CHAPTER ONE: COMPROMISES

“We took some tea as a symbol, as a gesture, to the Palestinian people, picked by the Tamil people, as if to say, ‘This is our sweat and blood, this is the only thing we have to give.’”

—Shankar Rajee

The Day That Started with a Bang

It was 5:01 AM, October 22, 1984. It could have been a morning two thousand years ago. Sri Lanka’s capital city, Colombo, slept under the pink clouds of dawn, palm fronds nodded in the tropical breeze, large-billed birds summoned up the sun, and the 5:00 AM train blew its whistle. In the street below, a couple of three-wheeled tuk-tuks sat, their engines puttering: taxi drivers waiting to take children to school or businessmen to their desks. One of these drivers leaned forward to turn on his radio, and his tuk-tuk was thrown backward in a spray of dust and debris, as if by a silent hurricane. The corner of the church across the street rose several meters from the ground. It sagged back down, crushing a Tamil man underneath, and then it rained cement shards and pieces of glass for a full minute afterward as people scrambled awake.

The explosion was heard over ten kilometers away. Since the country was in the teeth of a civil war, this wasn’t as much of a surprise as if it had happened in, say, Oklahoma City, but, just to be safe, security forces, medical personnel, and a bomb squad were deployed, quickly scurrying to the address that was broadcast on the radios. They expected that the mop-up would be quick and minimal. Multiple ambulances were deployed—again, just to be safe. The Sri Lankan army was put on alert. More than a few people assumed that the explosion was caused by a gas line that had caught fire, or that maybe the church had just collapsed because it was so old.

These teams pulled up to the front of the smoldering church at the moment that another bomb, at the south end of town, ripped open a bus station. Phone lines started to jam up, police and security forces were told to station themselves at the edges of town, and the Sri Lankan army picked up its weapons and headed over to the bus station, since these events were turning the dawn quite dark.

Five minutes passed. As this second emergency team arrived at the second scene, a third bomb, this one at the west end of town, detonated at a television transmission station owned by the state-run Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation, dropping the tower into a smoking mess of steel shavings. Five minutes later, an office building downtown erupted in a spray of concrete, spitting pebbles, rebar, plaster, carpet, and a few twirling chairs into the sky. Then, as if inhaled back into the building, the material returned to earth, collapsing floor after floor under its weight, instantly burying four people.

In a suburb, two people, clueless as to what was happening in the city at that minute, opened a box they found on the sidewalk. An enormous smoking mouth opened in the middle of the road, and their limbs were launched more than ten meters away. About two minutes later, at Fort Railway Station, an unexploded bomb was found by the police. While the Sri Lankan army was busy defusing that one, a second detonated nearby, flicking a train car that had just blown its whistle onto its side like a matchbox.

Six minutes of peace followed. Just as the police dispatch began to breathe a sigh of relief, someone called in to report a blast near the foreign ministry office.

There were no more emergency workers available, and the Sri Lanka Broadcast Corporation, from what remained of the broadcast tower, pleaded that people stay indoors, remain calm, and wait for authorities to unwire a city that had been turned into a distributed detonation device.

But it wasn’t over. Five more explosions were yet to come in the next ninety minutes. And since that morning in 1984, more than one hundred thousand people have died early deaths in Sri Lanka as a result of “civil war,” “terrorism,” and “political unrest.”

The attack was organized by a man named Shankar Rajee, who, over afternoon tea, told me why he did this. He said his intent was to cause terror. He said, “We realized that we needed to make the ruling class and the bureaucrats feel the pressure and tension of the war. We needed to make them listen to our grievances. With this in mind, we drew up an action plan . . . These would be symbolic explosions that would be designed to create enough panic, and, well, terror . . . to make the government realize that they were not as powerful as they thought.”

