Put down your weapons, turn in your uniforms and jackboots, beat your swords and guns into ploughshares and let us begin the process of building a new integrated, non-racial multicultural society, nation and country.
For some strange reason, whenever I read words like these, I think of the post office. Well actually, I think of the post office in Cape Town; and more specifically the post office balcony overlooking the public square – on February 11 1990.
Somehow, from then to now, we have overcome the ravages of our past and have begun resolving our differences and living with more tolerance and acceptance of the differences between us. Somehow we have made the transition from tyranny to democracy.
If South Africa, a nation of 50-million people of more than 50 ethnic groups, could have realised Madiba’s vision – as illustrated on February 11 1990 – then why is it that Sri Lanka — a tiny island with just two ethnic groups (84% Sinhalese and 16% Tamil) — has been unable to live in peace as one country since gaining independence from Britain?
The answer from the Sinhalese is Tamil Terrorism, which started in 1979, with the establishment of the Tamil New Tigers, a sort of Tamil Student Group who sought to protect Tamil people from police victimisation. However, since Sri Lanka was decolonised long before 1979, the Tamils say that the real reason for the conflict is that, since independence, the Sinhalese have systematically discriminated against the Tamil minority in Sri Lanka.
Let me say at this point that I have a vested interest in all this, because I am Tamil, because I am a founder of Tamil Youth South Africa, because I am a student of Thiru Valluvar and because I am a follower of Periyar and Subramaniar Bharathi; and my vested interest leads me to take a very biased position, which says that the Tamils and Sinhalese in Sri Lanka are both wrong.
You see, there is no Tamil scripture which prescribes genocide just as there is no Sinhalese scripture which prescribes genocide. Indeed there is neither Tamil nor Sinhalese scripture which prescribes the separation of people on the basis of ethnicity. But what we have is a tiny island, which is for the most part bilingual, which has Tamil and Sinhalese people living side by side in 80% of the country and which has 20% of the country under the control of another nation state, called Thamizh Eezham (which could be pronounced as Tamil Eelam).
So we have a two state solution: ethnic Sinhalese live in Sri Lanka (Tamil name meaning “holy fort” of the Tamil King Ravanna) and ethnic Tamils living in Tamil Eelam (Tamil name meaning “Bantustan”). So far we are on the same page as the Palestinians with their Israeli neighbours; and let’s not forget about Western Sahara and Morocco or, for that matter, about Catalonia and Spain.
One would imagine that in a climate of cold ideological war, such a two state solution would have been manipulated by the communists on one side and the capitalists on the other; but I’m sure that Uncle Sam and Uncle Joe didn’t interfere in Sri Lanka. Hang on, wait a minute: the Tamil Tigers fight with Russian and Chinese hardware while the Sinhalese Army fight with British, America and European hardware!
No, say it isn’t so. Say that Sri Lanka’s fragile ethnic issues were not manipulated in the name of creating another theatre of war to play out the NATO vs Warsaw Pact scenario like Angola, Belgian Congo (Zaire/DRC), Cuba, Korea, Vietnam, Palestine, the Balkans and, dare I say it, Rhodesia (Zimbabwe).
After all why would NATO and Warsaw Pact countries care about a tiny island and its tea plantations? After all, it’s not like India and Pakistan are in a state of conflict, are they? The names Jammu and Kashmir spring to mind, as the spectre of an Indian vs Pakistani nuclear war hangs over all our heads. And that’s Pakistan with their American hardware and India with their Russian hardware.
But just because the neighbourhood has been subsumed in other people’s feuds, it does not mean that Sri Lanka has as well, does it? On the surface the legitimate claims from both sides of the Sri Lankan conflict indicate that everyone says that they want peace, but a two state solution cannot be the answer. Indeed, even radical subsidiarity and a focus on autonomous local government won’t solve the problem of Tamils living in Sinhalese-controlled cities and towns.
So how do we achieve lasting peace in Sri Lanka? Is it even possible? Assuming that the rest of the world has no interest in selling weapons to either side of the Sri Lankan conflict and assuming that the rest of the world has no interest in Sri Lanka’s offshore gas fields, surely it would be possible to negotiate the transition to a non-racial democracy, which protects each and every person as an individual?
Of course my naiveté is amusing but wholly inaccurate. It is, after all, precisely because the rest of the world wants to sell weapons to both the Sinhalese and the Tamils, and because the rest of the world has an interest in Sri Lanka’s offshore gas fields, that the war rages on and the two state solution is even on the table, isn’t it?
So let’s solve the problem once and for all. Let’s invite every Tamil to emigrate from Sri Lanka to somewhere where Tamil people are not the object of a campaign of genocide. No? They don’t want to move? Why? Every Sri Lankan Tamil I meet is very happy to be far away from Sri Lanka; so much so that none have indicated that they have any plan to go back and work to end the war and rebuild their economy.
So what’s the next solution? Why can’t we simply relocate 15-million Tamil people from Tamil Nadu in India to Sri Lanka, then the Tamils would be in the majority and there would be no prospect of genocide against the Tamil people? And if we simultaneously send every Sri Lankan immigrant back to Sri Lanka, surely Sri Lanka would be able to work to end the war and rebuild their economy. And its not like India is going to miss 15-million unemployed Tamil people are they?
As in all conflicts the problem is that there are some people who want the conflict to continue, because the suffering of others provides them with their livelihoods. So next, let’s identify everyone who objects to my plan and send them to Guantanamo, because the people who want the conflict to continue – they are the real terrorists. Hara Lanka Hara Lanka – may peace be your journey.