May 1, 2009

Ice World

The numbers are in: 6,432 civilians dead, 13,946 wounded in the last three months. The UN report on Sri Lanka is shocking. A war that has killed 70,000 people has tacked on another 6,000 under the nose of the international community.

In a world of constant threats, the small island nation hasn’t flown under the radar; it has been completely ignored. Sri Lanka is out of the geopolitical orbit. Compared to hot spots like Palestine, Georgia, Kashmir and Somalia, Sri Lanka’s war is an inconvenience, a distraction from the Middle East and Africa.

American officials can be forgiven for having higher priorities, as can the world. Ignorance of Sri Lanka stems from the island itself - it has negligible influence beyond its borders, with no real connection to the rest of the world. Whether the Tamils overrun the island or the government crushes them all, the world will remain unchanged.

The world is dominated by self-interest. It cannot be denied in the individual or in the state. There is nothing wrong with self-interest because it appears to be as natural as water and fire. Without people caring about themselves, often above anything else, the world may not be able to function.

Humans need to be self-interested, which is why the world is often biased.

As much can be learned from what is spotlighted as from what isn’t. When Hezbollah and Israel went to war in July 2006, the world flew into an outrage, defending both sides with polarizing vigor. The war started on July 12th and by July 16th, America was fully engaged with the internationally community until the ceasefire. American officials constantly visited the region.

War in South Ossetia broke out August 8th, 2008; White House officials called for a ceasefire that day. Five days later, President Bush, with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Defense Secretary Robert Gates at his side, denounced Russian escalation. Soon after the war ended, Rice gave a press conference in Tbilisi with Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili.

Both these events took the global media by storm as journalists flocked to the battlefields. Then, invaded by YouTube and Twitter, the war in Gaza took war reporting to a new level despite a media ban. The swiftness of information was matched by international fury; the UN called for a ceasefire on December 28th, 2008, one day after Operation Cast Lead was launched. Worldwide protests became routine and turned violent.

Meanwhile, war in Sri Lanka had been waged for months with no fanfare. If the UN is close to accurate, civilian deaths outweigh those in Lebanon, Gaza, and Georgia combined, with room for Pakistan’s estimated 2,155 civilian casualties in 2008. Kashmir recorded only 89 political victims last year.

Sri Lanka’s war is internal instead of international, but this difference is superficial. Two states aren’t involved, but two ethnicities at war is something the world gets involved with, or at least thinks it should.

The UN has dipped its hands into Sri Lanka, just not as deep as other conflicts. The UN Security Council has made several calls for a ceasefire, but only after months of fighting. When the Sri Lankan army began attacking Kilinochchi, the Tamil Tiger’s capital, on November 23rd, 2008, the UN and America had no immediate reaction.

America decided not to take a lead role in resolving the conflict, calling for the Tamil Tigers to lay down their arms on January 2nd, 2009. The State Department didn’t rushed to Colombo and President Obama has deferred to officials for comment. In February, the conflict still escalating, America released a joint statement with the EU calling for a ceasefire. The war continued unabated.

Media coverage and world reaction has been correspondingly weak. Somali pirates saw more face time than Sri Lankans ever will. Aside from isolated protests in states with large Tamil diaspora, like Britain, the war has passed by without incident. That is, until the death toll was released and shamed the world. Sri Lanka is finally news.

But the hour has passed. Minimal response has proven that Sri Lanka means the nothing. No terrorist threat to America or world peace will emerge from Sri Lanka. No narcotics trade threatens the fabric of American or European society. No resources are at stake and no allies will be lost. No ideological struggle exists between East and West. Besides the piling corpses, there is no reason to care about Sri Lanka.

Reality can freeze the heart, but truth isn’t supposed to be hot or cold, right or wrong. It is simply supposed to be.

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