The Black Tiger the Nature of the Beast

There can be little doubt that the success of the attack on the Anuradhapura Air Base was due largely to the Black Tigers (the suicide commandos of the LTTE). Certainly other factors contributed such as the blunders of those defending the base, the euphoria created by the MahindaR regime that the Tigers had been defeated, the confusion in the GOSL policy towards the LTTE, the role of peaceniks and helakoti resulting from their neo-Sinhala thinking, etc. But the Black Tigers remain the trump card of the LTTE. One would, therefore, expect that those fighting the LTTE would have tried to understand the Black Tiger phenomenon. Unfortunately this has not been so. The article below by Tisaranee Gunasekara entitled "Tigers and Black Tigers" may be expected to deal with this question. But it fails in this, and the present essay seeks to give a correct analysis of this phenomenon. What little this article says about the Black Tigers is seriously flawed. Most of article deals with other matters relating to the A'pura attack that have been rehearsed many times by this writer and many others.

Tisaranee states some obvious factors behind the success of this attack (if it is indeed deemed a success). These include the 'disinformation' about victory over the LTTE which has boomeranged on the MahindaR regime, and that the worldwide revulsion against terrorism that has forced the LTTE to switch from attacking civilian targets to military ones. Some other factors responsible for the A'pura debacle were stated in the ACSLU analysis (Blog 7.55) of this attack. This included the reliance on high-tech (but extremely expensive) air assets when the emphasis should have been on ground based infantry actions simultaneously undertaken from a number of points around the LTTE controlled perimeter. We shall not deal with these political and military shortcomings here, and instead focus on the Black Tiger phenomenon.

Tisaranee gives contradictory explanations of the Black Tigers. Thus she says:

"Unlike the Islamic suicide bombers they engage in their bloody quest, not in expectation of any heavenly rewards in afterlife, but for a self-made God who, in reality, is an unprepossessing looking man. Their fanaticism therefore is of a different order than the fanaticism of a religious fighter."


Here while claiming that the Black Tigers are not religious she is also asserting that they believe in a 'self-made God', namely Prabhakaran (P). In fact she has often referred to P as the 'Sun God". This seems to indicate that there is a P-religion and it is this religion that motivates the Black Tiger. We know that the God of all theistic religion is an artificial man-made concept as there is no God or Allah. If so why cannot P consider himself as a God just as Jesus claimed divinity for himself as the 'Son of God'? We do not really know if P has created a true religion around himself to motivate his followers to die for his sake. Some people consider P to be a Christian himself, like many of the low-caste Tamils who were easily converted by the Christian missionaries because of the discrimination they suffered under the high-caste Tamils.

If the religion of the 21 Black Tigers who gave their lives in the attack on the A'pura base is analyzed I am sure many of them will turn out to be Christians rather than Hindus or P-worshippers. Christians believe that they will go to heaven (the Kingdom of Jesus) when they die simply because they have chosen Jesus as their saviour. Their theory of forgiveness is so comprehensive that they can commit any crime and still receive the mercy of their Christian God. This many of the LTTE terrorists, like their Islamic counterparts, may be motivated by their religion. But we do not know how much of the Christian factor enters into their training. It has been noted that many black tigers wear the cross along with the cyanide capsule around their necks. The autopsy on the 21 tigers has not revealed how many of them had been shot to death by the army and how many actually suicided. (It is surprising why some of them were not captured alive as their interrogation would have yielded significant information).

If religion is not the real explanation for the Black Tiger phenomenon the answer may well be sought in the power of racism. History has shown that racial or ethnic identity has been the cause of many wars, and many acts of genocide and mass killing. In the pursuit of racist goals people can be induced to sacrifice their lives and become martyrs. In fact dedication to ones race or ethnicity may be as powerful a motive as dedication to one's religion. Religions have often splintered on ethnic-racial-national lines and some of the most fanatical fighting has occurred between such religio-ethnic groups, e.g. between Catholics and Protestants, or between the Sunni and Shi'a.

In Sri Lanka it is not only P. who is using racism to further his fundamental goal of self-aggrandizement. But it is P. who, more than anyone else, has carried the racist demand to the extreme. It is a paradox that those who oppose P. tend to find the solution to the political problem in Sri Lanka cannot think except in racist terms. This comes from the notion of ethnic devolution which is simply the legitimized racism.

The origins of racism in SL go back to the Portuguese encounter in the sixteenth century. The classical Sinhalese were non-racist, as also were the early Tamils like Elāra. Later on Chola invaders might have introduced some racism but little is known on how they organized their internal rule in SL before they were chased away. So we cannot come to a definite conclusion that the Tamils were racist even at that juncture in the Island's history. The Portuguese came to Sri Lanka from a Europe that was racked by racial, religious and nationalist conflict. It is therefore natural that they should think in those terms.  Many Sinhalas and Tamils mistakenly thought that it was their racism and religiosity that gave them their military and technical superiority. So they began to apply this to their own race and ethnicity. It is thus that some of the leaders of the Sinhalas became neo-Sinhalas, the leading examples being Don Juan Dharmapala in the low country and Konappu Bandara in the up country. This new strain of Sinhala took a long time to gestate and existed as a minor subculture during the whole of the colonial period. It was only after independence that it came into the open as Helas (see ACSLU Glossary) and carried out their Great Hela Revolution in the 1950s.

