I do not write this as a rhetorical question: What are the Tamils protesting for?
It’s clear what Tamils around the world are protesting against. They’re protesting against the outrageous actions of the Sri Lankan government, which has herded large numbers of Tamil civilians into a narrow strip of land, where many have been killed, and many others are suffering.
Beyond the cessation of this particular atrocity, however, what do the Tamils want?
I ask this because I visited the protest organized by Tamils in London today. Under a glowering statue of Winston Churchill, right next to the British Parliament, a group of perhaps one thousand assembled once again today, as they have for many days now. They have a permit to protest for the rest of this week, and assurances that they will be given new weekly permits for the foreseeable future.
Everyone at the protest I talked to said that they intended to keep demonstrating for as long as it takes to get their objectives met. But, what are those objectives?
On the one hand, I heard protesters describe a demand that there be an immediate cease fire. I read signs that proclaimed, “Tamils Demand Political Solution. Tamils Detest Military Solution.”
I also, however, heard Tamils praising the Tamil Tigers, a group that has been engaged in violent rebellion against the government of Sri Lanka for decades. I heard the chant, “Tamil Tigers! Freedom Fighters!” in more than one corner of the protest square.
In addition to run-of-the-mill viollence, the Tamil Tigers have used child soldiers and suicide bombers to promote their cause. The Tigers have also been accused of attacks on civilian populations on Sri Lanka themselves.
I have sympathy for the Tamils suffering in Sri Lanka. My sympathy for the protest in London ends, however, when demonstrators use the attention gained by other people’s suffering to bring glory to the cause of violence.
I am sure than many of the Tamils protesting outside of Parliament support nonviolent means to the resolution of the conflict on Sri Lanka. Their efforts are being co-opted, though, by people who respect only the rights of civilians in their own group. In order to gain more attention worldwide, the Tamil protest movement needs to repudiate the Tamil Tigers as it protests violence by non-Tamils.
The movement also needs to clearly articulate its goals. Does it want peace, or does it want to win a war? Does it want freedom, or just an independent Tamil state? None of the Tamils I met who were protesting today was able to articulate a vision beyond the current atrocity.