The ghosts of war still haunt Jaffna. It is almost seven years since Sri Lanka’s brutal 30-year civil war was brought to a particularly brutal and bloody conclusion. Somewhere between 40,000 and 70,000 people are estimated to have been killed in the last months of the conflict, as the Sri Lankan army penned the remnants of the LTTE (the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam), the Tamil insurgent army, together with tens of thousands of civilians into a tiny pocket of land in the north-east of the country, and indiscriminately shelled fighter and civilian. Thousands more died in the wave of death squad murders that followed the Tigers’ defeat, as much of the Tamil population was herded into internment camps.
I was in Jaffna to speak at the Galle Literary Festival. The Festival began in Galle, in the south of the island, and has over the past ten years become an important and influential part of Sri Lanka’s cultural life. This year the Festival expanded out from Galle to Kandy in the Hill Country and to Jaffna in the Tamil North.
Over the past seven years much has been reconstructed in the north of the island. The railway line from Colombo has been rebuilt, as has the A9, the main route to Jaffna from the south, which had by the end of the war become little more than a series of shell craters. Many of the shattered buildings have been rebuilt.
Yet, some thirty thousands Tamils still live in camps, denied the right to return to their villages. Thousands more have disappeared, almost certainly dead. Throughout the north can be seen the shattered buildings and bullet-marked walls.
And then there are the war memorials, less commemorations of war and loss than seeming celebrations of Tamil humiliation. In Kilinochchi, 100 kilometers south of Jaffna, on the A9, once a stronghold of the Tigers, and the location of a one of the battles at the end of war, there is a war memorial depicting a missile bursting through a wall. According to the accompanying plaque, ‘This monument… was erected in memory of the magnificent victory achieved by the 57 Division with Task Force 2 and 3 of the Sri Lankan Army ably supported by the rest of the security forces to annihilate the savage and brutal terrorism which has terrified this land for thirty years.’ The bullet bursting through the wall is ‘symbolizing the sturdiness of the Sri Lankan army to blossom forth in a lotus of peace enwrapped in the fluttering national flag.’ The savage army attack is described as a ‘humanitarian operation’.
There is in Jaffna, and throughout the north, deep ambiguity and often open hostility towards the Tigers – they carried out brutal acts and often turned on their own. But no one, not even those most hostile to the Tigers, would begin to describe the brutality of the Sri Lankan Army as a ‘humanitarian operation’ or imagine that this was ‘liberation’. (To give a sense of the mood in the North, it is worth noting that the Tamil National Alliance, a moderate alliance of Tamil nationalist groups, took 80 per cent of the vote and 30 of the 38 seats in the 2013 provincial elections in the Northern Province.) The Kilinochchi memorial is a bit like the British government building a monument in the centre of Derry to commemorate ‘the magnificent victory of the Ist Battalion Parachute Regiment over the terrorists of Ireland’ and to celebrate ‘the humanitarian operation of Bloody Sunday’.
Arriving in Jaffna, after spending time in Galle and Colombo, I was struck by how much less open, more suspicious was the city, the unavoidable consequence of a savage war and its aftermath. (Friends tell me that two, three years ago, the sense of suspicion and paranoia was far greater.) It will inevitably take time for Jaffna to return to normal life, not just on the surface, but deep down, too.
Yet, beyond the ghosts of war, there is also a haunting beauty to Jaffna. The landscape here is different, as is the quality of light. This is especially true to the northwest of the city where a string of islands stretch out towards India. Causeways connect Jaffna to the nearest islands, and beyond that, boats to outlying ones. The sea is very shallow, and the causeways seem almost to skim over the water. The result is a quite extraordinary light, fragile and ethereal. Especially early in the morning, with the sun low on the horizon and the sea mist still to lift, there is an otherwordly quality to it. It is one of the most beautiful, almost meditative, landscapes on the island.
The first set of photos here were taken around 7 o’clock in the morning on the causeways, as fishermen went out in their boats or checked their nets. The later photos were in the fiercer glow of the afternoon.
Great pictures of a sad story, thanks.
Thank you Kenan for sharing a post on Jaffna and the light on the Jaffna lagoon and even that gawdawful plaque with its arrogant wording which was a common propoganda which nauseated many a Sinhalese. I didn’t know of the plaque but the entire operation of Mullaivaikkal at the end stage was described as a humanitarian operation in which no blood was shed???!!!! We’ve had to move on as a nation from a war, a Tsunamis and idiot politicians but the war taught us resilience and the essential humanity at the heart of our Muslim, Tamil, Sinhalese and other citizenry is alive and well. As a Sinhalese going to Jaffna for the first time in my life in 2011 aged 39, I was greeted with hospitality, trust and I made lasting friendships with those who lived there. After the end of war, a Tamil and Sinhalese kept the promise one made that if war should end he would walk from Galle to Jaffna and decided that the cause would be a cancer hospital in Jaffna as the other had lost a sister to the killer disease. Such is the peace dividend.
I stopped at that war memorial in Kilinochchi too. It’s pretty over the top I agree.
One very important thing I thought at the time though, was that the war was over and there was peace.