The emergence of racism amongst the Tamils is a more complicated. In the ancient period there was no overt racism even though the Tamils came as invaders. The growth of racism amongst Tamils was also the product of their colonial experience. This was particularly true of the British period when the serious economic development of the country began. Several factors endeared the Tamils more than the Sinhalese to the British. As a minority the British could rely on them more, and of course the policy of divide-and-rule had been a long established principle in colonial empires. The Tamils adopted Christianity to a greater degree than the Jesuhelas. The result was that the Christian missionaries established more schools in the Tamil areas than in the Sinhala areas. This provided the British administration with a large supply of educated and technically qualified Tamils to service their economic endeavors. (Later even Indian Tamils were imported to work the tea estates.) This was to lead to the rise of a feeling of superiority amongst the Tamils. When independence became neigh the Tamils sought special protection for themselves with demands like 'fifty-fifty' and federalism. It is to the credit of the British that they rejected these demands and gave independence on the democratic principle of one-person-one-vote with no concession to racial criteria. This led to dissatisfaction on the part of both Sinhalese, who felt that their pre-colonial position had been denied them, and the Tamils who felt that their privileges under the colonial dispensation were not protected. From this point onwards Sinhala and Tamil politics diverged from each other. The Hela revolution of 1956 enlarged this rift and the stage was set for racial confrontation.

It was left to Prabhakaran and his LTTE to take Tamil racism to a new height (or depth!). Already the Federal Party which later became the TULF had pioneered anti-Sinhala sentiment. This was reciprocated by a pro-Sinhala sentiment by short-sighted Hela politicians who did not understand that the democratic system imposed obligations as well as rights on the majority. But with the LTTE what was previously a disenchantment was turned into racial hatred. The Black Tigers are the extreme product of this racism. As we have seen there was a strong Christian element in the rise of Black Tiger racism. The Black Tigers represent the marriage of the Christian ethos with the increasingly virulent Tamil racism. Some Hindu Tamils were still nurtured in the old non-racist Tamil sentiment, but their influence gradually declined and the LTTE was able to command the loyalty of a majority of the militant Tamils. This may have declined somewhat as the megalomaniac tendencies of the LTTE leader became increasingly dominant. The result has been the break in the monolithic unity of the racially minded Tamils. But the ideology of the breakaway Tamils, like Karuna or the EPRLF, is no different from that of the mainstream LTTE.

To find a non-racist solution to the Sri Lankan problem we have to look carefully at what racism means. In Australia, the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission (HREOC) defined racism as "an ideology that gives expression to myths about other racial and ethnic groups, that devalues and renders inferior those groups, that reflects and is perpetuated by deeply rooted historical, social, cultural and power inequalities in society". This definition neatly sums up not only the classic features of Tamil racism but also the less virulent position of extremist Helas. Both these groups are beset with a myth about their rivals. This is not to say that all Tamils and Sinhalese are under these perceptions but it would appear that the political leaders, especially on the Tamil side, are motivated by their racist perceptions. If the Helas have become somewhat less aggressive in this regard this is more due to their failure to defeat LTTE terrorism in 25 years, and because of the existence of a greater number of traitors on their side than on that of the Tamils.

HREOC also states: "Racism is destructive. It disempowers people by devaluing their identity. It destroys community cohesion and creates divisions in society. It is the opposite of the democratic principle of equality and the right of all people to be treated fairly." The real clue to how to fight racism, and therefore the Tamil homeland demand, is given in the last sentence. This is the affirmation of the democratic principle that all people should be treated fairly and equally without any reference to their race, ethnic origin or religion. Unfortunately all the remedies that are suggested for the SL problem do not emphasize the humanist principle that it is the individual that must count, not his or her race or other ethnic attribute.

A contrary position is advocated by all the peaceniks and others who advocate ethnic devolution and the sharing of power. Thus Tisaranee says: "If the Lankan state is manifestly willing to share power with the minorities at the periphery, if there are no unseen and impassable barriers to a non-Sinhalese reaching the pinnacle of political power at the centre, the need for Eelam may look less urgent and overwhelming." If Eelaam succeeds then all positions in Eelaam, including the pinnacle of power, will be held by Tamils. After all it is called "Tamil Eelaam" for nothing. But this does not guarantee that all Tamils in Eelaam will be treated equally or fairly. And of course there will no place at all for non-Tamils. The same result will follow substantially if ethnic devolution is given for Tamils in whatever unit of devolution that is adopted. Devolution and 'power sharing' is not the antidote to racism it is in fact a form of racism itself. And if racism is given quarter in whatever way the extreme of racism represented by the Black Tiger is not far off.

