By Rajan Hoole –
The LTTE can today be indifferent to the wishes of the Tamil people and even to views of the Tamil expatriates, since it has acquired an influential stake in the global underworld. Equally, it is a prisoner of these connections that at times make the Sri Lankan State look small. Indeed, it is conceivable that the big powers would decide that the best way to tackle the LTTE is to carve out a separate Tamil state, pamper the leaders with aid, and make Ealam a safe pro-Western Third World oligarchy. The price would be for the leaders to ease themselves out of global criminal networks, which make the control exercised by big powers more uncertain, even if they sometimes use these networks. Is this practicable? India has apparently ruled out such a possibility by reiterating its commitment to the unity and territorial integrity of Sri Lanka.
The rights of people in an LTTE dominated polity would count for little with big powers. But they would be concerned about a sovereign state that becomes a legal hub for the world’s most devious criminal networks. The style of the LTTE leadership, along with its record of assassinating South Asian leaders, is unpromising. In 1995 the French Government, after consultation with the LTTE and the Sri Lankan Government, nominated a facilitator for talks between them. The LTTE shut the door, advancing the total lie that the French nominee was a friend of Mrs. Kumaratunge’s. No party to successful negotiations can conduct its diplomacy in this manner.
The logic of past choices and institutional realities would force the LTTE to make increasingly oppressive demands on the people it controls. It would further try to compensate its inherent military weakness by raising the technological stakes through its criminal networks and allies with links to defence concerns. The LTTE had long since created social conditions to turn out zombies for its war machine. However, the organisation will be haunted by its record of murder in more than a metaphorical sense. The following incident was related by M, an LTTE supporter with several close contacts in its intelligence wing.
During about the late 1980s, the LTTE had a jungle camp in Alampil, Mullaitvu District. Nearby was a spot where the LTTE murdered and buried a large number of TELO men. The sentries doing night duty started having abnormal experiences. They heard noises from the kitchen, of people mixing tea and talking. What was worse, sometimes relief sentries arrived and sent away the ones on duty. Later they were dumbfounded to discover that the place had been left unguarded.
These experiences caused much perplexity in the camp and the matter was referred to the Leader, who had his main base nearby. The Leader sent his personal trouble-shooter Sornam to clear up the matter. Sornam went to the camp, sent the other sentries inside, and armed with an RPG (rocket-propelled-grenade), took up his position alone as night sentry. Sure enough, he saw a relief guard walking towards him, who paid no heed to his expostulations. Sornam fired at the object without any effect, and only then realised that it was an apparition. Though Sornam failed to disentangle the enigma, he earned himself an entry in the Guinness Book of Records as the first person to fire an RPG at a ghost. The Leader solved the problem by ordering the camp shifted.
The mature people living under the LTTE see enough not to want to go near it. M belonged to the intelligence wing of the LTTE in the early 1990s. M’s neighbours in Jaffna realised that another spy was tailing Spy M. M’s father was once seen at the entrance to his home peering anxiously in both directions. M then came out and went away surreptitiously. A few days later M’s dead body was brought home. It was said that M had died in the military operation at Pooneryn. The neighbours gathered around. One neighbour felt around the body, adjusting its position. He withdrew from the coffin, and nudging another neighbour, whispered, “They said he died facing the Army in battle, but the injury is at the back, at the very spot, just above the neck!”
General Kobbekaduwe died from an explosion in 1992, and the LTTE media published photographs of an award ceremony. The Leader gave one LTTEer an award for supposedly having planted the mine that caused the explosion and another, for having made the mine. The photograph of the second became immediately the subject of public speculation. The recipient’s head was bowed down, as though accepting the award very reluctantly. The same photograph showed the Leader, his eyes blazing at the recipient, barely controlling his rage. The people kept their ears open for developments. Less than a week later, they learnt that the reluctant recipient had died a ‘heroic death’ during a skirmish at Elephant Pass.
An early description of the organisation came from a member who left it in 1985: “Many who look at the LTTE from outside take it to be a golden egg. In reality, however, it is a rotten egg, that will one day break. Its nauseating stink will permeate the far corners of the globe.”
How did a well-educated society holding out promise of better things give birth to a monstrosity that is beyond morality and beyond shame? Agonising over this question for two decades has debilitated the more sensitive Tamils in body and mind, and stolen the best of their years. A dissident reflecting on the fate of Tamil society penned the following words:
“Fear of fascists seems to be a dominant emotion going far beyond even parental or fraternal love. Friendship has become ephemeral. Friend forgets a friend who is murdered. I have seen fathers being forgotten by children and even two wives becoming mistresses of the same killer of their husbands. Lack of devotion even to the inner family makes me wonder what happened to Tamil society which once boasted of its strong family unit. Is it that their earlier devotion to family was no more than manifestly egoistic? How could someone who loves his family at the least not be kind to another man or, in the extreme, not be unkind to him? This is a riddle for me that does not get sorted out easily. Yet I could safely say something – the Tamils have themselves become more rotten inside than being eroded from outside. The Sinhalese for their original sin, have become the scapegoats for every wickedness committed under the guise of liberation.”
