Lessons to be learnt from Arab Spring

| by Pearl Thevanayagam

(January 04, London, Sri Lanka Guardian) The dawn of this New Year brings with it decisive actions the government needs to make. The year gone by sent out a universal message that no longer could elected leaders ignore mass civil revolt against suppression, subjugation and authoritarianism.
The Arab Spring which started with the fruit vendor setting himself alight in Tunisia spread like wildfire unseating otherwise smug leaders who thought they were invincible. Egypt, Yemen, Libya and now Syria are now compelled to listen to the voice of the masses who have had it up to their eye-balls what with having to tighten their belts while the powers that be partied like there was no tomorrow.
Time magazine chose `The Protester’ as its Man of the Year, and quite rightly so. Leaders can no longer rest on their laurels and unleash authoritarianism among its people. The editor of The Spectator said that even though one can safely predict eclipses it is hard to predict mass rebellion. Tahrir Square protest ousted Mubarak and today it is protesting against the military rulers who replaced him. Can Syria find a better ruler than Assad?
What lies ahead for Libya after the witch-hunt for Colonel Muammar Qaddafi and his subsequent assassination by the US and its NATO forces? It is not through any humanitarian concern but through its own selfish interest that the US chose to send its NATO forces to empower a puppet regime which would provide the US with uninterrupted supply of Libya’s oil. The next target for the US is Iran.
As the last US forces left Iraq `liberating’ it from Saddam Hussein and replacing him with a puppet leader more suited to western interests the country is still embroiled in a never-ending war with suicide bombings and internecine clashes. It is an open secret the West only intervenes in countries which are replete with oil and minerals or which are strategically located to have bases to wage war on those countries it perceives as enemies as opposed to human rights.
Taking a reality check on the Sri Lankan scenario, the western democratic powers dragged its feet as thousands of Tamil civilians were massacred. Why? Sri Lanka does not have oil or nuclear power. It is but a speck of a former British colony suspended on the emerging Asian miracle economy which is India. Moreover, US and UK along with India, Pakistan, Russia and China provided the necessary military and intelligence to annihilate the LTTE not at all considering the human casualties.
The Tamils in their eyes were an expendable group not unlike the Chagossians in Diego Garcia, who were sent overnight to Mauritius in boatloads and who were told that they need not come back. Who backed the US in this mass exodus of Chagossians in the sixties? Britain. Yes, Britain whose people loved their pets and who killed the departing Chagossians’ pets by incinerating them. Emerging documents under the 30 year embargo on cabinet papers prove that British diplomats twisted history on its head by declaring that Chagossians were but recent immigrants to Diego Garcia ergo they did not have legal rights to be the inheritors of the island in the Indian Ocean. All because US, the big bully, wanted this serendipitous isle to construct their naval base to keep an eye on their enemy territories.
The seceding of independence to Ceylon was in no way any struggle by the natives. It is the culmination of a patriotic rebellion instigated by Mohandas Karam Chandra Gandhi, who through his adherence to ahimsa and satyagraha made the British Raj retreat ironically with much bloodshed. Ceylon in 1948 on the other hand was given its independence on a silver platter. The departing British Raj did not give two hoots to the ethnic Tamils who would embark on a long and drawn out struggle to win back their own rights from a Sinhala Buddhist majority which took revenge on the ethnic Tamils and which managed to entice a few selfish Tamil politicians such as the Ponnambalam Brothers who sold their own souls for prestigious posts in the new Sinhala cabinet.
This trend is re-enacted in the present day Tamil politicians who are largely former militants but who managed to wheedle their way into the government and enjoy its patronage. Even observing the actions of the various Tamil organisations abroad each have their own political aspirations and more importantly earning kudos from the very Tamils who struggled to make lives far from their motherland. This is pitiable indeed. There has never been unity among the North East Tamils unlike the upcountry Tamils. When upcountry Tamils go on strike the entire tea industry stands still. It took Mr S. Thondaman, a very shrewd and grassroots politician to challenge the powers to gain their rights denied by post independent North East politicians and the Sinhala governments.
Post war Tamils have yet to see a statesman politician who can persuade the government to win their lost rights from the Sinhala government. For a tiny island like ours it is foolhardy to demand a separate state for Tamils. Besides geographically and economically North East cannot survive without the South and vice versa. North East resources such as sea produce, salt, coconuts, palm products and most importantly minerals and oil in the foreseeable future can only boost the economy of the island when the West is undergoing severe economic downturns.
Nevertheless, the government cannot lose any more time and sweep under the carpet its alleged war crimes since there are vested foreign interests here. Only when Tamil grievances are met could the government even talk of a rising economy. For now Tamils will settle for a thorough internal investigation into war crimes, punishment for the perpetrators and immediate redress to war afflicted civilians. Failing which it can expect a repeat of the Arab Spring and international intervention.
The writer is Asia Pacific Journalism Fellow at UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism, California and a print journalist for 21 years. She can be reached at pearltheva@hotmail.com)

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Author: Sri Lanka Guardian

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