Video of MIA Accusing Sri Lanka of Genocide and What I Think About the War.

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The singer M.I.A. (a.k.a Mathangi “Maya” Arulapragasam) is as hot as lava right now. She is nominated for both an Oscar (for Slumdog Millionaire) and a Grammy (for Paper Planes).  In the interview, she talks, among other things, about the situation in Sri Lanka. She accuses the “Sinhalese” government of systematic genocide.

According to Wikipedia,

“Her father was a founding member of The Eelam Revolutionary Organisation of Students (EROS). Due to the conflict, the first years of her life were marked by displacement. Contact with her father was strictly limited, as he was in hiding from the Sri Lanka Army. As the civil war escalated, it became unsafe for the family to stay in Sri Lanka, so they relocated to Chennai, moving into a derelict house, with sporadic visits from her father. Later resettling in Jaffna, the conflict deteriorated further, and the family once again tried to flee the island. Her school was destroyed in a government raid. Eventually she, her two siblings and mother Kala moved back to London where they were housed as refugees.”

Her opinions are directly influenced by her upbringing and her experiences, but personally, I find them half-baked and misleading. She gets her facts wrong, for a start, most glaringly by saying Sri Lanka has just two ethnic groups. Her accusation of systematic genocide is sensationalist and is arguable, at best. She also ignores the advances in regional democracy, autonomy and quality of life in the East, which are a direct result of military success and government control.

Which brings me to what I think about the war. That last point in the preceding paragraph is something critics of the military option often fail to acknowledge. We now have regional governance in the East and a Tamil Sri Lankan chief minister democratically elected by the citizens of that province. That’s pretty big. True, the Eastern election was violent and flawed, but which election in Sri Lanka, or anywhere in the region for that matter can be regarded as free and fair? (Refer Bush-Gore 2000) It was not just a cautious first step, but a powerful stride in the right direction. Readers of this blog will know that I am not a fan of this government, but I am not blind to some of the successes of its strategy either. In the opinion of a Tamil Sri Lankan friend of mine, this government appears to have come closer to a workable solution than any other previously.

I have to give credit where it is due. Given the abject failure of repeated attempts at a negotiated solution in the past, and the LTTE’s scuttling of the last ceasefire, the choice of a military route to force the LTTE to surrender was unsurprising, even justifiable. Given this objective, the government has executed it well, balancing a number of different areas in an incredible awe-inspiring juggling act: the military morale and support in larger society, building up support in parliament by dismantling opposition parties into fragments (SLMC, JVP, UNP), the national and international public relations hurdles, the handling of relations with foreign powers and NGOs, the use of strategic alliances with the TMVP and EPDP, and the economy itself, which is still experiencing six per cent growth. If there was an election today, there would be no doubt which party would win.

My main concerns about a protracted military response always had roots in economics. I did not think we would have the financial robustness to withstand a war on the scale that was required. But, it turns out, we have not run out of money… yet. Yes, the economy has suffered. Yes, companies have failed, banks are teetering, people are losing jobs, but it’s happening everywhere else too. We have the dull satisfaction of knowing we are not being left behind; on the contrary, it can be argued that we have been investing in fixing the curse of our economy (the LTTE) over the last two years, and are now almost ready to reap the returns on our investment. (Incidentally, according to Bloomsberg, the Sri Lankan stockmarket has been one of the best performing in the world this year).

Nevertheless, I am jittery about the non-payment of the oil hedging bill – that is not a good sign of things to come. However, so far so good considering, of course, that this is a war economy. I do not think the economy can hold on for much longer though. It is not unlikely that the government will run out of money at some point, and then, all the government’s plans will have to be revised. But will this hit soon enough to affect the war strategy? The conventional military war seems to be drawing to a quicker close than expected, and the government is still paying its bills, so fingers crossed.

The main problems I do have with the government is the disrespect for human rights and their abject failure at winning over the hearts and minds of Tamil Sri Lankans. Admittedly, it is not easy when your army may be killing people who are potentially friends, relatives and neighbours, but still the government has not tried hard enough to appear inclusive of Tamil Sri Lankans. In the international arena, yes, Mahinda has addressed the UN in Tamil. Yes, the independence day telecast commentary were in three languages, and so were the posters – a nice change from the Sinhalese nationalist tone of last year. All these are just noises though. Why does Mahinda still allow himself to be compared to Dutugemunu? It has the all too familiar stink of Sinhala Buddhist chauvinism, as does the anti-conversion bill the government is supporting. The inaction in following up the murders of journalists and MPs like Sivaram, Lasantha, Maheswaram and Raviraj is unforgivable. The crime of killing the 17 aid workers in Muttur, the attack on Sirasa, the attacks on Rupavahini staff by Mervyn Silva – these are crimes that no perpetrator may ever be tried in court for.

