A Reprint of “How a diaspora is killing its own” from The Times of India, 12 April 2009 …
About David Blacker: I chanced upon Blacker’s essay in The Times of India on 12th April 2009 when I trawled the internet for background data relating to the Marga interventions in the propaganda debate surrounding the last phase of Eelam War IV. In precise English David Blacker has hit the nail on the head: identified the war scenario and its principal causal force. His contention anticipates an argument I have pressed subsequently in numerous essays – all written in blissful ignorance of his position statement. Of mixed ethnicity, with a Sri Lankan Tamil mother (Parameswaran), David served in the Sinha Regiment in the 1990s and was invalided out.
Thus, unlike myself and most of the Sri Lankan intelligentsia as well as two strident voices peddling the Tiger and Tamil cause (MIA and Arundhati Roy), he has battle-theatre experience. This background is critical: one of the debilitating facets of the literature on the war has been the desk-bound background of most commentators and authors. That disadvantage applies to yours truly Michael Roberts as well. It has taken me over four years to reduce this handicap though attentiveness to pictorial evidence and maps supplemented by conversations with military men.
I am taking the liberty of tacking on another essay by David in The Times of India which does not directly bear to the main issue here, but indicates to readers that David moved into the literary world of fiction writing after resigning from the Sri Lankan Army. This, maybe, is the reason he was able to secure space in The Times of India – the sort of venue I have never been able to breach. The Times of India, alas, does not reach into the spaces of power that shape world opinion. Those reaches were commanded by the Marie Colvins and Frances Harrisons and Gordon Weiss’s of this world. Apart from articles in powerful media chains, these whole-hearted advocates of the Tiger cause and/or the Tamil campaign of vengeance directed at the Rajapaksa Regime and/or the Sri Lankan security forces have had the elan and connections to secure stage-space at prestigious literary festivals (Edinburgh, Adelaide). In propaganda wars location, location, location and network, network, network, is what counts. Michael Roberts.
“How a diaspora is killing its own,” David Blacker, 12 April 2009, ….. http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/home/sunday-toi/all-that-matters/How-a-diaspora-is-killing-its-own/articleshow/4390275.cms?referra
As the war against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) grinds inexorably towards certain defeat for the self-proclaimed representatives of the Tamil nation, there seems to be no great fanfare, no glorious last stands. This revolution dies not with a bang, but with whimpers and cowardice. And lies. For a year the Tamil diaspora, spread from Tamil Nadu to Toronto, watched with disbelief as the the Sri Lankan infantry divisions cut the Tiger formations to pieces, hammering them back into a tiny pocket close to Mullaitivu on the island’s north-eastern coast. Now, as the world watches, a mortally wounded Tiger cowers behind the very people it claims to defend, mauling them as it dies. As the pace of the offensive slows down in the heavily populated Mullaitivu district, the Tamil diaspora has finally found its voice, and a cause worthy of its outrage – the Tamil population of the Wanni, trapped in the fighting and suffering horribly. They lack everything human beings have a right to expect – food, shelter, clothing, security, life itself. If anything is worthy of our attention, it is these people, held hostage by their proclaimed protectors, forced to face the guns and tanks of the SL army in the hope that if enough of them are killed or maimed, the world might save the LTTE.
The diaspora, organised and spurred by LTTE front organisations, chants its mantra of concentration camps and Sri Lankan government genocide of the Tamils, ignoring the fact that it is the LTTE, and not the government, that is holding the Wanni Tamils in these inhuman conditions. And like all human catastrophies, this one too, has spawned its celebrity hangers-on. First, Sri Lankan-born British rapper MIA, and now at the eleventh hour, Booker Prize-winning Indian author Arundhati Roy. These two individuals more or less represent the two strongest tones of voice we hear calling for a cessation of the Sri Lankan military offensive against the Tigers. MIA largely chooses to ignore all reality in favour of an LTTE-created one in which hundreds of thousands of Tamils have died at the hands of a million-strong Sinhalese army which is gassing, raping and torturing its way through the Wanni, while the valiant Tamil freedom fighters stand aside as the silent victims. Roy, on the other hand, seems to be more a victim of her own intellectual laziness. Her recent article in this paper is mostly third-hand information, cherry-picked from a single Sunday Telegraph interview of a disgraced former Sri Lankan foreign minister. Instead of delving into the real issues, Roy chooses to skim across what pricks her outrage the most. At least MIA pretends she knows what she’s talking about, but Roy prefers emotion and drama, and makes even well-established facts sound like tribal tom-toms in the jungle. In addition to echoing MIA’s genocide charge, she claims that the Sri Lankan government is setting up concentration camps to enslave the Tamils.
