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The ubiquity of the Tiger flag in the recent London drama

Dec 5, 2010 5:31:53 PM- transcurrents.com

by Dr.Dayan Jayatilleka

"In the last analysis, the outcome of the struggle will be determined by the fact that Russia, India, China, etc., account for the overwhelming majority of the population of the globe." - Lenin (Last document, ‘Better Fewer, but Better’, March 22, 1923)

I don’t know about you but what struck me most about the recent drama in London was the ubiquity of the Tiger flag, with its 32 bullets and crossed rifles. This was not a protest by ‘suffering’ Tamils and associated solidarity groups.

This was a protest by Tiger supporters, waving the Tiger flag. The Tigers are a proscribed and notoriously terrorist group which has fielded more suicide bombers than any combination of Islamist fanatics. British society and the British establishment just didn’t care. That tells me a little more about Britain and its attitude to Sri Lanka than it does about Mahinda Rajapaksa and his government. It also tells me that if you applaud or rejoice in the reception accorded to Mahinda Rajapakse in London you are lining up wittingly or unwittingly, with the Tigers, because those were the only two sides visible and present in the field. Sometimes the game is zero-sum: when push comes to shove, those are the only choices available, and each of us has to make ours.

Taken together, the incidents in London and the WikiLeaks memos on Lanka, was "the flash of lightning that illumines the reality" (Lenin). What is that reality? Sri Lanka has an enemy: the offshore, external or overseas Tigers, or if you prefer, the Diaspora Tigers. The Tamil Diaspora has a disproportionate influence on the framing of Sri Lanka policy in certain western states, and therefore there is a bias against Sri Lanka. In the UK the factor of electoral geography is compounded by colonial prejudice and favouritism.

The favouritism wasn’t a one way street; as Sri Lanka’s most distinguished historian, Cambridge trained KM de Silva observed, there was never an anti-British colonial rebellion from within the Tamil community while there were at least two major revolts from among the Sinhalese. As the disclosures about Miliband’s role reveal, the UK factor will be used by the Tamil Diaspora to leverage other Western states, and that Diaspora will continue to be dominated by the pro-Tiger element.

Given this reality, what should Sri Lanka do? Quite obviously, a certain dispassionate distancing if not selective delinking or de-coupling is in order. If certain states are biased against us and are diplomatically active on so-called accountability issues while not being accountable for their own actions in our part of the world; if ‘ accountability issues’ are aimed like a loaded weapon at Sri Lanka’s defensive shield, our armed forces; if these states’ policy towards Sri Lanka is tilted in favour of the Diaspora activists and thus against Sri Lanka’s core interests which include sovereignty and non-intervention in our internal affairs, then we must strive to limit the influence of these powers upon our destiny and balance them off by constructing countervailing coalitions. This cannot be done alone, in splendid isolation or religio-culturally narcissistic self delusion.

There has to be a multiple reinforcement of ties with the whole of the global South, and with Eurasia, according special but not exclusive emphasis to our home continent, Asia, which is undergoing a renaissance. Our natural constituencies are in Asia, Africa, Latin America and Eurasia, including the parts of Europe that are more consistent and less hypocritical than ourold colonial patrons; not in the ‘Atlanticist’ tier of the global North.

However these friends must not be taken for granted. Their support is not axiomatic. Latin America is no less concerned about human rights than the West/North, except that it is not hypocritical and duplicitous in that concern, nor insensitive to issues of national sovereignty. India, Japan and South Africa will be unwilling to cut us a blank check on minority rights and human rights, and Sri Lanka must be willing to take on board the concerns of these friends, making the necessary trade-offs to keep them on side.

I was greatly dismayed to read a statement on the London episode in Sunday’s (yesterday’s) papers by the Deputy Leader of the UNP, Mr Karu Jayasuriya, a man I like, respect and have supported in the past. It is not that his criticisms are not of value and utility for the state and the country. But consider the following remarks studding Mr Jayasuriya’s statement:

"...It is somewhat correctly assumed that Asian nations vying for influence in Sri Lanka do not care about the current regime’s appalling human rights record or the trampling of freedoms while the West expects a higher standard of governance... While some may argue that there is a Western conspiracy to tarnish the image of Sri Lanka it would better serve us to realise that the image is but a reflection of reality... As long as the government ...flatly dismisses serious allegations without credible investigation and opts to denigrate and insult our fellow members in the global community every time they expect us to hold ourselves to a higher standard of civility and conduct, Sri Lankans will be seen world over as barbaric killers and heinous liars...It is clear that the world is growing impatient with Sri Lanka’s attitude. If nothing else the President’s visit to Britain should be an eye opener for this regime that the only way to restore Sri Lanka’s good name in the world is to investigate these many allegations against us..." (‘To normalize relations with West, Tamil Diaspora, Sri Lanka should probe war crimes allegations: Karu’, Sunday Island, Dec 5, front page lead)

Throughout the UNP Deputy Leader’s entire statement (as well as certain other commentaries in the media, as distinct from the superb journalistic reconstruction by DBS Jeyaraj) there is no mention at all of the ubiquity of Tiger flags, criticism of those demonstrators and no robust defence of Sri Lanka, its armed forces and its military victory in relation to that opponent and their critique! It is not that we must not hold up a mirror before ourselves.

While we must not go "mirror, mirror on the wall" and be content with the flatteringly echoed reassurance, neither must we hold up a distorting, circus mirror as the UNP Deputy Leader has done. We must not see ourselves through rose-tinted glasses gifted by courtiers, or through the distorting lenses that biased outsiders try to trick us into wearing. We must regard ourselves, our situation, our vulnerabilities, our friends, allies and enemies, the friends of our enemies and the enemies of our friends, and our interests, all with a lucid objectivity and tough-minded realism.