And I was surprised how relaxed things felt in the north. There might still be this suspicion, which as a foreigner I couldn’t pick up on very well, but soldiers travelled on buses and the train unarmed when off duty, and it didn’t feel like an occupation at all.
Apart from one place north of Jaffna where the road just ended in an army checkpoint and that was one of the villages that had been depopulated I believe.
Some of the shelled out buildings are being left as reminders of the war, but Jaffna was less damaged than I thought it might have been. The Tigers were the biggest problem I think. And it’s great that they are no longer around. Many of their supporters now live in England though. Better there than Sri Lanka I suppose.
And I don’t mean to sound to flippant (regarding your photos), but I have a different memory that sticks in my mind, even though I did go out to those islands on a day trip from Jaffna and saw the laggon and the boats etc.
And that was walking back and forth from where I was staying just east of the city centre, and being driven to distraction by the honking of car and motorcycle horns for no apparent reason.
It became jarring and I almost started shouting at the passing offenders telling them to shut up.
There was no need for sounding the horn, but they do it every time they approach a junction, even when there is nothing else on the road.
But really nice people all the same and peace is the best thing that has come out of that terrible situation. They seem such unlikely warriors as well.
Thanks for that report, Kenan. The ethereal beauty of your photographs in some historically illuminatingly ironic way, emphasises the horror of that particular war; but every war is a time and space of horror. Tom
The photographic images are captivating and your philosophical/literary background may seem persuasive. However, your “moral compass” is called into question when you accept the propaganda lies and exaggeration within an ongoing political tussle without bothering to check the facts. Let me pinpoint a few fundamental errors:
A. The Tamil populace of some 300,000 or so was “penned into” declining space and the anvil of war because the LTTE wanted them to be in that situation as a defensive barrier of so many sandbags and a potential lifeline underwriting their strategy of inducing international intervention to avoid “a humanitarian catastrophe” – a spectre they created. See http://groundviews.org/2014/04/10/generating-calamity-2008-2014-an-overview-of-tamil-nationalist-operations-and-their-marvels/
B. A fair proportion of the Tiger fighters were not wearing fatigues, while many civilians were conscripted to service the building of berms and provision of supplies, thereby becoming “belligerents’ in legal terminology.
C. That some of the key Tiger personnel who were captured in the last few days were subject to extra-judicial execution is probable (see http://white-flags.org/). But in my surmise the number does not even approach a “thousand.” Indeed, some 290,000 fighters and civilians survived and the best estimates (e.g. Narendran Rajasingham) suggest a death toll of something between around 15,000 civilians AND Tiger personnel in the last phase.
D. The detention centres were used to weed out Tigers but also functioned as welfare centres serviced by a combination of GSL. NGO and INGO personnel working with govt civil functionaries in camps set up, patrolled and serviced by military personnel. Detention ceased as a principle on 1 December 2009.
When an intellectual proclaims and declaims on a complex topic on the basis of a brief visit, he reveals an arrogance that spatters mud on his evocative pictures. The ethereal quality of your photography is sullied by your failure to undertake homework. Such groundwork must necessarily study cartographic snapshots of the war theatre in temporal order so as to overcome the bourgeois amateur perspectives of any jet-in-and-out reporter or literary genius. A summary picture can be found in my essay “The Realities of Eelam War IV” (2015) at https://thuppahi.wordpress.com/2015/10/27/the-realities-of-eelam-war-iv/ — which has then to be supplemented by work on the extensive list of items in its bibliography.
MICHAEL ROBERTS, Anthropology, University of Adelaide
Failed to check facts? Moral compass called into question? Hmm…
A. It is true that the Tigers held civilians hostage and stopped many fleeing the war zone. They were brutal. But you seem to want to whitewash the record of the Sri Lankan government and the Sri Lankan army.
The 2011 UN report on the final stages of the war was critical of the Tigers. The LTTE, it observes, ‘refused civilians permission to leave, using them as hostages’. The report accused both sides of war crimes, but it was particular devastating in its appraisal of the actions of the Sri Lankan Government and Army:
The the 2104 International Crimes Evidence Project makes similar points, as have numerous other official reports and journalistic accounts. The ICEP report concludes:
If you wish to use the brutality of the Tigers to whitewash the record of the Sri Lankan Army, I suggest that it’s not my moral compass that’s askew, nor is it I who seems to ‘accept the propaganda lies and exaggeration’.
B. Again this sounds like an apology for mass killings of civilians by government forces. And again, I doubt if it’s my moral compass that’s askew.
C Most reports place the figures at somewhere between 40,000 and 70,000 (the UN estimates around 40,000). If it makes you feel better to imagine it was only 15,000, fair enough.
D UN and other reports on the detention centres paint a very different picture from yours. From the 2011 UN report:
And, yes, ‘Detention ceased as a principle on 1 December 2009’ but IDP camps still existing, largely housing people who have been refused permission to return their home villages. Here’s one recent report from Britain’s Channel 4 News that includes footage from inside one such camp.
I know that you have decades of research into Sri Lanka, and I cannot match the depth of your understanding. But, no, I did not write what I did without ‘undertaking homework’. What I refuse to do, however, is be an apologist for the Sri Lankan government and army. And I doubt if all these reports and accounts on which I have relied are the products of ‘the bourgeois amateur perspectives of any jet-in-and-out reporter or literary genius’.
