Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Sri Israel

The struggle of Sri Lanka's Tamil minority for an independent Tamil state in northern and eastern Sri Lanka has reached a critical juncture with the Tamil Tigers and thousands of Tamil civilians besieged in a dwindling pocket on the northeastern coast of the island. What has this to do with MERC? Nothing directly, except that I've been reading US journalist William McGowan's book Only Man is Vile: The Tragedy of Sri Lanka (1992) and finding some unnerving parallels with the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Some extracts:-

Who does this lot remind you of? "According to a myth cherished deeply by the Sinhalese, the dying Lord Buddha had turned to one of his minions, pointed across the waters of the Bay of Bengal, and said, 'In Lanka, O Lord of Gods, shall my religion be established and flourish'. As a result the Sinhalese believe that they are the chosen people of Buddhism, given a mission to preserve and protect the religion in its most pristine form, and that the island of Lanka is the repository of Buddha's teachings. But despite considerable government patronage and ostentatious displays of public devotion like the monumental Buddha statues scattered all over the country, Sri Lanka hardly became the island of the dharma [Buddhist teachings] celebrating the ideals of nonviolence and compassion. Instead, it had become a country of routine massacres, rampant human rights abuses, and moral obduracy where the implacable hatreds of race, class, and culture had created a nightmare world of viciousness, opportunism, and envy." (p 7)

McGowan converses with the eternal cabbie: "'You know the way the Nazis treated the Jews', he, a Sinhalese [cabbie], had told me. 'Well, that's the way we have to deal with the Tamils. They can't stay here'." (p 16)

Yes, we have settlers: "[Tamil] Tiger suspicions were also fanned by continued government attempts to pack the eastern province with Sinhalese colonists. The peace agreement had specified that Colombo would cease these West Bank-style settlement programs in areas that the Tamils claimed as their 'traditional homelands', and Tamils suspected that the Sinhalese refugees being returned were really new colonists." (p 39)

Those Zionists and Islamophobes out there, who refer sarcastically to the 'religion of peace' and hypocritically pretend that all religions bar one are somehow miraculously immune from the political fray, might like to consider these two passages: "One of the most terrifying accounts of the riots [of 1983, the point of no return for Sri Lanka's Tamils] is from the diary of a Tamil man whom Siva Naipaul quotes in a collection called Unfinished Journey. Traveling on a bus when a mob laid siege to it, the man watched as a small boy was hacked 'to limbless death'. The bus driver was ordered to give up a Tamil. He pointed out a woman who was desperately trying to erase the mark on her forehead - called a kum-kum - as the thugs bore down on her. As the witness melted into the crowd, the woman's belly was ripped open with a broken bottle and she was immolated as people clapped and danced. In another incident, two sisters, one 18, the other 11, were decapitated and raped, the latter 'until there was nothing left to violate and no volunteers could come forward', after which she was burned. While all this was going on, according to the diarist, a line of Buddhist monks appeared, arms flailing, their voices raised in a delirium of exhortation, summoning the Sinhalese to put all Tamils to death." (p 98)

"Much of the Sinhalese resistance to the peace process [ie the Indo-Sri Lankan Accord of 1987] was the product of hysteria fanned by Buddhist monks. Asserting themselves as the traditional guardians of the national flame, the monks played the role of spoiler, shooting down any proposal for concessions as soon as it was made and cheering opposition politicians who pledged to rescind any settlement as soon as they came to power. Some of the more reactionary monks even formed a secret ultranationalist cell called the Circle of Sinhalese Force, whose members greeted each other with Hitler-like salutes and spewed apocalyptic bombast from the Mahavamsa [a sort of Sinhala Old Testament] about the end of 'the land, the race and the faith', which narrowed the latitude that the government had in reaching a settlement." (p 191)

