Monday, February 02, 2009

The rhetoric of evasion

Over the past few days there's been a lot of discussion at indymedia and on this blog about the Sri Lankan attacks on Tamil Eelam. Unfortunately, there has been little real dialogue. The apologists for the Sri Lankan armed forces have employed a set of rhetorical manouevres which have been perfected over the past few years by defenders of Bush's wars in the Middle East and Israel's attacks on Palestine. These manouevres are not intended as a contribution to discussion - they are aimed at pre-empting any genuine debate.

If anyone is interested in playing the right-wingers' game, all they have to do is learn a few simple steps:

1. Equate the whole of the nation you are attacking (Tamil Eelam, Palestine) with the most extreme rhetoric and deeds of the most extreme individuals in that nation (eg, pounce on the anti-semitic language used by some leaders of the small Islamic Jihad group, and claim that it expresses the viewpoint of all Palestinians; note the attacks by a few armed Tamils on the Sinhalese minority in the Jaffna Peninsula in the 1980s, and claim that all Tamils want to exterminate the Sinhala majority of Sri Lanka).

2. Deprive the aforementioned words and deeds of any sort of historical context, so that they seem like expressions of a deep-rooted, irrational worldview (forget that the anti-semitism of some Palestinians is an unhealthy response to decades of oppression by a Jewish state; ignore the fact that Tamils who attacked the Sinhala minority in Jaffna in the '80s were responding, however wrongly, to the slaughter of thousands of their compatriots in the south of Sri Lanka in a government-orchestrated pogrom).

3. Claim that the sheer irrationality of your opponents' actions shows that their claim to be oppressed is false. Claim that even if their demands were met, they would continue to hate and fight you. Conclude that there is no point in negotiating with them, or offering them any concessions. (You might like to quote Bibi Netanyahu, who says that a Palestinian state will do nothing to stop the conflict in his part of the world, or Prime Minister Rajapaksee, who says that there is 'only a military solution' to Tamil grievances.)

4. Condemn any outside party - it might be a protest group in the West, an NGO, or even an arm of the UN - which criticises your approach to the conflict, and imply that they are giving support to irrational, evil forces.

5. Sit at your keyboard and cheer as the bombs fall and the bullets fly.

The demonstration I attended on Saturday did not demand solidarity with the Tamil Tigers - it called for a ceasefire in the fighting which has left a quarter of a million people displaced. Do those who have condemned the event really believe that there is a military solution to the grievances of the Tamil people? Do they imagine that Tamil people will suddenly embrace the Sri Lankan state and forget their grievances, if enough of their families and friends are killed?

Even if the Sri Lankan Army over-runs all the Tiger-held territories, there will be no lasting stability in Sri Lanka, because Tamil people will see the army as an occupying force rather than a liberator. Without some form of political settlement - the sort of settlement that can only arrived at through negotiation - the violence will continue indefinitely.

The people of Tamil Eelam have consistently expressed their desire to be either autonomous from or completely independent of that state. Their desire has been reflected in the popularity of the Federal Party amongst Tamils in the '50s and
'60s, the rise of the Tamil United Liberation Front in the 1970s, the pro-independence Vaddukodai resolution ofhe mid-70s, and the popularity of the Tamil National Alliance Party today. Even if we disregard the Tigers and other violent groups completely, it is still very clear that Tamil people have repeatedly supported organisations that call for either autonomy or complete independence.

The year 1983 is cruical to understanding why so many Tamils have embraced armed struggle against the Sri Lankan state. In July 1983 anti-Tamil riots broke out in the south of the country, and lasted for ten bloody days. Three thousand Tamils died in the mayhem, which was not condemned by the Sinhalese government of the time until it was almost over.

The riots of 'Black July' were followed by an act of parliament - an act which was debated for a mere day before it was rammed through by the Sinhala majority - that asked all MPs to swear an oath to a unitary Sri Lanka. Because they could not swear this oath, the Tamil nationalist MPs who constituted the official opposition in parliament were forced to give up their seats. Thus the peaceful representatives of the Tamil desire for independence were pushed out into the cold, and this along with the deadly riots encouraged many Tamil people to believe that armed struggle was the only way to express their grievances.