Rajee brewed many dangerous ideas in the course of his life, and he spread the danger generously. An exporter of the concept of suicide bombing to the Middle East and one of the founders of the Sri Lankan Tamil militant movement, he fueled enough terror on that October morning to draw the attention that the Tamil cause needed. He felt justified. He had grown up under the heavy weight of riots, lynchings, arson, refugee camps, and an intimate education on the finer points of segregation. Raised in the war zones of Sri Lanka, and finding himself muzzled because of his ethnicity, he’d had enough. So in his early twenties he moved to London. While there he met Palestinian militants, traveled with them to Beirut for training, pulled a trigger on the front lines, and explained the basics of suicide terrorism to the Fatah party. He left with a souvenir given to him by the PLO: enough ammunition to start a small war. Which he promptly did, as soon as he arrived back home.

The decade leading up to this bombing had been a politically charged competition of physical force between the Tamil minority and the Sinhalese majority (both of whom have been living on the island of Sri Lanka, or Ceylon, for as long as either of them can remember). Up until Rajee bombed Colombo, the civil war had grown gradually from attacks by petty criminals to deadly discharges launched by organized groups. Murders committed out in the farms triggered riots in the towns, which in turn provoked multiple murders in temples, which then set off massive riots in the cities. With each blow, the government grew harder and more conservative—and this in turn led to harder and more conservative militant groups.

One of the militant groups born in these hotbeds was the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE)—or the Tamil Tigers. Founded in 1976 in the extreme north of the island, the LTTE waged a violent campaign against the Sri Lankan government and, like most Tamil groups, sought to create an independent Tamil state in the north of the island, which would be named Eelam. The LTTE became notorious for civilian massacres, child conscriptions, drug smuggling, weapons stockpiling, and high-profile assassinations. They came up with the wearable detonation device known as the suicide belt, invented suicide bombing, pioneered the use of women in suicide attacks, and were proscribed as a terrorist organization by more than thirty countries by 2002. And they had their dark side, too.

The Tamil Tigers waged war with the Sri Lankan state for three decades. Nearly one hundred thousand people died in the longest-running civil war in Southeast Asia. The Tamil Tigers attacked not only shrines and monuments of symbolic importance—they also carried out the assassinations of public figures such as Sri Lankan President Ranasinghe Premadasa and former Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi. Then, on May 17, 2009, the Sri Lankan government announced the death of the elusive and dictatorial Velupillai Prabhakaran, the founder and leader of the LTTE, claiming victory in the war and ending this chapter of a three-thousand-year-old story.

The war the LTTE waged was cultural, ethnic, social, and economic. What I saw was a cultural dialogue: Sinhalese chauvinism fueling Tamil chauvinism, and vice versa. The LTTE argued that the ruling Sinhalese (primarily Buddhist) majority was suppressing the Tamil (mainly Hindu) minority. The LTTE’s justification for its felonious habits was simple: Ethnic suppression demanded military response. Indeed, over the years the vision and mission of the LTTE managed to earn some support among the diaspora of seventy-four million Tamils currently living in Europe, North America, and India.

Rajee’s goal, like the goal of many Tamils, was to make the government realize that it was not as powerful as it thought. A former colleague of Rajee’s and one of the cofounders of the Tamil Tigers, Dharmalingam Siddharthan reiterated Rajee’s message when he told me, “The only way to move the elephant is to prick it with something small. You can’t move it. You have to make it feel something.”

TAGS: , , , , , , , ,

MARK STEPHEN MEADOWS is an American author, illustrator, inventor, and speaker. He has written several books on culture, technology, terrorists, and robots. He has designed digital humans, built virtual worlds, and has sailed four of the seven seas. He spends his time in an apartment in Paris, on his sailboat or in Economy Class in Airplanes. He has hitch-hiked through many strange places and he is a certified US Coast Guard Captain. The work of the last fifteen years has included time as Researcher / Artist-in-Residence at Xerox-PARC, as Creative Director for a venture of Stanford Research Institute. He has spent time as artist/researcher at the Waag Society and the Hogeschool van Amsterdam, and has worked as a consultant for dozens of companies, both large and small. He is the co-inventor of four patents that relate to artificial intelligence, and the co-founder of three companies that relate to AI or virtual reality. In 1993 he helped design the third commercial website (WELL.com), and in 1996 he helped design the first open-protocol multi-user 3D environment (using VRML). Though he is able to leap small buildings with a single bound, he avoids catching bullets with his teeth whenever possible. He works at the intersection of culture and technology, where literature, interactivity, and visual art overlap. His 3D animation and interactive design has been flown by a list of companies that include Lucasfilm, Sony Pictures, and Microsoft. Since 1987 he has been selling his artwork in galleries and museums throughout the United States and Europe and he has won some awards along the way. When he is not recovering from jetlag, cleaning paintbrushes, or repairing his boat, he is either learning accordian or reading.

