Diaspora Naiveté

Calls for war are easy to make when the bombs are not going to fall on your own neighborhood. In the Sri Lankan ethnic conflict, both sides suffer from two forms of naiveté, each in its own way. Firstly, the paradox of the most distant factions on both sides being the most militant. Sinhalese extremists living in the relative safety and luxury of Colombo find it easy to call for war in the North. Tamil extremists living in London or Toronto are generally the most overt in their affection for the LTTE. Both are not just cases of being in an area where one is free to voice opinions. It is more a case of being disconnected from the reality one thinks one knows through verbal and written descriptions, photographs and video reports. Even those who visit a war-torn area for a few days and think “Ok, now I know what these people are actually going through” is still not fully aware. It is difficult for those in Colombo and London to grasp what it is like to live through a war day and night and not have anywhere else to go. Neither can I.

A section of the Sinhalese engage in classic nationalist chest thumping while a section of the Tamil Diaspora engages in classic romanticization of a distant conflict. But there is another form of naiveté: the naiveté of a new generation who is distanced from the conflict not by space, but by time. Many of the most vocal pro-Sinhalese, pro-war activists of the new generation were but toddlers in 1983. Some hadn’t even been born. They merely inherited the hatred from their elders, just as their Tamil counterparts inherited theirs from their elders. While the new generation Tamils can at least use discrimination as an excuse for their hatred, Sinhalese youth really have no such excuse to hate Tamils as an ethnic group (the crimes of the LTTE organization notwithstanding). We may very soon have to face the absurdity of two groups fighting for reasons that nobody living on either side remembers firsthand.

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