And Then They Came For Lasantha Wickramatunge

Sri Lankan journalist Lasantha Wickramatunge was assassinated in broad daylight outside of Colombo last week. SAJA has a helpful round-up of coverage of the event, including some background on Wickramatunge’s journalistic record. What stands out is the fact that he has been a consistent dissenting voice in Sri Lankan politics, sharply criticizing the previous government for years. In recent years he had also become a critic of the new government of Mahinda Rajapaksa, whom he had earlier supported. Indeed, Wickramatunge and Rajapaska were until recently rather close friends.

Wickramatunge’s assassination is widely believed to have been carried out by forces allied with the government, if not directly sponsored by the government itself. His memorial service, which took place yesterday in Colombo, was attended by thousands of people (see a Flickr photostream of the event here).

This past Sunday, the Sunday Leader, the Sri Lankan newspaper founded by Wickramatunge and his brother, carried a posthumous editorial authored by Wickramatunge himself. It’s called, “And Then They Came For Me,” and it’s written with the understanding that it would only be printed in the event of the author’s assassination.

It’s a moving statement, which ought to be read by anyone who doubts whether freedom of the press or freedom of speech is, after all, an essential right. Wickramatunge begins by asserting his primary goal as a journalist over the fifteen years he had worked with this newspaper:

The Sunday Leader has been a controversial newspaper because we say it like we see it: whether it be a spade, a thief or a murderer, we call it by that name. We do not hide behind euphemism. The investigative articles we print are supported by documentary evidence thanks to the public-spiritedness of citizens who at great risk to themselves pass on this material to us. We have exposed scandal after scandal, and never once in these 15 years has anyone proved us wrong or successfully prosecuted us.

The free media serve as a mirror in which the public can see itself sans mascara and styling gel. From us you learn the state of your nation, and especially its management by the people you elected to give your children a better future. Sometimes the image you see in that mirror is not a pleasant one. But while you may grumble in the privacy of your armchair, the journalists who hold the mirror up to you do so publicly and at great risk to themselves. That is our calling, and we do not shirk it.

Every newspaper has its angle, and we do not hide the fact that we have ours. Our commitment is to see Sri Lanka as a transparent, secular, liberal democracy. Think about those words, for they each has profound meaning. Transparent because government must be openly accountable to the people and never abuse their trust. Secular because in a multi-ethnic and multi-cultural society such as ours, secularism offers the only common ground by which we might all be united. Liberal because we recognise that all human beings are created different, and we need to accept others for what they are and not what we would like them to be. And democratic… well, if you need me to explain why that is important, you’d best stop buying this paper. (a link)

Though Wickramatunge had been a critic of the government’s prosecution of the ongoing war against the LTTE in northern Sri Lanka, he was by no means an apologist for the LTTE (indeed, if I am reading his name correctly, he is ethnically Sinhalese, not Tamil).

Neither should our distaste for the war be interpreted to mean that we support the Tigers. The LTTE are among the most ruthless and bloodthirsty organisations ever to have infested the planet. There is no gainsaying that it must be eradicated. But to do so by violating the rights of Tamil citizens, bombing and shooting them mercilessly, is not only wrong but shames the Sinhalese, whose claim to be custodians of the dhamma is forever called into question by this savagery, much of which is unknown to the public because of censorship.

What is more, a military occupation of the country’s north and east will require the Tamil people of those regions to live eternally as second-class citizens, deprived of all self respect. Do not imagine that you can placate them by showering “development” and “reconstruction” on them in the post-war era. The wounds of war will scar them forever, and you will also have an even more bitter and hateful Diaspora to contend with. A problem amenable to a political solution will thus become a festering wound that will yield strife for all eternity. If I seem angry and frustrated, it is only because most of my countrymen – and all of the government – cannot see this writing so plainly on the wall. (link)

There’s more that I could quote, but perhaps I should just encourage readers to read the editorial themselves.

It’s a remarkable statement in many ways, not least because its author seemingly knew what was coming, but continued doing what he was doing all the same. (Bravely or foolishly.) But even more than that, despite the extremity of the situation in which Wickramatunge wrote this editorial, his voice remains calm and reasonable. There is no melodrama there, just a passionate commitment to the journalistic mission of always aspiring to speak the truth, even if no one wants to hear it.

