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Countering stereotypes: Sri Lanka

By Luckmini Liyanage
Published: December 2009

Sri Lanka, although a small country, is not comprised of entirely small people’€obviously I am not the best example of that.

 It is a complicated country whose people range from small to tall, from Sinhalese to Tamil, from Christian to Muslim, and from Buddhist to Hindu.

Perhaps the darkest mark in Sri Lanka’s history, and what seems to have defined this island for the future, is the bloody, 25-year long civil war, which recently ended in May of 2009.

The government, which defeated the Tamil Tiger Eelam Terrorist group, has been branded by much of the Western World as vicious and blood thirsty, and has been accused of committing genocide.

Even after the war, Sri Lanka has been criticized for expelling journalists and Red Cross workers from war ravaged areas in the North, triggering a humanitarian and human rights crisis. 

The humanitarian crisis is real.  Its expulsion of foreigners is true.

But these facts make up only one part of the story.  Countries in the West, such as France, Britain, Canada, and the United States have criticized President Mahinda Rajapaksa for working with “hostile nations such as Iran, Russia, and China.

Britain has even barred Sri Lanka from hosting the summit of Commonwealth leaders.

These countries, however, fail to realize that Rajapaksa managed to accomplish what no Western country has been able to do’€defeat a terrorist organization.

Sri Lanka is a small nation, with limited resources, and received war funding from these “hostile nations because they were denied funds from the West, even though the United States State Department designated the Tamil Tigers as a terrorist group.

The Tigers was the only terrorist group in the world with its own air force and navy, and it had ties to other terrorist groups such as Al Qaeda.

There is a humanitarian crisis in Sri Lanka because the Tigers used civilian shields, meaning the war took place in the North.

If a region has undergone war for twenty-five years, it has also undergone blockades, famine, bombs, and much more.

The Sri Lankan government is trying to make strides to improve the region by building hospitals, roads, and overall infrastructure.

But progress is slow.  The government is far from perfect, but it is not a monster out to destroy Tamils.

The war in Sri Lanka was by no stretch genocide’€calling it such demeans the power of the word genocide.

The Sri Lankan government did not systematically try to kill all Tamils, but waged a war against the Tamil Tigers’€not Tamils and not Hinduism, similar to how the United States is waging a war against Al Qaeda, not Arabs and not Islam.

There is no doubt war crimes were committed during this period, but the government was fighting an enemy that took hostage a section of the country and frequently used child soldiers and suicide bombers.

Terrorism does not seem as much of a threat when it exists an ocean away, but imagine terrorism one block away.

Imagine living in a country where your bus is gunned down while you are on your way to a temple to pray.

In 2008, a bomb blast in Anuradhapura, one of the holiest Buddhist places in Sri Lanka, killed 27 people and injured 90.

Sri Lanka is not a country that has a rigid apartheid system or severe caste divisions.
Tamils and Sinhalese live in harmony in most of Sri Lanka.

The government is not out to destroy Tamils, but to unify the country.

Sri Lanka is not perfect, nor is any other nation.  Its history is tied to both peace and war, just like the world’s history.

To me, Sri Lanka is a place filled with clacking rickshaws, spicy aromas, and beautiful beaches.

Sri Lanka is small, but it has survived war, terrorism, and natural disasters, and will continue to press on into the future.

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