35 responses to “Compromises: An Excerpt from Tea Time with Terrorists

  1. dwoz says:

    Good luck with this…the Tamil situation is (was) one of the more complex and nuanced political tempests ever…even eclipsing the israeli/palestinian relationship.

    Plenty of blame and recrimination to go around, across all sides. Suffice to say, the near-permanent state of war presented certain advantages to both factions, thus neither side could really be said to be acting in the interests of the general population…who can truly be said to be the ones that “lost the war.”

    There were definitely outside players that cannot be discounted too.

    • @i, dwoz ~

      > thus neither side could really be said to be acting in the interests of the general population…

      For sure. there’s benefits, financially, of war (is that what you’re referring to?). the outside players were the key to the thing. The Tamil diaspora is a wealthy crew with over something like seven million people around the world.

      But was ever there a war that benefitted a population? We’re told that’s the case, but I think it has never been in the interest of any family to be a part of a large country that goes to war. I’m thinking about Xerxes, Caesar, .. england, holland, the states. The wealthy that are insulated, deep inside the political infrastructure benefit. But, as you say, the people that compose the body of the country never do too well in these times.

      I saw a LOT of that in Sri Lanka. The math professor that had to work for years to save enough money so he could have his backyard de-mined… The fishermen that were catching dead fish out of water they were afraid to touch.. War causes strange nightmares to walk the earth.

      • dwoz says:

        About the “benefits” I mentioned…I’m thinking specifically about the Chinese influence that upset the balance of power last year, I’m thinking of the far-flung LTTE funding organization…none of which really seemed willing to upset the cash-apple cart by allowing peace to break out.

        In that way, I was getting ready to offer a rebuttal, should your piece end up being a Colombo-hagiography.

        Through the time immediately following the Tsunami, I was tangentially involved with an NGO effort that was trying to put basic human infrastructure into the north. For example, putting in a water purification system into an orphanage in Kilinochchi.

        The effort produced some pretty amazing responses from the various political entities. Who can be against putting clean water into an orphanage? The Sinhalese Gov’t. was dead-set against it, and the LTTE just wanted to commandeer the equipment for the war effort. The Tamils came out the other side of the project looking like the corrupt war-entrenched military profiteering dictatorship they are, and the Colombo gov’t came out looking like the corrupt war-entrenched profiteering outfit they are.

        • @dwoz ~ Definitely not a hagiography! I’ve got few good things to say about Colombo, and fewer still to say about the government there. The SL government and the LTTE were identical in that each had more interest in weakening the other than in actually bringing anything good to the region. Any resources that came in, especially financial, seemed to me to become more a thing to bicker over, and use to present the other side in a negative light. They were like children with taffee and a tug-o-war would break out. All perspective seemed to have been lost. It was part of the same interaction that allowed terrorism – an unwillingness to negotiate and compromise, just a physical response to a political problem.

          What else did you see there, dwoz? It’d be great to read any other impressions you had..

        • dwoz says:

          I was not on the ground in SL. More like one of the continent-side lifelines for some people operating an NGO there.

          I agree, from my limited perspective, with your point…The overwhelming thing going on was a many-layered corrupt bureaucracy on both sides, which was nothing more or less than a shakedown. It was extremely hard to put money where it needed to go.

          My friend that was there, said that as unfathomably devastating as the tsunami had been, it hardly held a candle to the destruction that happened through the last two years.

