Thursday, May 28, 2009

Letter To A Friend

One of the features about being a Sri Lankan Brit in Britain is that I'm surrounded by a vast and varied assortment of people and nationalities. As cosmopolitan cities go London is definitely up there, possibly in the top fifty in the whole world.

Through my life I've witnessed an increasing sense of awareness of Sri Lanka by the average Brit. I recall when I was a young kid and most English people would be vaguely aware that Sri Lanka was the place that used to be called Ceylon and was somewhere in Asia.

As things progressed and the huge world developed into this tiny global village linked by the internet, cricket, cheap air travel, mobile phones and MTV, Sri Lanka became the place that every British person's next door neighbour went to on holiday last year. During the eighties it became law that every third Britisher had to befriend a Lankan beach boy and send money to him on a regular basis.

These days, after events of the last few decades, everyone in Blighty knows of Sri Lanka, where it is and of course, how all Tamils are terrorists and everyone there loves cricket. A few people don't know these basics, but they're Americans.

I meander through the RD life having pretty much two different levels of conversation with what are pretty much the two different groups of people I mix with.

The first group is what I think I'll call the Lankans. You're probably in this group. It's not necessarily Lankan people, more people who have a real interest and knowledge of Sri Lanka. People who have lived there, worked there, whose parents are Lankan or who speak with a West London accent but write a blog that somehow showed up on Kottu and became a bit popular.

The second group I shall cleverly call Brits. These are the people who know of Lanka but have that limited level of knowledge. They don't have that day to day interest that others have. I spend a lot of time mixing with them, talking about things in Sri Lanka on a very different level to the way we tend to chat and write in the Lankanosphere.

A conversation with one of these types will inevitably involve details about which hotels they stayed in on their Lankan holiday, how they'd love to return and how much they loved going to "that Elephant orphanage place, can't remember the name though". Oh, and the people were so friendly.

And conversations with these Brits about the Lankan conflict are held at a much more superficial and general level than they are with Lankans. Sometimes it's like pushing a jelly up a hill or, as it's called these days, talking politics with M.I.A and Joey Tribbiani.

I thought, just for the hell of it really, I'd give you an example of one of these interractions. I was asked by someone, a Brit type, what the current situation in Lanka is, whether things are

"really looking good/hopeful is SL, or just another temporary "peak"...?"

The asker is someone with a very genuine and heartfelt interst in Sri Lanka, just that they are relatively uninformed about things. I was pleasantly surprised by the interest and keen to try to answer as accurately and informatively as I could. Here's what I said:

"This is a billion dollar question, so I shall try to give you my(reasonably) informed opinion on the matter.

The military defeat of the LTTE is real and massive. Even the LTTE themselves appear to be admitting defeat and admitting the Prabakharan is dead. Last week, in the first few days when the Government of Sri Lanka(GoSL) announced that Prabakharan was killed, the LTTE and its supporters refused to believe this, saying instead that he had fled into the jungles and was still alive.

Then later last week these LTTE supporters started to say that he had been killed, that they really were surrendering. This, in many ways was actually a bigger landmark than the GoSL saying they'd killed him.

So now I believe that the military conflict is more or less over. There is the possibility that the LTTE will have gone away and will regroup in years to come, to resume their fight. I think this is now unlikely.

The rebuilding and the like is now what needs to be done, both short term and longer term.

In the short term there are thousands and thousands of Internally displaced persons (IDPs) in the North East of Sri Lanka who have to be housed, fed and looked after. There is a lot of debate and argument about whether these (mostly Tamil) people ended up in their current situation because of the conduct of the LTTE or of the armed forces.

One side says that the armed forces went hell for leather to obliterate the remainder of the LTTE in the area in the final weeks of the conflict and showed scant regard for the civilian casualities. The other side says that the LTTE used these people, the people they claimed to represent, as a"Human shield", held hostage against their will so that the forces wouldn't be able to attack the areas.

No one seems to know the real truth, I suspect it's a mixture of both. To some extent the cause of the problem now is irrelevant as the important issue is helping the IDPs. If you're so inclined there's an organisation called ACT for Sri Lanka that's heavily involved in aid and you can donate money from here. I've given a bit and will hope to continue to do so.

In the medium term there are some serious international relations type questions over the conduct of the Sri Lankan authorities in the final stages of the war. Many countries are asking for investigations into alleged serious breaches of Human rights and there is talk of embargos and withholding financial aid, monies and loans.

This is a precarious issue. There are people who are quite rightly saying that withholding money and aid will only serve to harm the IDPs even more,that instead of helping Lanka this will hinder it. It's true, on a very short term level. It's also (in my opinion) true that these human rights issues need to be investigated. For me the worrying thing I see is many"local" Sri Lankans with a serious "the whole world is against us"mentality.

I see one of the possible extrapolations of this as a situation in which Sri Lanka ends up in very severe international isolation with only China and a few others as allies.

Also, in the medium and longer term, there is the issue of addressing the original problems that made the LTTE form and take up arms in the first place. The feelings of the Tamil people and the issues they face will hopefully be addressed and dealt with. Mahinda Rajapaksa has made lots of positive noise that suggests these things really will be addressed with what most people think is the right attitude and mindset. Only time will tell.

So, my summary answer is that the potential is there like it hasn't been for 30 odd years. It's definitely more than one of the "peaks" we've had in the past. What will happen in the coming months and years will be the telling thing.

We'll see.

Sorry for the extra long reply, I expect you just wanted a yes or no.


There you have it, with my apologies for some of the gross simplifications. It was an email that I wrote, then thought it might be of interest as a blog post. My attempt to give a rounded but not too detailed view of things to someone who genuinely wanted to hear it. As A + K say; JMHO.

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