By Malinda Seneviratne
Why celebrate the fact, 12 years later, some people ask. They do not ask, on the other hand, why independence is celebrated, why certain people want to mourn on a particular day because it’s on that day that the man mostly responsible for the worst days experienced by the Tamil people in Sri Lanka was killed
Terrorism didn’t end, Easter Sunday 2019 reminded us. In other words, there’s always room for other kinds of terrorism. It does not mean that the defeat of one kind of terrorism, especially one that devastated a nation
Twelve years ago, almost to the day, the Sri Lankan security forces brought an end to a three decades long struggle against terrorism against the world’s most ruthless terrorist organization. Dr. Nirmal Ranjith Dewasiri opined recently that such characterization is actually a flip side of certain inabilities on the part of the state. He is correct, in part.
It should not have taken three decades. Incompetence, lack of determination, wayward and even treacherous policy choices by the political leadership at decisive moments as well as rank indiscipline on the part of certain military personnel did in fact contribute to the length of the struggle. It can also be argued that victory over terrorism could have been achieved 22 years before had J. R. Jayewardene been endowed with a fraction of the resoluteness and pride that Mahinda Rajapaksa demonstrated two decades later vis-a-vis the management of foreign relations, especially with India.
That said, one must have lived in a cocoon to imply that the LTTE constituted a pushover. It is even laughable when such characterizations are offered by those who were part of the choir that sang at every turn their ideological anthem ‘The LTTE can never be militarily defeated.’
Why celebrate the fact, 12 years later, some people ask. They do not ask, on the other hand, why independence is celebrated, why certain people want to mourn on a particular day because it’s on that day that the man mostly responsible for the worst days experienced by the Tamil people in Sri Lanka was killed, why we should celebrate Christmas etc.
Well, it marked the end of the biggest lie that liberals (so-called) in Sri Lanka had been tossing around for decades. Yes, the one about the LTTE’s invincibility. It marked the possibility of a different way of organizing social and economic life. It put an end to decades-long abduction and forced conscription of children. Tamil politicians, reduced to mere readers of LTTE missives, found their voice that day.
There are other significant factors that make that day historic. Dr. Gamini Samaranayake, in a book on the JVP insurrection of April 1971 suggested that this particular adventure taught two lessons: a) there could be politics outside the democratic process, i.e. armed insurrection, and, b) the state was ill-equipped to handle such an insurrection. True, the JVP insurrection was crushed within weeks, but then again it was one of the worst planner exercises ever. A better prepared, better equipped outfit with a superior strategy could have been a different kettle of fish. That’s the implication. Samaranayake suggests that it was the LTTE (and not the JVP of the late eighties) that learned these lessons best.
If that’s the case, then another lesson was learned or rather dawned on one and all on May 18, 2009 — a determined, well-equipped security apparatus backed by the correct political leadership and supported by the people would prevail against adventurers (if one went with Dewasir’s characterization) or thugs (closer to the mark) like Prabhakaran and the outfit he led.
There were liberals and Marxists who wagered that Prabhakaran and the LTTE would prevail. Dr. Kumar David almost willed the LTTE to turn things around. Dr. Jayadeva Uyangoda insisted that the LTTE would not be militarily defeated. There were others in that bandwagon.
The USA did its utmost to throw a lifeline to the LTTE’s military leadership. Robert O’ Blake was the man behind such moves. Human rights advocated, so-called, international and local, shouted themselves hoarse trying to somehow leverage their global bosses to arm-twist the then Government to put a halt to the relentless forward march of the security forces.
Most fell silent. Some found cathartic release in conjuring up a war crimes narrative. They are still at it, poor them. Some changed their tune. ‘Terrorism was defeated, separatism was not,’ was the consolation-prize line they took in the face of considerably reduced political and ideological circumstances. They were correct of course.
Separatism, like Marxism or any other ‘ism’ is not easily buried. There can always be a Marxist or a separatist or some other relevant ‘ist’ around. Is Trotskyism dead, folks? Is flat-earthism dead, ladies and gentlemen? There are still people who believe that dinosaur remains don’t take anything away from the biblical time-line: ‘they say, they were put there by God himself to test your faith!’ There are economists who still swear by neoliberal ‘truths.’ There are ‘modernists’ who refuse to acknowledge the violence unleashed on all creatures and all things in fact by ‘modernism’ or at least its dominant versions.
There is nothing wrong about ‘-isms’ and ‘-ists’. Until such time (and it’s an unlikely eventuality by the way) that every single individual agrees with all other individuals on something, we can say “that ‘-ism’ is still alive” or “that ‘-ist’ is still around.” The clash or clashes among ‘-isms’ or those among ‘-ists’ of this or that persuasion is not necessarily a bad thing. The difference is that the conversation is made of words and not a testing of this weapon against that. That conversation, if you will, ended on May 18, 2009 as far as separatisms and separatists are concerned.
Terrorism didn’t end, Easter Sunday 2019 reminded us. In other words, there’s always room for other kinds of terrorism. It does not mean that the defeat of one kind of terrorism, especially one that devastated a nation, should be pooh-poohed. The pooh-poohing hordes are more likely than not to be made of those whose outcome preferences did not materialize. Their sorrow is understood. Their logic is, well, amusing, let’s say.
There’s another important outcome: devolution and devolutionists (at least those swearing by lined arbitrarily drawn by a bunch of guns-in-booty-out brigands, yes the British) suffered a massive setback. No, they weren’t buried and will not be, simply because, as mentioned above, ‘-isms’ and ‘-ists’ are excellent survivors. However, as evidenced by the story that unfolded over the next 12 years, few today are interested in devolution. Here’s a fact: no provincial council elections in YEARS but nary a word of protest from devolutionists about this mechanism that was hailed as ‘THE solution to the “ethnic (sic) conflict.’
Twelve years later, however, the 13th Amendment stands. It is a monument to political ineptitude and cowardice. Its survival is an affront to democracy and all allusions to the unitary character of the state.
There was death, dismemberment, displacement and destruction for almost 30 years. The people paid a price; a very high price. Their sacrifices should not go unacknowledged. Indeed the best way to acknowledge all that would be to repeal the 13th Amendment. Closure on that count is also important.
The writer can be reached on: email@example.com. www.malindawords.blogspot.com.