Oh, but thanks for you kind comments about my photos.
Dear Mr Malik, when the British Council in Colombo asked me to suggest the names of British writers they might invite to the Galle Literary Festival yours was one of the names I put forward. I find it rather unfortunate that you chose to use your visit to recycle the fictional figure of 40,000 plus civilian casualties at the end of the war. I have given this matter a great deal of thought. I have attended think tanks and seminars, had a long conversation with the author of the IADG report, reviewed Gordon Weiss’s book on the subject, had a dialogue with Callum McCrae and published several articles.
I have no desire to whitewash the Rajapaksa government or the Sri Lankan military. I have looked at this matter in a perfectly calm and logical manner which is what I would have expected of an intellectual with your reputation. My conclusion is that the figure 40,000 cannot be correct and it is not helpful to any reconciliation process to continue to bandy it about.
In one of my articles I say: ‘Like an urban myth or an internet hoax, a story gets passed around and is treated as legal currency. The neologism “churnalism” has been credited to BBC journalist Waseem Zakir who coined the term in 2008. “You get copy coming in on the wires and reporters churn it out, processing stuff and maybe adding the odd local quote.” Stephen Colbert coined the term “truthiness” – “We’re not talking about truth, we’re talking about something that seems like truth – the truth we want to exist”.’
I grieve for all those who suffered and continue to suffer. Any number of deaths is tragic. It was a brutal end to 30 years of brutality. To say ‘Most reports place the figures at somewhere between 40,000 and 70,000 (the UN estimates around 40,000). If it makes you feel better to imagine it was only 15,000, fair enough’ is flippant and inappropriate and inaccurate and unworthy of you.
In my articles, I cite many Tamils, including the LTTE’s own website and the then head of the UNHRC Navi Pillay, who estimated a much lower figure. Acknowledging that the figures are disputed would not make you an apologist for the Sri Lankan government. Disputing the figure does not make Professor Roberts and myself apologists. Your loose and emotive use of words is disappointing. What did your homework consist of?
I thank you for having originally put my name forward to the British Council (I had no idea that you had done so), and I am sorry if what I wrote upset you.
It wasn’t with reference to the question of the numbers of civilian causalities that I used the term ‘apologist’, and certainly I have never used it with reference to you as this is the first time that I have engaged with you. It was, rather, in response to Michael Roberts’ suggestion that the actions of the LTTE somehow justified the actions of the Sri Lankan Army (points A and B of his comment). Suppose that I had written something critical of the actions of the Syrian government in the current civil war, and particularly of its mass killings of civilians. And suppose a respondent had suggested that the real problems lay not with the actions of the government forces but those of the al-Nusra Front and of the Islamic State, and that it is rebel activities that drives the Syrian government to take the actions that it does, an argument that can be heard quite loudly in certain parts of the media today. Would a robust response not be justified? And if it is justified in that case, why not in this case? (Before anyone jumps on me, the analogy I am making is not between the conflicts in Syria and Sri Lanka, but between the attempts to use insurgent actions as a means of justifying unjustifiable government actions).
The question of numbers dead in the final phase is not central to the argument I was making. The figures I have come across vary from around 9,000 to around 100,000. I rejected the figures that came from either side in the war and took instead figures from independent third parties, such as the UN and ICEP. It may be that, as you say, these figures, too, are myths, and I have no reason to dispute your research (though I have not seen it in full). However, where the figures are disputed, it makes sense to settle for the more those provided by more objective collectors of those figures, which is what I did.
You are right, it was flippant of me to say to say to Michael Roberts that, ‘If it makes you feel better to imagine it was only 15,000, fair enough’, and I apologize for that. However, if you want to talk of ‘loose and emotive use of words’, perhaps you should look at Professor Roberts’ original comment: ‘your “moral compass” is called into question’; ‘you accept the propaganda lies’; ‘without bothering to check the facts’; ‘reveals an arrogance that spatters mud’; ‘the bourgeois amateur perspectives of any jet-in-and-out reporter or literary genius’; and so on. I think mine was a fairly restrained response to such a tirade.
Department of Statistics which had done a house to house survey in the conflict zone, and the reports sent out by the various foreign embassies suggest a death toll of 7,700. Figure of 40000 is a myth, created by the unholy alliance between the western propaganda media and the diaspora. Of course they want to have hostile media policies towards the developing nations. Destabilizing regions for global monopoly is what they do best. Don’t believe me. Pick up any major newspaper in a western country, and read the international section. See how they cover news from any developing country. 99 times out of 100, they focus on war, famine, poverty ,human rights violations, floods etc etc. We were fighting a war that waged for nearly 30 years. Imagine fighting a war for that long, and seeing the end in sight. There have been numerous occasions when the SL Army have come close to wiping the LTTE leadership, only to have it narrowly slip away. That was not going to happen. The momentum was way too big to consider an alternative. The reality was that the LTTE was using civilians as a shield. The whole point to it was to pressure the pro-LTTE international delegates to negotiate a ceasefire, just so the LTTE can rearm and live to fight another day. And so the cycle would have dragged on for several more decades, with thousands more dead, and no real hope for the future. Yes, there is much to be done for reconciliation. Yes, more could have been done since 2009. The truth is, there was no other way to end the war. Casualties were unavoidable under the circumstances. While everyone is completely focused on criticizing the tactics of the SL army, LTTE and their sympathizers merely get a slap on the wrist for using civilians as a shield. There are LTTE mouthpieces overseas walking freely, garnering sympathy and support, despite openly supporting the organisation that used over 300000 people as a shield, not to mention all the other atrocities they have committed over the decades, such as bombing the capital Colombo on several occasions, and using child soldiers. What did the international community want the government to do under those circumstances? Commence peace talks as they did in the past, only to fail again? Critics of the government are full of passive aggressive whining, but no one has a practical solution.
