I don’t like the police, but I like the LTTE even less. My camera also sucks.
Seb said something about a transformer blowing up on Castle Street, near the Rajagiriya McDonald’s. Hit Borella and the road is closed as confirmation. Now this is that shit. Get home and a few phone calls, TV. Looks like 4 or 5 spots were bombed simultaneously – comme Al Qaeda. Castle Street, Nugegoda, Kiribathgoda, some more. Nobody dead or anything, but it gives you that feeling in the pit of your stomach like the trouble might be coming home. Batti and Trinco sound like daily war zones, but there was a faint hope that Colombo could carry on as usual. Take my headphones off and try to think, but there are no bright ideas for this one. The violence gives me a feeling like I lost something, but I can’t place exactly what. Just sit there feeling thick behind the eyes and there’s simply nothing for it. I don’t even understand the side I’m on anymore. However, I still believe that Sri Lanka, for all its flaws, is in the right. We’re a bloody mess, but we are a democracy. That gives us a chance to make it right.
I’ve been trying to think about how the international community and even liberal Sri Lankans think about the war and it’s frustrating. Even intelligent expats will commend the LTTE for their efficiency, as if that’s somehow the measure of governance. Efficiency at what? I’ll quote from Point Pedro here cause I don’t know shit about shit,
It seems a mystery where the tiger tax revenue is going, because the LTTE does not seems to be involved in providing public services to the people of the N&E whether in the LTTE-held or government-held areas. In both these areas it is the Sri Lankan government that is providing public services on education, health, agriculture, irrigation, social services, etc, to the people.
In accordance with the MoU unarmed LTTE cadres are permitted to undertake political work in the government-held areas of the N&E. To the best of the authorâ€™s knowledge the LTTE is mostly involved in only four activities in government-held areas of the N&E. They are: (a) recruitment of cadres. (b) collection of taxes. (c) commemorating the martyrs and (d) harassing political opponents. While the first and the third may be legitimate activities the other two are unjustified. Disappointingly, the LTTE is not involved in any community or public service in the government-held areas despite a huge revenue mobilisation effort. (Working Paper No 2)
The most efficient looking places I know are dictatorial, tyrannical regimes like North Korea, the Taliban, and the LTTE. If you just have an well-funded media unit and satellite anything the international journalists will comment glowingly about the level of organization and the delightful seafood dinner. Kill some innocent people with cowardly bombs and suicide attacks and people will revere you as the world’s premier guerilla force. It’s like a movie set, with nothing but poverty and despotism behind the scenes. People are so blinded by the actors and explosions that they forget that the North and East is busted-ass poor, illegally taxed, corrupt and repressed.
Stokke and Shanmugaratnam (2005: 10), for example, naively believe that the LTTE is a parallel â€œstate powerâ€ with its own military, police, judiciary, public administration, and revenue-raising structures. The reality is that LTTE does not have parallel state structures and the people whom they purport to rule have not given them any â€œstate powerâ€. It certainly has a powerful military structure, but nothing else. The so-called administrative division, forest protection division, health division, education division, etc are hollow arms of the LTTE. They are subservient to the military wing and hardly provide any public service. Head offices of these divisions are showpieces for the consumption of the international community, naive journalists, and of course naive academics. Usually what various divisions of the LTTE do is to influence the corresponding institutions of the government to get things done according to LTTEâ€™s priorities and needs. (Working Paper No 4)
The LTTE looks good because they cut corners and they take the easy way out. Terrorism is the easy way to ‘liberation’, and tyranny is the easy way to order. The only real liberation comes from a difficult and inefficient engagement with non-violence and democracy, and the LTTE does not have the leadership or integrity for that path. There’s a quote from Scent of a Woman where Al Pacino is like, oh, here –
As I came in here, I heard those words, “cradle of leadership.” Well, when the bow breaks, the cradle will fall. And it has fallen here; it has fallen. Makers of men; creators of leaders; be careful what kind of leaders you’re producin’ here. I don’t know if Charlie’s silence here today is right or wrong. I’m not a judge or jury. But I can tell you this: he won’t sell anybody out to buy his future!! And that, my friends, is called integrity! That’s called courage! Now that’s the stuff leaders should be made of. Now I have come to the crossroads in my life. I always knew what the right path was. Without exception, I knew. But I never took it. You know why? It was too damn hard. Now here’s Charlie. He’s come to the crossroads. He has chosen a path. It’s the right path. It’s a path made of principle — that leads to character. Let him continue on his journey. You hold this boy’s future in your hands, committee. It’s a valuable future. Believe me. Don’t destroy it! Protect it. Embrace it. It’s gonna make ya proud one day — I promise you.
Allowing people to vote is hard and messy and the results are often bafflingly bad for everyone involved, but it’s the right thing to do. Having a court system where cases can be brought against the government and your cadres aren’t attorney, judge and jury, that’s hard, and it doesn’t always turn out the way you want it to. Allowing people to speak out against you and still live in your city and use your resources, that’s hard. Allowing other parties to oppose you without killing their leaders and dragging their bodies through the streets, that’s hard. Doing the right thing is complicated and messy and it makes you look like a disjointed dumbass, but it’s still the right thing to do. In fact, it’s so hard the Sri Lankan government only does a passable job of it and ends up getting beat with both sides of the stick. But, for the love of God, Sri Lanka is still a democracy and we are trying.
For all its cock-ups, Sri Lanka is a functioning democracy. I hate the current government, but I can say that and I can campaign for the other side without (inordinate) fear for my life. I don’t like the police and the court system, but I know that there is a rule of law that goes beyond the dictates of my local cadres and even if the system doesn’t always work for me there is a system. Sri Lankan Tamils get harrassed, profiled and searched more than they should, but they can still have some legal and political recourse because Sri Lanka is a democracy and not an Eelam, destined for one race or another. Sri Lanka can, grudgingly, make room for minorities because it is not a terrorist dictatorship. That is, in my opinion, what this struggle is about. It’s not about whether Sri Lanka is an ideal country now, because it’s not. This is about the future and who can build a stable and free nation for a people just beginning to know independence. It’s about whether this system of government – with all its flaws and inefficiencies – can survive without being torn asunder by the ‘efficient’ propaganda and violence of the LTTE and JVP on both sides. Or, as Abraham Lincoln put it,
I consider the central idea pervading this struggle is the necessity that is upon us, of proving that popular government is not an absurdity. We must settle this question now, whether in a free government the minoirty have the right to break up the government whenever they choose. If we fail it will go far to prove the incapability of the people to govern themselves (Goodwin, 356)
That is why, for all the coordinated bombings and propaganda, the LTTE is wrong and Sri Lanka is right. Ranil was bringing the LTTE into a federal and democratic Sri Lanka, and that fight needs to continue under anyone elected to power. We are making a bloody hash of things, but at the core of Sri Lanka is the principle that we are capable of governing ourselves in a free and democratic society. That terrorist groups like the LTTE and JVP cannot kill and intimidate their way to tyrannical rule by ruthlessness alone. That ‘this nation, under, um, Buddha, shall have a new birth of freedom – and that government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth.’