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Cultural Clash_The Sinhalese Lion and Crouching Tamil Tiger in Perpetual Conflict

Cultural Clash_The Sinhalese Lion and Crouching Tamil Tiger in Perpetual Conflict

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Published by Richard L. Dixon

The recently concluded war between the Sinhalese majority government of Sri Lanka and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) led by the late Velupillai Prabhakaran (who was killed by Sri Lankan soldiers) was one of forceful brutality, mass human suffering, and the displacement of over 300,000 Tamil refugees in the Northern Part of Sri Lanka. It played itself out in the living rooms around the world. The Sri Lankan Civil War was one of the fiercest fought in the world that claimed over 60,000 lives in a 25 year period.

The recently concluded war between the Sinhalese majority government of Sri Lanka and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) led by the late Velupillai Prabhakaran (who was killed by Sri Lankan soldiers) was one of forceful brutality, mass human suffering, and the displacement of over 300,000 Tamil refugees in the Northern Part of Sri Lanka. It played itself out in the living rooms around the world. The Sri Lankan Civil War was one of the fiercest fought in the world that claimed over 60,000 lives in a 25 year period.

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Published by: Richard L. Dixon on Dec 28, 2009
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Cultural Clash: The Sinhalese Lion and Crouching Tamil Tiger in PerpetualConflictBy Richard L. Dixon
The recently concluded war between the Sinhalese majority government of Sri Lanka and theLiberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam(LTTE) led by the lateVelupillai Prabhakaran(who was killed  by Sri Lankan soldiers) was one of forceful brutality, mass human suffering, and thedisplacement of over 300,000 Tamil refugees in the Northern Part of Sri Lanka. It played itself out in the living rooms around the world. The Sri Lankan Civil War was one of the fiercestfought in the world that claimed over 60,000 lives in a 25 year period. On one hand you had aSinhalese government that subjected the Tamil minority to one of the cruelest forms of racism,torture, and ethnic cleansing that the world has ever known. The Tamil’s were discriminated inemployment, housing, jobs, and stripped of their language and culture. They were reduced tosecond class servitude in all matters Yet on the other hand with the Tamil Tigers you had one of the most ruthless and bloodthirsty rebel groups who utilized the tactics of suicide bombing,kidnapping, assassination of high ranking government officials (such as Sri Lankan PresidentRanasinghe Premadasain 1993, and former Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhiin 1991), the targeting of innocent civilians (theAranthalawa Massacre,Anuradhapura massacre,
Kattankudymosque massacre,andKebithigollewa massacres), and ambushing of government troops and soldiers. It is stated that the LTTE also had established connections with other Muslim terroristthat were associated with the first attack on the World Trade Center in 1993. They engaged insmuggling arms to the Taliban in Afghanistan, and heavily recruited child soldiers into their ranks. “Most child soldiers, both boys and girls, are drawn from the poorest, least educated andmost marginalized social sectors. Especially at risk are children with a disrupted family background, refugee and internally displaced children, children living in conflict zones andgarrison towns, children from a particular ethnic, racial or religious group, and former childsoldiers. The recruited children are used to fight, lay mines and explosives and as spies,messengers, guards, scouts, cooks, porters, servants and for sexual purposes.”
1
It was the scopeand level of these activities by the Tamil Tigers that resulted in them being placed on the list of ruthless terrorist organizations by the United Nations, EU, and the State Department.The Sri Lankan Civil War between the Sinhalese majority government and LTTE is a textbook example of Samuel Huntington’s Clash of Civilization and John Mueller’s Banality of EthnicWar analogy. “A group of well-armed thugs and bullies encouraged by, and working under rough constraints set out by, official security services would arrive or band together in acommunity. Sometimes operating with local authorities, they would then take control and persecute members of other ethnic groups, who would usually flee to areas protected by their own ethnic ruffians, sometimes to join them in seeking revenge. Carnivals of often-drunkenlooting, destruction, and violence would take place, and others--guiltily or not so guiltily-might join in. Gradually, however, many of the people under the thugs' arbitrary and chaotic
1
Peters, Lilian. War is no Child’s Play: child Soldiers from Battlefield to Playgrounds. GenevaCentre for the Democratic Control of Armed Forces (DCAF), Occasional Paper, #8, July, 2005, 2.
 
