Skip to Content

Asian Tribune is published by E-LANKA MEDIA(PVT)Ltd. Vol. 20 No. 101

'You can't lump all terrorists together' – Hilary Clinton

By Raj Gonsalkorale

In an interview with Michael Tomasky for Guardian Unlimited on the 23rd of October 2007, US Presidential hopeful and Democratic front runner Hilary Clinton went on to say that she believed that, quote, “Terrorism is a tool that has been utilized throughout history to achieve certain objectives. Some have been ideological, others territorial.

"There are personality-driven terroristic objectives. The bottom line is, you can't lump all terrorists together. And I think we've got to do a much better job of clarifying what are the motivations, the raisons d'être of terrorists.

"I mean, what the Tamil Tigers are fighting for in Sri Lanka, or the Basque separatists in Spain, or the insurgents in al-Anbar province may only be connected by tactics. They may not share all that much in terms of what is the philosophical or ideological underpinning. And I think one of our mistakes has been painting with such a broad brush, which has not been particularly helpful in understanding what it is we were up against when it comes to those who pursue terrorism for whichever ends they're seeking” unquote.

If this statement was made by any other Senator from the USA, it could have been ignored as something unimportant. However, Hilary Clinton is not an obscure Senator. She could well be in the Oval office on the 20th of January 2009 and what she says about anything and everything is important. For Sri Lankans, it is of added importance as she has mentioned the Tamil Tigers and raised the issue whether they should be considered as terrorists in the same vein as others she has noted. It is doubly important for the long suffering Sri Lankans as there are reports of heightened activity by the Tamil Diaspora to influence her thinking on how the LTTE terrorists should be designated. While the current President George W Bush considers all terrorists just that, Hilary Clinton seems to be more inclined to make a differentiation between terrorists based on their ideology, philosophy and objectives. While she has never sounded weak on attacking terrorism in whatever form, she may have, with this statement, signaled that she will have a different outlook to defining who a terrorist is, and what action she may deem fit to take to curb different brands of terrorism.

As far as the Sri Lankan situation is concerned, the Tamil Diaspora and the LTTE has successfully managed to market an image that LTTE terrorism is a means to finding a justifiable end, and it is perhaps events like 9/11 and leaders like President Bush who have managed to project an alternate view not only of the LTTE, but other terrorist groups like the Basque separatists or the insurgents in al-Anbar or the extremists in Pakistan Frontier provinces. While the Tamil Diaspora has been successful in their efforts, the same cannot be said of the efforts of successive Sri Lankan governments or the non Tamil Sri Lankan Diaspora throughout the world. Undoubtedly, successive Sri Lankan governments have had some successes, and some individuals, both ministers and foreign office diplomats have been way above others in their ability to convince the international community about the bona fides of the LTTE.

However, it is very difficult to argue that there has been consistency and efficiency, and in the end, sustained effectiveness of Sri Lankan government international campaigns against the LTTE.

This has been primarily on account of the lack of coherence and unanimity amongst Sri Lankan governments and the Opposition parties about their approach to the LTTE and more broadly to the wider issue of the Tamil question. While successive Presidents and Prime Ministers have paid lip service to Tamil grievances by just admitting they exist, and making regular statements about the need to finding a political solution that addresses Tamil grievances; some even making serious attempts to find a solution, none have succeeded so far due to politicking on the part of the government in power and the Opposition. Either our leaders have been oblivious to the obvious, or they behaved like very small fish in a very small pond who have not realized the magnitude of what the Tamil Diaspora has and is still doing internationally to market the LTTE as freedom fighters in pursuance of a just cause. While they continue to successfully promote the “cause”, Sri Lankan political leaders continue to state they recognize the existence of a “cause”, although they have not done anything to address the cause. While the two parties to the conflict may differ on the definition of what the cause is, both recognize that there is a cause. The Tamil Diaspora promotes the LTTE as the only means left now to attain their cause, claiming that peaceful means have failed, while Sri Lankan governments give mixed signals and does not offer a political solution they continue to claim is the only way to address the cause.

