Ilankai Tamil Sangam
Association of Tamils of Sri Lanka in the USA
Endless struggle against terrorism hallmark of new world disorder
by Tom Plate / Syndicated columnist
The dialectic — who's a terrorist? who's a freedom-fighter? — is not merely academic. Some of the world's hot spots may be susceptible to cooling down if we break away from straitjacketed thinking. A perfect example, in fact, is Sri Lanka.
LOS ANGELES — President George Bush was for once absolutely right on a subtle point: The war against terror might well be ultimately unwinnable — in the sense that the campaign may never come to a definable end.
But his extremely thoughtful notion was withdrawn with hilarious alacrity by his campaign handlers out of the foolish fear that the GOP standard-bearer might resemble a "girlie-man." That, for sure, is not one of our macho president's problems.
In truth, terrorism is less an organization or a standing army or even pocket of resistance (as in usual wars) and more a methodology for the advancement of radical political goals (the defeat of the West, the elimination of Israel, the fight against modernity). The effort against it is thus not so much a war — that, by definition, would have a beginning, middle and end — as a protracted historical struggle.
This struggle bodes to become the central dynamic of the new world disorder, in the way that the Cold War was ground zero for world politics for so many decades, until the fall of the Berlin Wall. The tricky part will come not in understanding that terrorism (a technique) has succeeded communism (an empire) as the evil front that unites the United States and its allies, but in defining who the terrorists are. Definitions too broad and undifferentiated may ensnare potential friends and allies in the wrong category.
This is why a second Bush or a first Kerry administration must ponder the global field of play to make sure the "good guys" are not creating an even bigger problem than the anti-terror task at hand.
A perfect example can be found in the roiling mess in Sri Lanka, a gorgeous island-nation near India that has been embroiled in a decades-long bloody civil war. The problem (perhaps a paradigm for the new age of protracted struggle) is to understand the competing definitions of the strife. The central government in Colombo (representing the ethnic Senhalese majority) defines the ethnic Tamil minority as "terrorists."
But the Tamils, who largely inhabit the island-state's northeast, define themselves as freedom-fighters, as do the minority ethnic Chechens against Russia. Such definitional issues are sure to plague 21st-century politics for the foreseeable future.
The dialectic — who's a terrorist? who's a freedom-fighter? — is not merely academic. Some of the world's hot spots may be susceptible to cooling down if we break away from straitjacketed thinking. A perfect example, in fact, is Sri Lanka. [All emphasis by website editor] The World Bank — backed by government donors from Japan and Norway to the United States — has established a large trust fund for Tamil relief. But if the money were funneled through the central government in Colombo, not much relief aid would make it to the needy northeast.
To this end, the minority government in the northeast has set up its own bank and other normal government structures to entice the World Bank to regard it as an unofficial regional authority, a would-be Quebec to Ottawa. LTTE — the minority government acronym for Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam — proposes to accept the foreign aid with the promise that it would be used solely for relieving the widespread humanitarian needs, not to buy more arms for new terrorist attacks on the central government.
In Washington, World Bank officials are known to be considering the innovation seriously, and they are to be commended for it. Although not an organization renowned for imaginative approaches to poverty and development, the World Bank is a proven player on the world stage.
Were it to gradually funnel aid to where it is actually needed, as opposed to central governments that have no intention of acting in good faith, it could set a useful precedent in bringing aid to ravaged country-sectors in Asia and Africa currently denied outside assistance by warring central governments.
To do this, though, the United States will need to ease up on terrorist definitions and give the unofficial green light to the experiment. At worst, the money flow could be stopped at any time if LTTE violated the terms. At best, the Sri Lankan example could serve as a case study on how to maintain a principled stance against terror without harming the innocent in a rigid definitional ideology.
UCLA professor Tom Plate, a member of the Pacific Council on International Policy, is the founder of the Asia Pacific Media Network (www.asiamedia.ucla.edu). His column appears regularly on editorial pages of The Times.
The Seattle Times, September 17, 2004
Posted September 20, 2004