Colombo, Peace and Conflict

The Terrorist Complex

Responding to a friend’s inquiry on my silence I realised how much I valued being away from home. I actually responded saying I was out and glad to keep away from the madness when he asked me how I was keeping and why he hadn’t heard from me.

Of course I was looking forward to seeing my family and friends. But I hurriedly forwarded the various mails to a few interested contacts and deleted them without reading them myself. I wanted a respite from the situation reports from this or that place, the press releases by this or that body condemning this or that attack.

I felt the reverse of what someone returning home after a stay abroad would probably feel. I want to think I will return with a nostalgic longing for the familiar.

Instead, I exited the airport with my elbows out, a frown and a blank and unseeing stare. I was grateful that I wasn’t subjected to the same humiliating and invasive “body search” I got on my way out. I was glad for the tinted glasses on the car. I could see the soldiers, trussed up in their uniforms in the heavy heat, wielding their guns.

I will myself to look beyond the gun barrels and see the tired boys. But instead I see hard and piercing looks. Mouths twisted in sardonic grins.

I will myself to meet their gaze unwaveringly, politely and confidently. But instead I find myself steeling myself to meet the onslaught.

I will myself to see through their eyes. They must be tired and on edge. It must be hard to be on the alert all the time. It must be hard to stand out in the heat and check and recheck and check. But instead I find myself shutting down and closing in.

I will myself to understand that I have nothing to fear. I look quite the modern working girl. I have made sure that my dress, attitude and accessories say just that. I was born in a town which is uncontroversial. So what if I’m classified as a Tamil. I’m not a terrorist. But I’m already anxious and hating them for making me feel this way.

I will myself to believe that no one can control the way I feel. I am the master of myself. But the vicious cycle is already in motion as he looks at my ID looks at my face, sticks his head inside the van and looks at my bags and myself. “What are you doing here?” he asks me in Sinhala. “I’m sorry I don’t speak Sinhala” I lie. The driver hurriedly explains that I am an “airport hire”. The soldier leafs through my passport, gives me another “once over” and motions us on. I gladly shut the window and hope I am not stopped at anymore check points.

I can’t help feeling guilty that many others may not be able to get off as easily as I did. I am instinctively bracing myself for some unseen trouble and think I don’t have to go out again to get groceries if I can pick up something on my way home. I wonder if someone back out there will be so nice as to tell me, “That’s ok, it’s natural in your circumstance”.

I wonder if it can be safely classified and named, maybe something like “the Terrorist Complex”. Hopefully that way it can be treated and I can feel normal again.

  • Diordna

    Having your Freedom and exercising your rights is great! But avoiding trouble is a part of deductive thinking that requires a functioning brain. Good luck with your experiments.

  • priyani

    I m glad that teh traveller wjho is a tamil finally found her self on the road again . I being a Sinhalese too was searched in a similiar manner . This I am afraid is the price we all have to pay for terrorism . I WAS SO AHPPY THAT THEYAR ECHECKING ME THOURUGHLY ,as it is better to be safe than sorry . the problem is that the Tamils have this complex to think that they are being vicitmsed for whatever reason . If it is a Sinhalese they do the same but it is undestandable that they are suspicious of the Tamils as most people know that the LTTE are terrorists and no one can be excluded, or blamed for thinking that evry tamil is a potential suicide israel or in the gaza strip teh Searcehs and th security ar eeven more than in SL . We have to understand why this situation exists , rather than be wary of the inconvenience .

  • navin

    thank you for that lovely passage Ange. i totally agree with you and you have exactly highlighted the known issues from both sides in a very informative and contructive way. how ever i dont agree with priyani who suggest that you cannot blame anyone for thinking all tamils could be classified as tiger terrorist? this is wrong and this is the exact reason our country is in such a situation. if what you say is right then the tamil man has all the right to think that every sinhaleese was a JVP’er in the 1980’s but they never thought that and they were saved from these facist sinhaleese racist by my parents and so many other sinhala families too. yes i agree most of us even though we are sinhaleese go through some torments but none are greater than the torments a normal tamil civilian goes through. i have seen these to my own eyes and sadly you do get sinhala LTTE’ cadres too… because they will do anything for money. so as one Srilanka we need to unite against terrorism but we need to show a genuine ammount of respect towards our tamil brothern if they are to take us seriously. our tamil brotherns dont include the LTTE cadres or there sympathisiers but the pooor down trodden people who are stuck in the middle of this war be it sinhala , muslim or tamil as we are all one Srilanka.

  • Exiled

    Priyani, I feel sad that you can dismiss the feelings we Tamils get during security checks this easily. We all quite understand the whole issue of ‘security’ but what we cannot digest is this ‘generalisation’ of Tamils as potential suicide bombers. When you get checked, you would never get the looks and comments that make one’s skin crawl because you are Sinhalese. I will never forget the way my heart stops each time I am stopped, even though I know I have done nothing wrong and that I am not a terrorist. You need to understand that these security checks only manage to intimidate the citizen Tamils, while the suicide bombers and other REAL terrorists get away. I am sure you have heard of the white van abductions that happen in broad daylight. It is really sad that you people do not acknowledge the atrocities committed by the security forces under the leadership of the GoSL. The sickening fact that a State that should protect its citizenry is actually ‘collaborating’ with a terrorist group, providing another dimension to the annihilation of innocent Tamils can never be dismissed. Sister, all Tamils are not terrorists, just like all Sinhalese are not ‘collaborators’ and racists and no one should view anyone in this manner.

  • it is unfortunate but what could be done?
    For more than a tamil, a sinhalese should be concerned when they are searched.

    Terrorists take all forms. Therefore, nobody knowns who is a terrorists?
    So much so that one terrorists even would not know the other….
    In such an enviorment apart from a tamil, what would even a sinhalese expect other than to go through the motions as required by a sentry who is not only trying to protect himself but also the others including you and me in the country.

    No body knows who is a terrorists…………………….

  • Exiled

    of course that is obvious, it is very difficult to ‘identify’ a terrorist… but its funny how these terrorists move around freely and the innocent citizens have to deal with the consequences of terrorism. Saman. J, in which world are you living? there is no protection in our country. we can only dream about it. all we have is impunity and a total collapse of democracy….wake up to reality.

  • Raja

    This is a process that everyone goes through coming from the airport and not related to ethnicity. It is the price of the terrorist problem. Sooner it is eliminated then we can get back to a normal life.

  • Exiled

    only if it were that simple, Raja. we don’t live in the world of the lotus-eaters anymore….