The Sinhalese even have their very own Theodor Herzl, the Buddhist monk Anagarika Dharmapala [1864-1933]: "[T]he most dangerous fallacy perpetuated by Dharmapala was the so-called Aryan origins of the Sinhalese. Dharmapala claimed that the Sinhalese originated in northern Indian Aryan stock and had retained that racial purity over the centuries, which, combined with their sacred Buddhist mandate, made them an exceptional people of great historical importance." (p 146)

The irony, the irony: "In fact, the Sinhalese were actually Tamils by blood who took on a separate contrived racial identity after getting to Lanka and embracing Buddhism." (p 174)

And where have you heard this kind of paranoia before? "'For the non-Sinhalese, even if they do not have Sri Lanka as their homeland, their races have other countries of their own', wrote the Sinhala arch-chauvinist Cyril Matthew in the forward to his Diabolical Conspiracy, a screed on university admissions*. 'Hence their races will never get annihilated. But the Sinhalese have one and only one country in which Sinhalese live. If the Sinhalese get annihilated in Sri Lanka as a race, they are lost forever'." (p 169)

[*Refers to the introduction in the 70s of a quota system for university entry based on the ethnic composition of the country - with 72% of places held for Sinhalese.]

But do our friends on the eastern shore of the Mediterranean have any actual involvement in the Sri Lankan government's war against Tamil separatism? You bet: "The increasing support for a military solution [against the Tamil Tigers] was a reflection of the improving field performance of the Sri Lankan military, a function of the training, materiel, and money it was receiving from foreign allies... What help the United States rendered is unknown, but it was widely suspected that the Israelis gave assistance, as American proxies, supplying experts in counter-insurgency." (p 192) Never miss an opportunity.

Then or now: as I write, Israeli-made Kfir jets of the Sri Lankan airforce are pounding the Tigers in the last strip of land still held by them, and one senses a very Israeli inspiration for the kind of Gaza-style blitzkrieg currently being undertaken by the Sri Lankan armed forces.


Anonymous said...

what next merc blame Israel for the Sri lankan problems...add this to Israel's responsibility for Muslim barbarism , violence, aggression and general anti social behavior in Somalia, Sudan , Chechnya, Kashmir, Thailand, Philippines, Indonesia, Turkey, Algeria,Lebanon, Iraq, Afghanistan just to name a few of the ongoing Islamic conflicts around the globe... gee Merc Jews must have very broad shoulders ..

Anonymous said...

While the Sinhalese Government and the Buddhist leadership have a lot to answer for, and there are many sad similarities, there are a few points in your blog that may benefit from clarification.

First, the two groups of people are almost certainly not closely related. Tamil is a Dravidian language while Sinhala is Indo-Arian (like Hindi). There are some borrowings between the languages, however, because the two peoples have been closely associated for millennia.

The second point is that as the Sinhalese are in a clear majority, the political establishment is seeking a single-nation - not ethic cleansing of the Tamil minority. The majority of Sri Lankan Tamils currently live alongside their Sinhalese brethren(and are sadly the subject of riotting mobs from time to time).

The LTTE are seeking independent nationhood in two provinces, whereas the Sri Lankan Government is offering limited self government (no army, navy or air force) in one province. The North-Eastern province is contested as it contains Trincomalee Harbour which is geopolitically important (one of only two deep-water harbours in the Bay of Bengal, the other being in Madras, Tamil Nadu). The Government has re-settled Sinhalese into this province from the 1950s, ostensibly for humanitarian reasons, but almost certainly to ensure a majority of non-Tamils.

The current strife arises from a decision by the Indian Government to permit the arming of the Tamils through Tamil Nadu, in retribution for a Sri Lankan refusal to acccede to India's political views when Sri Lanka was considering leasing Trincomalee to the Americans in the late 1970s. The Indo-Sri Lankan Accord which you mention has only one real purpose: a letter under the accord agrees that Sri Lanka cannot lease Trincomalee to another nation without Indian consent.

Finally, the Israeli arms establishment appear to have been involved on both sides of the conflict. In the late 1990s the Tamils actually had the upper hand militarilly as they destroyed the small Sri Lankan air force, while they had Israeli artillery with a greater range than that of the Sri Lankan infantry.

