Colombo, Diaspora, End of war special edition, Human Security, Identity, IDPs and Refugees, Jaffna, Peace and Conflict, Politics and Governance, Post-War

Fighting Windmills? Diaspora and Militarism in Post-Conflict Lanka

“Just then they came in sight of thirty or forty windmills that rise from that plain. And no sooner did Don Quixote see them that he said to his squire, “Fortune is guiding our affairs better than we ourselves could have wished. Do you see over yonder, friend Sancho, thirty or forty hulking giants? I intend to do battle with them and slay them. With their spoils we shall begin to be rich for this is a righteous war and the removal of so foul a brood from off the face of the earth is a service God will bless.”

“What giants?” asked Sancho Panza.”Those you see over there,” replied his master, “with their long arms. Some of them have arms well nigh two leagues in length.”

“Take care, sir,” cried Sancho. “Those over there are not giants but windmills. Those things that seem to be their arms are sails which, when they are whirled around by the wind, turn the millstone.”

—Part 1, Chapter VIII. Of the valourous Don Quixote’s success in the dreadful and never before imagined Adventure of the Windmill.

“Resisting the (terrorism) discourse is not an act of disloyalty, it is an act of political self-determination and it is absolutely necessary if we are to avoid another stupefying period of fear and violence like the Cold War. There is little doubt by now that terrorism discourse creates its own reality.

Joseba Zulaika in Terrorism: The Self-fulfilling Prophesy (2009: 2)

The weather gods have intervened to arrest the war gods in Lanka. Victory celebrations that were to feature military hardware, air power, and parades scheduled for V-Day on May 18, 2010 on Galle Face Green, while Colombo’s ordinary citizens were subject to yet another security lock-down to protect the Victors have been indefinitely postponed. Pre-monsoon rains and floods have displaced many poor and vulnerable families, living in “unauthorized shelters” (that the Urban Development Authority now headed by the valiant Defense Secretary, Gotabaya Rajapaksa is given to knocking down), in Southern Sri Lanka. It is apparent that the funds and energy spent on victory celebrations, would be better spent on rehabilitation of flood victims (almost 500,000) and, one might add, the 50,000 war displaced Vanni IDPs who still remain in camps.

Since the war ended a year ago on May 19, 2009, there has not been a single “terrorist” attack in Sri Lanka, as Ravinath Aryasinghe, Lanka’s Ambassador to the European Union pointed out in Brussels recently. Yet the State’s (anti)terrorism discourse continues with rumors of the LTTE regrouping in South America. Ravinath noted that the war had moved with the Diaspora to the Western hemisphere; an overstatement that seems to be more in concert with the Colombo regime’s propensity to fight windmills a la the valiant Don Quixote, ever in search of villains on the horizon.  Of course, a few ethnic entrepreneurs in the diaspora whose livelihood may depend on marketing “liberation” have announced a virtual state of Tamil Eelam in cyber space. This may not be the best way to keep up the pressure on the GoSL to treat its minorities right, since the declaration a Transnational Government of Tamil Eelam (TGTE) has been enormously helpful to those inclined to pursue post-conflict militarization and in-securitization in Colombo and the northeast.

Citizens of Lanka from all communities who were relieved and grateful to the armed forces for ending the war are increasingly confounded by the new (in) securitization and continued military footprint in Colombo, as well as, the permanent State of Emergency. The purchase of close circuit television (CCTV) cameras with training for service personnel (in Singapore), to secure the posh neighbourhoods of Colombo’s Cinnamon Gardens through which the Presidential entourage passes daily, is one such example of extravagance in the interest of post-conflict (in)securitization  aka. fighting windmills. Meanwhile, on the roads dug up for CCTV power lines, an unsuspecting pedestrian has fallen into a pot hole or two and broken her leg during the pre-monsoon down pours. Whose security is it, anyway?

Did the war end after all? The Diaspora and Amnesia

It is easy to forget that “terrorism” comes to an end somewhere, sometime, somehow, since the global ‘war on terror’ discourse is seamless, endless and has no exit strategy. As Harvard Political Scientist, Audrey Cronin, has noted in her book “How Terrorism Ends”: “Amid the fear following 9/11 and other recent terror attacks, it is easy to forget the most important fact about terrorist campaigns: they always come to an end–and often far more quickly than expected”.  Before the war ended we had become used to the idea that it would go on for a long time. Various local and international conflict and peace experts in the business of predicting and sometimes rendering “protracted conflict” a self-fulfilling prophesy had said so. Extended exposure to violence on an of screen also tends to anesthetize the public and creates an endless plateau just like the non-existent term limits of Sri Lankan political leaders impervious to the fact that all good things must come to an end. But it seems that the post/conflict (in)securitization has a more material explanation: the Army Commander that helped win the war is locked up and the V-Day celebration would have been like Hamlet without the Prince!

