By Amarnath Amarasingam –
A History of Tamil Diaspora Politics in Canada: Organisational Dynamics and Negotiated Order, 1978-2013
On 10 January 2012, Gotabaya Rajapaksa, President Mahinda Rajapaksa‘s brother and Secretary of the Defense and Urban Development Ministry, delivered a lecture to the Sri Lanka Foundation Institute and Associated Newspapers of Ceylon Limited. The President‘s brother, arguably the second most powerful man in the country, began his lecture by stating that Sri Lanka still faces ̳several threats‘ following the end of protracted civil war with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE, or Tamil Tigers) in May 2009. The very first threat mentioned and discussed at length by Rajapaksa was the ―reorganization of the LTTE in the international arena‖ (Rajapaksa 2012). Mentioning several Tamil diaspora groups by name, he argued that even after the defeat of the LTTE, ―the rump of the LTTE‘s global establishment is still active.‖ Rajapaksa argued, for example, that the ̳unwavering intent‘ of LTTE-linked groups overseas ―is the division of Sri Lanka and the establishment of a separate state.‖ He went on to note: ―Most of them say they engage only in political activism and not violence. Almost all of them pretend to have a democratic face. But make no mistake. The Tiger has not changed its stripes‖ (Rajapaksa 2012).
While the Defense Secretary‘s remarks should not automatically be seen to reflect the views of mainstream Sri Lankans nor the broader international community, it is true that with the end of the war in Sri Lanka, many have expressed uneasiness and uncertainty with respect to the activities of the Tamil diaspora around the world. Indeed, such a stark verdict on diaspora activism by someone as powerful as the President‘s brother and Defense Minister is worrisome to say the least. However, in addition to the Sri Lankan government, state officials and media organisations in numerous countries, accustomed to viewing the Tamil diaspora through the lens of national security, were also not entirely clear what the defeat of the LTTE in Sri Lanka would mean for the often sizable Tamil community within their borders.
Much of this uneasiness arose, needless to say, because the LTTE‘s tentacles stretched far beyond the tiny island of Sri Lanka, and were a constant presence in the lives of diaspora Tamils. As Bandarage (2009: 171) has noted, ―Operating like both a multinational firm and an intelligence agency… out of the main centers of its global network in London, Toronto, New Jersey, and Norway, the LTTE utilises the vast resources extracted from the Tamil diaspora and from its illegal and legal enterprises to influence policymakers, media, academia, and other influential sections in the state and Non-Governmental Organisation (NGO) sectors within the international community.‖ It was also evident throughout my research that the Tamil diaspora, for the most part, did not have an enviable reputation in governmental and policy circles, and is widely believed to have been overly radical and fundamentally corrosive to the prospects for peace in Sri Lanka.
*Amarnath Amarasingam is a Post-Doctoral Fellow in the Centre for Refugee Studies at York University in Toronto, Canada, and also teaches at Wilfrid Laurier University and the University of Waterloo.