by Harim Peiris
The world woke up on Monday May 2, to the news that Osama Bin Laden, founder and leader of the Al-Queda network had been killed in a firefight with US troops at what was essentially his safe house and base camp, not far from the Pakistani capital of Islamabad.
President Barack Obama in a televised speech to the nation announced the news and spontaneous and joyous celebrations erupted across the US and the western world. There was a slightly more nuanced response in Asia and the Muslim world, not in public and certainly not by the governments’ but by sections of the people.
Two years ago, on May 19, 2009, Sri Lanka and the world woke up to the news that Vellupillai Prabhakaran, founder and leader of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, (LTTE) had been killed in a pitched battle with Sri Lankan troops near the banks of the Nandikadaal lagoon near the Mullativu coast. A jubilant Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa in a televised speech to Parliament, broadcast to the nation, announced the news and the end of three decades of civil war as spontaneous and joyous celebrations broke out across Sri Lanka. In the near mono ethnic Tamil communities of the war zones of the Northern Province, there was a more muted and nuanced response.
That these two tales of terror, Prabhakaran’s and Bin Laden’s should have come to an end is a victory for humanity and an unquestionable cause for celebration. Both were evil in that they deliberately and as an act of willful policy targeted civilians as their modus operandi and caused misery to people including their own self proclaimed constituencies. They also had a very negative effect on the very causes they sought to espouse and the people on whose behalf they supposedly claimed to fight. Osama ultimately did no favours for either Islam or Muslims and neither did Prabhakaran’s own unique brand of terror benefit the Tamil people.
It was the terror attacks of 9/11, which forever changed the world and also etched Osama Bin Laden and Al Queda on the global psyche. It also made terrorism very unattractive globally and led among many other developments to tightening up anti terrorism, money laundering laws worldwide, incidentally making operations that much more difficult for the LTTE. When the LTTE opted out the ceasefire agreement in 2006, the world was a much more different place, than when they had entered into the CFA in early 2002. Much had changed in half a decade, including the LTTE itself being listed as a terrorist group in most of the world, especially in the West, including the USA, Canada, Britain, the EU, Australia and of course India.
However the West’s war on terror and specifically its war on Al Queda have been complimented by a dialogue and outreach to the Muslim world. The US has and more so specifically under the Obama Administration taken pains to reach out to the Muslim world through dialogue and friendship, recognizing that Al Queda did not represent mainstream Islam and that the largest Muslim nation on earth, Indonesia and other influential Muslim nations like Turkey and Malaysia have been secular, democratic, moderate and reliable western allies for years, with no connection or sympathies for Al Queda.
Similarly Sri Lanka’s own war on terror, concluded now almost two years ago, must also be complemented and succeeded by dialogue and an outreach through friendship to the Tamil community. Such a process of national reconciliation must deal with both the effects and causes of the war. The effects of the war, should be dealt with in a victim centered and equitable manner. IDP’s should be resettled with the resources to rebuilt their homes and livelihoods, detainees under emergency regulations should be charged in courts or released, on bail if necessary and the artillery range kilometers long high security zones on private lands in the Jaffna District should be made available to their original residents.
The issue, the late Dr. Neelan Tiruchelvam often said, of eliminating the “anomaly of imposing a mono ethnic state on a multi ethnic polity”, should be addressed initially through full implementation of the 13th amendment, as well as through the government’s structured dialogue process with the TNA, as the elected representatives of the Tamil people.