I do not know whether Wickramatunge was right or not when he argued, in the passage I quoted above, that the current military actions in northern Sri Lanka are doomed to failure. Indeed, part of me hopes he is wrong, and that this really is the end of the road for Prabakaran and the LTTE army.

But history and logic suggests that in fact Wickramatunge is likely to be exactly right: you cannot win over the hearts of minds of an enemy in a civil conflict by brutalizing them. Any lasting peace will have to be consensual and negotiated, involving the disarming of the LTTE, but also concessions from the government. (Northern Ireland is the model to try and emulate, I think.)

60 thoughts on “And Then They Came For Lasantha Wickramatunge

  1. thank you for posting…very moving…nothing to say about the conflict except that it’s as bad as ever, and evil is handily beating good in Sri Lanka.

  2. Any lasting peace will have to be consensual and negotiated

    Forgive me, but that sounds like a platitude, unsupported by the historical record. Confederacy in US Civil War? Imperial Japan in WWII? (Allied policy was “unconditional surrender” and the Japanese today are cert. not engaged in “strife for all eternity”–they are amongst the most peaceful and productive peoples on Earth). I don’t have any easy solutions for Sri Lanka, but an endless “peace process” (think Israel/Palestine) seems worse than a quick and decisive military win (think US Civil War or WWII).

  3. Rob, I don’t see how Japan in WWII is a comparable example. It wasn’t a civil war. Wars between nations obviously follow different rules.

    The U.S. civil war case isn’t really comparable either — it wasn’t an ethnic/religious/linguistic conflict, so much as a dispute over political ideology and the government’s role in deciding it.

    Though it’s a little closer, the Israel/Palestine case doesn’t compare, because there you have two totally separate populations who clearly don’t want to share the same space. In Sri Lanka, as I understand it you have a significant number of Tamils who do want to be part of a democratic SL, whose rights need to be respected by the central government if that is ever to become a reality. Israel/Palestine, by contrast, is an occupation, not a civil war. (That said, by Wickramatunga’s logic perhaps what the Israelis are doing there now is as much doomed to fail as what the government is currently doing in Sri Lanka.)

    I would love to be wrong on that last point.

  4. I urge you to visit Sri Lankan Army controlled Jaffna, then, Rob. You’ll see that the absence of the LTTE and control by the SL state doesn’t mean a thing for the wellbeing of the population. The LTTE is a guerrilla force, first and foremost. If the SLA takes their land, they’ll shrink back into the jungles and society. They’ll exist so long as they have a reason to exist. As long as Tamils, Muslims and Burghers are treated as second-class citizens, Sri Lanka will never be free from this.

    The head of the Army, Sareth Fonseka, had this to say a few months ago:

    “I strongly believe that this country belongs to the Sinhalese but there are minority communities and we treat them like our people,” he says. “We being the majority of the country, 75%, we will never give in and we have the right to protect this country. “We are also a strong nation Â… They can live in this country with us. But they must not try to, under the pretext of being a minority, demand undue things.”

    That’s the head of the armed forces and, by every indication, this sentiment holds significant sway within the sri lankan government. This conflict won’t be over until it’s gone. Lasantha fought it, I wish I could say he was successful, but every indication is that he was certainly not.

  5. Amardeep,

    thanks for posting on this story. His death has been one of the most easily attributable to political enemies. In the past, and this is no positive sign, there were ample suspects in the world of organized crime (which, yes, does exist and thrive in SL) to go with the usual list of politicians with paramilitary and underworld muscle.

    to piggyback on what rob said, the post-prabakaran north and east will probably not benefit from a consensual political devolution agreement. The residents of those areas have pretty much lost whatever meager leverage they might have possessed, macabre as the thought must be, with the passing of their co-ethnic terror-jailer’s influence. The tamils would no longer be viewed as unfortunate subjects of a terroristic regime but just unfortunates–living as those in refugee camps do all over the world. If the diaspora responds with funding and are allowed, in post-LTTE SL, to disburse those funds as they see fit…then I could see a semi-orderly devolution taking place.

    For those interested in further reading of “on the ground” perspectives, I heartily recommend a browse through Kottu.org, the only lankan blog aggregator I know.

    I would name individual blogs for reading but for what must be an irrational concern for the authors’ continued safety. Kottu will reveal much. And if you have the stomach for irredentist violence-mongers in the comments section, check out http://defencewire.blogspot.com/

  6. 4 · bamboo I urge you to visit Sri Lankan Army controlled Jaffna, then, Rob.

