Saturday, May 16, 2009

Genocide is not a "Fair Weather" Issue

Since the Tamil protests began, there has been much confusion over whether they deserve support from the rest of the population. I can't tell you how many times I have read or heard, "I support them, but..."
• "They are flying those red flags."
• "Aren't the Tamil Tigers terrorists?"
• "They shouldn't block traffic."
• "Isn't there some other way they can protest?"
• "This has nothing to do with Canada."

Let's start with the facts. For decades, the Sinhalese majority has been persecuting the Tamil minority, and that persecution includes murder. Supposed "safe zones" have been bombed, including hospitals. The Tamil population is trapped and has nowhere to turn. As more and more are murdered, their relatives here in Canada grow more desperate.

Is genocide right or wrong? Speak to anyone about the holocaust, and in this day and age it is inconceiveable that anyone would defend genocide. No, genocide is always wrong, period. Full stop. There are no "ifs", "ands", or "buts". Genocide is not a political view. It has no pros or cons. There is no debate. It is simply and categorically wrong, and must be opposed and stopped at all costs.

Genocide is not a "fair-weather" issue. We do not oppose it only when we have time, only under certain conditions, only when we like the victims - or approve of their politics.

We do not decide to support the victims of genocide who we like, and turn our backs on those we don't. If you saw an elderly neighbour being attacked by a mugger, would you intervene, or would you first gauge how much you like that particular neighbour? Would you walk away because you don't happen to agree with her political views?

Oppose genocide, now, and always. Speak out against it. Support its victims, no matter who they are. Stand with the Tamils. Write to the newspapers. Call your MP. Tell Stephen Harper to get off his bloody ass and challenge the government of Sri Lanka, with economic sanctions if necessary. Don't let your complacency allow another murder.

Anti-Tamil-Tiger Propaganda Muddies the Real Issues

Papers, blogs, Facebook, and all manner of online sites are abuzz with discussion of the Tamils' plight. I'm encouraged to read that while many Canadians remain uninvolved in the struggle, they are at least aware (or becoming more aware) of the situation. But of course, there remains a stubborn group which insists that Tamils should not be supported because of the actions of the Tamil Tigers (LTTE).

Like so many rebel groups, the Tigers have a history of rebellion against opression, and they want an independent state. That is understandable, which is not to say that anyone should condone some of the things they have done. But it is important to understand that the Sri Lankan government is guilty of decades of oppression, violence, and murder. That is not the story we hear, however.

A couple of years ago, on my walk home from work through the University of Toronto campus, I passed a student who was leafletting on the sidewalk. (As is my habit, I stopped to take a leaflet, but stayed right there, looking at it. If it is something that truly interests, me, I thank the person, but if not, I make a point of handing it back.) I stood there for a moment, puzzling over it. It was text heavy, and I was not willing to read the whole thing right there, but neither could I determine what its aim was or who was behind it. What was clear was that it was a propaganda piece against the Tamil Tigers, complete with a glossy, full-colour photo of a murdered civilian - a crude shock tactic.

Amusingly, the student appeared to be a little bit uncomfortable to have me scrutinizing the information in his presence. He first tried to distance himself from the subject matter. A moment later, growing more uneasy, he told me, "I'm just being paid to hand these out."

I did take it with me, intending to look into its origins more closely, but by the time I got home, I was too disgusted by the photo and threw it out.

Here's the thing: in a city like Toronto, you can find people leafletting any day of the week. Leaflets from activists are always done on the cheap: paper photocopies, often one quarter of an 8 1/2 x 11 for maximum economy, run off by volunteers. The anti-Tiger leaflet was a two-sided, full-colour photocopy, on good quality paper. Who had money to print these and hire a university student to distribute them? It certainly wasn't from any volunteer-run activist organization. It also wasn't a message from any social- or political-activist organization I've ever seen or heard of. In other words, someone with time, money, and an agenda went to some effort to implement this. And it's not anybody on the political left.

I am thankful my experiences with activism have taught me how to analyze this experience. But what is the average person to think? Should it be any wonder that people are confused now, as to whether to support the Tamil community?

I now question every claim I hear about the Tamil Tigers. Supposedly, they have been doing some awful things. But where is our information coming from? As communications have been restricted by the Sri Lankan government, the government is in control of most of the news that is being fed to our media.

We have a duty to use independent resources on the internet, and to speak to the Tamil population to get the other side of the story. It's not hard to find Tamils to speak to; they are out on the streets every day.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

For us, an inconvenience. For them, life or death.

I just got home to read headlines about Tamil protesters blocking Toronto's Gardiner Expressway, in both directions. If you need attention, that's a pretty good way to get it. Pretty good trick, but you need the numbers to pull it off.

Fortunately for the Tamil community, they do. Weeks ago, as I walked home from work, I came across one of the earlier protests in which the community did a march around Toronto's core. I saw them straggling up Queen's Park Crescent, a quiet area where pedestrian traffic is light. I thought they were walking home from a rally. But as I continued east and hit Yonge Street, I came across them again. Carrying flags and concentrating on the west side of the street (but spilling over to the east side and complemented by cars driving up and down Yonge), they formed a chain accented by their red flags - a strong presence as far as the eye could see both to the north and the south, and impossible to ignore. I was thrilled, and a little envious that even the largest protests I've been part of have never achieved that effect.

As the protests have continued, occupying University Avenue, I've read the inevitable racist comments in the online papers. "These people don't have the right to come to our country and protest." "They shouldn't be allowed to block our streets."

Way to miss the point, people.

Have you thought about the things that bother you about government action or inaction, and have you ever done anything to try to effect change? Have you made any effort to raise awareness about injustice or wrongdoing? Or are we just too comfortable with our lifestyle - too busy to protest?

Ask yourself why so many people are part of these protests. Why are so many members of the Tamil community taking the time and making the effort to get out on the streets?

Now ask yourself if you would get off your ass and do something if your relatives were in danger. Would you act if they were being killed? Would you protest if your people were the target of genocide?

No doubt, tomorrow there will be more angry letters to the editor from people who were stuck in traffic as a result of the protests. For me, I'm ok with many hours of gridlock if it results in more people speaking out about the apathy of governments like Harper's - apathy toward the killing campaign being waged on the other side of the world. Wake up, people.