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On The Spot


Fresh Blood

I was born in 1982 and I have never known a Sri Lanka without war. I have never known a life free of terrorism. I have never known a state that was not in Emergency, nor the full benefits of our constitution. I was born at the same time as our tragic riots and the rise of the LTTE. I have seen them take a real Tamil struggle and pervert it into a suicide pact run by criminals. I have seen them blacken youth and send them to die in charred buses and planes, with the wreckage of the innocent.

I have known 26 years of violence, which has failed. Before that there was 26 years of non-violence, which also failed. By that logic it's time for a change. However, the LTTE has systematically strapped bombs to the next generation and sent them off to die. They have enabled the monolithic southern government they fear by killing off the moderates and prohibiting people from voting. So perhaps after violence comes silence. This I refuse to believe.

I don't think the next generation wants revolution. I think those days are over. There is no ideology left in our leadership, only power. The only creed is greed. What I want is simply freedom, education, employment and the ability to move about in this country I love. I like to think that northern and eastern youth want the same. I think these are reasonable demands.

Tamil grievances

This is not to lighten Tamil grievances, which are very real. They do not have the same constitutional rights to travel, speak or live as I do. And the suffering in Mullaithivu is very real. Yet the people I see screaming 'Eelam or Bust!' are quite safe and comfortable abroad. The people going bust are here.

 At some point - after 26 years - it should become obvious that hacking villagers to death does not lead to equal rights. It's just a bunch of dead villagers and more checkpoints. This leadership doesn't lead anywhere. The LTTE was never much more than a cyanide capsule dressed up in fatigues. But they have led, and we have followed. By assassination, provocation and pure terror they have shaped the Sri Lankan state over the last 26 years. They have given ammunition to the racist Sinhala forces and polarised debate, aiming for the point where the tension would snap off a chunk of Eelam. But it hasn't.

Snap off a diaspora

All they have done is snap off a diaspora and kill the best and brightest here. The LTTE has killed Sinhala leaders, Tamil leaders, Indian leaders, and countless civilians. In response, the military state they feared has become more entrenched and the middle ground has become more and more squeezed. They have made the debate about Eelam or a Sinhala state when it should be about Sri Lanka.

And that is the danger. Looking back now, we have allowed ourselves to be defined by the LTTE. We claim the moral high ground next to them, but that is no noble claim. It's easy to have the moral high ground standing next to an open sewer. The issues we face are not about us against the terrorists. That's an easy one. The real issues are about us. Who are we? Are we a nation of laws? Of freedom? Of peace? Of course we're better than the LTTE. But are we the best that we can be?

In our rush to defeat terrorism we have taken land and lost our minds. Twenty five years of violence has taken its toll, and this island is effectively terrorised. No one notices that the state of Emergency has effectively gone on for a lifetime.

 Prevention of Terrorism Act

The Prevention of Terrorism Act reads 'the provisions of this Act shall have effect notwithstanding anything contained in any other written law.' This means that we have placed the prevention of terrorism higher than our own constitution. That our constitution does not hold. And it obviously doesn't. Fundamental rights are violated everyday and the government ignores whole amendments and Supreme Court orders.

This column is called Article 14, which refers to our vestigial constitution. It's the right to free speech. It's not a right that really exists. People that practice it end up dead or in jail. Or lovingly censored by their family and friends. The last editor of this paper practiced free speech. Now he is dead. And we consider these acceptable losses. The loss of our national soul.

I don't. I am firmly opposed to the LTTE and terror. And yet I criticise this government at every possible juncture. This is possible without being a traitor. Indeed, this is possible while being a patriot.

Many in the government frame opposition as support for the LTTE. This is a deep insult to Sri Lanka itself. Our democracy - however flawed - is not even in the same moral universe as the LTTE. Terror does not excuse corruption, lawlessness and oppression. We have to hold ourselves to a much higher standard. Citizens have to do it. Writers and bloggers and artists have to do it. Even though our democracy barely exists in a legal sense, we have to practice it. Not because we are LTTE, but because we are free. It is not enough to defeat the LTTE. We have to win.









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