Thursday, April 23, 2009

Ulster Death Toll Reaches 5,000; British Army Blocks Aid To 100,000 Starving Irish

April 23, 2009 - A desperate humanitarian crisis is facing Northern Ireland, where over 100,000 civilians remain trapped in the crossfire between government forces and the Irish Republican Army. Since fighting intensified in mid-January 2009, available reports suggest 5,000 civilians, including at least 500 children, have died, and more than 10,000 have been injured. Despite reports that tens of thousands have managed to escape over the past few days, information from the ground suggests that more than 100,000 civilians are still trapped in the region.

That's what happens when you take this International Crisis Group assessment and replace 'Sri Lanka's northeastern region' with 'Northern Ireland' and 'Tamil Tigers' with 'Irish Republican Army.' I've done this as a kind of thought experiment, to tentatively speculate what Ottawa would look like right now if it were 30,000 Irishmen descending upon Ottawa after months of peaceful mass protests in several Canadian cities for the purpose of urging a more full-throated Canadian response to the crisis.

Coming from an Irish Catholic immigrant family, I feel sufficiently confident to imagine that, by now, unlike the Tamil protesters, my crowd would not be taking pains to put away our offensive banners or limiting our sauciness to the wearing of green jackets, after the fashion of the protesting Tamils. I am more inclined to think that, by now, Parliament Hill would be more likely a smouldering heap of ash and cinders, and there would not be a lamp post from the Byward Market to McKellar Heights without a Canadian politician hanging from it.

I point this out as a way of noticing Canada's good fortune to count among its citizens the largest population of the Tamil disaspora on earth, and also to notice that Canada would have a lot more to bitch about than longer than usual lineups at Tim Horton's lavatories if Paddy's laments were met with the same degree of indifference that has greeted the agony of Canada's Tamils.

That is all. Well not quite all. . .

My chum Jonathon Narvey conducts a similar sort of thought experiment. What if Canadian pollsters started asking the right questions about Afghanistan? And while we're on the subject of the people and what they think, what happens when pollsters ask the right questions of our Palestinian and Israeli comrades? This is what happens: Overwhelming majorities among Palestinians and Israelis say they want a peaceful, negotiated solution, and overwhelming majorities of both Palestinians and Israelis say they want a Palestinian state and an Israeli state, living in peace.

UPDATE: This is now in the National Post, where Kelly McParland gave it the headline: If The Tamils Were Irish, Would We Be Slow To Help? To all the commenters who got the point, thankyou. To the few commenters who are morally incapable of getting the point, and who just don't get what Canada has always been about, let me be clear. These are our people, and these are my people:


Blogger James O'Hearn said...

When I went to York University, there were six Timmies circling the campus...all staffed and owned by Tamils. I used to frequent a killer Tamil bakery just down the road form my house.

In fact, my favorite cricket team is Sri Lanka, and my two favorite bowlers are both Tamil.

I've work with Tamils for years, and always enjoyed their company.

Yet in Canada, when you hear the word "Tamil," there is this unspoken but understood collocation with the word "terrorist."

I never really thought about it, but damn if the Canadian media didn't dump that in the back of my head.

I didn't know it was also like that on the Left Coast also.

10:31 AM  
Blogger Terry Glavin said...

". .when you heard the word 'tamil,' there is an unspoken but understood collocation with the word 'terrorist.'

Aye, Jimmy. "Nothing but the same old story":

10:36 AM  
Blogger James O'Hearn said...

I'm liking the coverage in the Nat Post right now...

The issue is so bloody difficult for Canadians, because our need to do right by all, in essence, paralyzes our ability to not only act, but to decide how to act.

Back when I was desperate to cover my rent, I worked in a plastics factory with Sinhalese fellow on my left, and a Tamil on my right.

They didn't need me between them, it was just my spot on the line.

If there were only a way of cleanly taking out those intransigent elements keeping the divisiveness going.

