Earlier last week, the world watched as the rogue Tamil Tigers group admitted total defeat in their thirty-year long conflict with the nation of Sri Lanka.
Or perhaps I should say, only a handful of interested people watched, while the rest of the world skimmed past that headline in search of the score of the Lakers-Magic game. Which isn’t all that surprising, considering that MSM outlets used the same language to describe the Lakers’ triumph over Orlando as they did the aforementioned Central Asian conflict.
So as the world shifts its attention to the latest of Lindsey Lohan’s antics, there is absolutely no reason to be interested in Sri Lanka. Case closed, conflict over, to the victor goes the spoils. Right?
Wrong, wrong, wrong.
Sri Lanka is home to over 3 million Tamils, comprising about 14% of the population. The Tamil Tigers, a nationalist terrorist group that pioneered the use of such tactics as suicide bombing and females as bombers, sought greater representation in Sri Lanka and even pined for a separate state that would house the Tamil people, including over 60 million ethnic Tamils living in nearby India. After over thirty years of tense fighting and bloodshed, the Sri Lankan-Tamil conflict has left over one million Tamils displaced and destitute.
Rather than seek unity, the victorious Sri Lankan government plans to forcibly house these displaced civilians in “welfare villages”…or, in language that cuts right to the point, more like concentration camps.
So I hope you’ll forgive me, but I’m thinking back to all those other forced, close-quarters camps of recent memory: Palestine, Central Africa, Cambodia…even Japanese in the United States…And I’m thinking that if we aren’t cognizant of how displaced Tamils are being treated, we may look back 20 or 30 years from now when the Tamil version of bin Laden leads a group of disgruntled Tamil who spent their formative years in the sweaty, depressing welfare villages of Sri Lanka, lamenting over how we could have saved a few hundred thousand lives.
The Sri Lankan government must resist the urge to kick the Tamil when they’re down, regardless of how wronged they feel after decades of conflict. Like Lincoln after the Civil War, Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa must strive for Union over civil discord and tyranny of the majority. The global community has a vested interest in ensuring that maltreatment of Tamils does not spill over into regional instability, terrorism, or transnational crime; the American people must remember that the very same sentiments that gave rise to al-Qaeda and 9/11 were born out of circumstances such as those currently brewing in Sri Lanka.
We have the opportunity to halt a terrible monster before it breaks loose. What Sri Lankans–and the global community–do about the Tamil transition over the next 3-5 years will define the security situation in Central Asia for a long time. We must resist the urge to interpret “post conflict” as a ticket to ignore this situation; indeed, things in Sri Lanka are more dire and will require more work than ever in the previous thirty years. The work must start now.
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