Just a bit of background, which might help the discusson of similarities and differences.

MERC said...

Anon 1, if I thought you could read and had an open mind, I'd direct you to Benjamin Beit-Hallahmi's 1987 book The Israeli Connection: Whom Israel Arms & Why.
Somebody needs to do an update.

Anon 2, Thanks for that useful backgrounder. My main point was simply to highlight some of the ideological similarities between two forms of toxic nationalism - Sinhalese chauvanism and Zionism, arising out of McGowan's book.

Re the point about the Tamil and Sinhala languages, McGowan followed his statement in the post with, "Both ancient names for the island, Eelam in Tamil and Lanka in Sinhalese usage, had Tamil roots, and a wide range of place names assumed to be Sinhalese were in fact of Tamil origin, proving that at one time the Tamils held sway over the entire island." (p 174)

Anonymous said...

Thanks Merc, the Tamils did indeed have sway over the Island. The last royal dynasty of a united Sri Lanka was in fact Tamil (14th Century).

This should not be taken, however as indicating that they were in the majority in recent times. They were in fact a smaller minority until the British doubled their numbers by re-settling Tamils from Tamil Nadu,to pick tea [the Sinhalese did not want the job - at the wage on offer].

Given that the Tamils were in the region earlier, it is highly probable that they were in Sri Lanka first. Moreover, it is plausible, though not proven, that the Tamils were in a demographic majority over the Aboriginal Sri Lankans until the Sinhalese arrived between 2 and 3 thousand years ago.

Again, just background. None of this changes the fact that they have to stop killing each other and undertake some kind of truth and reconciliation process.

Anonymous said...

The whole thing in Sri Lanka is a dirty business - and business it is, at least for the arms traders.

Yes indeed Anon 1, as usual, the Israeli's are up to their elbows in it.

"According to accounts by retired officials of the Israeli secret service, the Mossad, the Israelis were simultaneously training the Sri Lanka Army and the Tigers, and providing arms to each.

"Victor Ostrovsky, author of By Way of Deception, told Indian Abroad news service in 1991 that the Tigers were trained in Israel in 1985. "These groups kept coming and going. It was part of our routine job to take them to training camps and make sure that they were getting training worth what they paid for, not more and not less." The groups paid in cash.

"Ostrovsky said that the arrangement for the training was made by the Mossad liaison in India, who lived there under a British passport.

"A December 1983 Sunday Mail article reported that the Mossad was arming and training the Tigers, as well as the Sri Lankan Armed Forces.
"The British Special Air Services (SAS) firm Keenie Meenie Services, was simultaneously training the Sri Lankan Army and the LTTE...

More here


Joshua said...

All of this is great information and background (also to the Anonymous to give a bigger picture of the Sri Lanka/Tamil conflict).

I always wondered why the Tamil Tigers aren't lambasted as much as the Palestinians (well, I haven't wondered, I know why) since they were suicide bombers before the Palestinians.

Anonymous said...

I have often wondered why there have never been Christian Palestinian suicide bombers... I guess it must be a Muslim thing?

MERC said...

"Often wondered"? Wondering does not take place inside a closed mind. But I often wonder - I wonder why you bother. Anyway, chew on this: "What caused the emergence of suicide terrorism in Lebanon? The most common explanation is Islamic fundamentalism... However, this is not the case... I spent a year leading a team of researchers who collected detailed evidence on the ideological and demographic characteristics of suicide terrorists. The results show that at least 30 of the 41 attackers do not fit the description of Islamic fundamentalism. Twenty-seven were communists or socialists with no commitment to religious extremism; 3 were Christians... (Dying to Win: The Strategic Logic of Suicide Terrorism, Robert Pape, pp 129-130) And Tamil suicide bombers? Hindus.

Anonymous said...

Yeh merc pull the other one

MERC said...

You can lead a donkey to water but you can't make it drink.