Post/modernist pronouncements on the end of “grand narratives” seem rather misplaced these days since “terrorism” appears to have become a new international grand narrative of sorts, of course. The terrorism narrative like previous grand narratives of progress, development and the forward march of civilization that underwrote various forms and phases of imperialism has a political economy that benefits among others, the security knowledge industry, the arms trade, and the “terrorism” spin mill. Terrorism discourse mimics other grand narratives as antithesis or apocalypse. As Brezinski has noted in an article titled “Terrorized by the War on Terror” in the Washington Post, in March 2006: “Constant reference to a “war on terror” did accomplish one major objective: It stimulated the emergence of a culture of fear. Fear obscures reason, intensifies emotions and makes it easier for demagogic politicians to mobilize the public on behalf of the policies they want to pursue. The war of choice in Iraq could never have gained the congressional support it got without the psychological linkage between the shock of 9/11 and the postulated existence of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction. Support for President Bush in the 2004 elections was also mobilized in part by the notion that “a nation at war” does not change its commander in chief in midstream. The sense of a pervasive but otherwise imprecise danger was thus channeled in a politically expedient direction by the mobilizing appeal of being “at war.”

As the one year anniversary of the defeat of the LTTE approached the terrorism spin-mill worked overtime to equate the Tamil diaspora with’ terrorism’, rather than highlight the manner in which it sustains family and kin who survived the war back home. The constant repetition of stories about LTTE arms catches and arrests of members works to re-produce the terror discourse and legitimize militarization and the extra-ordinary security for the ruling family in post-conflict Colombo. While a few members of the Tamil diaspora have declared a Transnational Government of Tamil Eelam (TGTE), in exile and are engaged in anti-GoSL propaganda overseas the great majority has little interest in a Tamil cyber-nation-state. Several Tamil diaspora organization are actively opposed to TGTE, particularly, those who are conscious that ‘long distance nationalism’ may negatively affect the prospects of their kin in Lanka to live in peace and security.

It is well known, as with the Palestine/Israel conflict that Diasporas often tend to be far more intransigent and unwilling to compromise than those who remained at home, but the international context that enabled the LTTE become a powerful global terror network during the post-Cold war period of unfettered globalization, no longer exists. Tamil and Sinhala ultra-nationalism and extremism is most visible at this time from the respective diasporas, but there is also an emerging disconnect between the diaspora leadership and those in-country who wish to compromise, co-exist, and work with “other” communities to build back better. The declaration of a virtual state of Tamil Eelam merely serves to legitimize continued militarization in post/conflict Lanka, and the concomitant  (in)securitization of  minorities. It is not the best way to keep up the pressure on a regime that may suffer the Macbeth syndrome.

Different Strokes to Mark V-day
Before the intervention of the weather gods, the Sri Lankan State had called on its citizens and subjects to celebrate V-Day with pomp and ceremony, and ordered flags flown in all official buildings in the districts. The public of the Capital, particularly residents of snooty Colombo 7, where the Hambantota interlopers have been ironically on a tree-cutting, road- beautifying, charm-offensive, (consonant with the Urban Development Authority (UDA), being handed over to the Defense Ministry), had once again braced itself to be inconvenienced by ‘security’ arrangements for the ruling extended family. On the other hand, Tamil politicians and the TNA had called for a day of mourning, since the defeat of the LTTE represents to them the defeat of Tamil nationalism.  Civil society meanwhile tried to be tempered and emphasized the need for balance, proportionality, dignity, and respect for the grief of those who lost kin when marking the first anniversary of the end of armed violence in Sri Lanka. At the same time, the International Crisis Group and Human Rights Watch saw fit to renew calls for accountability for war crimes to mark the first anniversary of the end of war in Lanka. Unfortunately, they may also have renewed the Macbeth complex of the establishment – fear of trees and the ghosts of murdered souls– (Out, out, damn spot and all that…), that seems to be at the root of Sri Lanka’s post-conflict militarism and insecurity.

