(Stirring Up) A Mighty Shitstorm: The Perils of Ranting On A Civil War
"Never, 'for the sake of peace and quiet', deny your own experience or convictions"
- Dag Hammarskjold
"True peace is not merely the absence of tension: it is the presence of justice"
- Martin Luther King, Jr.
Having written on many hot-button topics over the years, I'm quite used to impassioned responses to my writing by now, both for and against my point of view. However, nothing I've written before - not my rants regarding religion, not my denunciations of police brutality, and not even my many pieces about Israel's crimes against the Palestinians - has ever generated such a dramatic, emotional response like the one caused by my last piece, Freedom Denied! Are We Happy Now: The Crushing of Sri Lanka's Tamils. We're talking a real shitstorm of controversy here.
Of course, considering that the topic involves a nearly-three-decades-long civil war, it's not really all that surprising; however, the contrast between the "thank you, thank you" and "you stupid moron" comments has been quite dramatic indeed.
You can get a taste of this by checking out the comments posted on my site here.
However, the piece has garnered far more comments on the Georgia Straight's online site here. As of this writing, there are 48 comments posted there in total.
Love and Hate
Feeling that few outside of their own community really give a damn what happens to them, many of the Tamils who have posted comments (or written directly to me) have expressed gratitude that someone like myself (that is, a non-Tamil) has written so passionately in support of their cause and their right to self-determination.
Meanwhile, many, though not all, of the Sinhalese who have responded have voiced fierce opposition to every word I have written.
Not only is that to be expected, however, it's also quite understandable. To paraphrase what I said in my last piece: after nearly-thirty years of war and nationalistic government and media propaganda, the majority of Sinhalese have become convinced that they are simply victims of evil terrorists. End of story. And few of them seem to see, know or care about the horrors inflicted upon the Tamils by the Sri Lankan military. The way they see it -
the facts of the conflict be damned - the Tamil Tigers alone are to blame for every death, all of the suffering, and the whole horrific war itself.
To put it mildly, there's been a lot of anger and even hatred expressed: "You are an idiot", "You're too god damn racist to understand anything", "You are a stupid idiot that has no clue about Sri Lanka", "Get real, white boy!!" and "I've seen Chimps who are smarter than you" being a few representative comments.
But for every angry comment, either posted or sent to me directly, there has been another like this one, which I received just a couple of days ago now:
"Hi Mike. You are one of the few western journalists who totally understand our side (Tamil) of the sad story. After reading your article, I was happy that at least there is someone like you thinking on the line of common sense. Thank you, please keep writing."
Certainly Not A Guardian of Copyright Law
I should mention that the worst of all the antagonistic comments began after the piece was picked up by a Sri Lankan paper called the Sri Lanka Guardian. The editor of that paper put up my piece on their site without my permission and then, afterwards, wrote and asked me if it was ok.
After initially thinking to myself that I didn't really want to deal with the wave of abuse that would inevitably be headed my way, I decided to let him keep it up... and then the inevitable abuse started to flow my way. However, even on that site there are a few supportive comments, all posted by Tamils, of course.
Check it out here: Sri Lanka Guardian: Freedom denied: The crushing of Sri Lanka's Tamils.
Besides "you are an idiot", the other main sentiments being expressed by those who disagree with my piece are a) that I have no right to say anything about Sri Lanka since I'm not Sri Lankan, and b) that I'm a lover of the Tamil Tigers.
However, that last accusation, I must stress, is simply not the case.
I unequivocally recognize that the Tigers have committed many horrific war crimes and I don't pretend that they are/were in any way a nice, democratic bunch - far from it.
In fact, I recognize that they have been quite totalitarian in nature and were often extremely ruthless and brutal, both in the way they dealt with any Tamils who opposed them and in the way they conducted war. However, my point, for anyone who was truly interested, was that the Sri Lankan military is just as guilty - if not more so - of war crimes and there was simply no reason for Western governments to take sides in this brutal civil war.
If you read all of the posted comments you'll soon see that few Sinhalese are willing to recognize the causes of the war. Some do, but many, like in so many other countries during war, see themselves as faultless. That said, there are also some thoughtful comments and letters from people who oppose what I've written, including some from Tamils who strongly oppose the Tigers.
Rather than being about how much I love the Tigers, the main point of my piece was that I believe the Tamil people have a right to self-determination and a homeland of their own in Sri Lanka (though not necessarily under the rule of the Tigers). In fact, I would much prefer if this could have come about democratically, but there's no way the Sri Lankan government was ever going to allow that to happen.
So, again, I'm not a defender of the Tigers, but I definitely don't think our governments here in the West had any business taking sides and helping defeat them.
But, as I admitted to one person who wrote to me directly, I probably should have made a much clearer distinction between the Tigers and the Tamil people as a whole.
Just To Clarify
The fact of the matter is, I'm not in any way a supporter of war and would always hope for a peaceful solution, but if a war, like this one, is already in progress I'm always going to side with the oppressed minority fighting for their freedom, self-determination, and homeland. It's really a no-brainer, if you ask me.
Tutu The Truthful
So, knowing as I do now what a shitstorm this piece would stir-up, would I do it all over again?
As Desmond Tutu so perfectly put it:
"If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality."
Mike Cowie (Oredakedo)
Saturday, June 6th, 2009
Read the original piece here: Freedom Denied! Are We Happy Now: The Crushing of Sri Lanka's Tamils
For more on this topic read this: The Throwin' Off The Shackles Rave: First Kosovo, Now The World
And for another recent rant try this: Nothing To Fear But Truth Itself: Criminalizing Criticism of Israel
To read more about our travels in Sri Lanka click here: Travel: Sri Lanka
And for lots more on politics visit the Politics Homepage