It is the government’s responsibility to uphold the rights guaranteed in the constitution. That is its job. Patriots should find the true meaning of the word, not in a blind defence of a government or a party or even the military, but in a defence of the foundation of our country which is enshrined in the words of our constitution.

What I worry about is: what comes after the almost inevitable military victory? The government’s excuse for everything – unemployment, cost of living, reduced civil liberties – has been the war. What happens when the war is no longer usable as an excuse? People are going to want to see a better life. Can they deliver? Can they send 250,000 military personnel home after paying them Rs.20,000 a month? How can they find them alternative employment? What are they going to do with Sarath Fonseka? Is he going to retire quietly or accept a diplomatic post abroad? Is he the man to win the peace in an occupied North? How will they deal with remnants of the LTTE that will try to organise themselves into terrorist cells? Will the government restore journalistic freedoms? Will they release Tissanayagam? Will this become a Sinhala Buddhist state? Who will replace Sarath N. Silva as the Chief Justice? Will we still see abductions, threats to media people and incidents like Lasantha’s death and the attack on MTV? Will these incidents increase? Will the Rajapaksa brothers establish a dictatorship? Will there be a military coup? Will there be a situation where Mahinda remains in power, but Gotabhaya and Sarath do what they want? Who is going to tell them not to?

After all, they got the bombs; they got the guns; and they certainly got the men.


P.S. I am working on a post about what a concerned citizen can do to improve things in our country. Your suggestions, from any point of view, however off-the-wall, are welcome. Please leave a comment with what you think can be done by citizens to affect change, and in which direction. Thanks.


19 thoughts on “Video of MIA Accusing Sri Lanka of Genocide and What I Think About the War.

  1. //Will the Rajapaksa brothers establish a dictatorship? Will there be a military coup? Will there be a situation where Mahinda remains in power, but Gotabhaya and Sarath do what they want? Who is going to tell them not to?//

    Do you mean, somehow existence of LTTE prevent all that happening for past decades? Or are we so used to the war and misery, we forget good things can happen too?

  2. “Why does Mahinda still allow himself to be compared to Dutugemunu?”

    Maybe because he knows comparing himself such, instills a sense of strength, and faith in the masses. It’s all an image. Branding through comparison. And the thousands of people who were at Dayata Kirula couldn’t be wrong. Not the elite. Not the bloggers and thinkers. Just people who came from god knows where, in buses, with roddlers in their arms, to see the ‘change’ Mahinder is promising.

    “It has the all too familiar stink of Sinhala Buddhist chauvinism, as does the anti-conversion bill the government is supporting.”

    Sorry that some of the prominent voices in our politics seem rather chauvinistic. Believe me, many Sin-Bud people practice privately, and even pray to Hindu gods and such. So I don’t believe it’s fare generalizing na?
    The anti-conv bill to me..seems a little out of place in the current context where we seem to have bigger fish to fry. And I don’t seem to see the great harm conversion is doing, but this maybe my ignorance. Yet it is also alarming that 20% of Srl lankans are below the poverty line. So can’t these religious groups be classed as exploiting them? And it’s not only Buddhists. My helper’s whole village (Badulla – they are Indian Tamil- Hindu estate workers) was given incentives and converted. So?

    On the “250,000 military”..

    did you know Americans have been coming over for seminars held by our SL army on learning strategies for guerilla fighting? We are regarded as elite in fighting terrorism, due to some strategies which have worked. Terrorism will be there, so will war and strife. Our soldiers were sent to Haiti once…there will be missions. and we need an island wide security. With the global support the LTTE has, keeping an eye on the situ, even after finishing a full scale war, is important. Let’s see what their plan is…

    And I slightly agree with Sam. Yes, there are SO many discrepancies. And the current situation with the trapped civilians is abhorring. But let’s wait and see how it goes. We can’t depress ourselves even more than we are.. we aren’t in the floor fighting for our lives. Let’s support the economy in the way we can, and wait and see.

    just my thoughts 🙂 interesting post.