12:26 PM  
Blogger Central Content Publisher said...

It's a good thought experiment. Though, I have to admit, my suggestion for handling the hypothetical Northern Ireland situation would have been to tip the scales so that the IRA was crushed - not necessarily the response Irish Catholics might be looking for.

I think it's reasonable to acknowledge that we have ethical responsibilities to our fellow humans, but that doesn't necessarily translate into a particular action. Ultimately, we don't have an ethical responsibility to "do something, anything", but rather, a responsibility to "do something provided it can feasibly improve the situation". What would that be in this case? The ethical argument doesn't go very far without reasonable policy.

Something like... putting pressure on India to resolve the crisis. It is, after all, in their sphere of influence. I would throw in pressure on the AU to deal with Darfur. A policy of directing pressure to leverage regional continuity - and perhaps even institutionalize spheres of influence - is at least a coherant strategic policy against civil chaos abroad. Would it be effective? I have no idea. But at least it's policy.

I guess my question is: ok, I'm on board with the ethical imperative of it... what now? If, floating around somewhere out there in IR land, there are good strategic policy solutions for this recurring problem, I haven't been hearing much about them. The conversation doesn't seem to get far beyond "should we care, or shouldn't we care".

2:28 PM  
Blogger Terry Glavin said...


I'm not proposing any elaborate policy here, interventionist or otherwise, and I don't claim to know what Ottawa should do, or whether Ottawa could do much more than it's doing (and it's doing more or less what the International Crisis Group assessment is asking for anyway).

A bit more effort would be rather more welcome than playing "gotcha" every time an MP shows up someplace where someone's waving a flag with a tiger on it, sure. But that's not the point I was making, or the question I was raising.

As for "to tip the scales so that the IRA was crushed - not necessarily the response Irish Catholics might be looking for," I would hope I'm not supposed to infer that you harbour the misapprehension that the IRA has any appreciable support among Ulster's Irish Catholics, or the people of the Irish Republic, because that would be a horribly wrong mistake.

2:43 PM  
Blogger Terry Glavin said...

There's something about all this - and especially the lurid "Tamils are not real Canadians" comments at the National Post version of this little thought experiment - that reminds me of the way so many soldiers responded to that utterly cringe-making column Michael Coren wrote about the death of Trooper Karine Blais. I am reminded mostly of what one particular soldier wrote: "The people with the equality problem are the enemy."

3:11 PM  
Blogger Central Content Publisher said...

I'm sorry, I didn't mean to imply that you aught to be defining policy, or that you were. I guess I was commenting more on the poor quality of public discourse on international issues.

"[...] because that would be a horribly wrong mistake." - Terry Glavin

I thought that was the implication. I'm happy to have misread.

'[...] the lurid "Tamils are not real Canadians" comments [...]' - Terry Glavin

Agreed. It's a bizarre form of denial from origins unworthy. However, I'm not convinced it's a likely motivation for Canada's reticence to get involved.

4:58 PM  
Blogger Terry Glavin said...

"However, I'm not convinced it's a likely motivation for Canada's reticence to get involved."

I'm not saying there is a direct cause and effect involved either. But it's a slightly different question.

If the real-world headline was: "Ulster Death Toll Reaches 5,000; British Army Blocks Aid To 100,000 Starving Irish," I think it' s a safe bet that the public and political reaction would be way different, and much more up-throttle, than we're seeing in the case of the Tamils.

This isn't to suggest Canada is "racist," either. What's at work here is perhaps as troubling, but it's different.

The question I was raising was a different one, and it was, more or less, that we are fortunate that Canada is home to so many Tamils, and we are fortunate that the protestors have conducted themselves, by and large, with such dignity. Don't forget the vast majority are "just off the boat," as we used to say; they're foreign-born, and so they feel the suffering of their immediate relatives that much more acutely. And yet they have demonstrated enormous restraint, and have conducted themselves peacefully, and are committed to their duties, as citizens. I would hate to think that their patience and their civic engagement come to nought, even though there may not be much Canada can do, just at the moment. At the very least, I'd like to see some more convincing evidence of the rest of us standing shoulder to shoulder with them.