"protection," especially the more moderate ones and young men unwilling to be pressed intomilitary service would immigrate to safer places. In all this, nationalism was not so much theimpelling force as simply the characteristic around which the marauders happened to havearrayed themselves.”
2
Sri Lanka was a country that was divided into four separate distinct cultures, religions, and racesthat was on a spontaneous collision course of ethnic conflict. This conflict was directly andindirectly influenced by outside actors such as the Indian & Chinese government. “According tothe CIA Fact book, the ethnic, breakdown of Sri Lanka was as follows, Sinhalese 73.8%, SriLankan Moors 7.2%, Indian Tamil 4.6%, Sri Lankan Tamil 3.9%, other 0.5%, unspecified 10%(2001 census provisional data). Religiously the Sinhalese were primarily Buddhist/Christian,(69. 1% and 6.2%) the Moors were Muslim (7.6%), and the Indian Tamil and Sri Lankan Tamilwere Hindu (7.1%).”
3
 In some ways, the ethnic and religious situation in Sri Lanka was a mirror image of the Balkanization that transpired in the now defunct Yugoslavia Republic under theleadership of the deceased Joseph Tito. The big difference was that there was no fatherlandconcept or ideology that bounded the Sri Lankans under one national banner. “The ethnicdifferentiations within the category ‘Ceylonese’, of course, were not sustained only by politicalcompetition. Their foundational sources were (a) sets of cultural practices that, amidstcommonalities, implanted difference in both explicit and insidiously powerful taken
for 
grantedways and (b) widespread practices of endogamous marriage among the Sinhalese, Tamils andMoors that were in turn based on the propensity for Sinhalese and Tamil people to marry withintheir own caste – with the caste identities nestling differentially within each ethnic grouping.”
4
To fully understand the separatist tendencies of the Tamils as well as that of the Sri LankanMoors one must go back to the history of Sri Lanka as a former British Colony. Sri Lanka wasoriginally an ancient kingdom established by the Sinhalese in the 6
th
century BC. Later in the 14century AD, Indians from the subcontinent established a kingdom in the Southern Region of theisland nation. During this era Sri Lanka was known as the kingdom of Ceylon and went througha cycle of colonial rulers starting with the Portuguese, Dutch, and finally the English in 1796.Under British rule, ethnic tendencies between the Sinhalese and Tamils were played out for  political advantages. The same tactics were utilized successfully in the British colonies of Malaysia, Mauritius, India, and Singapore. In all instances, the British government brought incheap labor from either India or China. The British brought in thousands of Tamils to work administrative functions as well as the tea plantations. It wasn’t long after that the Sinhalesemajority started a movement for independence in Ceylon led by S W R D Bandaranayake whichresulted in a negotiation of independence in 1948 from the British Government. Yet it becameapparent from the start that the movement for independence by the Sinhalese majority was doneat the exclusion of the Tamil minority who at this time made up 17% of the population. OnceCeylon had gained its independence they initiated a pro-Sinhalese platform in the newconstitution, passed laws to make Buddhism the official state religion, and the implementation of 
2
Mueller, John. The Banality of Ethnic War, International Security, Vol. 25, Issue 1, Summer,2000, 1.
3
CIA World Factbook, Sri Lanka, accessed on October 28, 2009, from:https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/ce.html
4
Roberts, Michael. Split Asunder: Four Nations in Sri Lanka, 4.
 
the Sinhala Language only act. ” This was soon followed by the ‘Sinhala only’ Language Actthat made the Tamil speaking people stripped of their right to use their language in their jobs, intheir courts, and in their communications with the State. The sense of alienation from the Statewas further intensified when Tamils were faced with discrimination in education and jobs aswell.”
5
Sri Lanka’s peaceful transition failed because its legislative framework was in a Westminister democratic straitjacket that did not take into account the plurality of its ethnic and religiousminorities into a cooperative government framework. Indeed the
 
Westphalian System of government from a western perspective was totally inadequate to handle the multitude of sects,clans, religions, and races in the former colonial empires have contributed greatly to the ethnicconflicts that have flared up on the continents of Africa and Asia. Even Samuel Huntingtonreferred to the failure of the Westphalian System as one of the primary causes of ethnic conflict.The former British Colonies of Malaysia and Singapore unlike their Sri Lankan counterpartsrealized the shortcomings of the Westminister system and made concessions to accommodatetheir ethnic and religious minorities. In the case of Malaysia, the Malay majority were resentfulof the Chinese and Indian minorities who held significant economic power in the country andculminated in the May1969 riots which killed hundreds. The Malaysians sought to remedy thesituation by bringing the Malay majority in the mainstream with the passage of the NationalDevelopment Plan, First Malaysian Plan, and Vision 2020 to incorporate all citizens into agovernment of national unity.The Sinhalese majority on the other hand sought to capitalize on its status by alienating the other ethnic groups such as the Tamils. When the Tamil tried to protest the alleged cases of discrimination and alienation that was perpetuated upon them by the Sinhalese majority, theywere demonized and were massacred by the Sinhalese population who were wiped up into frenzy by the politicians. “It is evident that the violence and ethnocentric policies of the Sinhala rulingelites contributed to the growth of Tamil nationalism in Sri Lanka. Tamil moderate parties,such as the Federal Party (FP) led by skillful politicians such as S.J.V. Selvanayakam,articulated frustration among common Tamil people into a ‘defensive nationalism’ with peaceful protests. However, Sinhalese collective, competitive chauvinism respondedviolently to the Tamil moderates…. Scholarly works on the Sri Lanka ethnic conflict suggest thatcommunal riots in 1958, 1961, 1974, 1977 and 1983 in which Tamils were killed, maimed,robbed and rendered homeless were carefully designed by the Sinhala elites. This persistent pattern of violence set the stage for violent Tamil retaliation and efforts to secede”
6
The beatings and massacres of ethnic Tamils by their Sinhalese counterparts such as theInginiyakala massacre, Tamil research conference massacre, burning of the Jaffna library, 1977communal pogrom, and 1958 pogrom were savage and inhuman. Even those these atrocitieswere committed by the Sinhalese majority, there were moderates within the Tamil communitywho were still committed for the continued process of attempting to integrate their communitiesinto the Sri Lankan political process through constructive dialogue. Those efforts though were
5
North East Secretariat on Human Rights (NESOHR), Lest We Forget, Massacres of Tamilis,1956-2001, (Kilinochchi, Sri Lanka: Statistical Centre for North East SN, 2007), vii.
6
Stavis, Ben, & Imtiyaz, A.R.M. Ethno-Political Conflict in Sri Lanka. The Journal of ThirdWorld Studies, Vol. 25, No. 2, Fall, 2008, 8, 10.

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