    I am way too much of a wimp to go to Jaffna! But I’d feel safer there than in LTTE totalitarian-land. I have been to SL numerous times, and (as I speak (poor) Tamil) probably interacted more with Tamils involved w/ the gov’t than w/ any other group. Though I’m no specialist at all–I was a tourist, mainly. I see the LTTE as a terrible outfit which has hijacked legitimate Tamil grievances. Why weep over its destruction?

    Amardeep, Some fair points–thanks. But who is there to negotiate with on the Tamil side? LTTE–I would hope not!– other Tamils get killed if they speak up. IMHO you need to start w/ the eradication of the LTTE–then you will have Tamils to negotiate with (and they deserve a fair deal!).

  7. bamboo,

    isn’t Fonseka the charming fellow with only a rendering of King Dutugemunu triumphant over a defeated tamil to decorate his office?

  8. 6 · rob said

    I am way too much of a wimp to go to Jaffna! But I’d feel safer there than in LTTE totalitarian-land. I have been to SL numerous times, and (as I speak (poor) Tamil) probably interacted more with Tamils involved w/ the gov’t than w/ any other group. Though I’m no specialist at all–I was a tourist, mainly. I see the LTTE as a terrible outfit which has hijacked legitimate Tamil grievances. Why weep over its destruction?

    I don’t weep, violence made things so much worse for minorities in Sri Lanka and I don’t have any illusions about how the LTTE gained and secured their position. But, as you intimated, if not them, who? I have the nagging sense that if it weren’t for the LTTE, Tamil’s would be steamrolled. I’m reluctant to cheer their destruction now for that reason. I don’t trust the SL government at all, and there’s no reason any minority should.

  9. rob,

    “why weep over it’s destruction”

    you’re starting to sound like MoorNam. The reason people would weep is that it is Mahinda Rajapakse’s stated wish to bring the LTTE (yes, that includes the kids who’ve grown up with nothing but the LTTE for political role-models) into the political process as well as his actualized desire to bring noted child-soldier recruiter/kidnapper Colonel Karuna and his band of goons (who fostered democracy by brandishing AK-47s at the polls) into the very same. Karuna is now a minister of parliament. The eastern region is now cited as some model of democracy for the north despite it being run, with the same democracy-promoting machine guns mentioned earlier, by an outfit that not too long ago was part and parcel of the LTTE.

  10. Rob,

    It’s true that you’ll meet a selection of fellow western hemisphere supremacists among Tamils ‘associated’ with the government but then you’ll also have to hang out with Col. Karuna, his erstwhile no.2 Pillayan, all their goons, Douglas Devananda, assorted underworld figures and common criminals. I’d imagine that the latter crew will be less than excited by your commitment to free markets, free minds and lib-dem conventions.

  11. Nayagan, Yeah, I don’t mean to sound pro-Karuna or anything. I guess I have something of the Jeanne Kirkpatrick view–sure, GoSL is distasteful, but, boy–we need to get the LTTE out of the way, right? What’s the alternative? Multi-generational fighting like this is terrible–let’s clear out the worst party (LTTE) and see where we can go from there.
    I think Rajapakse is a loose cannon, but he has good-enough relations with some Colombo Tamils, no?

  12. will be less than excited by your commitment to free markets, free minds and lib-dem conventions.

    OK, OK, I’ll put you on the guest-list for the next Reason mag. shindig in DC–and, yes–Tyler Cowen will be there.

    ;-)

  13. rob,

    1. I may have fudged the distinction earlier but we should be talking in “post-Prabakaran” terms and not “post-LTTE” terms as the cadres remaining after the leadership has been flushed out/destroyed will definitely go to ground. Very few will take Mahinda at his word and believe the terror they carried out to guarantee no repercussions in the form of a snipers bullet, car bomb or other ‘accident.’

    2. I sincerely doubt, that when he leaves the room, the colombo tamil elites are talking about his choice of cravat. He may be beholden to a few, but then he has some foresight and knows his Kardigamars from his Vinayagamoorthy Muralitharans.

    3. I actually don’t agree with Amardeep that the israel/palestine comparison is entirely without analytical fruits to offer. After all, it was Israel who decided that Fatah couldn’t be trusted and that they needed a strong rival to split the Palestinian street. Do you think that Rajapakse is really looking for honest brokers of a democratic transition into a political entity and not convenient strongmen who conveniently scare the crap out of civilians in the war zone and command by fear?

