Defining ‘terrorism’

Terrorism is a favourite catch phrase these days. Quite apart from being a reference to the LTTE, ‘terrorist’ is constantly becoming the preferred label for political and ideological opponents both in government and outside. In Sri Lanka today, holding any opinion other than, ‘crush them to death never mind the consequences,’ with regards to the north east conflict earns one the label, ‘terrorist’.
A la the National Movement Against Terrorism (NMAT), the Jathika Hela Urumaya, the JVP, Patriotic National Movement, the National Bhikku Front and a myriad other ‘patriotic’, ‘anti-terror’ groups operating in the country, the following persons and organisations are either terrorists or pro-terrorist operatives:

Federalists (those who advocate a federal solution to the north east conflict when and if a permanent political solution is to come about), peace activists (those who prefer to see a political approach to the problem rather than a military one), media outfits that publish or broadcast news items and articles that do not fall in line with the position of NMAT and Co., media personnel who dare refer to the LTTE as a ‘rebel group’ or to Kilinochchi as a ‘de facto capital’, businessmen who promote a negotiated settlement, ALL NGOs international and local, trade unions, Leftists and many, many more.

The task the ‘patriotic’ organisations have set themselves is fairly simple. ‘Destroy’ the ‘terrorists’ – the federalists, the peace activists, the journalists, the politicians. To this end, violence is permissible, according to a strong proponent of this allegedly ‘patriotic’ ideology who is now a member of the government. The Most Honourable Minister for Environment and Natural Resources and JHU strongman Champika Ranawaka vowed to use whatever means possible to crush ‘traitors’ if the laws of the country do not allow for such extreme measures in a newspaper interview recently.

“Yes, people die. What can we do about it? Are you’ll telling us to spare them? These are traitors to the nation,” said the Honourable Minister. The same honourable man who paved the way for Buddhist monks to enter parliament and bring about a dharmarajya now advocates any manner of suppression against ideological opponents.
But ‘patriotic’ movements alone do not have the luxury of equations. Let us apply their own logic to a different scenario.

The dictionary defines terrorism as ‘the unlawful use or threatened use of force or violence by a person or an organised group against people or property with the intention of intimidating or coercing societies or governments, often for ideological or political reasons.’ Yes, the LTTE are terrorists. They instill fear, kill and maim, commit humanitarian atrocities and literally terrorise a citizenry. They claim this violence is towards an ideological end – the grievances of the Tamil people, traditional homelands etc. They have systematically silenced every dissenting voice through violent means; systematically targeted every organisation opposed to its cause of a separate state. Tamil political and military parties have borne the brunt of the LTTE’s wrath and their method has been terror and intimidation.

NMAT and Co. claims that their mission is to destroy the LTTE, no matter what garb its sympathisers and affiliates adorn. And yet the over zealous ‘patriots’ of the NMAT are of the view that the LTTE example is the best bet for Sri Lanka to liberate itself from the clutches of terrorism. They have taken a cue from the LTTE when they advocate the destruction of the ‘Madya Koti’ (media terrorists), ‘NGO Koti’ (NGO terrorists), ‘Vama Koti’ (leftist/ federalist terrorists) and the many other ‘Koti’ faces who dare to be opposed to their way of thinking. In other words, those who conferred upon themselves the lofty tag of ‘anti-terrorist’, have in their haste to label all their opponents ‘terrorists’ and call for their destruction, only exposed their own naked affiliations to terrorism.

Under the circumstances, the fight against terrorism should not and cannot be limited to a fight against the LTTE.
Indications are that the battle is a greater one and that terrorists in the guise of being ‘patriots’ will soon begin a campaign of oppression that will be no less violent than the one perpetrated by the LTTE. In their attempt to eradicate terrorism then, these ‘patriotic’ movements must first look inward at the tendencies they themselves are beginning to manifest.
If malignancies such as NMAT and Co. are left to fester, then future generations of Sri Lankans will only inherit a replacement to the Tigers’ terrorism.


Too little too late

Victor Corea, Ranjith Silva, Sanath Pushpakumara and Sangeeth Kumara. These are not just four random names. They are our countrymen, brutally executed without proper trial after having been arrested in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, in October 2004 for involvement in robbery and possession of firearms.

But that is not all Victor, Ranjith, Sanath and Sangeeth stand for. Their deaths are also testimony to pathetic inaction on the part of the Sri Lankan government and the Foreign Ministry in particular, neither of which made any tangible efforts to secure clemency for the defendants. The extent of the government’s interest was the issuing of two letters by the former President and her successor who was then Prime Minister, to Saudi authorities seeking their release. Then Premier, Mahinda Rajapaksa as per his own inimitable style, visited the families of the accused and promised to bring their loved ones home. What happened was the exact opposite. Four Sri Lankan citizens were not only blissfully ignorant that they were at risk of execution, but they were also convicted without legal representations and did not understand the proceedings until the final stages of the trial when the Sri Lankan Embassy in Saudi provided an interpreter. After the tragedy, the government is continuing to struggle to get their bodies back home. In the wake of their deaths and the international outcry it resulted in, the Foreign Ministry has been propelled to action. To what end, one might ask, after three years of letting a situation exacerbate? Let us hope that it will at the very least prevent any more Sri Lankans dying alone in a foreign land with no help from home, in the name of some other country’s warped version of justice.