Monday, May 18, 2009

No Purity of Purpose in Terrorism

[An edited version of this article was published first in]

The LTTE chief Prabhakaran's death in Sr Lanka made headlines yesterday and brought the 35-year old Sri Lankan civil war to an end. Several thousands of Sinhalese and Sri Lankan Tamils have been killed in this war, a nation has been divided, wounded and extremist elements allowed to flourish. India has lost over 1000 of its soldiers in the peacekeeping force of the late Eighties as well as a former prime minister to the suicide bombing tactics employed by the LTTE.

A few years ago this prime minister's daughter, Priyanka Gandhi, visited one of the killers, Nalini who is now in an Indian jail. Despite the support that LTTE has enjoyed from some Tamil politicians, the news of Prabhakaran's death seems to have caused nary a ripple in Tamil Nadu, though security analyst B Raman warns us that it is too early to be complacent. It seems now that the wounds (at least in India) are being painfully and slowly healed. For how long, noone is sure.

A cursory look into the twists and turns in this civil war brings out the worst in people. You hear opinions such as 'Sinhalese are congenitally racist, 'Tamils are congentially racist', 'Christians created all the problems by evangelizing the Hindu Tamil community', 'the Hindu Tamils are to be blamed for their identification as Tamils and not Sri Lankans', 'the British are to be blamed for dividing the country', 'the Buddhists wanted to institutionalize their beliefs and culture', and so on. There are enough instances in this nation's history to illustrate these points.

Granted that many factors contributed to the civil war, what stands out most clearly is that the best of intentions cannot sustain a terrorist undertaking. The LTTE had decimated many other Tamil nationalistic and militant outfits, engaged in a reign of internal terror, used women and child warriors and suicide bombers, committed horrifying human rights abuses, targeted and abducted many civilians, engaged in piracy, arms and drugs smuggling and carved out a relationship with the grand daddy of them all, al Qaeda. A look into history may even justify the origin of a movement to represent Tamils equitably in the xenophobic and exclusionary Sinhalese-dominated Sri Lankan government. But a militia like this was only bound to degenerate. There is no purity of purpose in terrorism. And thus the oft-repeated maxim that'one man's terrorist is another's freedom fighter' is wrong. The LTTE was organized like a military, but it committed abuses that are in contradiction of the principles of nation-to-nation armed conflicts. Much less do we need to say about the allegedly 'stateless' entities in South Asia that practice terror.

Today the process of healing between Sinhalese and Tamils in Sri Lanka is yet to begin in earnest. Hopefully the end of the war will mean an exploration into the beginning of hostility and an equitable solution in the democratic process.

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