  2. Malorie says:

    Wow, never even heard of the Tamil Tigers. My hole I live in just shrunk by 100x.
    Thanks for the civil war/current events lesson.

    What is going on in Sri Lanka these days then?

    ~*~*Malorie~*~*

    • [email protected] Malorie ~

      Yeah, it was rather odd for me, too, as I always thought suicide bombing was a middle east invention (uh, like hummous? not quite). This Tamil-Sinhalese fight is an old story, though, that goes waaay back some, well, five thousand years. Give or take a millenia.

      Part of the reason I went there to talk with terrorists, instead of, say, Afghanistan, was because Sri Lanka is so little-known, sequestered, in its own world. So it provides a good overall model for how terrorism works.

      The basic story is like so: you have two groups living on a small island for thousands of years. For the last six hundred-plus years there’s been some empire there (Chinese, Dutch, English, etc). When the English left, about sixty years ago, the two groups on this island couldn’t agree to basic shared things. Who lives where, what language do we speak, etc. And so the majority group got a little handy, the minority group got a little kicked around, and that started a bad relationship. The Tamils (that’s the minority group), finally, got sick of it, said they wanted a seat at the negotiation table. The Sinhalese (that’s the majority group) said No, so the Tamils picked up a gun and demanded. And this dialogue of physical violence continues today.

      About a year ago the most violent and militant of the Tamil groups, the Tamil Tigers, was militarily taken down. Studies show (see the book) that this is not the best approach for dealing with a terrorist group. They’ll most likely re-assemble. Meanwhile, the UN is asking to conduct an investigation on human rights abuses, and the SL government is shrugging and asking what for, “We don’t need no stinkin’ investigation! We’re fine, thank you. Go home.” It’s all quite circumspect and shady.

      These days the government seems hard at work in creating an even bigger mess than before. Most of my book was about how sequestered the island is, and how that creates terrorism (being sequestered on an island is a bit like being raised without an education). The Sinhalese government just doesnt,,, it doesnt occur to them to do it differently. It’s like children. If someone tries to take your cake do you hit them? Until the Sinhalese get a bit more international, and until Tamils have a chance to decide the laws they live under, this war will continue. I think.

      Which, by the way, is usually the case internationally, as well. Ok, at least thats what the terrorists that I’ve spoken with have told me. But it seems the case in the States. The more alert we are to what is happening elsewhere the more solutions we will have for solving our own problems.

      How’s that for a cliff note?

      As dwoz said, it’s hairy-complex, but there are little lessons that are quite beautiful, such as India’s solution to just using English as a national language…

  3. Don Mitchell says:

    Interesting. I’ve ordered your book.

    I have experience with another nasty war of secession, that of Bougainville versus Papua New Guinea. The levels of violence were lower, the body count lower, but I suspect there were many parallels.

  4. Erika Rae says:

    An official welcome to TNB, Mark.

    This book sounds fascinating. Just the first several paragraphs have chilled me to the bone with the juxtaposition of beauty and wrenching death. Gorgeous and raw.

    Can’t wait to read more about these adventures of yours…it sounds as if you have no end to your stories. (Sweet!)

    • Thanks, Erika.

      Yeah, book’s a bit of a soup. travel adventure, history, current events. But the main ingredient’s about terrorism. I just wanted to know what was really going on with terrorists – What’s their problem, you know? …

  5. Simon Smithson says:

    Fascinating stuff, Mark. 21st century security is something that demands a surgical level of intellectual investigation, the counterbalancing of hard power and soft power, projection of force against insurgencies… it’s gruesome in the human cost, fascinating in the human psychology of it all. And not the good kind of fascination.

    I know a little – not much – about the Tigers. For some reason, Australia is privy to more coverage than I would have expected about the issue in the mainstream media.

    I think I’ll have to order your book too; it sounds as if there’s much to be learned.

    Welcome to TNB!

  6. [email protected] Simon ~

    Thanks.