Imagine if anti-Scottish riots broke out in London, thousands of Scots living there were killed, and the British parliament reacted by demanding that Scottish National Party MPs in Westminister swear an oath that they would not try to break up the British state. Would an armed struggle not quickly arise in Scotland in these circumstances? And would some of the keyboard warriors who have visited this site and indymedia over the past few days begin to talk about a congential 'Scottish irrationality' and an unplacatable 'anti-English fanaticism'?

5 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Gauging Sri Lanka's inroads in battle against Tigers
The Army seized another key town, Pallai, Thursday, and has squeezed the rebels from north and south.
By Anuj Chopra | Correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor
from the January 9, 2009 edition

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Pune, India - The Sri Lankan Army made significant inroads against the rebel Tamil Tigers in the past week – seizing their de facto capital and another key town, squeezing fighters from north and south – but these military victories are unlikely to mark the end of the island's quarter-century-old conflict.

Like many guerrilla groups, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) can resort to a military Plan B: retreat from towns but continue its battle from the jungle, making it difficult for the government to assert control over the long-embattled north.

"This [victory in Kilinochchi] is a huge military achievement with significant political ramifications," says Ashok Mehta, a retired general who led an unsuccessful Indian peacekeeping force against the Tigers in 1987. "But will it end the war? No."

Even if all Tiger-held territory is captured, it will only "end the conventional phase of the war," Mr. Mehta adds. From their hideout in the jungles, the Tigers may continue to wage "guerrilla attacks backed by suicide terrorist attacks."

Sri Lankan forces have boxed in the Tigers' territory since taking control of Pallai to the north on Thursday and Kilinochchi, the rebels' administrative capital, to the south last Friday. Between the two towns lies the strategic Elephant Pass, which connects Jaffna Peninsula in the north with the rest of the island.

The Army is also pushing toward Mullaithivu, a town southeast of Kilinochchi and the Tigers' final stronghold in the north of the island.

The fall of Mullaithivu "is only a matter of time," says Mehta, adding that Kilinochchi provides a strategic base from which the Sri Lankan Army can wage that offensive.

On Wednesday, the government formally banned the Tigers and vowed to crush them. The move is largely symbolic, since the Army ended its 2002 Norway-backed cease-fire with the Tigers a year ago and began a military offensive.

These gains come after two years of military victories over the Tigers, during which they were driven out from the east of the island, and lost a vast swath of their territory in the north.

The government has hailed last week's seizure of Kilinochchi as a decisive victory. "Whatever the words or language used to describe it, this is truly an incomparable victory," President Mahinda Rajapaksa said last week. "What our heroic troops have achieved is not only the capture of the great fortress of the LTTE, but a major victory in the world's battle against terrorism."

Yet control of Kilinochchi has switched hands several times in the past few decades, a reminder of the challenges the government faces in retaining control of reclaimed areas. The Tamil Tigers first seized control of Kilinochchi in 1990, lost it in 1996 to the Army, then recaptured it two years later. Under their control the city became the rebels' de facto capital, with civil courts, police, and administrative offices.

In a defiant statement issued Thursday, LTTE political chief B. Nadesan noted that "Kilinochchi town was captured more than once by the Sri Lanka military earlier."

"Similarly, we have also recaptured the town on earlier occasions, effectively bringing the town under our control to serve the administrative and infrastructure needs," the statement read.

"Even after the fall of Kilinochchi," says Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu, the director of Center for Policy Alternatives (CPA), a think tank based in Colombo, "a low-level insurgency could last forever unless there is a negotiated settlement with the Tamils."

The Tigers have battled for more than a quarter century to establish an independent political state for ethnic Tamils, who make up about 18 percent of the population. In a CPA survey conducted in mid-2008, 83 percent of Tamils polled said the way to end the conflict and attain peace in Sri Lanka is to stop the war and hold political negotiations.