Thank you. I would not have expressed myself in the same tone as Michael but I share his exasperation. It is a matter of life and death to those of us living in Sri Lanka. I used to write a monthly column for Le Monde diplomatique but fell out with the editor after she asked my opinion on an article on the end of the Sri Lankan conflict by a Frenchman who came here for a couple of weeks on his holidays. The article was full of egregious factual howlers and his interviewees were known members of the LTTE. The editor did not like it when I told her this. I no longer write for her. Such is the power of the western liberal media. We do get very frustrated that the only view of what happens here is the view of the pro-LTTE diaspora. Sometimes we feel we have to shout to make ourselves heard. I speak as an Irishman with no political allegiances. I speak as someone who is surrounded by Tamils with whom I get on very well.
Please read this: https://pcolman.wordpress.com/2013/05/07/deadly-accountancy-part-2/
My criticism of your essay, Kenan Malik, was certainly polemical and meant to get under your skin. Your response confirms my questioning of your reasoning and the home work you depend on. For anyone to say that my points A and B amount to an attempt “to whitewash the record of the Sri Lankan government and the Sri Lankan army” is mind-boggling insofar as it erases two (among many more) of the basic conditions of the battle theatre. The dismissal of such foundations is what leads to my criticism of people whose analysis is “bourgeois amateur” … or what one can call office room intelligence. You are not alone the Public Interest Advocacy Centre (PIAC) in Sydney displayed the same failing in their Island of Impunity? (2014) and Senator Christine Milne went public with this type of thinking and its empirical errors and exaggerations.
The problem lies in your reliance on empirical claims presented by politically-motivated UN ‘teams’ who relied on slipshod methodology amongst their other failings. Their reports and those of Channel Four must be balanced by attending to the reviews of these presentations by such units as Marga and IDAG as well as the evidence of Murali Reddy, Dr V. Shanmugarajah and a host of others (including the UTHR reports).
My points A and B were allied with C which not only referred to http://white-flags.org/ see … but also had a hyperlink to the Thangavelu article on high-ranking Tiger personnel who surrendered and are missing. Your site does not allow hyperlinks but I sent the same comment to your personal web contact reference. My comment was also constrained by considerations of length and did not present the bibliographical references which I attached to the other effort to reach you [maybe it failed]. So let me begin here by referring you and others to the articles where I use images from the “white-flags” citation as well as some of Weiss’s work. This article is the web version [embellished with pictures] of the memo I submitted to Geneva in late 2014. I also add other essays where I did with the same topic from related angles. I did not expect you to be aware of these items. BUT your yawning limitations in homework” is revealed in ignorance of a whole host of studies that have severely undermined the material in the type of sources you depend on. These include works by Marga, Mango, IDAG, Padraig Colman as well as the contemporary accounts of the war in 2009 from DBS Jeyaraj, Serge de Silva-Ranasinghe and Reddy.
The problem here is that the British public were beguiled by the massive propaganda campaign of the Tigers supported by agitated Tamil migrants who were –quite naturally — concerned about the developing situation and thereby became convincing tale bearers. Add the media machinery and the advocacy of AI, HRW and ICG and one had a multi-faceted network susceptible to the propaganda work of the LTTE in their siege HQ. Before dismissing this brief note do read the literature which argues such a case via empirical material.
I find it encouraging that you have responded. The PIAC team, Senator Milne and the Greens and Gordon Weiss and company seem to have adopted a different strategy: they pretend that all this questioning by Marga and others does not exist. Shanmugarajah’s affidavit does not exist either. Since they occupy the heights where world opinion is created, this strategy works. Puny voices of institutions in little Lanka and individual Irishmen or Sri Lankan Australians can be allowed to whistle into the wind.
Bitter? Yes … up to a point. But there is also a wince of admiration – till I mull over the intellectual chicanery embodied in such a tactic. Thankfully this does not seem to extend to your reactions today. I do plead with you to spend some time on the HOMEWORK. You have my email. Ask and by that method I can send you enough material to occupy you for a month.
But you and others can begin by reading Reddy in Frontline and The Hindu in the first half of 2009 and with any of these items set out here in reverse order.