What is to be done?
The best and only way to ensure that Lanka becomes the “wonder of Asia” and honor those who defeated terrorism is to ensure that there would not be a recurrence of violence. Rather than fighting windmills and appointing commissions to reveal lessons already known, the government’s best option would be to set things right on the ground in Lanka by ensuing speedy and dignified resettlement of the war displaced, securing minority rights, reparation, and reconciliation among the various ethno-religious communities. For this, fully implementing the 13 Amendment to the Constitution in the North and East would be a beginning. These should be the priority at this time, rather than constitutional changes to extend the term of the Presidency.

Unfortunately both the head of State and the Opposition seem to suffer the same malaise—an aversion to relinquish power and dislike for term limits on political power, to ensure that they move on and hand over to the younger generation, which may partly explain the propensity for youth uprisings and rebellions among youth from the different ethnic communities in post/colonial Lanka. The Buddhist principle that “all things change” must surely apply to politicians in the land of the peaceful one and those in power today must know that they are merely custodians of the land who need give way to others tomorrow? The United National Party must sort out its internal crisis speedily rather than dragging its feet and mimicking the government on reforms, in order to engage the UPFA government on the priorities for constitutional reform since most Presidents of Lanka have displayed an unseemly aversion to giving up power when their term runs out. But until Wickramasinghe passes on the torch to someone else, this may be a case of the pot to call the kettle black!

Finally, during the Tsunami disaster local civil society organizations worked ceaselessly, across ethno-religious identity lines to assist those who were displaced, and to help them resettle and reconstruct.  The Sri Lanka diaspora also contributed enormously to relief and recovery. More than the government and international donors (the UN which consumes most of the funds raised for disaster victims again mourning about donor fatigue), similar efforts by civil society with the help of the Diaspora should be able to see the war-displaced resettle with dignity rather than living in miserable temporary huts once they have returned to their home villages, as is the case in much of Killinochchi and Mullaithivu. The scale of assistance necessary to support the conflict-displaced at this time is far smaller than on the first anniversary of the Tsunami disaster. Perhaps some of the energy and funds of the TGTE may be diverted to help the Vanni IDPs and returnees, and the Defense Ministry remove restrictions on access to the north — to prevent “terrorism” becoming a self-fulfilling prophesy again in Lanka?

End of War Special Edition

  • Mala Srikumar

    so basically tamil diaspora should strengthen the sri lankan government to walk and progress in the path that has been vividly describes in “Post-war Sri Lanka: Challenges and opportunities” and voice strongly against the reports of ICG and AI? Did I correctly deconstruct your article?

    All what you try to say to the tamil diaspora is that
    1. LTTE and tamil militancy are the roots of the problem
    2. Since LTTE is gone, the problems are gone
    3. Accept the victors’ terms and consider only the submission (aka sweetly put, “reconciliation”), and no dig on truth finding, and let the dead be dead.

    Thank you.

    You live in Colombo. Have you ever felt the heat of colonization? How are you different from Tamil diaspora?

  • Susantha

    Like countries like the US,India,China Israel we will not give into our enemies we will fight them till the end because Sri Lanka rightfully belongs to us and not to anyone else we will fight them till the end and we will crush them to a point that they will not ask for any self determination.

    The 13 that amendment is an illegal legislation that was passed by an illegal parliament and also by force from India it is a way which gives some power and some kind of compromise with tamil national aspirations.All avenues to tamil national aspirations must be blocked

    The New constitution should ban all parties that talk about tamil self determination etc and confiscate the properties of such persons who talk about tamil self determination

  • Humanist

    Darini, thank you for this astute and reasonable piece. Unfortunately, the point of the argument seems to be lost on the two previous commentators – therein lies a a significant part of the problem, not merely the myopic vision and practices of the Rajapakse regime.

    The 13 Amendment is the minimum that we can hope for at this juncture. All the indpendent polls show that the majority of the population support it – so where is the galvanizing force to make it a reality? A pathetic opposition which fights for power rather than a reasonable cause? And where is civil society when we need it most to reconstruct the north and now even the south, once again?

    It is a year after the war ended and it is Vesak. Time to get out rid of the windmills of our minds. Our enemy is our apathy and despair. The need for the hour is our compassion and generosity, whether we are in Colombo, Kandy, London or Toronto.

  • Huh

    Excellent and very appropriate title–” fighting windmills–I couldn’t have said it better myself! Thank you Humanist for providing some needed antidote to the two previous commentators.

