her uniform were symbolic of castration of the patriarch-par-excellence.

To the army man, the body of the female combatant and the uniform that veils it is unchartered territory, a mysterious locus of his neurotic-pathological desire and hatred, a symbolic challenge to his masculinity. So when the Tigers were militarily defeated, he had to unveil the inaccessible, he had to prove his masculine credentials; he had to reassert the supremacy of Sinhala patriarchy. At the risk of sounding cold, the sexual abuse of Tamil women cadres was expected. The very nature of Sinhala militarist-colonization of Tamil territory seeks to feminize the Tamil body-politic and penetrate it. The rape of the women who resist this penetration at both subjective and symbolic levels then needs to be seen not as case of individual pathology alone, but also as a systemic necessity.

‘Taraki’ Sivaram, the iconic senior editor of TamilNet who was assassinated by Sri Lanka, had observed that “One of the things that a regime of terror expects is the total submission of women to the regime of terror. Basically the regime of terror expects women to be sex slaves.” Submission needn’t be rape alone, though the threat of rape is always there. It needs simply to be the acceptance of the authority (legal, extra-legal, social) of the Sinhala patriarch and his symbolic figure. Dr. Dewasiri’s article talks about Sinhala-Buddhist ‘pilgrims’ flocking to Jaffna and about this being a politico-ideological act. But it has no mention of the proliferation of brothels in the city and the general profile of its customers. Nor does it mention Sri Lankan brokers from the south trafficking economically disadvantaged Tamil women from their homeland to other parts of the island, and sometimes, even outside the island. Nor the fact some of the commanders of the occupying army have advised the soldiers to ‘fall in love and marry’ the women, if possible that is.

To sum it up, sexual violence/attention that Eelam Tamil women face in their homelands is not an act of aberration committed by the Sri Lankan armed forces occupying Tamil Eelam, but is an inherent necessity of a neanderthalic Sinhala nationalism that wishes complete conquest of Tamil Eelam’s geography and concurrently views the body of the Tamil woman as a landscape of its desire, as an object if possessed will ensure the state’s unitary structure.

It is then obvious, as quite some Eelam Tamil feminists have pointed out, that the liberation of Eelam Tamil women is impossible without the liberation and complete decolonization of Tamil Eelam.

Women’s Day wishes.

[i] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gCpARMjv6AU&feature=youtu.be

[ii] http://groundviews.org/2012/02/25/history-after-the-war-challenges-for-post-war-reconciliation/

[iii] http://groundviews.org/2010/05/22/living-with-the-other-in-post-war-sri-lanka/

[iv] http://www.dailynews.lk/2012/03/02/news32.asp