Che on Che. Photo by Olaerik
Friedman has a good quote in the Times: “wars… attract all kinds of spectators, meddlers, do-gooders and do-badders. They use the conflict and the attention it generates to play out their own identity issues, passions and biases.” Take Arundhati Roy, for example, calling Sri Lanka’s war a corporate one in the Times Of India. ” All the large Indian companies are now heading to Sri Lanka to make more money,” she said, as if this is somehow a bad thing. As if India and Sri Lanka have not been trading for centuries. But for her it’s just a point in a broader worldview, not a place where people live, with a reality of its own. How much of this do we attract.
Right And Wrong, And Both
Ideology is a bitch. And a demanding one. US Tea Parties see everything through a particular prism, as do human rights/women’s rights/quasi-liberals here. As do Sinhala and Tamil nationalists. Not that they’re not right, they often are, but other people are also right to. Which seems difficult to understand. That your opponents can also be right sometimes, that they’re not completely wrong.
I don’t think the people hammering Sri Lanka internationally are entirely wrong. I think there’s a lot to question Sri Lanka about. I just resent that they think they’re entirely right. MIA breaks the conflict down to a Che Guevara T-Shirt. It’s not that. Ms. Roy breaks it down to a proto-communist melodrama. It’s not that either. Ms. Pillai and Ms. Arbour of the UN and ICG break it down to a dictator enacting war crimes, and it’s not that either. I’m sure there’s some element of all of these, but the reality is much more complicated and, more importantly, lived.
Relationships And Compromise
Anyone who’s been in a family or a relationship understands that there are nuances and bad things do not necessarily negate the relationship. There is a relationship between Mahinda and us, there is a relationship between Sinhalese, Muslims and Tamils, and with the outside world. These things are not black and whites and any answer depending on the other side essentially giving up and not existing is not really tenable. Unless of course, as was the case with the LTTE, one actually has the military capability and moral impetus to non-exist the other side. But the voices calling for the overthrow of Mahinda have neither military nor moral standing, nor even the attention span.
So it’s just a game, one element in a broader worldview, and ultimately masturbatory. Many Tamil Nadu politicians like having a Sinhala baddie down South that they can rile people up against, like burning effigies of Ravana. It’s fun, cheap and has no cost. In the same way, the otherwise impotent, overpaid and corrupted UN can cheaply rail against Sri Lanka because it doesn’t threaten the US or any of its donor’s interests. And writers like Ms. Roy or Naomi Klein can just lump this in as one more footnote into their ‘this explains everything’ diatribes.
But it doesn’t really explain anything. It’s just other peoples identity issues, played out over a cipher of an island while the people living there are like ‘WTF?’