The phrase “Tamil grievances” has been used by all sides to this conflict as the defining element in the conflict and the reason for the non violent and violent campaigns by Tamil political leaders as well as the LTTE terrorists. In this context it is interesting to analyse some aspects in the recent speech made by Mr V. Anandasangaree, the leader of the Tamil United Liberation Front, the major Tamil democratic political party in Sri Lanka at the International Conference on Countering Terrorism, in reference to what maybe interpreted as Tamil grievances and a method as to how they could be addressed.

However, a contradiction from Mr Anandasangaree needs to be pointed out. He says that the government elected in 1977 changed the constitution in such a way that any future amendment to the constitution would require a 2/3 majority and with proportional representation, that would be impossible without Opposition support. This is true, but he must surely recognize that the changes introduced in 1977 in fact prevented any further major constitutional changes that previous governments of 1956 and 1970, with massive majorities, introduced which he and other Tamils themselves claimed were discriminatory (the Sinhala only policy and the replacement of the Soulbury constitution). The current constitution, with whatever its own shortcomings, certainly has provided better safeguards for minority communities as no government since 1977 has had a 2/3 majority on its own to institute changes that may willfully or by default, discriminate minorities. In fact today, had the Tamil National Alliance not been a mouthpiece of the LTTE, and decided to support the President and join his government, they would have enjoyed substantial power and they could have pursued finding solutions to any remaining grievances in a peaceful way rather than being complicit in the many atrocities committed by their masters, the LTTE, and leading their constituents to more misery and hopelessness.

In Mr Anandasangaree’s speech, he mentions several steps that the government should take to address what we may interpret as ‘Tamil grievances.’ It is unclear though whether these steps are part of the political solution he is proposing or whether they are steps that the government should take independent of a political proposal to end the conflict. If it’s the former, then it doesn’t make sense for Mr Anandasangaree to argue in one instance for a Federal constitution where the region that enjoys a Federal status will have substantial powers to undertake the steps that he outlines as a solution, and in the next instance for him to propose that the Sri Lankan government should take the steps he has outlined. If it’s the latter, then Mr Anandasangaree seems to be proposing that we retain the current form of the constitution and the central government should act on the steps he has proposed. His arguments appear confusing.

Rather than repeating all what he has stated, this article will confine itself to the six steps he appears to mention as the six key steps that should be implemented to address the reasons behind terrorism in Sri Lanka. Quote “ knowing the reasons behind terrorism, the Government should take steps to eliminate frustration caused by racial discrimination, oppression, disparities, deprivations, denial of human rights etc, to achieve which the following steps are recommended :

1. State to ensure (a) appropriate action to eliminate racial discrimination and (b) Implement the Language Policy by compulsorily teaching Tamil to Sinhalese students and Sinhala to Tamil students.

2. State to ensure making it compulsory for job seekers to have a fair working knowledge of the Sinhala and Tamil Languages initially and after a specified period full knowledge of both Sinhala and Tamil languages.

3. State should ensure appointments wherever possible in proportion to the ethnic composition.

4. State to ensure enlistment to the three armed forces and the Police in proportion to the ethnic composition.

5. State to ensure admission to Universities for those who have minimum requirements for admission.

6. State to ensure re-settlement of all displaced persons during the past 20 – 30 years back in the respective lands in which they lived.

It’s clear that Mr Anandasangaree is advocating that these steps should be taken by the “State”, meaning the national government of Sri Lanka. If that were the case, one wonders what role the Federal regional government he is proposing elsewhere in his speech would play as opposed to the national government. Secondly, one can wonder, as much as Mr Anandasangaree should wonder, whether a Federal arrangement is in fact required if, as proposed by Mr Anandasangaree, the national government and not a federal regional government, is to address these issues.

One is entitled to ask whether Mr Anandasangaree is confused about regional autonomy and Federalism, as in Federalism, some of the steps identified by him are matters for the federal administrative region and its government and not the national government. Mr Anandasangarees advocacy of State or national government intervention to address the steps he has outlined shows that he is really talking about regional autonomy and not Federalism. He must therefore know that regional autonomy could be achieved within a unitary constitution with whatever changes that may be required to make sure regional governments are able to provide people living in the regions a greater say in matters that affect them without compromising on national priorities that are the responsibility of the national government.