Among the country's ethnic Sinhalese, who make up about 74 percent of the population, 48 percent believe that the solution is for the government to wipe out the Tigers.

Fighting in recent months has forced some 250,000 civilians to flee their homes, according to the Law and Society Trust, a nongovernmental organization based in Colombo .

2:55 pm  
Blogger Richard Taylor said...

If possible - the thinking of both or all the protagonists in Palestine and surrounds, and in Sri Lanka and other (or similar situations) - need to change - be changed. Map's point is good - the point is not that war is wanted really by most of the Tamil people (or the Sinhalese). But where do they go? Where, similarly, do the Palestinians go? They are in a comparative situation to the Polish Jews in the Warsaw Ghetto...paradoxically and of course tragically (in the case of the Palestinians) - the situation is tragic and desperate.

As Maps implies - a keyboard war is easy...what of action and how should we in NZ (and elsewhere) react and how do we get info - and is it irrational to expect the UN etc to ever act effectively in Palestine or Sri Lanka or anywhere else - to the extent say that two states are set up and so on?

Am I wrong about Obama - will he do anything useful in this and similar areas?

It is hard for people on the ground to think rationally sometimes - and the picture is hard to see here as we sit (safely) behind our keyboards ... there are extremes on both sides. I also read about the Black July riots. It is as if the spiral of hate increses - when (in this case Catholic Tamil) school children are killed in a bus or whatever - Sinhalese or Tamils or Palestinians or Israelis get killed - so then they attack and more are kiiled and so on - it is hard to stop the hate and the reprivals.

However Northern Ireland seemed to find a resolution. They had to compromise but it was worth the relative peace attained (I hope).

(And rhetoric, we need some, but not too much, and I have used it - but it is dangerous - seductive but dangerous.)

9:32 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

A socialist perspective to end the war in Sri Lanka
Troops out of north and eastern Sri Lanka!
4 February 2009

The following statement is being distributed by supporters of the World Socialist Web Site and the International Committee of the Fourth International at international demonstrations called to protest the attack by the Sri Lankan military against Tamil regions in the East and North of Sri Lanka. It is available as a PDF to download and distribute.


Even as the Sri Lankan ruling class celebrates the 61st anniversary of the independence of Ceylon, its armed forces are engaged in the brutal slaughter of innocent Tamil civilians in the northern province of Mullaithivu. This decades-long racist war is the culmination of the anti-Tamil campaign of the reactionary state installed after independence. From the very birth of Sri Lanka, the bourgeoisie has sought to maintain its rule by using anti-Tamil politics to divide the working class, Tamil, Muslim and Sinhalese.


The war crimes being committed by the government of President Mahinda Rajapakse are an expression of the increasing turn to brutal methods by the imperialist powers and their national bourgeois surrogates in order to secure their geopolitical interests, as is seen in Afghanistan, Iraq and Gaza. Driven by inter-imperialist rivalries and exacerbated by the worst world economic crisis since the 1930s, the growth of militarism is accompanied by the ruthless destruction of rights and living conditions in the major capitalist countries. This brought two-and-a-half million workers and youth out on strike and onto the streets in France on January 29 as part of a growing movement throughout Europe against unemployment and austerity policies.


Hundreds of thousands have already taken part in demonstrations in Toronto, Paris, London and Berlin against the humanitarian disaster in Sri Lanka. The protests express genuine anger against the racist war, but are limited to demanding that the Western powers and India intervene to stop it. Such a perspective promotes illusions in the very forces that are responsible for the war and which give military and diplomatic support to the Sri Lankan government.


The pro-Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam web site “Puthinam” published an article on February 1 titled, “India, India and everything is India.” It highlights the dominant Indian political and military role in Sri Lanka and South Asia and recommends that the protests should take place only in front of the Indian embassies in the Western capitals. It argues pathetically, “Our demonstrations in front of the White House, Downing Street, streets of Ottawa and the streets of other Western capitals would only create inconvenience to the respective governments,” and urges, “Though they couldn’t do anything now, we need the support of the Western states later so we should not trouble them…”


This is to throw dust in the eyes of those taking part in the anti-war protests. The Colombo government was only able to restart and continue its criminal war because it had the backing not only of India, but of the United States, Canada, Britain and France as well.


