Recently, I posted here about the current slaughter in Sri Lanka– tens of thousands of civilians killed because neither side will let them leave the battlefield. In response, one reader called my “evenhandedness” “insipid.” He ascribes to the party line that the LTTE are freedom fighters justified by decades of Sinhala oppression against the Tamil people.
That’s one of two positions common in the Sri Lanka conflict. The other is that the LTTE are just terrorists who have taken up arms against the lawful and just Government.
Which one is true? Both have small threads of truth to them, but neither really explains much. These simplistic views of the conflict fail to adequately explain the actions of the combatants. For example, to believe the former, we would need to believe that the rabidly chauvinist Sinhalese people care nothing for their own well being– they’re willing to sacrifice themselves to wipe the Tamil people off the island. Or in the case of the latterview, that the LTTE is equally committed to the destruction of the Sinhalese “nation.” Neither explanation makes much sense– especially if you’ve ever been to Sri Lanka.
The problem is, the roots of the conflict are complex– and they cast both sides in an unfavorable light. You’ll never hear about them from representatives of either combatant, nor will you read about them in the media, which has no patience for complexity. The simple “ethnic conflict” explanation is far easier to sell, even if it does paint both sides as madmen inexplicable to anyone outside the island.
In a series of posts, I hope to bring some understanding to what is surely a misunderstood conflict– and one in which dozens of civilians are being killed in the time it takes you read this.