By Rajan Hoole –
The Surrender of the Intellectuals and the Cancer of Fascism
“Man in his fullness is not powerful, but perfect. Therefore, to turn him into mere power, you have to curtail his soul as much as possible. When we are fully human, we cannot fly at one another’s throats; our instincts of social life, our tradition of moral ideals stand in the way. If you want me to take to butchering human beings, you must break up that wholeness of my humanity through some discipline which makes my will dead, my thoughts numb, my movements automatic, and then from the dissolution of the complex personal man will come out that abstraction, that destructive force, which has no relation to human truth, and can therefore be easily brutal or mechanical. Take away man from his natural surroundings, from the fullness of his communal life, with all its living associations of beauty and love and social obligations, and you will be able to turn him into many fragments of a machine for the production of wealth on a gigantic scale. Turn a tree into a log and it will burn for you, but it will never bear living flowers and fruit.” – Rabindranath Tagore, from Nationalism
Over the last few years, the use of the children as combatants has become a burning issue worldwide. This phenomenon is normally associated with post- colonial societies with a history of exploitation, that are coping with extremes of poverty and wealth, and where local group or tribal rivalries have been mobilised behind the global competition for primary resources. West Africa had all this besides the social disruption resulting from many centuries of slave trade where millions were dispatched in chains, particularly to the Americas. But how did the nationalism of the Tamils of Jaffna – a relatively modernised society with a level of education commensurate with developed parts of the world – come to be associated with child soldiers?
The principal paradox of this society is that one section – the diaspora – love life to the utmost and are averse to the slightest risk that may impair it. Then there are the children fighting for the LTTE who disdain life and apparently take pride in blowing themselves to smithereens at a sign from the Leader. Recently a journalist from the French journal Le Point had the opportunity to talk to an LTTE girl Mariana near Batticaloa (Daily Mirror 27.4.2000). She related proudly how even women do not take prisoners and how ‘traitors’ are publicly executed and their severed heads stuck on a pole. The rare Sri Lankan soldier taken prisoner, she said, was drained for his blood and then executed. Mariana also spoke of her readiness to explode herself.
There is however an inherent drawback in such highly newsworthy disclosures. It appears as an abnormal outgrowth. It is amenable to being played down as an exaggeration or as being isolated. But the insider who knows and feels the organic growth of cancerous fibres trying to strangle the whole society, needs a sense of humour to keep his sanity. His knowledge is seldom sensational. It is for the most part absurd and commonplace. It is not newsworthy. One needs to ask questions and probe deeper to understand its sinister import. Take a few examples.
Among those who fled to the army- controlled area when the LTTE overran the Thenmaratchy sector in May 2000, was an ordinary driver from Palai. He spoke to a friend resignedly about his plight. He said, “If those LTTE fellows come here too, God knows whether my own children will be mine or theirs!”
In the early 1990s, very young children from poor families taken by the LTTE in Jaffna were corralled in camps. One was sited on the way to the cremation ground in Irupalai, one in Manthuvil and so on. The one in Irupalai had a flimsy fence of palmyrah fronds. Parents of the children taken, loss and bewilderment writ on their faces, surrounded the camp and waited passively. They lacked the defiance collectively to go in and get their children out. In Bulletin No. 23 we gave an example of a couple who got into a camp in the Vanni where their child was taken. The couple was assaulted for trespass.
One mother said, “You must see the inexpressible agony of the parents whose children are so taken. They go from pillar to post for weeks and months trying to find their child. There is for them no rest thereafter.” In what has become quite typical in the Vanni today, the parents of a boy saw nothing of their son who was taken away. After many months, the LTTE brought home a sealed coffin that was said to contain the remains of their son. The father insisted on opening the coffin. The LTTEers objected, saying that the stink would be unbearable. The father said, “What does it matter to me, is it not after all my son’s stench?” He then took an axe and broke open the coffin. The coffin was found to contain stems of plantain trees. The father, in a fit of agony, assaulted those who brought the coffin.