  14. He may be beholden to a few, but then he has some foresight and knows his Kardigamars from his Vinayagamoorthy Muralitharans.

    Nayagan,

    You are taxing the limits of my limited knowledge–do you mean, here the distinction between Hindu temples that (in Sri Lanka) have been assimilated into Buddhism (Ganesha’s brothers’ one here) and those that are still Hindu (Ganesha’s here)?

    Full disclosure–my view is very much through the “keyhole” of the rugby-playing, heavy-drinking Colombo Tamils–they were quite quick to draw me into their orbit and show me around, but I realize it’s only a key-hole view of the Island.

  15. rob,

    1. no–i am drawing a distinction between the cultured effete Colombo Tamil ally (RIP) of Chandrika, Lakshman Kardigamar, and bloodthirsty savage Vinayagamoorthy Muralitharan (alias, Colonel Karuna, unapologetic terrorist and now MP)–both staunch allies of of the GOSL administration then current.

    2. if they weren’t abroad, those would be my cousins. The few relatives that remain seem to move in this crowd as well–if Benson & Hedges, Johnny Walker and BMW all ceased to exist, so would they.

  16. if Benson & Hedges, Johnny Walker and BMW all ceased to exist, so would they.

    Meh–enjoy it while it lasts–let me know when you’ll next be in Colombo–I’ll have my peeps hook you up w/ a bottle of Cristal at H2O!

  17. His editorial title is right on the spot.. Familiar tragedy being played out again and again in Srilanka..countless “others” met the same fate over the last few years..fellow journalists, elected MPs, and clergies..and because he knew they would also come for him, this editorial is bound to haunt the government more than any thing else..

    then again..people will forget…and continue to support a terror government until it comes for them as well..

    Government has been able to get away with this under the pretext of fighting terror and with complete censorship.

    Rob, Regardless of your apprehension of what life was like under LTTE, if the government did allow journalists to visit those areas, you may have been able to get a balanced view of things and decide for yourself rather than limit yourself to a simplistic keyhole view.

  18. Regardless of your apprehension of what life was like under LTTE, if the government did allow journalists to visit those areas, you may have been able to get a balanced view of things

    LOL–and what is my “balanced view” to tell me? That primitive thuggery that would make Mao embarrassed is OK?

  19. Amardeep,

    Thanks so much for writing about this. It is a great, great loss.

    Two quick thoughts…

    “But history and logic suggests that in fact Wickramatunge is likely to be exactly right: you cannot win over the hearts of minds of an enemy in a civil conflict by brutalizing them.”

    I don’t think this is exactly what he was saying. Indeed, he writes, “… to [eradicate the LTTE]… by violating the rights of Tamil citizens, bombing and shooting them mercilessly, is not only wrong…”

    Tamil citizens, not the LTTE; Tamil citizens, not the enemy. In fact, Tamil citizens are NOT the enemy. And this is an important distinction: the LTTE and Tamil citizenry are NOT the same thing. So why does the government treat Tamil citizens like this? I see that bamboo has already referenced Fonseka’s comment. One might also consider the forced evacuation of Tamils from Colombo.

    Bamboo said, “As long as Tamils, Muslims and Burghers are treated as second-class citizens, Sri Lanka will never be free from this.”

    I agree. And plenty of other examples, regrettably….

    (Minor aside: there is a considerable population of mixed ethnicity in Sri Lanka, so names are not always a solid tell… although I think here you are right.)

  20. rob wrote,

    “I think Rajapakse is a loose cannon, but he has good-enough relations with some Colombo Tamils, no?”

    amardeep wrote,

    “Indeed, Wickramatunge and Rajapaska were until recently rather close friends. Wickramatunge’s assassination is widely believed to have been carried out by forces allied with the government, if not directly sponsored by the government itself.”

    Good-enough relations will get you killed. rob, you called GoSL “distasteful”—considering what has happened, doesn’t that description strike you as somewhat inadequate?

  21. The head of the Army, Sareth Fonseka, had this to say a few months ago: “I strongly believe that this country belongs to the Sinhalese but there are minority communities and we treat them like our people,” he says. “We being the majority of the country, 75%, we will never give in and we have the right to protect this country. “We are also a strong nation Â… They can live in this country with us. But they must not try to, under the pretext of being a minority, demand undue things.” So why does the government treat Tamil citizens like this?