    RAND corporation has something on this.. allow me to post a paragraph.. (p.275)

    > In July of 2008, the RAND Corporation, an American foreign policy think tank, released a curious and timely report titled “How Terrorist Groups End.” RAND researched the final demise of 648 terrorist groups between 1968 and 2006 and found that, more than any other solution, terrorist groups demilitarized when they were brought into the political process. It is also possible to disband terrorist groups forcibly, but rarely by purely military means. The report points out that if you’re interested in ending someone else’s terrorist group, this undertaking “requires a range of policy instruments, such as careful police and intelligence work, military force, political negotiations, and economic sanctions.” Only in 7 percent of the 648 groups studied did a military invasion, such as Sri Lanka’s 2009 effort, do the trick.

    There’s other research along these lines.

    BUT YOU KNOW WHAT’S THE BEST!!? If you’re an American, you’re seven times more likely to be killed by your MOM than by a terrorist!

    Get this: On average 15 americans a year, since 2001, have been killed in terrorist attacks, all overseas. But an average of 100 Americans are killed by their mother each year.

    I love that (you should meet my mom… especially when I told her I was going to interview terrorists .. she about killed me then!).

    And I’ve got some other weird stats if you don’t like those..!

    – msm

    • Simon Smithson says:

      I love those stats – and yet still, I want more!

      • Thank you, Simon ! You know how to make a research hound happy.

        How Americans Die (punchline: look for terrorism).

        500,000 of us will smoke ourselves to cinders this year (leading cause of death).
        250,000 of us will bite the dust due to obesity.
        200,000 of us will check out as a result of medical errors (bad drugs, bad procedures, etc).
        180,000 of us will lose it to microbial infection.
        31,000 will commit suicide this year.
        30,000 will have sex with the wrong person.
        20,000 will tune out from illegal drugs.
        16,000 of us will be murdered, (probably by a peer or family member).
        5,000 of us will get it from occupational trauma, at work, mostly.
        4,000 will drown.
        25 will be zapped by a bolt of lightning.
        20 will get snacked upon by sharks.
        15 Americans have died annually from terrorist attacks since 2002, all of them in the Middle East.

        (sources: Source: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, U.S. National Center for Health Statistics, & U.S. State Department).

        But we’re spending, annually, as much money as the state of Californa’s education budget on this last category…

        Is it me, or is that weird?

        • Simon Smithson says:

          That’s so fucking weird.

          My brother has a Master’s in International Politics, his partner one in International Security (yeah. Getting caught in arguments between the two of them sucks, man).

          He mentioned a figure that more (I think it’s Australians… I think) have drowned in toilet bowls than have been terrorist fatalities.

          And yet… the alarm bells are sounded, the fridge magnets are sent out.

          I mean, seriously. What fucking planet are we on?

  7. Greg says:

    Thanks for the excerpt, Mark. I couldn’t help but see all those synchronized bombings through the lens of a movie goer. Sad for me. Sadder for Sri Lanka. Glad you shed some light on this subject for me.

  8. It is reading an excerpt such as this that makes me rethink writing in the memoir genre . . . simply put, any personal experience I’ve ever had in life would pale in comparison. From the first sentence, this pulled me in Mark. Chalk another up on books soon to make my reading list. Welcome aboard TNB.

    • thanks, jeffrey … that’s nice to read. i’m sure there are things you can imagine doing, and writing about, that could help other folks learn more about our strange world, and what you say about using this genre of writing is encouraging. thanks again. maybe all we ever do, as writers, is to point to something and say, “Look!” and perhaps the memoirs are just a simple form of doing that?? hm..

  9. Terrific reportage, Mark. I’ve been fascinated with Sri Lanka since I read Mark Twain’s Innocents Abroad in college. Of course, to him it was genteel Ceylon, or even Serendip. Is the LTTE really completely non-functional at this point? Also, I’m curious how much, or how little, the Tamils there identify, or even are aware of, M.I.A. Are her t-shirts everywhere, or is she a Western phenomena?