Such events are so common that one forgets their significance. Here is a force, which, in the name of liberation, has imposed an astonishing legality by the use of thuggery. It has made the poorer sections helpless to the point doubting their rights and duties by their own children. It has reduced governance to a branch of cattle ranching or factory farming. In the LTTE’s management of society, parenting has been curtailed to eating and breeding offspring to feed its infernal machine. No agent of external terror could have imposed such a glaring indignity with such remarkable thoroughness. There are other experiences where the intensely sinister lies hidden behind a manifestation of heart-rending innocence.
A man was cycling to Jaffna through the Ooriyan passage, east of Elephant Pass, in the early 1990s. It was past mid-night when he passed an LTTE sentry. A child in uniform was sharing a gun with an older boy. Apart from the gun, the one mark of adulthood in the child was his wrist-watch. The man asked the child the time. After a pause, the child replied, “Seven- five”. The man knew instantly that the time was one-thirty five AM! Such innocents were the first to be killed whenever the Army made a foray.
This force has brazenly violated the sanctity of the most fundamental of human relationships. It destroyed living associations that make for a strong and vibrant people. A force that has brought this ignominy upon its own people is capable of any depravity. Everything about it becomes a lie. Only, it does not know that the people see through it. The most dastardly of its actions have become an area of insider knowledge that is incommunicable.
To those who have lived under this regime and kept their humanity; who feel its shame and the abasement of a people; its leaders, and their agents, cannot be forgiven. Those who diminish the degradation caused by the Tiger phenomenon would also fail to appreciate the malignancy of its parent – the Sri Lankan State.
Then there is that strangest of ironies. Those campaigning most feverishly on the genocide of Tamils by the Sri Lankan State and supporting the Tiger cause for a separate state, are Tamils living overseas. At every boast of a Tiger ‘victory’ millions of dollars are collected for armaments to be sent to the Vanni jungles. But in the Vanni itself fear stricken parents hide their children at home to keep them away from LTTE press gangs. This one way trip of children into the LTTE forms the largest single element of ongoing genocide.
Moreover, it is not as though these persons who talk about genocide in Sri Lanka arrived in Canada or Europe from some such situation as in Rwanda. They for the most part like ordinary Sri Lankans applied for their passport and flew out of Colombo International Airport by following normal procedures. And in cities with a major concentration of Tamils like London, Toronto and Geneva, they read Tamil papers flown from Colombo. These papers use their democratic freedom to reinforce the talk about genocide, compliment the LTTE and to run down the few Tamils who openly differ. They also derive revenue from birthday advertisements displaying richly attired Tamil children living abroad, wishing them long life and prosperity. Surely the remedy for the problems faced by the Tamils in Sri Lanka does not require such draconian measures as condemning native children to explode themselves at the Leader’s behest?
How did a well-educated community where parents are normally over-careful of their children become part of this public crime against children? The main part of the answer is to do with the community itself, and stemming from it, a part concerning today’s global culture as articulated by the West.
The most potent aspect of the LTTE’s success is its strike against dissent. It was in the main completed by 1987, though it may not have been so evident then. From then onwards, its effects proceeded steadily like a cancer consuming the best part of the Tamil intelligentsia. The extent to which it would go was not so evident to us when we completed the Broken Palmyrah in 1988. It is true that the foundations for the LTTE’s success were laid by state oppression of the Tamils. This was further aggravated by the intolerant Tamil nationalism of the Federal Party. Writing in 1988, Dr. Rajani Thiranagama traced the weakness of Tamil nationalism to the nature of the Tamil middle class (The Broken Palmyrah, Sects. 6.2.5. and 6.2.11):
“[Being a product of British colonialism] ensured their position as an intermediary controlling group…..This privileged position produced an overblown psychology of superiority. However, the underpinning material base consisted of economic activity totally under the control of the state structure and dependent on the South. This weak and paradoxical position was to produce both the impetus as well as the impediments to the growth of Tamil nationalism.”
Yet, from the time those words were written Tamil society has gone through 13 years of sheer destruction with no end in sight. For those who care to see, the Tamil people have regularly, by overt and covert means, expressed their wish for peace with democracy. Yet a number of burdens imposed on the people by the different actors, have obstructed the latent potential for renewal blossoming out from within Tamil society. Disenchantment with the LTTE emerged into the open in 1987,1990 and 1995, but it led to nothing that was sustained. This cannot be explained without reference to the current global environment.
