By ARNOLD A. AUGUSTE
It is understandable that members of the local Tamil community are dispirited at news of the defeat, by government forces, of the Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka. In spite of what many have said – that their concern was only for the sick and dying in their country – they did in fact see the Tigers as their defenders, their heroes. And much of the motivation for the demonstration was, in fact, to help build pressure to end the fighting so that the lives, not only of civilians, but also the remaining Tigers, could be spared.
Over the past few months, as the demonstrations grew more intrusive, blocking important roads and highways around the city, much has been said, both in support and opposition – but mostly in opposition – to the local Tamil community and their protests.
A lot of the comments – and, especially, what has been written to local newspapers, judging from the writings of some columnists – have been nothing short of pure racism.
In fact, the Toronto Sun’s senior associate editor, Lorrie Goldstein, called it as such after, as he wrote in a recent column, he had read some of the hundreds of emails the paper received from Torontonians.
Actually, his column itself stirred a bit of a debate as letter writers – and fellow columnists – jumped to defend the rants against the Tamils, not as racism, but as frustration.
One columnist who was very blunt in his assessment of the situation and the means authorities should use to rid the city of Tamil protests that inconvenienced motorists – and it was mostly motorists who were inconvenienced as roads were blocked – was Peter Worthington, also a Sun columnist (and former editor). He suggested that the police could use water hoses to get the Tamils off the streets.
“Toronto should never have let Tamil protesters screw up city streets. The answer is not for police to wade into protesters with batons, but perhaps to use water to disperse them. We don’t have water cannons as some police find necessary, nor do we use rubber bullets. But we do have fire engines and water hoses, and these might be persuasive instruments to deter protesters who block streets.”
And this is from a man who is one of the strongest supporters of Canada’s involvement in the war in Afghanistan, which is constantly being sold to us as a way of helping the people of that country. Go figure.
Another helpful suggestion from Worthington was that the Tamils should be more like the Tibetan-Canadians who protest China’s continued occupation of their homeland.
“It’s instructive to compare Tamil protests with, say, the protests of local Tibetan-Canadians against China’s continuing oppression and brutality in their homeland.
“Tibetans take their lead from the Dalai Lama, whose deportment, decency and goodness have made him, arguably, the world’s most revered symbol.”
And, where has that gotten them? How much do we know about their cause and their issues?
In fact, the Tamils did protest quietly for months. The only time most of us took notice of them, however, was when they got in our way and in our faces.
Maybe the Tibetans should take some pointers from the Tamils, especially the youth. It was amazing to see them on television – some in their early teens – standing up and speaking out for their cause. They should bring that passion into our political arena.
As far as the question of racism goes, we will take Goldstein’s word for it. If he felt that the correspondence his paper received was filled with racist slurs against Tamils, that is what it was.
While the Tamil protests might have inconvenienced some, they served to draw our attention to their cause and their issues. Now, we – and the rest of the world – are a lot more aware of what has been going on in that country for almost three decades.
With the end of the war – if it is indeed the end – the Sinhalese government must know that the world will be watching to see how it treats its Tamil minority.