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.