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The politics of terror

By Bruce Haigh - posted Monday, 7 September 2009

As they say, history is written by the victors. Equally it might be said that commentary and analysis is provided by those with access to power and influence.

During negotiations over the formation of Israel frustrated Zionists, members of an organisation known as the Stern Gang, murdered the British Ambassador to Egypt, Lord Moyne. In 1946 they blew up the King David Hotel in Jerusalem killing 91 guests. Today, at least in the western media, the role of Zionists in the formation of Israel is not portrayed as terrorism, nor is the role of the Israeli Defence Force in the invasion of Gaza in early January 2009.

The Viet Cong were once referred to as terrorists, but no longer, not since they and the North Vietnamese Army won the war.


Nelson Mandela was convicted of sabotage under white South Africa’s notorious terrorism laws in 1964 and sentenced to life in prison on Robben Island. A substantial shift in power between white and black South Africans saw Mandela become President of South Africa in 1994.

At Mandela’s trial a defence lawyer, Harold Hanson brought to the attention of the judge that the Afrikaner people, to whom both he and the judge belonged, had conducted an armed uprising against the British and had been charged with rebellion and treason.

The struggle in Sri Lanka is a civil war, just as it is in Afghanistan. Without undertaking a detailed analysis the Australian government accepted the position of the Bush government and declared both the LTTE and the Taliban terrorists. Ignoring that in the case of the latter many were once members of the Mujahidin, supported by the US, in the war to expel the Soviets from Afghanistan. The situation in Afghanistan appears to defy rational analysis now that the Taliban have been branded terrorists and supporters of al-Qaida.

The civil war in Sri Lanka began with bullying and attacks on Tamils in the north by the majority Sinhalese not long after Sri Lanka gained independence from the British in 1948. The first act of bastardry was when the Sinhalese Sri Lanka Freedom Party made the demand in 1954 that Sinhala should be the official language. By the election of 1956 it was the dominant political issue. Under constant and growing pressure relations between the two communities became worse until in 1977 attacks by members of the Sinhalese community killed 125 Tamils. From 1983 the conflict between Sinhalese majority in the south and the northern Tamil minority came to dominate Sri Lankan politics.

And so it continues to this day. The Sinhalese government has a monopoly on military power. The response of the Tamils to this imbalance was similar to the Palestinians and the ANC, they undertook acts of random terror designed to bolster their limited military resources and create an environment for negotiation. As with the IRA, secret negotiations with organisations deploying terror as a weapon can take many years, in this case complicated by the fact that the Sinhalese also employed the use of torture and terror.

A peace settlement was brokered in 2002 by a representative of the Norwegian Government, Erik Solheim. However by 2006 it had broken down. Backed by the Bush Administration, who provided military equipment and training in the cause of the war against terror, a revitalised Sri Lankan army launched a massive assault against the LTTE in the second half of 2008.


The result was a massacre of Tamils. Around 300,000 were rounded up and put into concentration camps where conditions for the occupants remain in violation of UN Human Rights Conventions relating to the treatment of prisoners of war, women and children. These conditions are a breeding ground for hatred. The Sri Lankan government argues that it is holding Tamils in detention in order to weed out members of the LTTE, but the process has taken far too long and looks more like retribution.

The media has been denied access to these camps which, in view of recent clandestine evidence of the extra judicial killing of Tamil males by the Sri Lankan military, is understandable.

Tragically Australia has taken sides in the Sri Lankan civil war. Instead of offering humanitarian assistance to those in the camps it sent the deputy chief of the Navy, Rear Admiral Davyd Thomas, to Colombo in JUNE 2009 to urge that young Tamils be prevented from coming to Australia. His plea amounted to an endorsement of the continued detention of Tamils in appalling conditions. Kevin Rudd supports this position and said as much in an interview with Greg Cary on ABC Brisbane on July 1, 2009.

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About the Author

Bruce Haigh is a political commentator and retired diplomat who served in Pakistan and Afghanistan in 1972-73 and 1986-88, and in South Africa from 1976-1979

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