  • Susantha

    Sarath Fonseka said that he will implement the 13 th amendment and he was beaten badly in the election and the govt impliedly rejected the 13 th amendment when they criticized Fonseka on his policy of the 13th amendment so yet you say that people approve the 13 th amendment.the 13 th amendment can be implemented in toilet nadu and not in sri lanka.We patriotic people will fight to prevent it being implemented at any cost

  • Humanist

    Susantha, Sarath Fonseka was not beaten in the election because he supported the 13 Amendment but because he aligned himself with a bunch of losers and nobody wanted a military guy with no political experience (and a questionable record of integrity) in the highest political office in the country.

  • jmn


    Thank you for your constructive and reconciliatory comments. Just to let you know – there are plenty of Sri Lankans who actually felt the human cost of the last 30 years, and we will fight against those who constantly need to self-proclaim themselves as patriots.

  • ranjit de mel

    my comment regarding the i.c.g. and h.r.w. :you have forgotten to mention a.i. . one has to protest against h.r.v. any where in this world,but one should not be selective and my opinon these organizations could be influenced.let us take the a .i.:- the chief of the a.i. germany(iam not sure wheather she is still the chief,because she is now a member of the e.u. parliament) mrs barbara lochbiehler is the wife of mr.ranjit lochbiehler was a area leader of the national socialist terror group in 1971.some of his friends who call themself jornalists and now formed the democratic journalist group in exile against h.r.v. in s.l. were also terrorist leaders in 1971.the best example is mr.sunanda devepriya.h.e. mr. obama says “terrorists are terrorists they do not become democrats”.the aim of these terrorists is to change the political systems throught the world.they believe their political strategy is the best for us all.talking about h.r.v. they know is a good instrument to fool and influence these organizations who are really interrested in h.r.v.they (terrorists) are masters in their properganda.gobbels was super.barbara lochbiehler,with her power in the a. i. could manupilate the allmighty a.i. by the way for me poverty,to keep the the people hungry is also h.r.v.cast ,religious discrimination too.
    ranjit de mel berlin/colombo

  • Observer

    The people of Tamil Eelam demanded an independent sovereign state by a democratic resolution in 1976 and a peoples’ mandate in 1977.

    At present the demand for independence is lawfully banned in SL, gagging the mouth of Tamils. Freedom of expression in that area is absent.

    Tamils have repeatedly and indirectly always expressed since the ban that they want indpenedence, by massive support to the freedom movement politically and armed resistance by LTTE.

    The Tamils in exile are reflecting that desire for the independence for TE.

    If any one thinks that Tamils do not support TE, he should speak of constructive measures such as referendum held by the UN in TE, instead of being educated but foolish in understanding !!!

  • Susantha

    what the whims and fancies of the tamils are is of no importance to Sri lanka.We will constantly work to destroy tamil national aspirations and close all avenues available to achieve tamil self determination

  • maya


    This piece seems somewhat garbled and does not seem to be saying anything new. From what I can understand, it says the following

    a) Terrorism is over and the threat of renewed militancy spurred by the diaspora is useful for the government to justify ’emergency’ security measures

    b) The govt. should share power and implement the 13th amendment.

    c) Politics never remain static and the prospects of future insurgency is to be taken seriously and guarded against.

    Cue the usual selective dredging of historical examples to support whatever polemical invective espoused by commenters. Half the problem is also with Sri Lankan academics being unable to articulate any original analysis of the prob lem or a concrete, incremental and coalition-building way forward. Disappointing calibre of analysis here.

  • Pearl Thevanayagam

    Ravinath Aryasinghe has almost the same mindset as that so-called Prof Rohan Gunaratne.

    It is purely his conjecture that the Eelam War has moved to South America. Absurd sensationalism that would give Ravinath a much wanted international attention. Who knows he could become another ‘international terrorism expert’ like Rohan.

    Rohan even went as far as to say the LTTE had connections with th the Columbian drug cartel in his book, Indian intervention in Sri Lanka published during Premadasa’s time as was commissioned by him. Academics have long ago relegated his conjectures to be not taken seriously

    Far from fueling the notion of a transnational government calling for a separate state the Tamil diaspora have been for years supporting war victims, providing them with funds when successive governments imposed blanket economic embargo on food and essential items.

    It is to the credit of the Tamil diaspora that Tamils in the North and East have been looked after during this 35 years of repression and starvation.

    Lest we forget, it is those Tamil refugees and asylum seekers who often work day and night in shops, petrol stations for a measly four pounds an hour, and not the professinals who paid for that aid ship full of food, medicine and essential items.