After its election in November 2005, Rajapakse’s government proceeded to systematically derail the ceasefire agreement of 2002. The US and India gave military assistance to the Sri Lankan government to launch the war and Canada and the European Union banned the LTTE in May and June 2006 respectively.


The EU justified the ban as part of the efforts to bring the LTTE to the negotiating table for a political settlement. We commented at the time, “Far from bringing peace, the ban only intensifies the danger of a complete breakdown of the current 2002 ceasefire agreement.” One month later, the Sri Lankan army launched its first offensive into LTTE territory.


Working people internationally have shown mass opposition to their governments’ support for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and horror at the war crimes in Gaza. They will feel the same way if made aware of the situation in Sri Lanka. Tamil workers must link their struggles with that of workers all over the world against the common imperialist enemy.


Following the bans in Canada and Europe, LTTE offices were raided and leading members were arrested. LTTE front organisations, cultural centres and shops have been placed under the permanent surveillance of the police.


Justifying the moves against the LTTE as the “prevention of terrorism,” the EU countries have been deporting asylum-seeking Tamils on a regular basis. On January 15, the British Labour government deported on a charter flight to Colombo the first batch of what they described as “illegally overstaying” Sri Lankan nationals. In fact, as media reports revealed, the majority of the deportees were minority Tamils seeking refuge and asylum from the civil war.


Despite these vicious anti-democratic crackdowns, the LTTE continues to appeal to these same powers for support. Its demand for a capitalist statelet in the North and East of Sri Lanka to fulfil the needs of sections of the Tamil elite was always based on the mediation of one or other of the major powers.


The LTTE’s attempts to woo the imperialist powers go hand in hand with its blaming of the Sinhalese toilers for the war. In reality they are its victims. The war has been invoked by the Sinhala elite to justify a never-ending campaign to drive down living standards and attack workers’ and democratic rights.


The allies of the Tamil people in Sri Lanka and in the diaspora in the imperialist countries are the working class. It is the only social force with the power and whose class interests lie in ending the war, overthrowing the Sri Lankan bourgeois state, and ensuring the democratic rights of the Tamil population, as part of the struggle against the imperialist world order.


The January 29 mass demonstrations and protests in France against unemployment and social cuts are the prelude to struggles throughout Europe. The Tamil and immigrant working class and youth in France and Europe are an integral part of these struggles. The International Committee of the Fourth International (ICFI) and its youth wing, the International Students for Social Equality (ISSE), call upon them participate in the building of a new political leadership in the working class on the basis of a revolutionary socialist programme that places the economy under the democratic control of the working class.


In Sri Lanka, the ICFI’s section, the Socialist Equality Party, is the only party fighting for the unification of working people regardless of their ethnic origin and demanding the immediate and unconditional withdrawal of armed forces from the North and East. The SEP advances the struggle for a Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka and Eelam as part of the Union of Socialist Republics of South Asia, the only means for putting an end to the communal, ethnic and caste politics that have plagued the whole region for over half a century.

10:42 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm never impressed by appeals to history, least not to justify violence.

I also dispute, strongly, your claims that Tamils are united in wanting an independent homeland. I know plenty who want nothing of the sort, and simply wish for an end to violence, a return to a semblance of decency and human rights. They're actively against the LTTE, and for their opinions have constantly faced threats, extortion, and assassinations.

This isn't to say that the same doesn't happen in Sinhalese territory. They are equally plagued by men and women who kill to maintain their dominance over the discourse.

3:54 pm  
Blogger Richard Taylor said...

" Anonymous said...
I'm never impressed by appeals to history, least not to justify violence..."

Yes - the situation is very complex -I know less about it than I do (or think I do - of the Israel-Palestine fiasco)

- good points you make here.

Violence is the last resort indeed.

11:05 pm  

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