Osama, Prabhakaran and Me
Photo from The Atlantic
I have a bone to pick with these two. In fact maybe an entire rib cage. One of them caused me to question my nationalism and my identity as a Sri-Lankan and the other caused me to have to answer countless questions about my religious beliefs. In essence all my adult life, my religion and my country have been under attack; and yet how did I turn out to be such a pacifist? Shouldn’t I theoretically have bombs in my make-up case and hidden amongst my Manolo’s? Considering the chaos that these men have caused in their bid to achieve their agenda’s I should be a roving lunatic with a thirst for vengeance. As noble as their intentions may have been to their followers, they did harm their own and others in the process, to no significant outcome. In my opinion that is.
Firstly let us start close to home. I was brought up in the comfortable bubble that was the Middle East with no real sense of what it meant to be Sri-Lankan or what the trials back home were like. Sri-Lanka was a holiday; cricket, grandparents, cousins and Tipi-tip. After moving to Lanka for secondary education, having lived in Kandy the bubble was further extended since we did not have a real sense of what was happening in the enveloped hills. Then there was the blast at the Dalada Maligawa; that changed everything. We began to notice people who were Tamil and we began to form a “them” and “us” mentality. In Kandy however this notion was and thankfully is not acute, however it exacerbated the already tense ethnic division within the island.
The problem got worse as the LTTE stormed the country and caused tremendous civilian casualties. It made us become desensitized to human suffering as we began to make it part and parcel of our morning cup of tea to ask “how many dead” and “where” nonchalantly. It also caused an exodus of human capital and a distancing of recognition as being Sri-Lankan. This extension was very evident abroad, more so than in Sri-Lanka. As I travelled to Australia for Undergraduate Studies, I realized that at university Tamil students grouped among themselves and tended to foster a more “them” and “us” mentality than at home this was also the case with the Sinhalese students. This is primarily because as you migrate you form enclaves and feel comfortable amongst your own. Some of these students had much more vigour and zest for the Eelam cause than any Tamil person I had met in Sri-Lanka. They had never been back home but they believed that the cause of the LTTE was Just and the means it was being carried out with was fair. I wondered how they could come to a country like Australia and live in its sanctuary, enjoy its comforts and freedom and believe that it was FINE to attack others. Yet I understand that their devotion to the Eelam cause came from their parents who would have suffered much hardship in the 70’s and 80’s and their stories would have been Just cause for these youngsters to find a reason to create an ethnic division that in essence did not need to exist. However I also found that some of them had put behind all the baggage that comes with being Sri-Lankan and concentrated on one thing; being Sri-Lankan. They used dance, sport and created an Association to form kinship and this was a wonderful thing to be a part of, because up until then I had never needed to be part of an organization just due to the fact that I was “Sri-Lankan”, and this led to deepening of my identity and my need to strengthen my countries future.
I was caused more strife by this Civil War, but this was entirely my own fault. I studied International Politics, and therefore opened the door to being questioned about my country and my religion. When you put yourself in that vulnerable position you need to have answers, and at university these answers have to be good ones. I found that some students, especially the European exchange students were more informed about the politics of my country than I was, about the past carnage and the atrocities committed on both sides. I no longer could hide and turn a blind eye. I had to answer that YES we KILL because we are threatened, and, thankfully on the issue of the Sri-Lankan Civil War there was proof that indeed we were being attacked. At the time however I was yet to learn about the huge scale displacement of Muslims in the East- the forgotten people of this war, I was also not acquainted at the time with humanitarian law, the use of child soldiers, suicide bombers, and the colossal loss of civilian life in the North because of use of weapons against “jus in bello” or what was permissible during war.
However a “threatened” argument did not suffice on the religious front. That was a whole other ball game because in the eyes of my peers I was on the wrong side. Discussions during subjects like “War and Peace”, “International armed conflict”, “Just cause”, “Terrorism in the 21st Century”, often left me upset, furious and tongue tied, causing me to defend and explain myself, but altogether it educated me. Being a Muslim in a Post 9/11 world meant having to answer constantly about your beliefs, when in fact they did not encompass and in fact had nothing to do with what happened on that fatal September morning. Questions on Jihad, Violence, Abuse, Hijab, Polygamy, were directed like a fully loaded Kalashnikov at me, and I had to consider things that were not part of my day-to-day religious practice. We pray, we eat halal meat, we fast, we treat our neighbours and family with consideration, we act charitably, go for Hajj and we have a good jolly Biryani during Eid; that was up until then my ISLAM. Now I had to stipulate the conditions of Prisoners of War during Jihad, and the intricacies of fatwa’s. In order to set the record straight for my own personal justification I wrote a dissertation titled, “Islam: A religion of Peace?” and this allowed me to clinically explore my religion leaving me at peace with my findings.
On the religious front however I am both thankful to Osama and frustrated. The good thing was that he made it necessary as a Muslim to be more aware of what Islam entails, since educated Muslims refused to be hood winked into believing that destroying the twin towers is what God wants. It caused a conscious switch in mentality from the brutish behaviour of Arab countries to a more informed global movement that is still strong and growing. A greater thirst and understanding for the true meaning of Islam and the evident need for its teachings now more than ever was apparent in order to bring about world peace. On the other hand the frustration was caused by the difficulty it brought about to many people who had to constantly be cross examined because of religious beliefs, having to answer questions at airports, explain the right to wear a headscarf, defend the right to pray at work and have a mosque, having their sovereignty be slowly eroded and shaw-shanked away. The daily make-up of Muslim lives changed forever; each and every Muslim had to search within them and decide how much of their faith was really what was out there in the global media and how much of it was really just what it was; faith, a PERSONAL belief in a higher power.
Today these two baddies are no longer around. How do we feel? These men shaped our lives. I have lived where I lived, studied what I studied and believe in what I believe because of what they have done. Have they left deeper scars in our lives than we can simply take off with a bullet to the head? Conspiracy theories aside, there were wars, people were killed our lives were affected. Yet their deaths cannot change our pasts or our personal beliefs and views, because those are already ingrained. What it can cause however is a hope that dialogue can make things different. That as Sri Lankans we do not become arrogant and continue along ethnic divisions and that as Muslims we do not become complacent and let the perverted agenda’s of extremist militants interfere with our religion, we need to ensure that a candle is lit with knowledge that as Sri Lankans we believe in Unity and that as Muslims we believe in Peace.