The accusations of genocide and concentration camps remain a figment of fiction– regardless of how many times the lie is repeated. The one single thing standing between the Wanni Tamils and safety is the LTTE. And there is very little the diaspora or anyone outside Sri Lanka can do to make them let their people go. Twice the government has declared ‘no fire zones’ in LTTE territory and urged the civilians to find shelter there from the fighting. The Tigers have, however, blatantly violated these zones, operating within them and using them to launch attacks against the SL army. Meanwhile, the LTTE continues to hold the thousands of Tamils in these ‘no fire zones’ hostage, conscripting even the elderly and very young as slave labour and cannon fodder, compelling them to endure the unbearable.
In spite of the dangers, thousands of civilians have risked death and injury at the hands of their self-proclaimed protectors in order to flee to safety, many paying the ultimate price in the attempt. All of this has been documented by NGOs and international envoys. And all of it is ignored by the likes of MIA and Arundhati Roy and the millions of Tamils across the world who have outsourced the future of the Tamil cause to a megalomaniac. So, while they bask in the afterglow of their righteous anger, out in the jungle, little children are dying. And no amount of protest, no flag-waving, no hunger strike will save them. What will save them is the speedy and efficient destruction of the LTTE that has visited this catastrophe on them.
The writer’s A Cause Untrue won Sri Lanka’s State Literary Award for Best Novel in 2006. He saw combat as a 19-year-old army rifleman at Elephant Pass. In response to my email David has sent this note: “The Blacker name has origins both in England and Ireland, and the Sri Lankan Blackers descend from two sources: Irish mercenaries who arrived with the Dutch East India Company, and an unrelated British orphan of the Indian Mutiny who moved to Ceylon from Madras shortly after the fall of Kandy. On my mother’s side I am Jaffna Tamil.” Best regards
David Blacker: “This war is a writer’s block,” 1 February 2009, http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/home/sunday-toi/special-report/This-war-is-a-writers-block/articleshow/4058288.cms?referral=PM
When a war ends, it is a time for rebuilding, and a time for reflection, both for the victorious and the defeated. A time to take stock of what has been won and lost in terms of economy, life, opportunity, and even culture. The effect of the 25-year war on the population’s psyche is obvious; a general aversion towards long-term plans, a breakdown of respect for law and order, and lately, refuge in a newfound nationalism. Is this also apparent among Sri Lanka’s creative thinkers – the writers, filmmakers, and artists? Wars often spark a surge in creativity, a catharsis that often invades popular culture and occasionally reaches an audience untouched by the original war and its passions. The films, books, and music that retold the Vietnam War created emotions for a global generation that wasn’t even born in the ’60s. Sri Lankan culture certainly hasn’t a comparable reach, but what is interesting is that such an influence is hardly noticeable even within the country. There have only been two mainstream Sinhalese “war” films on the subject – both directed by, and starring, the late Gamini Fonseka. Both depicted a popularized (if naive) view of the war, and were extremely successful locally. The Nineties saw some Sinhalese movies dealing with the war; art house productions that evoked mixed reactions from Sri Lank-an audiences. Some, by directors such as Prasanna Vithanage and Cannes Film Festival winner Vimukthi Jayasundara, have been banned for content that was seen as either culturally objectionable, critical of the armed forces, or just generally unpatriotic.
