Finding the Middle Ground

Just over a week ago, a couple of my colleagues and I appeared on a prominent Canadian talk show discussing our attempts, as both individuals and organizing members of the Young Canadians’ Peace Dialogue on Sri Lanka hosted by the Mosaic Institute, to find a middle ground with respect to the relationship of the Canadian Diaspora to the internal politics in Sri Lanka. Joining us on the show was Craig Scott, a renowned professor on international humanitarian law and R. Cheran, a high-profile Tamil Canadian academic and journalist.

Amongst both our friends and the wider Canadian community, the panel discussion has been acknowledged as an example of an exercise in ‘truth telling’ rather than ‘finger pointing.’  During the half-hour discussion, key points in relation to understanding the mentality of the Diaspora were raised such the role of ethnic affiliation in adopted sides and the emotional intensity felt in the Diaspora during the last stages in the war.

Perhaps more importantly, participants also pointed to issues that have arisen since the end of the war that continue to stoke the flames of conflict. For instance, reference was made to recent news reports suggest that Tamil Sri Lankans living inside the country are unable to participate in the widely-publicized economic reconciliation of conflict areas. Cheran also made mention of the increasing militarisation of the North and North East, where there is one soldier for every four persons in the Eastern province and a soldier for every three persons in the Northern Province.

Speaking on behalf of myself, the panel discussion and the preceding Young Canadians’ Peace Dialogue has opened up a space to start developing respectful relationships between the various Sri Lankan communities in Toronto. These relationships do not always mean agreement; me, my colleagues as well as our wider circle of friends have spent countless hours disagreeing on our political views and approaches to issue. However we are united in recognising our common humanity and the needs that continue to be expressed in our respective communities.

I am not going to pretend that our voice dominates the discourse in the larger Sri Lankan Diaspora. However I can say with a fair degree of certainty that the majority of the traditional leadership in the Toronto Sri Lankan community – Tamil and otherwise – do not know how to respond to our alternative approach to issues in Sri Lanka and positive interactions with each other. The number of our friends and supporters do continue to grow, attracted by the mutual respect that has been foundational to our interactions. We hope that in having the difficult but necessary conversations that advance the goal of peace – characterized by safety, security and justice for all communities – we continue to communicate our deep emotional bond to the beauty of Sri Lanka and the resilience of its incredible people.

  • http://www.groundviews.org Groundviews

    Also see “Two years after war’s end in Sri Lanka: What can the Tamil and Sinhala diaspora do?”, http://groundviews.org/2011/05/26/two-years-after-wars-end-in-sri-lanka-what-can-the-tamil-and-sinhala-diaspora-do/

  • R. Hettiarachchi

    Just to be clear: While I do mention that the past is an important facet to any conversation about reconciliation, I do not think that the past is determinative of the future (as I have written about elsewhere: http://bit.ly/lc7KqJ).

    Also I am under no illusion that reconciliation will be quickly coming. It is in fact long and arduous. However an important first step that should be taken by the various Sri Lankan Diasporas around the world is to start finding points of common interest around three questions:

    1. What should the future of the country look like and how the lives of the people living in Sri Lanka can be enhanced?
    2. What is the responsibility of the Government in moving the country from a war footing (that really does continue to this day) to a post-conflict mindset?
    3. How can the the Diaspora best assist in enhancing the lives of people living inside the country? Are there any conditions in obtaining that assistance?

    Those points of common interest will, I suspect, form an effective framework to start charting an alternative future for Sri Lanka where there is safety, security, justice and prosperity for all.

  • Thambi

    Reconciliation is impossible without a proper leader in Sri Lanka. That is the presence of someone with more ability to engage than Mahinda.

  • Panabokke

    Hetti
    Thank you for your good thoughts.

    But ….

    http://transcurrents.com/news-views/archives/889#more-889
    29 May 2011:
    Project Noolaham has been ongoing since the year 2005 and is run by respectable and responsible Tamil intellectuals. The main purpose of the Noolaham Foundation, a registered charity, is to collect rare books and manuscripts from across the globe, and digitize and make them freely available to all researchers.

    In the past year, we added more than 3000 documents to our e-library. We operate on a meager annual budget of about Rs. 1.65 million collected from contributions, working with mainly volunteers consisting of young persons who initially conceived the idea.

    This evening we met in Jaffna, as we regularly do on the last Sunday of the month. The highlight today was on preserving sites of ancient cultural heritage through videos and photographs.

    As we started, the army arrived and a person identifying himself as Colonel Jayawardene brusquely entered our hall rudely shouting, “Who is in charge?” When the person in charge, an emeritus professor, identified himself, the colonel shouted at him for all to hear: “No LTTE commemorations. Ministry of Defence orders. Do you understand?”

    • R Hettiarachchi

      It truly is unfortunate to read the story you just posted.

      However a wise man once said, “worry about the things you can control rather than fret about the things you can’t.”

      I am under no illusion that reconciliation will take some time, however it still requires small voice to continue to both hope and work towards an alternative future.