  3. Sam said:

    “Do you mean, somehow existence of LTTE prevent all that happening for past decades? Or are we so used to the war and misery, we forget good things can happen too?”

    Not at all. I’m just saying that our society has fast become militarized and it is hard to see how it can be easily demilitarized. The war itself keeps a lot of poor village youth employed. Where else are they going to get that type of salary? Can you just send them home? There may already be a situation where some in charge of military don’t always seek approval before carrying out special hits. Just about every small country in South Asia has had problems of military dictatorship. Just because we haven’t had one yet, doesn’t mean it’s not likely to happen.

  4. Dee, Yes, I am aware that the Americans are highly interested in our conflict. I think they see it as an experiment. In fact, a famous film director I spoke with recently who has a film banned in Sri Lanka, suggested the not unlikely possibility that this military strategy was suggested, supported and planned with the full backing of co-chairs of the peace process. We are an experiment of how to carry out a war against a terrorist group with a conventional military capability, he thinks.

    On the anti conversion bill issue, my main concern is that it violates the constitution and passing it would mean a repeal of civil liberties and religious freedoms guranteed in article 10 and 14. It’s not a good precedent.

    “10. Every person is entitled to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, including the freedom to have or to adopt a religion or belief of his choice.

    14. (1) Every citizen is entitled to –

    (e) the freedom, either by himself or in association with others, and either in public or in private, to manifest his religion or belief in worship, observance, practice or teaching;”

  5. What gave you the idea army had to go home after the war? If that happen, it will be the greatest mistake of the century. We had three uprising in last 30-40 years. We are significantly under protected and under policed. Remember, we have whole new land mass to be policed after the war and that will need significant amount of trained people. I think it is wise for us to maintain a good capable force. But my biggest fear is religion taking the opportunity grabbing more power.

  6. Firstly, Sam, we can’t afford to keep such a huge army going. Plus, we have one of the most militarized societies in the world now with the military personal per capita very very high. This is excusable in a war situation, but during peace? What’s the point? I am not suggesting that they reduce numbers immediately, obviously they have to consolidate and win the peace, and prevent resurgence of the LTTE, but eventually, this will become a problem, I think, that we will have to deal with.

  7. This may be completely off the tangent, but one potential place of employment is the health sector. The soldiers are (presumably) trained and disciplined and as support staff, paramedical staff etc. they may be in great demand…

  8. You know Angel brings up an interesting point. There’s a huge pool of disciplined, trained young men with a variety of skills (taking logistics, etc types of service into account) that are available for a variety of economic ventures. Everybody looks at this as a liability but I think for a variety of entrepreneurs this pool of labour could be an asset.

  9. I think some of you are a bit over-optimistic about the Army going home. The SL Army will remain at its present strength — or even expand — over the next 2-5 years as it attempts to mop up the remanants of the LTTE, hunt down its leadership and pacify the N&E. A lot of the war budget goes on munitions, equipment maintainence, and spares. This component will drastically reduce once the conventional phase is over, and allow the GoSL to maintain the current strength — and even expand it — while spending less than it does today.

  10. jeeesus. is m.i.a. 12 years old? she cant even string two sentences together without saying ‘like’ 7 times, let alone get some of the basic facts right and/or articulate something (such a shame given that she has such a great platform to do so)

    there arent any true voices for the tamil people out there? she is the (chosen) one? what a pompous bitch. shes giving the tamils who fight (and have fought for so many years) the good fight everywhere a bad name

    im going to have to commit genocide on my 2 copies of arular

  11. M.I.A is a hot, talented kid who’s always been controversial. I’ve personally had people come up to me asking me about what I thought, as a lankan, about the situation in SL. Where did these 19 year old first years at college hear about a ‘war’ in SL? M.I.A.! sad, that some kids in North America don’t hear much about us except through M.I.A., but they still heard, and became interested.

    I know i’m talking about a small group of people here (a few American 19 year old college kids) but since M.I.A claims to be all about the ‘situation’ in Sri Lanka, and since she is regarded controversial, it definitely rouses interest and some people actually get interested in what she’s ‘on about’. She may not be thee ‘voice’, but she is a voice regardless of her stance on genocide and the conflict.