    • Thanks, y’all, and @ Sean,

      MIA never came up, didn’t see her shirts. Lanka has millions of people that sing and dance and make stuff. Rappers, electro-gogs, guitar-gods, funk-lords… I’m sure MIA’s as loved by some Tamils as detested by others, but I didn’t come across her when I was there. Christina Aguilera, however, now there’s a princessa popular. I saw posters of her everywhere, especially in the poorest places.

      As for LTTE? Look, the LTTE was a messed-up group, and we can bid good riddance. But the notion of “Tamil Eelam” .. that’s another thing. In that case we have the spirit of the struggle. Tamils have fought for a homeland for a long time, and that won’t go away. Something like LTTE will probably re-emerge.

      Ultimately, Tea Time is about the motives behind terrorism. Whether LTTE is bombed, or whether the Taliban is bombed, doesn’t make much difference. The gripes of the group that started lighting bombs for that cause is what has to be addressed.

      Until that time a terrorist will continue to terrorize. And media will be their primary tool.

      To go back to MIA… imagine a hot Afghani rapper-chick, named DOA, were to make it somewhat big in the US. How y’think that would affect people’s perceptions of the terrorist group there?

  10. Davidson Panabokke says:

    Hey, You are all talking about my country.

    I’m dead against any form of violence (I wish to be real humanist).

    But as a teacher I always try to locate the cause of a problem and try to remove it.

    The world seems to know about the violence of the Tamil Tigers born in the mid-70s.

    Many people would be horrified to learn that Sri Lanka is the country that
    i. disenfranchised nearly 80,000 Tamils within months of gaining independence(1948) from the British. These were Tamils brought by the British in mid-19th century and even had parliamentarians representing them(there were general elections even before official independence was given). It looked as though the ethnic majority was waiting for the British to leave the shores to become the new masters.

    ii. unleashed a series of state-aided pogroms on Tamils in 1956, 1958, 1977, 1981 and 1983 though there have been many more minor ones:

    Tarzie Vittachi, Emergency ’58 – The Story of the Ceylon Race Riots(1958)
    ”… The GalOya race-killings of 1956 and the ugly episode of Little Rock in 1957 should have warned us that the Fifth Horseman took no notice of time, place, literacy or standard of living. … The Fifth Horseman of the Apocalypse rode into Ceylon in May 1958, without fuss or warning. … Can anyone doubt that if this glorious principle of statesmanship had been applied in Ceylon the bloodbath of 1958 could have been avoided? … . We had heard about the attempts of the Australian settlers to decimate the Aborigines ….; … the Red Indians had been corralled into reservations; …..the Nazi gas chambers, Buchenwals and Belsen: and the tribulations of the Jews ……; Hindu-Muslim massacres in the partition of India. ….

    What are we left with (in 1958)? A nation in ruins, some grim lessons which we cannot afford to forget and a momentous question: Have the Sinhalese and Tamils reached the parting of ways?”

    (The manuscript of the book was smuggled out of SriLanka and printed in the UK and the book was banned in Sri Lanka. The author received Magsaysay award in 1959 for the book.)

    …. to be continued.

  11. Davidson Panabokke says:

    The Times, London, September 20, 1977
    Race Conflict in Ceylon
    From John Foster QC and others
    Sir,
    A tragedy is taking place Sri Lanka. The political conflict following on the recent elections is turning into a racial massacre. It is estimated by reliable sources that between 250 and 300 Tamil citizens lost their lives and over 40,000 made homeless. Limitation on travel is making it hard for correspondents in Sri Lanka to let the world know what is happening.
    The Tamils are a community of over two million who flourished under the British, but have suffered discrimination since. They have now lost confidence in their treatment by the Sinhalese majority and are calling for a restoration of their separate national status, which they had for many centuries before the British came. At the last elections, the Tamil party advocating a separate state gained overwhelming majorities in all Tamil districts. This, no doubt, triggered off the murders, which are said to have been committed either by police acting without orders or with the connivance of the police.
    At a time when the West is awake to the evils of racialism, the racial persecution of the Tamils and denial of their human rights should not pass without protest. The British have a special obligation to protest, as these cultivated people were put at the mercy of their neighbours less than thirty years ago by the British government. They need our attention and support.
    Yours faithfully,
    John Foster, David Astor, Robert Birley, Louis Blom-Cooper, James Fawcett, dingle Foot and Michael Scott.