    I tried understanding that Sinhalese feeling of otherness and I found wikipedia article on history (part mythological and part British revisionism perhaps) of Vijaya the first king of Sri Lanka illuminating

  22. from the wikipedia article -

    Vijaya’s reign is of immense importance to the Sinhalese people as it forms the core of their cultural identity. As the Sinhalese kingdom developed into something of a south Asian anomaly – a Buddhist, Aryan kingdom in a largely Hindu, Dravidian area – the Vijaya legend reiterated that which differentiated the Sinhalese from their neighbors. The clear association of Vijaya with Buddhism, though he is not Buddhist himself, foreshadows the kingdom’s conversion in Devanampiyatissa’s time. Vijaya’s relationship with Kuveni explains the presence of the Veddas, and his marriage to the Pandu princess establishes a precedent for the often cordial relations between the Sinhalese and the various kingdoms of south India.

    i guess it is the same feeling of otherness shared by tamils/sinhalese, israelis/palestinians, kashmiri muslims/hindus etc. even after disregarding any injustices. or does injustices fuel otherness first ?

    • LOL–and what is my “balanced view” to tell me? That primitive thuggery that would make Mao embarrassed is OK?

    May it would or it would not…no way to know. may be you might find out that the people you live there might take that primitive thuggery anytime over cluster bombs…

    Here is another guy who saw them coming for him 25 years ago and had this to say.. http://www.tamilnation.org/tamileelam/thangathurai/dockstatement.htm#a10“> Statement from the dock

    he was murdered while in government custody. There was no LTTE to speak of then.. Srilankans brushed off this because he was the “other” then. Now it is the LTTE..after the eradication of LTTE, who?

  23. Good-enough relations will get you killed. rob, you called GoSL “distasteful”—considering what has happened, doesn’t that description strike you as somewhat inadequate?

    Well, you tell me–look–I am in learning mode here, not trying to teach anyone anything. My sense, from Colombo Tamils I know, and from the aspects of the Tamil diaspora I know (exclusive to the US, I admit) is that the LTTE’s defeat is a good thing–it opens up possibilities for reasonable negotiations between GoSL and the Tamils. No reasonable Tamil wants to live under LTTE control, so–let’s see how the Tamils can do once out from that horrible cloud. Put the diaspora’s $$ toward Tamil development, rather than war, and you could have northern SL looking like Singapore in 50 years! It’s not accidental that, post the death of my grandparents, I find SL more congenial to visit than India–on an objective scale (i.e., putting aside the decreasing pull of my family), it’s lot more congenial than other parts of South Asia.

  24. may be you might find out that the people you live there might take that primitive thuggery anytime over cluster bombs…

    Yeah, well, I am an American, and only my mommy is Tamil (and she’s from India, not SL), but–I don’t want to see the SL Tamils go down the road towards Palestinians. That’s no culture to look up to. Crush the LTTE and give the kids some hope!

  25. - Crush the LTTE and give the kids some hope!
    

    No disagreements on crushing the LTTE..I do disagree if that means that you have to bomb and shell your own people to get there..I would have to think people who live in those parts Srilanka would be all for crushing the LTTE if the government offered an alternate of tangible self governance ahead of crushing the LTTE so that they don’t have to live under a racist government . After all that the government has done to the people in the name of crushing LTTE over the years, I doubt there are any takers for this crushing business in the north east. That is exactly what Wickramatunge was talking about above. If Srilanka were to announce a referendum in the north east and allow independent, international observers to monitor the polls, we could all know what people there want. Until then, we all will have settle for our own keyhole view of the issue.

  26. rob wrote, Well, you tell me–

    Okay: “distasteful” is an inadequate word to describe the behavior of the GoSL. Lasantha Wickramatunga is dead—what more do you need as proof?

    rob wrote, “My sense… is that the LTTE’s defeat is a good thing–it opens up possibilities for reasonable negotiations between GoSL and the Tamils.”

    That possibility is there once the government starts acting like one, and giving non-LTTE Tamils some reason to trust it. Evicting them from Colombo, for example, isn’t a great place to start. Furthermore, those are not the only parties who should be involved in negotiations.

    rob wrote,

    “Let’s see how the Tamils can do once out from that horrible cloud.”

    Unfortunately, while I won’t dispute that that IS a horrible cloud, it’s not the only cloud they’re under. Again, look at how the government treats all Tamils, including ones who are not part of the LTTE.