In looking at different fascist experiences, one would notice many common features. Especially true of them all is the German joke cited by Helmut Thielieke in his Between Heaven and Earth: “… of the three qualities, namely, being a Nazi, being intelligent and having character, one can have only two. Either one can be a Nazi and be intelligent, in which case one has no character or one can be a Nazi and have character in which case one is not intelligent; or one can be intelligent and have character, in which case one is not a Nazi”. The stifling of dissent was in all instances the first step towards fascism.
What fascism imposes on society is conformity with a process of total destruction – both material and spiritual. Thus even the few voices that continue to proclaim the ideals of freedom and equality become anathema to the rulers. But having already been reduced to a minuscule minority, these voices are easily isolated and crushed. This can happen only in societies where the elite have already lost faith in freedom and equality, and are in turn mired in cynicism and opportunism. Fertile ground for this is pervasive insecurity and despair, amidst a political vacuum.
In Germany the conditions were precipitated by the post World War I economic collapse. In the Tamil case, the main responsibility for creating conditions of insecurity and despair lies with the State, which finally pushed matters to breaking point in July 1983. A considerable part of the blame also lies with the immature nationalist politics of the Tamil middle class which thrived on insecurity and despair rather than in their alleviation. From this boorish brand of parliamentary politics emerged that notion of ‘traitor’ that has wreaked havoc within the community over the years. Conditions were thus made ripe for the Tamil elite to worship a demon of their own creation.
The first success of the Tigers in silencing the intellectuals from a weak middle class was achieved with little effort. This victory was to ensure their silence over assassinations of individuals. To some extent, the foundation was laid by the Federal Party’s attacks on ‘traitors’ followed by the political murder of Alfred Duraiappah in 1975, which elicited weak protest. The turning point was the assassination of St. John’s College principal and citizens’ committee activist C.E. Anandarajah in June 1985. He was not a political figure, but rather a valued educationist and a member of the Jaffna University Council.
The LTTE almost totally muffled any protest by paying visits to some leading members of the Jaffna Citizens’ Committee and abducting an editor who spoke out of turn. The Citizens’ Committee, which initially wanted to call for a day of mourning, backed off. The University Council discharged its obligation by merely sending a condolence message to Mrs. Anandarajah. A reputedly bolder body, the Students’ Council of the University, asked the LTTE to ‘show cause’. The incident showed the Tamil intelligentsia to be deficient in the redeeming qualities of courage, civic sense and intellectual depth. They were so easily cowed down by the loutish means of selective violence leading to pervasive fear.
Most people remained complacent, thinking this a passing phase. But it was the beginning of the cancer. Once the LTTE imposed itself as the sole arbiter over life and death, even those who had earlier shown token dissent subsided into acquiescence. Here one was able to witness and even feel the progressive character degeneration of the intelligentsia. One could feel it at meetings of university, church and other civil bodies. The accepted thing was to utter platitudes and drop some hints that one appreciated what the LTTE was doing. Nevertheless, these persons knew in their heart that they were wrong and further, that they were betraying the people.
By contrast, when someone rather exceptionally discussed real issues and raised questions about what this silence and complicity were doing to the people, there was pin-drop silence. No one contradicted the speaker. Many of them looked at the speaker as though wishing that something would remove him or her from their midst. They and their self-esteem were being challenged. In a society that was for long grudging in its tolerance of dissent, the natural trend under the LTTE was to universalise its attitude to dissent, particularly among the elite. Repression by the LTTE became for those among the intelligentsia who co-operated, a means to enhance their international standing as accredited spokesmen for the Tamil people.
They unashamedly articulated the LTTE’s line. How uneasy they felt even about dissent that had to take refuge outside the North-East is reflected in a statement made by a bishop, who was also powerful in the World Council Churches:
“Those who do not support the LTTE have left the land (the North-East). Nearly all those who live in the land support the LTTE. Unfortunately, those in the West are paying heed to reports from those who have left the land. However these reports are very far from the truth.”
