The part of South London where I live has a small but significant Tamil community, particularly in the Lewisham arc from Loampit Vale to Lee High Road to Ladywell and down into Bellingham. In this area, a very large number of fried chicken joints are Tamil-run. Fried chicken, I'm afraid, is one of the worst of my guilty addictions. So I was in one the other day, and there was a small sign up saying something like "Stop the genocide of Tamils in Sri Lanka".
It struck me then very forcefully the point that keeps on coming into my mind these past few months: why do so few people seem to care about Sri Lanka? The conflict is complex for the simplistic Western mind, but no more complex than the situations in Iraq or Palestine, which people do seem to care about. For those not too knowledgeable, it is hard to identify a goodie and a baddie in Sri Lanka - but, for anyone, it should be crystal clear that the Tamil civilian population is suffering terribly badly, and that the worst of this suffering could be stopped with some political will from those in power.
Look at the numbers: in the Israel-Palestine conflict, there have been about 10,000 deaths since the start of the First Intifada in the 1980s (which coincides more or less with the start of the current civil war in Sri Lanka). These deaths - 10,000 too many, to be sure, and mainly afflicting the Palestinian population - included some 6000 in the bloody Second Intifada and up to 1500 in the recent horrible war in Gaza. In Sri Lanka in the same period, there have been over 70,000 officially listed as dead. Over 70,000, despite a period of relative peace in the early 1990s. The UN reckons well over 6000 Tamil civilians to have died since February, plus around 2000 killed in the intense period of fighting at the start of the year, while the world's eyes were fixated on Gaza.
If you google image the demonstrations in London, you will see an overwhelmingly Tamil presence on the march, with no banners of placards of UK organisations apart from Tamil groups, no left-wing parties, no union branches, no papersellers. Although there are plenty of honourable exceptions, the left blogosphere has been fairly quiet. Socialist Unity, fairly representative of UK hard left opinion, has had a total of two posts on Sri Lanka in 2009, while posts on Gaza have been more or less daily. Shamefully, I can't claim to be among the honourable exceptions: I have not felt that I have had much to add, from my little corner of the world.
So, is the question: why our shameful silence on this issue? Or, is the question: why our obsession with the region between Gaza and Afghanistan? And, what should we be doing about it?
P.S. Terry says it better here.
P.P.S. See comments for more: the Socialist Party as honourable exception? Have I been too sweeping? Any thoughts folks?