    “Put the diaspora’s $$ toward Tamil development, rather than war…”

    I agree that the Sri Lankan diaspora has not been helpful to this situation. But the goverment would have to improve a lot before it got to “distasteful.”

  27. 28 · context

    Thanks for the civil response, “context”–and–you may well know more than me! I like your response, inasmuch as you’re not advocating “fighting to the last Tamil.” That would be a crazy thing to do, given how shameful and nasty the LTTE is. You and I obviously look forward, together, to a day where the Tamils in SL are showing what they can do, rather than what they can blow up! I look forward to a GoSL victory over the LTTE, but, we share the same goal that the SL Tamils must get a fair shake regardless.

  28. This is so similar to the situation for Journalists in Pakistan, it was chilling to read his words. What an inspirational piece of writing. Pakistan has also been bombing its people wholesale, with 10,000 refugees escaping carpet bombing in Waziristan. More innocent pakistanis have been killed in the northern areas than in Palestine. I’m sure our veera pra are facing similar threats in Lanka. Maybe there should be cross Sri Lanka/Pakistan sympathies.

  29. Basim,

    who do you think trained GOSL pilots to fly their Kfirs? Mickey Mouse? Pakistan, to a much lesser extent than India, has enabled this conflict with military aid (unrelated, i might add, to the effective of eradication of the LTTE, which requires that you actually occupy the ground you clear with munitions.) That has nothing to do with civilian journalists but it would certainly present a PR problem in-country.

    Rob,

    Saying that you look forward to GoSL ‘victory’ over the LTTE requires explication of what that victory entails and whether this vision is possible under current conditions unlikely to abate (information deficits all round, journalists cowed, no independent source of information in the war zones.)

  30. Rob, if your view of the conflict is so narrow, and you are in learning mode, why are you making definitive conclusions?

  31. rob,

    I think my keyhole might be bigger than yours. ;)

    You wrote, “You and I obviously look forward, together, to a day where the Tamils in SL are showing what they can do, rather than what they can blow up!”

    Again, Tamils and the LTTE are NOT the same. So some Tamils are ALREADY “showing what they can do.” But what incentive do they have to trust the GoSL? What guarantee do they have of safety? (Priya, while I appreciate your Wikipedia links and discussion of otherness, my question about why the GoSL treats Tamil citizens like this wasn’t meant to invite an answer. I should have been clearer; I was making a statement. A government treating its own citizens like that is unjustifiable.)

    rob, you also wrote, “I look forward to a GoSL victory over the LTTE, but, we share the same goal that the SL Tamils must get a fair shake regardless.”

    I agree that “SL Tamils must get a fair shake regardless.” But I don’t think “a GoSL victory over the LTTE” will improve the odds of that.

    Basim… I think there are a great many similarities between the journalists of Pakistan and those in SL. You might be interested in this.

  32. http://www.thestar.com/comment/article/569773

    During seven years in Asia, I visited Sri Lanka often enough. During four years in the Middle East, I also covered the Israeli-Palestinian conflict on my doorstep. And there are eerie similarities between the two conflict zones, despite the unequal attention they command. Genocide by the Israelis? A report by the New York-based Genocide Prevention Project (an offshoot of Mia Farrow’s Dream for Darfur campaign) ranked Sri Lanka in the top tier of its mass atrocity watch list, alongside Sudan, Burma, Somalia and others; Israel and the Palestinian territories were much further down a caution list (below Zimbabwe). Shutting out the media? Israel’s military is keeping out most Western media not already on the ground, using security as a pretext and ignoring its own Supreme Court rulings. But staff Palestinian reporters are in place for the wire services and The New York Times, and Al-Jazeera is filing daily from Gaza. If not for the kidnapping by Gazans of its correspondent last year, the BBC might have maintained its bureau in Gaza. In Sri Lanka, the BBC is the only major news organization to keep full-time staff in the country, but the government is shamelessly barring foreign and domestic media from the front lines. We have a rough casualty count for Gaza, despite the fog of war; but we don’t have a clue how many civilians or combatants have been killed in the all-out Sri Lankan offensive, or how many more have died from exposure in monsoon rains, snake bites and food shortages.
  33. I will paraphrase a facebook group on a different matter – “Fighting for peace is like f”£king for virginity”

  34. Saying that you look forward to GoSL ‘victory’ over the LTTE requires explication of what that victory entails and whether this vision is possible under current conditions unlikely to abate (information deficits all round, journalists cowed, no independent source of information in the war zones.)