  12. Davidson Panabokke says:

    CEYLON : A DIVIDED NATION, B H Farmer(1963):
    ”Since those saddening days of 1958 Ceylon has had its share of trouble…..The truth, though unpalatable may be to some, is simply that nobody unacceptable to the present Sinhalese Buddhist nationalism has any chance of constitutional power in contemporary Ceylon.
    But need it have been as violent as in fact it was? Constitutional safeguards might considerably have done something to control the violence of the communal dispute; though, since the Senanayake Government found a way of disenfranchising the Indian Tamils one is left to wonder what value other safeguards might have had in the event and in the Ceylon setting.”

    Foreward by Viscount Soulbury in Ceylon: A Divided Nation by B.H.Farmer(1963):
    ”Nevertheless in the light of later happenings I now think it is a pity that the Commission did not also recommend the entrenchment in the constitution of guarantees of fundamental rights, on the lines enacted in the constitutions of India, Pakistan, Malaya , Nigeria and elsewhere.”

  13. Davidson Panabokke says:

    The Tamils brought from South India in mid-19th century were employed in the tea estates in the hilly areas in the South. The Tamils who have been there for thousands of years have been mainly in the Northeast. The British annexed the Tamil and Sinhalese kingdoms together for ease of administration in 1833, the Tamils began to move over to Colombo in search of work around the fast developing Colombo( the Dutch and the Portugese ruled us separately).

  14. Anton Fernando says:

    There are few mistake in this article. One is Dharmalingam Siddhartan was not a co-founder of LTTE. He was co-founder of another group.

    • hey anton ~ there are indeed mistakes in the article … but if you’re looking for mistakes you should read the book – there are even more there!

      my goal was not to present objective truth, nor objective facts. it was to report what i found, from a personal, first-person point of view, and to do it in a manner that was intentionally subjective. hence error-prone. the book is neither travel guide nor history text book. part of the reason for this is because our newspapers today, in following facts frequently miss some of what is underneath – human essence. which is subjective, changing, sloppy, and (like the difference between a freedom fighter and a terrorist), hard to define.

      truth, after all, rarely lives in facts.

  15. Justine says:

    The article is very shabby and pls do not trivialise the issue. There is no mention of US, India China and even the Russian involvement. The Sinhalese were used as coolies by world powers and the US is using the Indians as coolies to do their dirty job. Sorry for the language but it is effective. Lets not look at the small picture but the big picture. So do you home work well and write an acceptable article. Have you read the works of Sivaram (Taraki)?

    • hey justine ~ of course we should trivialize. i think it was oscar wilde that said “there are some things that are too important to take seriously.” … after all, the more serious we are the more dangerous we get. so let’s look at the most grim things in the world with a light heart, shall we?

      in terms of shabbiness, we all have lines we cross. mine was borders (in sri lanka). yours is language (here on this page). but we all end up shabby when we cross a border, and that’s what makes the dialogue fun and forgiveness valuable.

      these issues you bring up are detailed in the book – give it a read and then come back with posts and you can tell us that the book was shabbier than the article.

      hope that offers some response to your post.

  16. dwoz says:

    Ahh, and so it begins. As I suspected it would.

    Writing about politics in Sri Lanka is a lot like writing something that is vaguely critical of the government of Israel…it will only be a short matter of time before the anti-Semitism broad-brush is wielded in that case, and it’s only a matter of time before the bloody Ceylon war of the last generation is reenacted on internet forum pages.

    When there’s original sin and spilled ancestral blood, you can kiss rationality goodbye, as these two are like putting vinegar and soda vigorously shaken inside the human psyche.

    Makes it very difficult to actually discern meaning. Or maybe not.