Roberts 2015d “The Realities of Eelam War IV,” 27 October 2015, https://thuppahi.wordpress.com/2015/10/27/the-realities-of-eelam-war-iv/
Roberts 2015 “USA under Assault: How Tamil Activists Secure Attention, 2009 and Today,” 9 December 2015, https://thuppahi.wordpress.com/2015/12/09/usa-under-assault-how-tamil-activists-secure-attention-2009-andtoday/
Shanmugarajah, V. 2014 “Dr. Veerakanthipillai Shanmugarajah’s Affidavit Description of Conditions in the Vanni Pocket in Refutation of Channel Four,” 5 January 2014, https://thuppahi.wordpress.com/2014/01/05/drveerakanthipillai-shanmugarajahs-affidavit-description-of-conditionsin-the-vanni-pocket-in-refutation-of-channel-four/
Mango 2014 “Sri Lanka’s War in its Last Phase: Where WIA Figures defeat the Gross KIA Estimates,” 14 February 2014, https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/sri-lankas-war-in-its-last-phase-where-wia-figures-defeat-the-gross-kia-estimates/
Roberts 2014 Tamil Person and State. 2 vols Colombo: Vijitha Yapa Publishers.
Roberts 2014 “The War in Sri Lanka and Post-War Propaganda,” 18 November 2014, https://thuppahi.wordpress.com/2014/11/18/the-war-in-sri-lanka-and-propaganda-debates/ …being Memo sent to OISL with Hyperlinks and Images added
Roberts 2014 Cartographic & Photographic Illustrations in support of the Memorandum Analysing the War in Sri Lanka and Its Propaganda Debates,” 18 November 2014, https://thuppahi.wordpress.com/2014/11/18/cartographic-photographic-illustrations-in-support-of-the-memorandum-analysing-the-war-in-sri-lanka-and-propaganda-debates/
Roberts 2014 “Generating Calamity, 2008-2014: An Overview of Tamil Nationalist Operations and Their Marvels,” 10 April 2014, http://groundviews.org/2014/04/10/generating-calamity-2008-2014-an-overview-of-tamil-nationalist-operations-and-their-marvels/
Noble, Kath 2013 “Numbers Game reviewed by Kath Noble: The Full Monty,” 14 July 2013, https://thuppahi.wordpress.com/2013/07/14/numbers-game-reviewed-by-kath-noble-the-full-monty/
Thangavelu, Velupillai 2013 “LTTE Cadres Who Surrendered To The Army: Where Are They?” Colombo Telegraph, 18 August 2013, http://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/ltte-cadres-who-surrendered-to-the-army-where-are-they/.
Thanks for your reply, but I have not changed my judgment on your original comment. I have no doubt that the UN and other organizations are often politically motivated and often exaggerate. When it comes to the numbers of civilians killed in the final stages of the war, it may well be that your estimate (15,000) is closer to the truth than the UN estimate (up to 40,000). No doubt in time that will be settled.
Your arguments are, however, not merely empirical, but moral too. You do not, as far as I can see, contest the empirical claim that the Sri Lankan Army fired into what it had declared to be No Fire Zones or on hospitals or civilian areas. Rather, you provide moral justifications for its right to have done so (in essence ‘the basic condition of the battle theatre’).
Let me replay an analogy that I used in this thread before (though not in response to you). Suppose I had written a critical piece about the Syrian government bombings of civilian areas (or the Israeli assault on Gaza, or the Russian war in Chechnya or the US assault on Faluja). And suppose someone had responded on the lines ‘But the real problem derives from the insurgents (‘a fair number of al-Nusra Front fighters were not wearing fatigues’; ‘Hamas uses human shields’, etc). How should I have responded? I would have replied, as I replied to you, that to use the actions of the insurgents to justify the unjustifiable actions of government forces is to whitewash government actions, and to act as an apologist for them. I would hope that you would say the same. Defending unjustifiable action on the grounds of ‘the basic conditions of the battle theatre’ is the argument of every apologist in every conflict. (Let me again make clear that the analogy I am drawing is not between the various conflicts, nor am I trying to draw moral equivalences between the Syrian, Russian, Israeli, US and Sri Lankan governments or their motivations for action; the similarities to which I am pointing are between the arguments of those who attempt to justify unjustifiable government actions by using the actions of the insurgents as an excuse).
You could have said, ‘The actions of the Sri Lankan army, and its mass shelling of civilians, were indefensible. But to get the full picture we also have to look at the actions of the LTTE.’ You chose, deliberately it seems from reading the links to your articles you posted, not to say that. That, to me, is to act as an apologist for the Sri Lankan Army and its actions. I find your position on this as ‘mind-boggling’ as you find mine.
By the way, I’m not sure why you say ‘Your site does not allow hyperlinks’. You have certainly posted links here, and you could have linked directly from text with a bit of html code (<a href="…" etc).