5:43 PM  
Blogger Terry Glavin said...

p.s. . . .

And that among the nations of the world. Canada, with so many Tamil immigrants, is uniquely situated to make some better use of itself in this case.

5:51 PM  
Blogger puniselva said...

Sri Lankan conflict is an extremely convoluted conflict. The geography and the history of the island alone form a very vicious combination for nearly the worst form of ''internal colonialism''.

10:52 PM  
Blogger James O'Hearn said...


What's with all the love you're getting from the Nat Post these days?

And why isn't The Star or the Globe knocking on your door?

It's an odd world.

1:09 AM  
Blogger Terry Glavin said...


I have a wee essay in the pipe for the Globe, as it happens. I see I'm supposed to be a columnist for the Tyee as well. On the broader question, see previous post: Nick Cohen. Do Not Mess With.

1:25 AM  
Blogger CAPitalZ said...

Thank you very much indeed.

it could also be as "If the Tamils were Isrealis, would we be slow to help?"

Of course Tamils writing against Isrealis are really bad for Tamil's struggle, but if that's what was the issue, I bet, Isrealis doesn't even need to do protest. There would have been already economic sanctions and all ambassidor's pulled out.

I think Tamils need to show Conservatives that Tamils have some power when it comes to voting.

6:21 AM  
Blogger Voices in Exile said...

Thank you for this.

It means a lot.

7:49 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thought you might be interested in this piece written by a friend:
Lines Magazine
"Debating Tamil Politics and the Sri Lankan Humanitarian Situation in New York"
by Cenan Pirani

12:45 PM  
Blogger Terry Glavin said...

New Centrist:

Odd. I was just reading that.



2:09 PM  
Blogger Central Content Publisher said...

"[...] we are fortunate that the protestors have conducted themselves." - Terry Glavin

Certainly. Especially when compared with the last G20 protests. Yikes.

4:43 PM  
Blogger Sie.Kathieravealu said...

I am just pasting a comment given else where by me. PATIENCE IS OUR GREAT STRENGTH.

“Is the Canadian government trying to tell us that peaceful protests are NOT the way to go? Because that’s the message I got today in Ottawa… we’ve tried EVERYTHING, what else is there left for us to do???”

You will have to learn from the Muslims as to the way protests have to be carried IF they have to be noticed by the authorities concerned.

When Israel “invaded” Gaza recently, Muslims all over he world protested in such a way that all the countries took immediate action to stop the war in Gaza. Now these countries get alarmed and take immediate action on any issue even though it might be unjustifiable, if and when the Muslims say that they are going to protest.

Tamils are always law abiding citizens and that is their weakness and strength. It will take some time - might be a generation - to call the world to attention but ultimately the world will bow down with shame when their conscious starts to prick them on knowing and FEELING the TRUTH

Lives lost, Time lost but Patience wins with credit.

11:05 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

As a Canadian with Irish ancestry and being a catholic I do not agree with your premiss that the IRA represents the catholic people in Ireland. They may have started out as that but strayed from the ideal a long time ago. Before the peace that they currently have over there the IRA was just another terrorist group looking out for their own interests just like Al Quida or the Taliban. They bombed cafes restaurants town squares etc not caring about the innocents that got killed. The other side had the same thing going the other direction with Ian Paisley and his bunch of thugs. To me both sides back then where the equivalent of the Taliban abusing everyone and taking forced refuge in the homes around them.

12:00 AM  
Blogger bob said...

Terry, have you seen this:

9:54 AM  
Blogger Terry Glavin said...

Can't quite make out his complaint.

You said something mean about him? But you said something approving of someone named "Terry Gavlin"?

10:32 AM  
Blogger Tamilsvoice said...

thank you very much

10:05 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home