This statement appeared in an interview in the Europe-based LTTE journal Kalatthil of 10th July 1992. It came at a time when well- authenticated reports of torture and elimination of dissidents in the LTTE’s mass detention camps were beginning to emerge (our Reports 5,6,9 and 10, and Bulletin 5). This was also a time when Tamil dissidents were quite active in the West and a number of Tamil journals critical of the LTTE were in circulation. The next major success of the LTTE, and a most remarkable one, was to silence, assimilate or utterly marginalise this dissident segment in the West. Unlike in Jaffna this happened in the very ‘citadels of freedom’ where the right to dissent was considered sacred.
This was crucial in enabling the LTTE to become a very versatile parasite on the global system, tapping every opportunity it offered, including crime and extortion. The cover is again provided by the Westernised Tamil elite who are organised into cultural groups, peace groups and charities. Their role has been crucial in exploiting the foibles of churches, democratic politicians and NGOs. Money collected by them, ostensibly for refugees, is brazenly spent on putting more children at home under arms.
Thus the facility provided by the LTTE’s global reach enabled a well-financed war to be fought in the north-eastern dry-zone of Sri Lanka, that had few resources to boast of. The value of the land rather lay in what was made of it by its inhabitants who tended and cherished it. Here was big money pouring in from all corners of the world into this small place to destroy everything that had been painstakingly built up over several generations, and indeed the politics of the struggle thrived on destruction. The Tamils living abroad, who had the greatest freedom to question it, have become its chief agents.
The successful accomplishment of this made it absolutely necessary to crack down on all effective Tamil dissent abroad. It was accomplished quite simply by variants of the same methods used at home – threat, physical attack, arson and even murder. A notable example of the latter was the murder of dissent intellectual A. Sabalingam in Paris on 1st May 1994. Few months earlier D.B.S. Jeyaraj, a well-known Tamil journalist in Toronto, was grievously assaulted because even his tactically worded reporting of internal developments did not conform to the LTTE’s sensibilities. His leg was broken and he was forced to close down his Tamil paper – Mancharie. The simple means of closing down a dissident journal was to threaten shops that sold it. Thedakam, a stridently anti-LTTE dissident group in Toronto, which ran a library and study centre, had its premises destroyed by an LTTE arson attack.
The impunity with which the LTTE is able to function in the West is exemplified by several murders ascribed to it in Paris alone by local residents. Two other notable killings in Paris are those of senior LTTE operatives Perinpanathan and Gajendran by a gunman on 26th October 1996. The LTTE leader bemoaned their loss as caused by ‘the enemy’. However, other factors, including the precipitate and mysterious removal of the LTTE’s European spokesman Lawrence Thilagar, confirmed that the killing was an inside job. The European authorities dismiss such incidents as intra-communal violence within migrant communities. To them Sabalingam and Thilagar – the first, a man with noble ideas, so valuable to the community, and the second, a crude killer – are like Tweedle-Dum and Tweedle-Dee. Tamil dissidents under attack in the West are thus very much on their own. Very little was done by the governments or by non-governmental organisations to sustain the victims of these attacks. The end result was very much a coup in the LTTE’s favour.
A particular aspect of the modern Western milieu is advantageous to groups like the LTTE. During 1940 a group of German dissidents conceived of a plot to murder Hitler. In urging timely action, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the greatly respected Christian thinker and martyr had exclaimed: “If we claim to be Christians, there is no room for expediency. Hitler is the Anti-Christ….” If one were to say something mildly approaching that in the West today about the LTTE leader, one would be greeted with incredulity and disapproval. One would be quickly branded an extremist, and asked to cool off and take a course in peace making. Since the last World War there has been a quiet revolution in the West, where evil has been relegated to a primitive superstition.
Many dissidents had been appalled by what Tamil fascism has done to the Tamil people and the hypocrisy and opportunism of individuals who pandered to it. But in the West, they were largely ignored by their elite compatriots. Once attacked by the LTTE and confronted by Western attitudes, these dissidents too drew the conclusion that their approach of denouncing what they knew to be evil was wrong. Like everyone else, many of them moved in the direction of subscribing to platitudes about conciliation, compromise and confidence building, which meant absolutely nothing to the LTTE. Various shades of compromise in the world-wide dissident camp resulted in division and, among themselves, a desultory war of attrition. Some slowly drifted into the LTTE’s camp – particularly the more nationalistic – in a final act of character breakdown.