Sri Lanka has no English film industry, and the tiny Tamil one has steered clear of the war. Sinhalese teledramas or ‘soaps’ are extremely popular in Sri Lanka, but again the themes chosen have been ‘safe’. Sinhalese literature also hardly touches on the war, and the majority of Sri Lankans would be hard-pressed to come up with the title of a novel that dealt with the conflict. The country has a vibrant, if tiny, circle of English writers and readers and perhaps unsurprisingly, it is here that literature on the war is most visible. These writers have taken varying stands on the war, but the fact that English has such a small middle-class audience in the country is probably the reason there has been so much tolerance of their views – most of the country hasn’t heard them. In general, the war has had little or no effect on the core of Sri Lanka’s literature and arts. As in most countries, literature and the arts remain in the hands of the elite and a rapidly shrinking urban middle class. However, unlike in WWII and Vietnam, Sri Lanka’s middle class isn’t going to war. There is no Hemingway or Oliver Stone, with their own traumatic wartime experiences. And the soldiers aren’t writing or making movies. The literati, then, suffer from a dearth of war experience. And this gap between Sri Lanka’s creative thinkers and their audience shows. The only real accessible creative form to engage the war – film – has met heavy opposition from the country’s rural masses and the government that represents them. Sri Lanka’s educated writers and film directors don’t reflect the viewpoint of their audience when talking about the war. Perhaps this does not matter. So while there’s a marked lack of influence by the war on literature and the arts, it doesn’t mean that the creative thinkers of Sri Lanka are not influenced. They are, but they have so far been unable to express this influenced thinking to the wider population. Perhaps, the war’s most visible effect on Sri Lankan literature and art is the opposition to literature itself. A Sinhalese population that saw itself increasingly besieged by an uncaring world appears to have found solace in a resurgent nationalism that brooks no dissent. There is no real nationalist literature in modern Sri Lanka either, the way it exists in India or the United States, and therefore if most anti-nationalist feeling is represented through literature, there will be a natural instinct to reject literature and create a new culture embedded in the nationalist ethos. The war in Sri Lanka has frozen many things, and even suppressed them – industry, education, development, and creativity. It will take many years to be able to really gauge the effects of war on the country’s creative thinkers. Perhaps as the war winds down, these thinkers will be able to find a voice that will express their views, and that those voices will be allowed to speak. For Sri Lanka, this war isn’t over, and in our collective psyche, it will be fought long after the last shot is fired.
“Reading “devastation”: Botham, CMJ, Ban Ki-Moon,” 10 June 2011 https://thuppahi.wordpress.com/2011/06/10/reading-%E2%80%9Cdevastation%E2%80%9D-botham-cmj-ban-ki-moon/;
“Generating Calamity, 2008-2014: An Overview of Tamil Nationalist Operations and Their Marvels,” 10 April 2014, http://groundviews.org/2014/04/10/generating-calamity-2008-2014-an-overview-of-tamil-nationalist-operations-and-their-marvels/
“BBC-Blind: Misreading the Tamil Tiger Strategy of International Blackmail, 2008-13,” 8 December 2013, https://thuppahi.wordpress.com/2013/12/08/bbc-blind-misreading-the-tamil-tiger-strategy-of-international-blackmail-2008-13/#more-11221
AND MOST RECENTLY “The Realities of Eelam War, IV,” 27October 2015, https://thuppahi.wordpress.com/2015/10/27/the-realities-of-eelam-war-iv/
 This disability has been partially reduced by my total absorption during my juvenile/teenage days in war literature and pictorial tales in the London Illustrated News and by my participation in soccer and rugger — where the use of space is central to strategy on the run.
 See Roberts, Tamil Person and State. Pictorial, Colombo, Vijitha Yapa Publications 2014.
 One reason, no doubt, being the fact that Blacker Sri Lanka’s State Literary Award for Best Novel in 2006 for his A Cause Untrue. Also see his web site https://blacklightarrow.wordpress.com/and Sajitha Prematunge: “Defying Defying dogma and taboo,” http://www.sundayobserver.lk/2008/06/01/plus08.asp.