On Bloody Sunday, the British paras faced an unarmed civilian crowd. In the Sri Lankan case, the military faced for three decades the movement created and led by Prabhakaran, named by Pulitzer prize winner John F Burns of the new York times as ‘the Pol Pot of South Asia’. The Tigers blew up Nehru’s grandson and former PM of India, Rajiv Gandhi, to whom Mandela paid his first official visit outside of Africa. Prof Walter Laqueur had said in “The New Terrorism” that the only parallels he could see for the Tigers were ” the European Fascist movements of the 1920s and 1930″. When the London Times published a special set of magazines for the Millennium, one of which was on the theme of Death, it named Prabhakaran as the living individual responsible for the greatest number of violent deaths in the world. When the war ended, The Economist called the LTTE ” almost classically fascist”. When faced with a fascistic enemy ( or ‘radical evil’) of this persistence, power and ferocity, what could one reasonably expect? The endgame could not but have, shall we say, an Old Testament character.
The idea that ‘X are fascists, so any response is acceptable’ is, unfortunately, becoming all too common a view. It was not a tenable view even against real fascists who posed a global threat. To give just one example, the1945 British firebombing of Dresden remains a moral stain. We need to be particularly wary of the kind of argument you present given that it has been utilized in the current ‘war on terror’ to legitimize indiscriminate attacks on civilians.
Dear Mr. Kanan Malik,
Thank you for this well balanced article! I heard about your article through the wonderful Sinhalese author Nayomi Munaweera’s FB page after her visit to Jaffna during the Galle Literary Festival.
Since you are sincere about the Truh and Justice, I wondered if:
1. If you have seen/read this book by Asean Human rights org, “A Sociological Exploration Of Disappearances In Sri Lanka” which looks at root-causes like disappearances starting in early 70’s (BEFORE Tamil rebels formed) where many Sinhala youth ‘disappeared’ under then regime?
Apparently the org is offering a Free PDF download now:
2. Have you seen the Award winning British Channel4 documentary that holds all parties responsible? That shows the simple evidence:
3. Have you heard this Statement by exiled journalist Bashana Abeywardane?
Thank you for standing for the Truth & Justice for all.
I would have thought that your previous career would have taught you to be wary of depending on faith at the expense of reason . I would be interested to know if you have belatedly done some homework on Sri Lanka and whether you have any comments on the links that Professor Roberts and myself have sent you.
Padraig, I assume that this is directed at me? I am not sure where I have depended ‘on faith at the expense of reason’ – perhaps you could show me? Is it your view that adopting a different moral stance to that adopted by Michael Roberts (and perhaps by you, too) is an indication of reliance on faith? My thanks to you, and to Michael Roberts, for your links. I have read them, and added them to the mix of evidence and arguments about the war and its aftermath. Over time, no doubt, and with more evidence and arguments, clarity will emerge from that mix. I get the sense that for you, ‘homework’ means reading articles, and accepting arguments, of which you approve. I take a somewhat broader of what ‘homework’ entails.
Lovely photos Kenan. While I agree with you on the tackiness of war memorials and I do have a bone to pick with you. I feel that you have overlooked the conciliatory gestures of Maitripala Sirisena’s government totally because they did not fit into the image you wanted to convey about post-war Sri Lanka. Sirisena might be a blunderbuss in most instances but he has delivered on his promise to lift the road blocks, return lands and other personal property to Tamils as well as pulling back on military encampments in the north and Wanni. Yes, we have a long way to go in terms of reconciliation but that path must be traveled by both parties to the conflict. The Sinhalese dominated government does have a larger responsibility but the Tamils also must make certain sacrifices in this exercise. Tamil suffering at the hands of both the LTTE and GOSL forces does not give them the right to have the final say on the country’s future. LTTE’s demise also does not absolve them of their sins and pin those sins totally on to the Sinhalese. Your pictures do capture the melancholy I feel about my homeland. Cheers
I agree, the new government has changed the atmosphere. I did not talk of the Sirisena government not because it does ‘not fit in with the image [I] want to covey, (if anything, the new developments show up more starkly the policies of the previous Rajapaksa government) but simply for limitations of space. But thanks for the comment.
Yes, I was addressing you Mr Malik.You say, “I get the sense that for you, ‘homework’ means reading articles, and accepting arguments, of which you approve. I take a somewhat broader of what ‘homework’ entails.” No, that is not at all what it means. I just want you to acknowledge that you have read what I have written and to respond in a rational manner to it. Just pay me the common courtesy of responding rather than dismissing in such a haughty manner. You are evading the issue. It is unworthy of a man of your intellect and reputation.
I do not understand the tone of your last two responses. I have, courteously I think, replied to your comments, acknowledged that I have read your links, agreed with some of your points, suggested that others I would need to think about for much longer, and that, in the context of bitterly disputed claims, it makes little sense for me to give an instant judgment. I cannot see in what way I am ‘dismissing [you] in such a haughty manner’. You accuse me of being discourteous to you. Where? And what issue am I evading?
In your previous comment you accused me of ‘depending on faith at the expense of reason’, without providing any evidence of that. I asked you to show me where I have done so. You still have not. I don’t think it is me who is ‘evading the issue’ here.
I do believe that I am being courteous. I see nothing discourteous about the tone of any of my comments. Perhaps you do not like to be challenged. I do not see any response from you to the substance of the articles I sent you. I realise that you are a very busy man. I am at this moment working on a detailed response to you. More later.
I never said you were being discourteous (again, can you point me to where I have said that?). I was, however, puzzled by the tone of your previous responses, and the ire and irritation they expressed, and wondered where that came from.