If Mr Anandasangaree, a respected democrat and a leader of moderate Tamils and the head of the main Tamil democratic political party, really means regional autonomy within a unitary constitution when he continuously talks about federalism as the answer to the conflict, then one can assume that most moderate Tamils in fact are doing the same thinking and talking as Mr Anandasangaree. They too then are as confused as Mr Anandasangaree.

Mr Anandasangaree and other moderate Tamils surely must also realize that some of the steps he has mentioned have already been taken by this and previous Sri Lankan governments. One of the very contentious issues that Tamils themselves say was the ultimate discriminatory measure against Tamils, that is, the language issue, has already been addressed and today, both Sinhala and Tamil are official languages of the country. No doubt there are many administrative matters to be addressed, but they should form part of an evolutionary process associated with national reconciliation and not matters that needs to be addressed at the point of a gun or the threat of a suicide bomber.

In order to move the peace process forward, what is really required is for all such moderate Tamils to speak what they really think rather than parroting arguments that have had their use by date. What may have had some validity in 1956 or 1970 may no longer be valid, and one has to think of issues from a contemporary perspective and the future, rather than find solutions for the past. If they can do this, then, a meaningful outcome can be achieved by all parties barring the LTTE, working together to end this conflict. Regional autonomy at provincial level, some curtailment of Presidential powers except in clearly defined situations, provincial councils with enhanced political and administrative powers, a second national chamber comprising of representatives from provinces with some clearly defined powers, a national Parliament elected on a proportional representation basis, and the re introduction of an Executive Prime Minister are some changes that could be contemplated by representatives of all communities.

If moderate Tamils could openly state their allegiance to a unitary Sri Lanka with adequate regional autonomy and other central safeguards to prevent the repetition of past events, the LTTE could be seen for what they are, a vicious terrorist group whose only desire is unbridled power, and whose intention is to have that by having a separate State in the North and East of Sri Lanka.

Not only that, their wish is to make sure they retain their power by force and not by democratic means. If Tamil people think they will have salvation in the hands of the LTTE, they should seriously examine their heads and consider whether they would like to live under a military dictator who has no qualms about destroying life as if he is swatting flies.

Hilary Clinton should not have any doubts about the bona fides of the LTTE and the Tamil Diaspora who are promoting them as a freedom fighters, as she could ask them why a respected moderate democratic Tamil political leader, who undoubtedly has a large, perhaps silent support base, has taken a different path, a path of reconciliation, compromise, and a peaceful way of reaching a political solution, and at every available opportunity, condemned the LTTE for the atrocities they continue to commit in the name of freedom fighting. She should also ask the Tamil Diaspora what their real grievances are, when many of the freedoms that are being fought for are non events as they have already become the law of the land.

She could also ask why Tamil politicians cannot sit with Sinhala and Muslim politicians and work out a solution that is acceptable to all communities, and who in fact is preventing them from doing it. She should ask why the LTTE has declared themselves as the only representatives of the Tamil people although no Tamil person has ever been asked to make such a choice. Hilary Clinton may have her opinions as to why some people become terrorists. The larger peace loving world would prefer to band them together as undesirables who have no place in civil society and who should not be tolerated under any circumstance. Any weakening of this stand will only help to swell their numbers and a President Hilary Clinton will have a monumental task in curbing terrorism throughout the world.

On the part of the Sri Lankan government and the Opposition, it is high time they had a bi partisan approach to finding a political solution based on limited regional autonomy within a unitary constitution, and also a concerted, consistent and effective professional campaign to meet the challenges posed by the disinformation campaign carried out by the Tamil Diaspora and the LTTE, and expose their past and present atrocities to the world. If this is not done, it will not be surprising if President Hilary Clinton also considers the LTTE a freedom fighting organization.

- Asian Tribune -

Share this