"Those who would deny the Tamils their rights use the language of terrorism to demonise and discredit our legitimate grievances. But self-determination, homeland, nation are not facets of terrorism. These are the pillars on which our people's identity rests. And they are not illegal concepts which we should shirk from defending or promoting. Especially in the democracies of the West." .
The arrests in the United States and Canada last month of a handful of Tamil expatriates in connection with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) shocked the Tamil Diaspora communities there and elsewhere. Those arrested were charged with a number of crimes, including attempting to buy missiles and rifles for the LTTE and, incredibly, with attempting to bribe US officials to lift the ban on the LTTE. The strength of the cases against the individuals concerned will, quite rightly, no doubt be tested in court in the fullness of time.
But one side effect of the shock has been to make some Tamil political activists and supporters of the Tamil struggle cause anxious about their own well-being in the West. The lurid reporting in the mainstream US and Canadian - and of course Sri Lankan - press of the arrests has fuelled this.
The anxiety is understandable, but entirely unwarranted. Thousands of expatriate Tamils around the world are engaged, entirely legally, in political activity to promote the Tamil cause and, in particular, to highlight the grievances and sufferings of the Tamils in Sri Lanka. In none of the countries where the LTTE is banned has such politically activity been deemed illegal. Indeed, in the United States, it is not illegal to extend political support to the LTTE or even to raise the Tamil Eelam flag - as the US embassy in Colombo stated last month. It is illegal, however, to provide funding or weapons to the LTTE.
Expatriate Tamils around the world should not be put off political activity by the arrests of the handful of expatriates last month. Let's be clear: the individuals concerned were found to have broken specific laws in the US and Canada. The charges are purchasing weapons and attempting to bribe state officials. Whether the allegations are warranted or not will be decided in court. But these charges have nothing to do with the rest of the Diaspora. The overwhelming majority of Tamil Diaspora political activists are not engaged in such activities and the overwhelming majority of Tamils in the Diaspora are law-abiding.
But that is not to say they are politically inactive, either. What constitutes 'support' for the LTTE in countries where it is banned is a question of what the law says not the media or amateur commentators? The ban on the LTTE in US, Canada, UK and other European countries is framed under different pieces of legislation, setting out different restrictions and permissible conduct for citizens or residents. Tamil expatriates must make themselves thoroughly aware of what exactly they are allowed and not allowed to do - and continue to be politically active. None of the Western democracies are demanding Tamils simply withdraw from the public sphere. On the contrary, as with other citizens, naturalised or otherwise, we are expected to participate in public politics.
We should therefore not be deterred by high-profile incidents like the arrests last week from promoting the legitimate grievances of our people in the West and elsewhere. The imprecise, emotive and sinister connotations of the term 'terrorism' should not frighten us into simply withdrawing from civil politics - though that's what the enemies of the Tamil cause desperately want. It should compel us to understand the law and pursue our cause more vigorously, so that we resist the criminalisation of the Tamil community and our legitimate political demands.
As some Tamil activists in Canada forcefully pointed out in the aftermaths of the arrests last month, the ethnic problem in Sri Lanka is not framed by the question of 'terrorism', as Sinhala nationalists, the Sri Lankan states, and the LTTE's ideological opponents abroad argue. Rather, the ethnic problem is framed by that of racial subjugation and oppression. It is this oppression by the Sinhala-dominated state that since the early eighties compelled so many of us to flee our homeland initially in quiet unnoticed departures and later in panic-stricken and desperate efforts to get out.
And this oppression continues unabated today in more virulent and destructive forms. It is the vicious violence and racial contempt of the Sri Lankan state and significant sections of the Sinhala polity and populace which continues to fuel the conflict and thwart its resolution. All of us with a natural sympathy and affection for the Tamils of Sri Lanka owe it them - and ourselves - to become increasingly politically active and ensure their case is articulated in the West.
Those who would deny the Tamils their rights use the language of terrorism to demonise and discredit our legitimate grievances. But self-determination, homeland, nation are not facets of terrorism. These are the pillars on which our people's identity rests. And they are not illegal concepts which we should shirk from defending or promoting. Especially in the democracies of the West.
Source: Editorial Staff Tamil Guardian
Date: 06 September 2006