I don’t like being challenged? The vast majority of comments on Pandaemonium challenge my views. You and Michael Roberts have certainly challenged my views, and I have responded to all of your posts. You say, ‘I do not see any response from you to the substance of the articles I sent you’. No you don’t. But, to repeat myself from my previous comment,
Finally, let me ask again (for the third time): You accuse me of ‘depending on faith at the expense of reason’. Can you point to where I have done so?
Padraig, were you trying to link to something, were you asking me to email you, or was this just in error?
Thank you for your article and the pictures that almost daily witness in the morning and evening. The cube monument in Kilinochchi has many interpretations for many people. When I first saw it in 2010, it symbolised to me the heart of the Tamils being pierced by the Shell and cracking it. The lotus being fed by the blood of the Tamils. Will we ever heal? Daily since then I see the results of the brutality of war. I am sure the community that survived the Portuguese, Dutch and the British will also heal after the brutality that was poured on them. Heal to do what is the big question.
Mr Malik, I have received e-mail notification of a response by you to a comment by Sudat. I cannot see either comment. Several comments that I have made are not appearing. David Blacker tells me he made a comment several days ago but it has not appeared. Is there some technical problem? What is happening?
A comment by Sudat (to which I responded) was published two days ago. I have received no other comment from Sudat. Are you saying that there was a further comment after that which I have not received? Nor have I received a comment from David Blacker. You say several of your comments have not got through. I have so far published six comments from you; were there were more? If so, when did you send them? I did receive an odd comment from you (on Feb 9, see further back on this thread) that consisted simply of an email address. I don’t know whether that was an error on your part, or whether you wrote a comment, the rest of which somehow got deleted.
As far as I know there is no technical problem, and no one else has complained (though if there is a technical glitch, and one or two comments are not getting through, it would be impossible for me to tell). WordPress have not informed me of any problem. It is my policy to let all comments through (I started vetting them a few years ago only because too many spam comments were getting published). Does David Blacker want to resubmit his comment? And you, too, if any comment you sent has not got through? My apologies if there is some technical glitch, and for any hassle it has caused.
I responded to your comment here: “I did receive an odd comment from you (on Feb 9, see further back on this thread) that consisted simply of an email address. I don’t know whether that was an error on your part, or whether you wrote a comment, the rest of which somehow got deleted.” My response did not appear.
I will ask David Blacker to resubmit. I don’t know what he was saying.Here is my response to your dialogue with Sudat.
Mr Malik, you write: “I agree, the new government has changed the atmosphere. I did not talk of the Sirisena government not because it does ‘not fit in with the image [I] want to covey, (if anything, the new developments show up more starkly the policies of the previous Rajapaksa government) but simply for limitations of space.” Were you in Sri Lanka in May 2009 to witness the change of atmosphere when the LTTE were defeated? I was a full-time resident of Sri Lanka at that time and the relief and gratitude amongst Tamils, Muslims, Christians as well as Sinhalese was palpable. There were portraits of Rajapaksa hanging outside Hindu temples. UNP politicians told me they would be voting for Rajapaksa.
We made the decision to come and live in Sri Lanka in 2002, when Ranil Wickramesinhe was prime minister and was maintaining a cease fire with the LTTE. I was very dismayed when Mahinda Rajapaksa defeated him in the 2005 presidential election. I was severely dismayed when the Rajapaksa government decided to try to defeat the Tigers militarily. I realize now that I was seriously mistaken.
Ranil was defeated in many elections subsequently because many perceived him as making too many concessions to the LTTE. It is comfortable for him today to be seen as a man of peace. Do not forget that he can enjoy his status today because Rajapaksa did the dirty work of defeating the LTTE. I have lived in Sri Lanka for 14 years and have not left it since 2006. The years before the defeat of the LTTE were very anxious. Life for many people improved as a result of the Rajapaksa government for all its many faults.
Also do not forget that it was a UNP government, of which Ranil was a member, that was responsible for the awful slaughter of innocent Tamils in 1983 which severely intensified Tamil militant separatism. I have talked to Sinhalese people who risked their own lives during those horrific days to protect Tamils who were strangers to them. Do not forget that it was a UNP government, of which Ranil was a prominent member, that put down with great brutality a rebellion of Sinhalese youth – and the nation was grateful, just as the nation was grateful when an SLFP government, possibly brutally, put down a rebellion of Tamil youth. This is not the place to deal with Ranil’s role in the defeat of the JVP but you will encounter some interesting material if you Google the word ‘Batalanda’.
It is somewhat naïve to see the world in terms of goodies and baddies, black hats and white hats. Do not forget that Sirisena was a long-term willing participant in Rajapaksa’s government.
Lest you think I am a fan of Rajapaksa, let me assure you that I was relieved when he was ousted. This is what I wrote about it at the time.
No I wasn’t. But I talked to dozens of people who, like you, live in Sri Lanka (most of them for far longer than you have) and who were there in both 2009 and in 2015 when Rajapaksa was defeated. To a person they talked of their relief at the change of government in 2015 and of the new atmosphere that it brought. I was reflecting their sentiment, not mine. Sudat was making that same point about the impact of the change of government. Perhaps your argument, then, is with Sudat? Though, given that you say that you, too, were ‘relieved when [Rajapaksa] was ousted’, I do not know what you find so objectionable in what I wrote.
