International celebrities like Arundhati Roy and M.I.A. have clumsily called for an end to the horrors in the north. While their concern is laudable, they would do well to address the Sri Lankan people. Roy has called this a racist war in the Times of India and asked for the world to step in.
M.I.A. wrote a letter in support of the Wanni Mercy Mission entering Sri Lankan waters without permission. This is simply insulting and wrong. I am Sri Lankan and this is still our country. This is a civil war and it must ultimately be resolved by the people of Sri Lanka.
The Sri Lankan people elected this government, however terribly flawed. The people being bombed now couldn’t vote, because the LTTE wouldn’t let them. Today they cannot leave, again because the LTTE will not let them. If there is a party that can end this war tomorrow it is the LTTE and if there is a party that is affected by the international opinion it is the LTTE. Neither Roy nor M.I.A. mention the LTTE even once.
I say this not to demand ‘balanced’ coverage or because I consider them LTTE supporters. I mention these omissions simply because they profess a desire to help. Condemning the LTTE would help people on the ground, immediately.
Freedom under threat
It is true that our government does grievous wrong. To quote the assassinated editor of this very paper, ‘Sri Lanka is the only country in the world routinely to bomb its own citizens.’ Our soldiers are dying in numbers we don’t know. There are people being kept in camps without permission to leave. As citizens, our freedom of speech and publication is under assault.
However, through all this, it is still our government. Our democracy has survived over 26 years of brutal terrorist onslaught, multiple rebellions, natural disasters and more. Granted, it is a mess, but it exists. Even throughout LTTE occupation it was still Sri Lankan government agents delivering health care and education to the north and east, as they do for the whole country. Even now the victims of war are treated in government hospitals.
Our government is corrupt, inefficient and oppressive, but it survives. And the Sri Lankan people survive. We can change our government, and we can change ourselves.
The international community
Roy and M.I.A. blame the Sri Lankan government and address the Sri Lankan people not at all. They act if the government is absolutely irredeemable and the Sri Lankan people do not exist. Instead they direct their complaints to the ‘international community’ and presume that any action will come from there. It won’t. That international community simply doesn’t exist in any real sense. They are unable to judge and fix Sri Lanka. Whatever their intentions, the result is to antagonise the government (which we can fix) and embolden the LTTE (which we cannot).
The same organisations waving Tamil Eelam maps in protests are now sending a ship to Sri Lanka. Their face is Arjunan Ethirveerasingam, former spokesman for the TRO, an organisation banned in the US for LTTE fund raising and procurement. Their mission lists foreign celebrities and British MPs as stakeholders, ignoring us entirely. They may believe that the land from Chilaw to Ampara is not Sri Lanka at all, but it is.
If they actually want to help people they have to put those politics aside and deal with the map we have. If you actually want to help people you have to work with the government.
I have been working with citizens who are sending relief to our fellow Sri Lankans in the north. This is only possible through close coordination with the various ministries of our government. There is one way you can help listed at the end of this article. Working with the government is frustrating and at times impossible, but it is the only way to get things done. There are no gala parties, but the relief actually reaches people. It may not make much of a point, but it makes a difference.
None of this is to excuse the horrors of the north. I have seen children without limbs and there is no possible excuse. But you must understand. The LTTE is isolated and they are holding our relatives in the north as human shields. The government is responding with inhuman force to finally end this thing once and for all. Is there an easy answer here?
You cannot call in the world police because they won’t come. You cannot launch a ship full of celebrities into a war zone because you’ll get turned away. At the end of the day, Eelam or not, Sinhalese and Tamils and all Sri Lankans have to live together. We can use international help, but ultimately it’s something we have to workout without terrorism, through our democracy and for ourselves.
If you’d like to help out during this Sinhala and Tamil New Year, Deputy Minister of Social Services Lionel Premasiri is organising Ne Gam Yaame Viyapruthiya (visiting relatives for the New Year). On April 9th a convoy will begin in Tangalle collecting school supplies, household items, dry rations, new clothes, mattresses and plastic piggy banks with a few coins. It seems small, but it makes a real difference.
The Colombo collection point for Ne Gam Yaame Viyapruthiya in Colombo is the Shanti Foundation on Buller’s Road (near Kanatte junction). Contact 071-377-7666 for more info.
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