It left the LTTE supreme in the West. Even those who are uncomfortable about the LTTE find it difficult to say no to collectors who come with video war cassettes. There have been regular reports, and we too have received testimony, that LTTE fund collectors extort money from refugee claimants in Europe by directly or indirectly threatening to harm their families. It is a context in which there is fear, and where issues concerning the good of those at home, cannot be discussed. This is the fate of Tamils in the ‘democratic’ West.
We look at how the British government dealt with the LTTE before it was formally listed a terrorist organisation in early 2001. Our testimony from impeccable sources during late 2000 relates to the all-important City of London. Fund raising is organised systematically. LTTE agents visit the local libraries and make copies of electoral lists. Tamil homes are marked off and collectors go there with their literature etc. Then a second list is made of homes that refuse to contribute. Senior LTTE operators then go to these homes and harangue the inmates on their want of patriotic fervour. The threat is implicit in the tone and manner rather than in the words. Moreover, knowing the LTTE’s reputation, no one likes to be on its blacklist.
Occasionally, there may be an altercation and the Police called in. The Police would usually take the collectors to a side and advise them in a friendly manner not to go to such houses. This much appears pedestrian, but there are other remarkable aspects.
Scotland Yard officers maintain a friendly relationship with those who work for the LTTE. Several of them were given personal cards by Scotland Yard officers and asked to get in touch
if they needed help. In turn, Scotland Yard keeps a close watch on the LTTE and any irregularity is queried in a friendly manner. If for example, a vehicle that regularly goes to the LTTE office is not seen for a few days, the owner would receive a call from Scotland Yard asking him what happened.
The LTTE office is a different world from ‘democratic’ Britain. Inside, no one dare raise questions. Those who do are reminded in colourful language of the cost of such impertinence in Tamil Eelam. Fortunately, such chastisement has to stop short of giving the recipient a taste of Tamil Eelam.
One could however see a pragmatic argument emerging for Britain’s recent handling of the LTTE. Giving the LTTE rope to take some liberties with the law enabled close monitoring of the group. It made it difficult for the LTTE to go to the next step and resort to violent crime in Britain, unlike in Continental Europe and Canada. Violent crime within the Tamil community in Toronto has reached notorious proportions. One sees what Anton Balasingam meant when he said that should Britain ban the LTTE, they would become real terrorists!
Such pragmatism however threatened Britain’s credibility as a democracy. It discriminated against Tamil British citizens and residents by winking at LTTE extortion from this minority. Every democratic society maintains some basic checks on organisations that appeal to the public for money. The LTTE accosting people for money is a very different phenomenon from collections by the Salvation Army. The LTTE’s history of terror carries an unspoken message. The British position was in effect a bias that conferred de facto recognition on the LTTE as the representatives of the Tamil people. It imposed a psychological inhibition on Tamils who wanted to organise and campaign for alternatives to fascism. Further, it inhibited Tamil politics at home from coming out of the fascist groove. In this respect, at least, Britain’s new position will have a salutary effect.
Of concern has also been the complacency and even complicity of several NGOs and church groups in the West (see our Special Report No.11). What the LTTE had done to its people at home is horrifying enough. But here is an organisation that has even developed the sophistication and versatility to defy all legal checks and to bring Tamils living even in the West under a covert regime of terror. Addressing the danger it poses therefore becomes all the more compelling.
The manner in which peace research sponsored from the West together with its local counterpart has avoided key questions pertaining to the LTTE raises some searching issues. The resulting selectivity imposes dangerously false perceptions about the reality of the people. This glaring misrepresentation cannot go on without the aid of characterless Tamil intellectuals in a society levelled down by fascism.
*To be continued..
*From Rajan Hoole‘s “Sri Lanka: Arrogance of Power – Myth, Decadence and Murder”. Thanks to Rajan for giving us permission to republish. To read earlier parts click here