    • yeah, this is the kind of thing that will happen. but it is also a part of the process. i’m now receiving some interesting emails, as well, and almost all of them based on reading the first few sentences.

      a tamil fellow just sent me an email telling me about things i documented and visited in the book, and seemed to be making my core argument back to me. he was just responding to the article.

      terrorism is ultimately media manipulation. and when the media we use is fast, formless, and scrolling by us … let’s call it 140-byte media… what else can happen? we live in a world where snap-judgements are expected, and so prejudice will be strengthened, like-minded groups will coagulate, and as a result terrorism will have more power (especially in information environments, where we can’t really see or judge for ourselves).

      vinegar! meet soda!

      • dwoz says:

        Although, there is one thing that I DO agree with. This isn’t some kind of intellectual parlor game…there are bodies on the ground. It does not stomach being trivialized.

        • true, people die. but they die everywhere, and always.

          i dunno.. the more i spend time in war zones the more i discover something curious, which is that the hearts and spirits of people living in hard conditions become incredibly soft, warm, curious.. as if the harder the conditions humans live under, the softer the spirit becomes. these folks seem to develop a curious sense of humor, and trivializing the war they live in makes the war small enough to understand.

          i bring this up thinking about a woman in a warzone i met, where bodies were gathering. i was in baghdad, and it was night, and she told me her method of dealing with the 2003 invasion was to find a little humor in it all, and after she said that we heard a bomb drop a few miles away, and she opened her eyes after the sound, then looked at me and smiled, and said, “How’s that for a punchline?” …somehow we both started laughing.

          a sense of humor, and trivialization, is the only way i can approach something as absurd as war (what else does humor do if not make molehills out of mountains?).

          this is part of why i find terrorism (which the book is about more than sri lanka) so interesting – it is because we take it so seriously that it causes such carnage.

  17. nancy judah says:

    Comment by Sean Beaudoin
    2010-07-27 23:48:08

    “I’ve been fascinated with Sri Lanka since I read Mark Twain’s Innocents Abroad in college.”

    Well Sean, since you’re so fascinated with Sri Lanka, you must be following events in that country regularly. Do you not know M.I.A is banned in Sri Lanka by that country’s dictatorship? Do you not know free speech is against the law in Sri Lanka? Do you know know that there are headless bodies of Tamil men and children turning up in the streets everyday? Do you not know human rights activists and journalists end up murdered and disappeared regularly? Do you not know Sri Lanka has made FP’s failed state index for the past so many years? Do you not know Tamils will be murdered with their children and families if they wore M.I.A T-shirts? Do you not know Tamils in that country don’t have rights? Do you not know M.I.A herself regularly receives death threats, even for her baby? Do you not know there is no rule of law in Sri Lanka? Do you not know there are no human rights in Sri Lanka? Don’t stop with Mark Twain. Please.

  18. Becky Palapala says:

    Well, for my part, I knew almost nothing about civil war and ethnic violence in Sri Lanka before read this, except having a vague sense that it existed.

    Since reading this morning, I have read no fewer than 5 articles and encyclopedia articles on the issue.

    I did not get the sense that you aimed or claimed to be the empirical authority on this issue. But it did cause me to go out in search of empirical information.

    So I think some of your detractors would serve themselves and their causes well to recognize that what you are doing is raising awareness, which is the one and only first step towards this issue getting the concern and recognition and action these people seem to want.

    • Tabrez says:

      Recently they killed an egnineer working in development projects in Bati. That shows what ruthless terrorists they are. They don’t want those areas to be develop because then they can’t fool the people. How many tamil leaders they have killed up to now. Just because they don’t agree with you, you can’t kill others. Niranjan has rightly pointed out the barbaric history of LTTE so I don’t go for details again. LTTE even killed former Indian prime minister Rajive Ghandhi. Those who act like that are terrorists. Both Sinhalese and Tamil politicians have done wrong thing in the past, I agree. But as Sri Lankans we don’t like to divide this country for obvious reasons. Tamils live with Sinhalese peacefully in the southern part of the country and there are equally treated.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *