Differing views on this week’s V-Day celebration are inevitable and this newspaper today publishes a viewpoint that in the context of the Truth and Reconciliation effort that has been launched by the president, such celebrations are best avoided. While ours was a civil war which dragged on for nearly thirty years with the armed forces of the state fighting a brutal terrorist outfit, there is no escaping the fact that the war was fought against a section of our own people. It must be emphatically stressed that this war that ended a year ago was not one against the Tamil people but one against Velupillai Prabhakaran and his Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. Even the Tiger leader’s closest friends must admit that the so-called ``supremo’’ was a brutal despot who was no less cruel to his own people than he was to the perceived ``enemy.’’ Many of his fighters were forcibly conscripted, some as children, and others brainwashed to fanatically follow his every dictate. Thus many of those who died on the LTTE side of the lines knew not what they were doing.
The armed forces, especially the army, paid a tremendous price defeating the LTTE particularly in the final phase of the war. The toll of the dead and the maimed runs into the thousands. It is in the nature of things that those who spilled their blood and guts in battle, relentlessly moving through minefields where the deadly Johnny mines or battas as the soldiers knew them had been laid, have just cause to celebrate and so also their families and the large majority of Lankans. Despite Johnny being in front, Fonny was behind, relentlessly driving his infantry forward whatever the cost which was great. Undoubtedly a spectacle such as that the country will see later this week will be a morale booster for the men who fought the war as well as the broader population who silently backed their effort enduring the privation that wars entail on those inhabiting war-torn countries. Politicians the world-over, of course, are quick to seize whatever advantages they can from any given situation and ours are no different. Yet we should pause to see how celebrations of victories will be seen by a section of our own population.
It was often correctly said that although every terrorist was a Tamil, all Tamils were not terrorists. In fact a large proportion of the country’s Tamils lived in peace and harmony among the Sinhalese majority. Yet we must admit that there have been atrocities committed against the Tamil population by Sinhalese – albeit a very small minority – in July 1983 and in other communal riots earlier in the post-Independence period. The result was that the LTTE, affectionately regarded as ``the boys’’ even by leaders of the TULF, in its resort to violence was able to win both covert and overt support of many Tamils who felt that ``our boys are giving it back to them.’’ Such sentiments, naturally, were resented by those near and dear to the victims as well as the larger population. But this is not a time for the cancer of triumphalism to be allowed to take root and we must guard against any such tendency.
If there are Tamils who feel that the celebration is one way of rubbing their faces in the dust, the government must hasten to dispel any such illusion. Yet such a perception among some is unavoidable. It can be argued that life cannot go on if nothing is done out of fear of being misunderstood. Yet we must not underestimate the influence of, for example the Tamil Diaspora, who still believe the LTTE propaganda that the Tigers were freedom fighters rather than terrorists. Prabhakaran assiduously, and partly successfully, peddled that line and those whom he misled were not only his own people who funded him from abroad, but also many foreigners and their governments. While many western countries, thanks to giants like Lakshman Kadirgamar, included the LTTE in their lists of global terrorists, there was no unanimity in such assessment and the remaining Tiger rump is not without support. Although we are an island geographically, we must live with the world around us. It is all to the good that India has extended the ban on the Tigers for two more years following intelligence of their efforts to regroup in Tamilnadu. This is what our leaders have also been saying – we cannot afford to put down our guard.
There is also a perception that many atrocities were committed in the final phase of the war. Indeed there were atrocities during all phases of that war, probably most so at the end when the civilian shield strategy was carried to the extreme by the Tigers who had often used it before. Prabhakaran knew that the day of reckoning had arrived and all that mattered then was his own skin and that of his hierarchy. It will be useful if those who point their fingers at the military and the Sri Lankan State also look at the other side of the coin. LTTE atrocities, including terrorist strikes on civilian targets and even places of religious veneration are too recent to forget. The worst horror was the last when the people whose sole representative Prabhakaran claimed to be were held between himself and the advancing forces. It is true that a state, unlike a terror group, is held accountable for its actions. But the West, given its own contemporary experiences, should best understand that a war like the one that ended an year ago, cannot be fought (and has never been) with one side having its hands tied behind its back while anything goes as far as its adversary is concerned.
The die has now been cast and the commemorative parade will be held as scheduled. Yet if we are serious about truth and reconciliation, the perceptions of a section of our people on matters such as this cannot be ignored. The government will have its celebration and the TULF its day of mourning. These are all gestures that are made in a game called politics. What is necessary is to look forward rather than backward. This island belongs to all the people who inhabit it, and not one section or another. We have to live together and not hurt each other’s feelings. That is imperative.