    I know this for a fact since I know how many shops allocated pallets of these items to be sent to Sri Lanka.

    The Tamils in Colombo change their names and hardly acknowledge Tamils are suffering inthe North and East.

  • Susantha

    get hold of the last interview the President gave to al jazeera.He clearly implies their that their will be no devolution at all.We have complete trust in the president that he will crush tamil nationalism to a point they will not be able to ask for any devolution.Anyone studying the presidents statements after may 18 2009 can perfectly see that he is not ready to go into any sort of compensation with tamil national aspirations

  • Pearl Thevanayagam

    Susantha, Do you live in a real world?

    Your rantings about this island for Sinhlaese only proves that you are a bigot and a racist.

    Soon you will realise that Presidents come and go but the problems of suppressing an imprtant indigenous Tamil minority will backfire on the majority Sinhalese.

    Please note that G.L. Peiris is a Tamil in origin. And you cannot go back to your family tree and profess that you are 100 percent Sinhalese.

    Let go of your narrow prejudices and you will be an enlightened Buddhist.

  • Pearl Thevanayagam

    Darini’s uncle, IGP Rudra Rajasinghiam in JR’s govt. refused to declare curfew amidst three days of unwanton looting and massacaring of Tamils and their destructrion of properties, not unlike his counterparts who chose to save their skin amidst wanton annihilation of fellow Tamils in the July pogrom of 1983.

    Tamisl in Colombo would sell theirgrandmothers for a mess of pottage if it would procure them some kudos.

    We should not blame the Sinhala majority for the ills that befell the Tamils. Tamils have long chose to ostracise their fellows through their narrow caste agenda; a situation long forgotten by the majority Sinhala hegemony.

    Mea culpa

  • niranjan


    The 13 amendment is law. How can a law be illegal? The Government needs to implement it in full with regard to police and land powers.
    If it fails to implement it in full then the Government is not acting according to the Constitution.

  • Susantha

    the govt has all the rights in the constitution to take away any power from the PC councils blocking police and land powers is perfectly constitutional and its important to do so as giving police and land powers will make it easier for the eelamists to prevent Sinhalese from resettling in the north east

    president says no police powers will be given its so great to hear this

    Pearl Thevanyagan
    We are ever ready to sacrifice our lives to preserve the right of the Sinhalese to every inch of sri Lanka we will fight you till the end whatever the consequences are we will never hand over the north east or grant any sort of devolution.

  • Pearl Thevanayagam

    Dear Susantha,

    I give you an undeserved title when I refer to you as Dear Susantha.

    You have a perverted sense of reality. Sri Lanka does not belong to Sinhalese alone.

    Should you read history we are Indians by nature and Veddhas are the right inheritors of Mother Lanka.

    You are but an immigrant to Sri Lanka. Busddhism is but a variant of Hinduism.

    Sinhalese wandered into Sri Lanka just 300 years before Tamils and they were the product f a prodigal son of a king who were cast adrift with henchmen to atone for the misdeeds he caused.

    Get a grip on ouself and do not be fooled by narrow Buddhist agenda.

    Nobody takes your ilk seriously.

  • niranjan


    The President has not said anything about land powers ? Why only police powers?

    How can giving police and land powers to a PC prevent Sinhalese from settling in the North and the East? Please explain.

  • Susantha

    first even mahinda rajapakse didnt say he will exterminate the LTTE,then he said NO to Federalism,then he said NO to police powers next he will say NO to land powers

    If you dont know already the Sinhalese in Ampara are already discriminated by muslim politicians in the eastern provincial council and the former tamil terrorist pilayan was against a decision by the govt giving them more powers would give them the ability to carry out their agendas with higher intensity.As you know if the police is in the hands of the tamils they will always be able to go against the Sinhalese settlers and make life miserable for them and they will delay the process of approving the lands to Sinhalese basically i am against giving any sort of control to tamil politicians other than what they are entitled from the parliament because giving them more power is equal to taking power away from the Sinhalese and giving it to the tamils.

  • Pearl Thevanayagam

    you would not know patriotism until you die and your comments do not deserve any replies.

    Nevertheless, since Groundviews chooses to publish your rantings it is only imcumbent on patriotic civilians to let you see through your destructive nationalism masquerading as Sinhala patriotism.

    Sri Lanka comprises many ethnic communities including the Veddhas and both Tamils and Sinhalese are INDIANS IN ORIGIN.


    So please get hold of a grip on reality.