    Well, what I’m trying to turn the focus here to is the real danger of the “palestiniazation” of the SL Tamils–that’s what an endless “peace process” leads to, IMHO. And that is a horrible fate indeed. Far better a short, sharp, military win by GoSL over the LTTE, followed by the reintegration of the north and east into SL on some reasonable (albeit inevitably imperfect) form.

  35. rob,

    I see where you’re going but other than being forced to vote for illiberal violence-monger #1 and illiberal violence-monger #2, I don’t see the sl Tamil population as being subject to a “palestinian-ization” process with respect to how western media covers them.

    A short sharp military win’s feasibility is considerable only if you ignore the past 25 years. What you, and likely the neocons fail to grasp, is that a short sharp victory is IMPOSSIBLE and a protracted state of occupation (i.e. the status quo) with no independent reportage is VERY LIKELY. Remember, the end of the conventional war and the subsequent declaration of ‘victory’ do not constitute the end of the LTTE.

    If you define as ‘efficacious’ the GoSL strategy of bringing in proto-dictators like Col. Karuna to govern war scarred populations and legitimizing the thugs and terrorists of yesterday by grant of title (Minister of Parliament, Col. Karuna), I’m not sure how I could convince you of the ultimate irrationality of discussing a ‘short, sharp’ resolution to the conflict.

    bad things are going to happen and will be perpetuated, IMHO, by viewing the situation through this binary of “drawn-out peace process” v. “short, sharp win…reorganization!” Several nasty shades of gray lie between the two situations and that’s all the opening that bad actors need to consolidate electoral power in a place unaccustomed to real free elections.

  36. Nayagan,

    I guess one way of putting it would be to say that the advocates of a military “win” are expecting to get post WWII Germany, and you’re saying that, all too often, one gets post WWI Germany instead.

  37. bamboo@34,

    Genocide by the Israelis? A report by the New York-based Genocide Prevention Project (an offshoot of Mia Farrow’s Dream for Darfur campaign) ranked Sri Lanka in the top tier of its mass atrocity watch list, alongside Sudan, Burma, Somalia and others; Israel and the Palestinian territories were much further down a caution list (below Zimbabwe). Shutting out the media? Israel’s military is keeping out most Western media not already on the ground, using security as a pretext and ignoring its own Supreme Court rulings. But staff Palestinian reporters are in place for the wire services and The New York Times, and Al-Jazeera is filing daily from Gaza. If not for the kidnapping by Gazans of its correspondent last year, the BBC might have maintained its bureau in Gaza.

    I consider the American apologists ( liberals and rightists ) for Israel’s blatant massacare actually the biggest joke/hypocrisy of American activism for human rights and peace around the world.

  38. Two instructive comments by the acclaimed journalist – Robert Fisk – in a recent article for those who (like me) tend to to make across the region theoretical comparisons of conflicts especially the Israel vs. Palestine variety -

    Wherever I go, I hear the same tired Middle East comparisons

    “When does the mandate of victimhood expire?” he asked. “At what point does the Nazi genocide of Europe’s Jews cease to excuse the state of Israel from the demands of international law and of common humanity?” The moment I mentioned that 600 Palestinian dead for 20 Israeli dead around Gaza in 10 years was grotesque, pro-Israeli listeners condemned me for suggesting (which I did not) that only 20 Israelis had been killed in all of Israel in 10 years. Of course, hundreds of Israelis outside Gaza have died in that time – but so have thousands of Palestinians.

    I wonder how this logic can be aplied to SriLankan conflicts in South-Asia ?

  39. rob,

    you wrote “followed by,” as though political discussions must come after a military victory. but that isn’t the case. why not concurrent discussions? why not treat citizens like citizens? again, the government isn’t obliged to deal with the LTTE. Fair enough. But there is a whole other population with which the government could engage in political discussions. They have shown little to no interest in doing so. A military victory is NOT a prerequisite for those discussions, seeing as the population to which I’m referring is not participating in military action against the government. Rather, the government is continually violating its rights with impunity.

    there are people who do not support the LTTE who are perfectly willing to engage in democracy. you also wrote, “some reasonable (albeit inevitably imperfect) form.”

    what makes you think the government is going to be “reasonable”? Lasantha Wickramatunga is dead. Where’s the reason in that? When is this government going to be accountable to the citizens of Sri Lanka?