Perhaps you can show me where I do this? You have, throughout our series of exchanges, thrown out various claims about my arguments (from the relatively trivial such as that I accused you of being ‘discourteous’, to the more significant, such as that I ‘depend on faith at the expense of reason’, etc) without referencing anything that I have written. When I have asked you to show me where I have argued as you say I have, you have simply ignored the request, and moved on to the next accusation. It’s getting a bit wearing, not to mention pointless.
” I talked to dozens of people who, like you, live in Sri Lanka (most of them for far longer than you have)” Who were they? Tell me more about you ‘homework’. To anyone who lives in Sri Lanka you seem remarkably ignorant about what is going on here. And who would expect you to know what is going on here. You are a dilettante.
I am afraid that I still believe that you came to Sri Lanka on a brief subsidised holiday (facilitated by mygoodself) and took the opportunity to make ill-advised and ill-informed comments which could be harmful to those of us who have chosen to live here and to those who have no choice about living here.
Perhaps we could have a more constructive conversation by e-mail? There are things that I could tell which,if made public, would probably get me deported. It seems to me that you are misrepresenting my tone and position and sounding increasingly peevish.Rather than answering my substantive points you are creating a smokescreen by uttering such nonsense as : “you have simply ignored the request, and moved on to the next accusation. It’s getting a bit wearing, not to mention pointless.”
Despite what you say,I have explained what I meant by ‘faith’but my comment did not appear.I am sorry if you find discussing these matters ‘pointless’ but you brought them up in the first place. I have attempted to raise issues with you in a courteous manner and you have been evasive.
Another comment, another set of insults… There seems little point in continuing with this. I have attempted to keep this civil, to address some of the issues, to accept some of your arguments and to question others. You clearly see it differently. So, since this is not going to change, let us leave it at that before it becomes even more petty and personal.
Here is something that I find rather odd. I raise something that I think you might be interested to know about, some information that you probably did not previously have, some issue that you might be interested in discussing – you immediately see that as a personal attack on yourself. I was hoping that I could have a debate with you. Why will you not permit that? Why so peevish? You are very manipulative in your use of language. You ask, “what you find so objectionable in what I wrote”.I did not say that it was objectionable. I merely wanted to point out to someone who came here on a fleeting visit (thanks to me) that those of us who have to live here were finding the new good governance somewhat disappointing.
OK, despite what I said in my last comment, let me try to respond to this.
But what is it that you want to debate? Let us review our exchanges. (I know this will be exceedingly tedious, but I cannot see any other way). In your first comment (Feb 4, 02.49) you took me to task for suggesting to Michael Roberts that he ‘seem[ed] to want to whitewash the record of the Sri Lankan government and the Sri Lankan army’, in the final stages of the war. You wrote:
I responded (Feb 4, 06.02), first by pointing that
On the question of the numbers of civilian casualties in the final months of the war, I wrote:
And on the question of supporting the actions of the Sri Lankan army in the final stages of war, I raised this analogy:
I raised the same questions with Michael Roberts, too. Neither of you have responded.
Then, on Feb 9, 09.06, you wrote, seemingly apropos of nothing:
To which I responded (Feb 9, 09.52):
I also added in relation to your question about whether I had read the links that you and Michael Roberts had sent me:
Your response (Feb 9, 11.10) was:
My reply (Feb 9, 12.11):
To which you then responded (Feb 9, 11.47):
To which I replied (Feb 9, 12.11) that I had never said you were being discourteous but that
I acknowledged that I had not responded ‘to the substance of the articles’ that you and Michael Roberts had sent me, but that it made little sense for me to do so. The links were to articles that were possibly in total several tens of thousands of words long and covered large claims and arguments about the war, the LTTE, the actions of the SLA, and so on. These were not the kind of issues that I could (or would want to) address in a simple comment. As I had written in my previous comment
The irony is that had I responded ‘to the substance of the articles’, you would no doubt have accused me of being a ‘dilettante’ who writes from ignorance. Because I chose not to respond, you accuse me of ‘evading the issue’.
But, as it happens I have not evaded the issues. On the two specific issues upon which this discussion began, I have fully engaged. I accepted your criticism of the use of the UN’s death toll figures, but challenged you on the morality of the Sri Lankan army’s tactics in the final stages of the war. On that issue, it is you who have not responded.
As for seeing things as ‘personal attacks’, when you describe me as a ‘dilettante’, who is ‘remarkably ignorant’ and who merely came to Sri Lanka for ‘a brief subsidised holiday’, (adding so many times ‘facilitated by my good self’, that one can almost hear the bitterness), it is not me that is making the discussion personal. At least Michael Roberts had the honesty to admit that he was being ‘polemical’ and throwing down a few insults because he wanted ‘to get under [my] skin’.
I accept that you will not see it this way. So, as I said in my previous comment, since this is not going to change, let us leave it at that before this becomes even more petty and personal.