Freedom fighters or terrorists?

President George W. Bush has labeled the Tamils of Sri Lanka as terrorists – without knowing the real causes of the war in Sri Lanka. Fighting for freedom during civil war does not mean people are terrorists.

Sri Lanka is an island south of India that gained its independence from the British in 1948. At the time of independence, it was known as Ceylon and it contained two groups of people, those who spoke Sinhalese (they migrated from North India) and those who spoke Tamil (they migrated from South India).

The first prime minister of Sri Lanka was Solomon West Ridgeway Dias Bandaranaike, a Sinhalese. In 1956 he passed what is known as the “Sinhalese only” bill. The law changed Sri Lanka’s national language from English, which everyone spoke, to Sinhalese. It passed without the Tamil people’s consent.

Ever since 1956 the Tamils have been unhappy with how the Sinhalese government has treated them. The Tamils were not given good educations or able to get good jobs. Then, in 1983, an event turned this into a violent conflict that has not been solved to this day.

The event is largely unknown outside Sri Lanka because the government does not want the rest of the world to find out what really happened. On July 23, 1983, in Colombo, more than 600 Tamils were killed by Sinhalese mobs. The government did nothing to stop this.

With this kind of violence against the minority, how can one expect them to stand still and take all this abuse? The mobs not only killed the Tamils but also burned some alive in their homes and cars. Again, the government did nothing to stop this. The mob also publicly humiliated Tamils by stripping them naked. Yet again the government did nothing. These, along with being denied access to jobs or good education, are the reasons the Tamils took up arms to fight against a government that had oppressed them for about 47 years.

After Sept. 11, 2001, Bush labeled these Tamils, who are fighting for their fundamental rights of a good job and a good education, terrorists. The basic definition of terrorism, according to the dictionary, is the use of terror and violence to intimidate, subjugate, etc. After Sept. 11, however, anyone who is against the government is labeled a terrorist, even if it is the government committing terrorist acts.

Bush is willing to help the people of Iraq fight against their terrorist government. However, when it comes to Sri Lanka he labels the people suffering from their government’s terrorist acts.

U.S. foreign policy needs to change. One cannot just go around pointing fingers at other nations and call some people terrorists without knowing the whole truth.

Paxton Casimir is a University student originally from Sri Lanka. He welcomes comments at [email protected]