  12. i hear what you’re saying, even though i guess a big chunk of that crowd is 19-year old college kids of armchair genocide prevention persuasion

    but if youre the kind of person/organisation which *actively* wanted to do something about a major injustice happening in the world that you felt strongly about, surely, you would (be quite well read and) know about it long before hearing about it at the fucking grammys. sure, is the propagation of this form of information in the world a good thing? yes. but if you don’t do that propagation with responsibility and without a sound grounding on its true realities, does that achieve anything worthwhile other than blasting your own horn? in that case doesn’t it crossover from standing up for what you believe in towards pure marketing?

    im speaking more generally here, but what gets me even more is the (mostly deliberate) marginalization and relegation of the countless “moderate” tamil activists who have fought long and hard for tamil rights (amidst getting taken out methodically) to just a casual lil footnote of history (or no footnote at all, in this case).

    having said all this, i doubt that subject to the same set of experiences if my basic feelings towards the issues would be much different to hers, but hell if my actual understanding about the realities of the issue was as propagandish/moronic as that (and given that i had a chance to speak to a wider audience about it). very lil tolerance for this shit

  13. “P.S. I am working on a post about what a concerned citizen can do to improve things in our country. Your suggestions, from any point of view, however off-the-wall, are welcome. Please leave a comment with what you think can be done by citizens to affect change, and in which direction. Thanks.”

    Dear Ravana,

    (please bear with this if you can – just want to set the current scene with some background info)

    I have come across your blog in the last few weeks and have read with interest your views and the consequent discussion that arises and must say that I agree with a great deal of what you have to say and indeed your overall viewpoint.

    As a first generation Sinhalese brought up in the UK, although in an area with minimal exposure to Sri Lankan culture (as with compared to London, relatively), thanks to my parents, my immediate environment was still very much Sri Lankan – and all the associated baggage. Outside of this though (and what with the internet unheard of at that time) I read as much as I could on Sri Lanka from various books, encyclopaedias, etc.

    Now approaching my 30s, having gone to a London Uni, having met and made friends with Sri Lankan Tamil, Sinhalese, Moor and Burgher people, having stayed and talked with family and friends in Sri Lanka and what with the onset of the internet I do have a WHOLE lot of thoughts and opinions on Sri Lanka.

    It may well seem irrelevant what I have stated in the above three paragraphs (which is hugely simplified) but I have done so because I think it may represent a good chunk of Sri Lankans born and living abroad.

    But in my personal experience that’s where any similarity between me and my 1st, 2nd or even 3rd generation Lankan brethren ends.

    Maybe I am wrong on this, or it is in some part my problem that I find it difficult to have a sincere opinion on what procedures should be actioned in order to improve the country when we, as Lankans abroad, don’t know what the average person wants or needs.

    Now before you say it, I KNOW the average person wants and needs personal security, a livelihood, a harmonious Sri Lanka but that’s not what I meant. What I meant is that I (and others too I’m sure) would like to know what the average Sri Lankan, in particular the youth, want to see changed how we can assist these people on the ground level in affecting those changes.

    You see, by average Sri Lankan possibly I mean the girl, boy, woman, man who maybe doesn’t have any political backup, be it from any background?

    You see, I just don’t know what people who actually live there want to do to make Sri Lanka a better place. Maybe there exists a cross-section of the Sri Lankan populace who already have a good plan of action set up but we, living outside just haven’t heard of it, or maybe we just don’t want to know because some of us, as ‘armchair activists’ think we know better.

    You see, when I said above that in my personal experience any similarity between me and the others like me that I know (note that its people I know, I can’t speak for those I don’t) ends there is because I just don’t know what its like to live there and what’s more I wouldn’t like to say what should be happening, i.e., suggesting how people should be living.

    But it doesn’t stop this type of behaviour though because there will always be people who think they are experts based on what they read only in the BBC, Infolanka or Tamilnet sites, to name a few and will be happy to pinpoint a political ideal that could exist if the right people were in power or indeed would merrily tell you that things have never been happier for ‘us Sri Lankans’ under the current government. Now the scary thing is that I’ve heard these statements from people not yet in their twenties who have never set foot on the island. I have also heard the same from people who have lived there all there life and everyone is entitled to their opinions but attitudes like this and those a whole lot less savoury will contribute to whether the country improves or not.

    A Sri Lankan on one internet forum said that as people who have had the opportunity to come work and live in the west should use this opportunity to build bridges amongst one another and leave all the hatred behind they were escaping from in the first place. A very nice sentiment and something to aspire to. Yes, for some there are raw wounds but from all sides the seeds of hatred are being sown into a generation that doesn’t know any better – that includes my generation.