  40. Priya,

    I don’t think I understand the analogy or question you are asking. Would you mind rephrasing?

  41. you wrote “followed by,” as though political discussions must come after a military victory. but that isn’t the case. why not concurrent discussions? why not treat citizens like citizens

    I guess I have in mind the defeat of Japan in WWII–what good would “concurrent discussions” have done? Mutual success followed the defeat of the Imperial forces, no? Now, it’s true the LTTE isn’t a gov’t like Japan in WWII, but they do hold territory, unlike, say, the IRA during the “Troubles” in Ireland. I’m trying to think this out, outside of conventional platitudes–please don’t take offense. I do know from personal experience that there are Tamils in Colombo in the 1000′s that are ready to do a reasonable deal once the LTTE is no longer the bully on the playground.

  42. 43 · rob said

    I do know from personal experience that there are Tamils in Colombo in the 1000′s that are ready to do a reasonable deal once the LTTE is no longer the bully on the playground.

    I think the fundamental disagreement is in the fact that you hope (reading between the lines) Rajapakse will treat these Tamils as equal partners in some hypothetical future peace, when he has demonstrated no good faith so far, either with Tamils in Colombo, or in his disregard for civilians in the northeast. I think most Tamils in Sri Lanka feel that the outcome of this military crushing will be political subjugation either by Karuna’s faction, or by other puppets of Rajapakse, not the start of a new peace.

  43. 44 · Rahul I think the fundamental disagreement is in the fact that you hope (reading between the lines) Rajapakse will treat these Tamils as equal partners in some hypothetical future peace, when he has demonstrated no good faith so far, either with Tamils in Colombo, or in his disregard for civilians in the northeast. I think most Tamils in Sri Lanka feel that the outcome of this military crushing will be political subjugation either by Karuna’s faction, or by other puppets of Rajapakse, not the start of a new peace.

    Well, Rahul, I agree–that is the conjecture. Rajapakse did go to school w/ these guys (Colombo Tamils). But, I may be way too “old school” in my conjectures here. We’ll see–GoSL is going to defeat the (main) LTTE forces–I suppose resistance could continue. Again, I am no Karuna fan–I have in mind a real deal.

  44. 40 · Priya said

    Wherever I go, I hear the same tired Middle East comparisons

    i knew i was going to love that piece as soon as i saw the title. thanks.

    also, amardeep, my gratitude for posting this, and many thanks, also to the OPs who have pointed to excellent educational opportunities. other than that, i’m just disheartened by the seeming intractability of this dispute(which at least is a characteristic shared by the israel-palestine conflict).

  45. i knew i was going to love that piece as soon as i saw the title. thanks

    Where are you going to draw the line, exactly? All that much-loved territory of the Levant, N. Africa, “greater India,” etc. didn’t used to be Arab or Islamic, right? So how exactly are you setting the clock back? Why do the Jews have less of a claim on Israel than the Muslims have on Delhi or Lahore or Tehran or Kabul or Cairo (hehe–or, Spain or Sicily)? Every time a Pakistani calls Israeli sovereignty into question, I laugh. I know enough history not to be an idiot.

  46. 48 · rob said

    Why do the Jews have less of a claim on Israel than the Muslims have on Delhi or Lahore or Tehran or Kabul or Cairo (hehe–or, Spain or Sicily)?

    rob, i was saying that i dislike the tendency to analogize every conflict to israel-palestine issue. it obfuscates the issue. and gets people to draw more general principles based on their stand in i-p issue. nothing about which party is right in the israel-palestine conflict.

    according to me, all those of who contribute to a city, have a proportional claim on it. got nothing to do with heritage. if you legitimately live, work, or own property in a city, no one should throw you out from there because your ancestors never lived in that city. or because you do not belong to the majority in that region. of course, this becomes murky when people are diplaced in the first place. how should we treat them? do their descendants deserve compensation? if they do, how do we accomplish that? give them the original property? or its economic value? does this change if the desecendants become aggressors?

    none of those are easy questions. those are hard to answer normatively. irl, it is more complicated by practical, legal, and political constraints.

  47. 48 · rob said

    Why do the Jews have less of a claim on Israel than the Muslims have on Delhi or Lahore or Tehran or Kabul or Cairo (hehe–or, Spain or Sicily)?

    I don’t think port implied that. But what do I know? I am an anti-semantic bastard.