The dissident added, “The only way the community can redeem itself is by developing a social detestation of murder – any murder. I hate this man who has hijacked our destiny not because of something he did to my father, sister or my son. But I hate him with all my heart for the crimes he committed on ordinary people, ordinary boys and girls. If I start by saying that I am concerned only if a calamity overtakes members of my family, I will in time lose even that sympathy for my family as has happened to the majority, particularly to educated members of this community.”
Seldom in history has a handful of individuals been able to commandeer the life of a community, extinguish its healthier impulses and mould it into a dreadful machine of destruction. The TULF’s nationalism, which in the 1970s branded its parliamentary rivals traitors, placed the Tamils on that road culminating in the LTTE – its nemesis. But confirmation that it was a fundamental flaw in Jaffna society that helped the Tiger phenomenon to get away with its crimes, came as it were from the horse’s mouth – from the LTTE spokesman Anton Balasingam. His longevity owes a good deal to his never letting the boss suspect that he has an ego.
In 1995, just before the LTTE pulled out of Jaffna, Balasingam was met by an Indian journalist, an old acquaintance from Madras days. Balasingam reminded him of the closed meeting in Madras in 1984, where Nithyananthan, a lecturer from the University of Jaffna, told an audience including that reporter his reasons for leaving the LTTE. Nithyananthan spoke of the LTTE’s theoretical vacuum and absence of any practical understanding of the needs and aspirations of other Tamil-speaking minorities – the Muslims and Plantation Tamils. Balasingam told the journalist, “When you go back to Madras, tell Nithyananthan that we still don’t understand the Jaffna Tamils!” That was Balasingam’s sarcastic assessment of a people who accepted being manipulated so cynically.
Balasingam has been the source of the most discerning words about the LTTE. A regular drinking companion told Balasingam his disappointment over the LTTE breaking off talks in 1995 with the government of President Kumaratunga and resuming war. Balasingam told him, “Now look! There is a jungle, and a Tiger in the jungle. Tell me, who are its friends?”
Balasingam’s shrewd remarks are a damning judgement on a community that thought highly of its culture and education. There have been struggles conducted by seemingly less sophisticated communities that one could learn a great deal from. In the Nicaraguan and Palestinian struggles for example there were genuine people’s institutions, alliances bringing together different civil and religious groups and structures for discussion, evaluation and ironing out differences. Power was dispersed. One may disagree with the use of violence, but in these struggles, the limits of violence were recognised and violence was admitted only as a transient necessity.
It is instructive to look at what Nelson Mandela said recently at the Independent Newspapers Annual Lecture at Trinity College, Dublin (Island 3rd May 2000):
“….if the defeat of the apartheid regime was mainly the work of the liberation movement, led by the ANC and supported by the international community, our transition to democracy was the work of all South Africans, from all communities and political persuasions…
“Indeed within the ranks of the ANC the negotiation process was hotly debated from its very beginning, even though the organisation had been striving for more than a century to sit and talk with the government….
“Rather than wait for a destructive war to run its course and only then begin to talk, we chose to talk before our country’s infrastructure was destroyed and before more innocent civilians were slaughtered…”
How different in spirit and substance from the LTTE’s struggle? Pluralism in every aspect of life was never lost sight of. There was no question of banning the other parties as traitors and passing death sentences on them. Whatever the temporary differences, everyone was treated as having the potential to contribute to the well- being of the South African nation. Who would be left in Tamil Eelam to even contemplate a transition to democracy?
Although the LTTE has long made headlines, a future historian trying to study it will find nothing that ennobles the spirit of man. Its programme, he would find, was absurdly simple – violence, unrestrained and primordial. One may set it down as follows:
- There shall be only one movement and one leader.
- If anyone disagrees, kill.
- Create as much insecurity as possible all round. Those who escape from the land will be providers of resources and those who remain have little choice but to serve the Movement.
- Negotiate only for absolute surrender. If there is strong pressure for a compromise, queer the pitch by a sensational act of violence.
- People are only for recruitment alive and for propaganda as corpses. They are not to be trusted. The crucial links of the Movement shall be mafia-type connections with arms merchants and trans-national criminal networks.
It is so simple and yet one hesitates to accept simplicity. Its success owes much to the complacency of the Sri Lankan State and the global community. We began with the degradation betokened by the elite of a community who, if not justifying, have not protested audibly over the use of children as soldiers. Grand collections abroad for the LTTE’s coffers have been compared with ritual blood sacrifice – paying the high priest and his company in return for blessings accruing to the donors. This too is not new in the story of man.
The ancient world of the Levant or West Asia of the 8th to 6th centuries BC, was a place of upheavals and displacement, which radically altered the ethnography of the region. Many of the smaller kingdoms of the preceding period had become debased and the excesses of the ruling classes knew no bounds, so that these societies were ripe with discontent. Into this political vacuum stormed the empires of Egypt, Assyria, Babylon and Persia, in a bid to give the region the stability of the whip and chain. To protect their interests the ruling classes in the smaller kingdoms were driven to seeking alliances and counter-alliances in an attempt to ward off the inevitable consequences of moral decay. The poignancy of those times has been preserved for us in the words of heart-broken witnesses:
“…. they offered their sons and their daughters unto devils; And shed innocent blood, even the blood of their sons and of their daughters: whom they offered unto the idols of Canaan; and the land was defiled with blood.” (Psalm 106: 36-37 and Ezekiel 23: 37-39.)
*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