On the edges of large nature preserves in India, farmers and fishermen often protect themselves from wild tigers by wearing a false face mask on the rear of their heads. Tigers like to attack from behind, and this two-faced look evidently confuses them.
When it comes to thwarting an equally deadly sort of tiger, Ottawa has its own two-faced approach. We are full and active partners with other nations in dealing with al-Qaeda and its jihadist ilk, yet have a sunnier face when it comes to the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), a violent insurgent group that is fighting to create an independent Tamil homeland in Sri Lanka. While other Western nations have properly designated the LTTE a terrorist group, we have not.
Despite the shaky February, 2002, ceasefire between the LTTE and the Sri Lankan government, the Tigers remain a group to fear. It is the only terrorist group to kill two national leaders (Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and Sri Lanka`s President Premadasa). The group also pioneered the use of suicide bombings, perpetrating more such attacks during the 1990s than all other terrorist groups combined.
To support its soldiers and terrorists, the LTTE has built up a global criminal structure combining heroin trafficking, passport forging and people smuggling -- all facilitated by a sophisticated network of numbered companies. The acme of the group`s skills is reflected in the 1997 hijacking of a shipment of 32,400 Tanzanian-produced mortar bombs destined for the Sri Lankan Army. The vessel chartered to carry the shipment had disguised its LTTE ownership. In the end, the Sri Lankan Army got its mortar bombs one Tiger-fired salvo at a time.
But what really makes the LTTE unique is its use of overseas communities of Sri Lankan Tamils to finance its operations. Regrettably, Canada`s Tamil population has been critical to this Tiger strategy.
The exploitation of `Diaspora` populations by insurgents and mobsters is an old story, of course. Fenians arrived in Canada in the wake of the Potato Famine, for instance. And anti-Tito Croats arrived as refugees in the 1960s. What makes the Tigers different is that they deliberately created an offshore support structure in the West, rather than co-opting an existing Diaspora.
Many terrorist groups go through an evolutionary process, whereby they first dabble in organized crime to finance their operations, and then eventually morph into a full-blown crime syndicate. (The Chinese Triads, for example, began as secret societies that opposed the Manchu Dynasty.) The LTTE, on the other hand, embraced organized crime from the start. Their leader, Vellupillai Prabhakaran, was originally a Kappan -- an extortion collector -- in the Sri Lankan underworld. He has applied these same skills to shake down Tamil communities all over the world.
In the early 1970s, the LTTE was little more than a Tamil street gang. But Prabhakaran was ambitious, and he found he had a penchant for terror no less than crime.
Like other terrorists, he advanced his cause by creating a cycle of action and reaction, using atrocities to goad authorities into brutal counterattacks.
In 1983, the Tigers` killing of 15 Sri Lankan soldiers in an ambush triggered an anti-Tamil rampage by government troops, and a vicious bout of mob violence inside the capital, Colombo. When it seized on such events to cast the nation into full-fledged civil war, the LTTE was able to draw financing from criminal enterprises than had been in existence for years.
First in Britain in 1983 and then elsewhere in Western Europe, expatriate Tamils were subjected to an involuntary `war tax.` Monthly payments were usually around $30 per household.
Inside Sri Lanka, the events of 1983 resulted in the internal displacement of about 500,000 Tamils. The Tigers forced many of these refugees, including children, to become combatants. But many others were systematically sent overseas so that they might fill the movement`s coffers with their `donations.`
Thanks to its liberal refugee policies, Canada proved a popular destination for these people. As a result, there are now about 200,000 to 250,000 Tamils here. (Our 2001 Census identified only 92,100 people who spoke Tamil as their mother tongue. Part of the discrepancy is likely due to the Tigers` proficiency in manufacturing counterfeit passports and people smuggling.)
Terrorist groups have little tolerance for dissenting opinions that emanate from the people they claim to represent. And so, notwithstanding Canada`s promise of free expression, Tamil immigrants who`ve opposed the Tigers` agenda and heavy-handed collection efforts have been subject to arson, beatings and shootings. Non-Tamil critics of the LTTE (such as this writer) have been subjected to more pedestrian forms of harassment.
As well, many Tamils arriving in Canada have found that cultural and community life is controlled by Tiger front organizations. Due to our multiculturalism-obsessed government`s wilful blindness, many of these same groups receive funding from Ottawa for immigrant settlement services, Tamil language media, cultural activities, housing and so on.
Seeking to ingratiate themselves with Tamil voters, Canadian politicians -- from city councillors all the way up to federal Cabinet ministers -- have turned a blind eye to Tamil terrorist connections. In 2000, two Liberal Cabinet members -- including then-Finance Minister Paul Martin -- attended a fund-raising event for a group identified by the U.S. State Department as a front for the Tigers. When the opposition questioned the pair about the event in Parliament, the Liberal response was to smear the questioners as racists.
The LTTE and their fronts are recognized as terrorists by the UN Security Council, by the United States, and by a number of Western European nations. The Canadian government, on the other hand, has argued that treating the Tigers as terrorists would somehow damage the peace process in Sri Lanka. But in fact, the real reason for the Canadian government`s continuing two-faced approach is that Tamils are concentrated in urban, Liberal-friendly ridings. Ottawa would apparently prefer to turn a blind eye than risk Tamil votes.
The ceasefire in Sri Lanka is wearing thin, especially in the aftermath of the December Tsunami. The LTTE has used the opportunity to stockpile arms, recruit more children, and squirrel away supplies. Before the Tigers re-ignite the war, Ottawa should drop its second face.
At issue is a group that has killed thousands over the years, and done much of that killing with money from Canada. It is a disgrace that our government has not had the courage to list the Tigers as a terrorist group under our anti-terror laws.
It is time for the government to put politics aside and act on principle. A battered and weary Sri Lanka, not to mention tens of thousands of ordinary Canadian Tamils, would be extremely thankful.
John Thompson is president of the Mackenzie Institute, a Toronto-based research group focused on organized violence and political instability. [John Thompson - National Post] Full article at: