Dude, where’s my ethnic conflict?
Thanks to work we do at BB, I have sat at countless foums, discussions and workshops which eventually ends up talking about Sri Lanka’s conflict. A lot of these discussions have included Colombo-based cosmopolitan youth, and some of them (I’ll even say many) seems to think that Sri Lanka doesn’t have an ethnic conflict. Their reasoning is quite simple:
Proposition 1: I have Tamil friends. (The infamous “some of my best friends are Tamil” line), we don’t fight.
Proposition 2: There are lots of Tamils, Sinhalese and Muslims living together in Colombo, they don’t fight.
Conclusion : There’s no ethnic conflict.
I’m guilty of a bit of oversimplification and perhaps tad bit of sterotyping here, but generally the argument follows this basic model. Now I’m a big fan of cosmopolitan attitudes, I think that’s a good way to live. But unfortunately, many people in Sri Lanka don’t have cosmopolitan attitudes, hence it’s a poor way to understand what’s going on Sri Lanka.
I also don’t think interpreting the Sri Lankan conflict this way is necessarily stupid, there are bunch of (more sophisticated) arguments one can make to this end, but I think they are generaly wrong. Whatever might have been the ‘root causes’ of this conflict — and there could be a number of economic, political and situational causes — it has manifested itself in ethnic terms.
I agree with those who say the standard majority-minority analysis mises great part of the picture. I personally think what we have is more of a governance issue which manifests itself in ethnic terms. But because it has manifested itself in ethnic terms, we should call it what it is — an ethnic conflict.
Deane is a Core Group Member of Beyond Borders and a regular blogger. The views expressed here are that of the author, not of Beyond Borders.