    I’d like to think I bring impartiality and awareness rather than aggressive one-sidedness when discussing the situation with others. I’d like to think there are more who feel likewise because, leaving aside political parties and the news stations for one minute, I think that improving the country will be a two way process with Sri Lankans on the outside getting to know their resident counterparts.

    Yes we all know our uncles, aunts and cousins but how about the ones we don’t know? It may sound way too antiquated what with email and blogs such as this very one I’m writing on, but I was thinking about a penpal charity set up so people could write to one another, send pictures, talk about their experiences, it could even prove therapeutic in itself – could also be done on an internet forum. I know this all sounds like the majority of what exists on the web right now but does anybody know if something like this exists in an official capacity?

    A lot of things might be said that won’t want to be heard by Some Lankans around the world but maybe it will make them question themselves?

    In fact Ravana, it was a comment made by one “Mala” on one of your posts that made me think about this and it was your invitation to comment on your idea of writing a post on what a concerned citizen can do that has allowed me to voice these thoughts of mine.

    Forgive me but I’d like to show you the last part of Mala’s comment:
    “This needs to be about all of us who want the killings to stop – irrespective of what we think the solution ought to be, how much control should or should not be given, who is wrong or right. This needs to be simply about stop the killings and it needs to be from islandwide. Homewide.
    I am not calling for something that involves violence in any way. But I am calling for something strong and unwavering.
    I feel foolish writing this. But that’s ok. That’s bound to happen. I didn’t get much work done so far. But that’s ok too. The burden of getting it done somehow is something I am willing to bear. I don’t usually post out my opinion coz really, who gives a damn. But today I am going to. I need to. I would not be able to live with myself if I stayed silent right now. Someone needs to do something. And that someone needs to be us. If not I have absconded my responsibility just like all those who I blame for absconding theirs.
    I don’t want to forget tomorrow what I felt yesterday. Dont let me. Dont let you. Dont let “THEM”. Let’s do something.”

    Maybe I’m wrong but I feel the majority of people who comment here were born and grew up in Sri Lanka? I honestly don’t know what your reactions would be to this post from a Sri Lankan who was born and brought up outside of Sri Lanka. I have heard them from across the spectrum in the past and it is only my opinion but I appreciate being able to voice it if only for my own benefit. And while I may not be a citizen of Sri Lanka as it were, I am most definitely a concerned Sri Lankan who wants to know how I can improve things in Sri Lanka.

  14. Mahesh, thanks for the comment. As even the President said in his Independence Day speech and our Deputy Finance Minister said in London on that same day last week, Sri Lanka needs the diaspora to get involved, to “rain dollars and pounds down on us” as he said. He was talking about the reconstruction work in the North after the conventional capability of the LTTE is defeated.

    Certainly, that will be a challenge. The immediate need is relief for the Internally Displaced People fleeing the fighting. Derana Sarana is the only organisation I know that have called on the public to help with contributions of dry rations.

    ‘Derana Sarana’ requests the public to hand over dry rations, sealed bottled water and new clothes to be sent to those who have fled LTTE-controlled and arrived at IDP welfare centres in the north. For details please call Nalindra on 0773580471 or the items could be handed over at No. 5, Skelton Road, Colombo 5.”

    They are a news organisation and can be trusted I believe to do what they say they will with the cash or dry rations contributed.

    But with specific reference to your pen pal idea – good news. This is already exists in an official capacity through AFLAC (the Association for Lighting a Candle). It is a very good organisation that helps students by giving them small scale scholarships and mentoring them with the secific donor. So you can actualy help the person directly and engage with the person and devlop his or her skills.

  15. Ya well MIA can say what she wants but most ppl can think for themselves.. if a group that uses child suicide bombers are not a terror group then who is? This is her point of view that she maybe got from the horses mouth.. this time the horse might have been her father.. who was a leader in the LTTE (If u search on wiki you will find out more about her and her family ties with the LTTE)
    Its must be about 20 years since she left Sri Lanka. If she comes back now she will see how Tamils, Singhalese, Muslims and Burgers ( yes that’s right there are 2 more minorities in Sri Lanka that she left out.. ) living in Colombo now. Anyway if you want to know about LTTE just Google it… Their acts put all other terror groups to shame. They kill their own!!

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