The real answer lies in the  ACSLU Resolution to the SL problem which gives a non-racist solution that will preserve both the unitary state the ensure the true essence of democracy.


Tigers and Black Tigers

By Tisaranee Gunasekara

Asian Tribune: 2007-10-28

"Madness is the purest, most total form of qui pro quo; it takes the false for the true, death for life, man for woman, the beloved for Erinnys and the victim for Minos". Foucault (Madness and Civilisation)

If the devastating Black Tiger attack on the Saliyapura Air Force camp serves to wake us from our hubris-induced slumber of complacency, the LTTE would have done us a favour. The shocking security lapses which enabled the spectacular success of that attack stemmed from our unclear and unreal thinking. We thought the war was as good as won; we thought the Tiger's back and his resolve were broken. Disinformation is a staple fare in wars; its target is usually the enemy. In Sri Lanka the regime ends up by believing its own disinformation. The result is a false sense of safety and wellbeing. With an enemy as resourceful as the LTTE this is a dangerous state to be in.

The Saliyapura camp fell for the same reason Mr. Wickremesinghe's Peace Process failed the fatal inability to understand the LTTE. It is an inability that is common to both peaceniks and Sinhala supremacists. The Tiger and its self-deified leader cannot be understood without understanding the Black Tigers. As long as Vellupillai Pirapaharan is alive the LTTE cannot be appeased, even with the most generous federal solution (such a solution is necessary for the Tamil people). As long as the Black Tigers exist to play the role of force multiplier in critical situations, the LTTE cannot be defeated, let alone marginalised.

Mindless devotion is a hallmark of the Tiger; it is the be all and end all of the Black Tiger. The Black Tigers killing machines; they are fanatics, 'dispossessed of what is specifically human' (Foucault), from reason to mercy. Unlike the Islamic suicide bombers they engage in their bloody quest, not in expectation of any heavenly rewards in afterlife, but for a self-made God who, in reality, is an unprepossessing looking man. Their fanaticism therefore is of a different order than the fanaticism of a religious fighter. The Japanese Kamikaze pilots were motivated by veneration for their Emperor, who was seen as God incarnate, a linear descendent of the Sun Goddess. However that was a myth and an institution which had existed for centuries; believing in that myth and venerating that institution was integral part of Japanese ontology. The Black Tiger phenomenon is thus incomparable. While the Black Tigers are fanatics to the point of animality, they are also committed, courageous and efficient, beyond the bounds of humanity. This totality needs to be comprehended rather than parts of it.

Same Tiger; New Tactics

The essential nature of the enemy can remain unchanged while his modus operandi undergoes a radical transformation. As long as Velupillai Pirapaharan is alive the Tigers will remain an anti-civilisational entity more akin to the Nazis and the Khmer Rouge than the IRA or the ANC. However a drastic change can take place in the tactics they use to achieve their eternal goal. We need to understand these new tactics, if we are to face them successfully. As an American officer, Lt. Col. Paul Yingling pointed out in a controversial and celebrated essay, "The most tragic error a general can make is to assume without much reflection that wars of the future will look much like wars of the past" (Armed Forces Journal).

The Anuradhapura attack is symbolic of this new turn. It was carried out in the main by 22 Black Tiger cadres, including 3 women; the two Tiger planes seemed to have performed a purely supportive role. The Black Tigers' ritual pre-attack photograph with the God-Leader was released to the media before the attack was over a chilly reminder that Mr. Pirapaharan's godhead rests on voluntary human sacrifices and the Tiger gains strength by devouring its young. This use of a large group of suicide cadres to carry out an attack on a key military target demonstrates that the LTTE's essential nature is constant and that Vellupillai Pirapaharan, like Adolf Hitler, epitomises 'suicide and murder', "for himself, for his people and for the world" (The Rebel Albert Camus).

This perennial LTTE has changed its modus operandi. As the Saliyapura attack demonstrates, the LTTE retains the capacity to target civilian installations in the South. After all, a half of the suicide cadres deployed in the Saliyapura attack could have created bloody mayhem in Colombo or in the sacred city of Anuradhapura. The Tigers are refraining from attacking civilian targets not because they have become less terroristic or less barbaric but because they want and need, desperately an image improvement, internationally. And the unfailing path to an image improvement would be to avoid attacks on civilian targets. This in no way means that the Tigers will never attack civilian targets; it merely means that they will put up a civilised front, until they regain some of their lost international legitimacy. The Tiger is doing what the Wolf did, donning grandmother's nightdress, nightcap and glasses, to dupe the unwary Red Riding Hood.

Currently the international situation is non-conducive to the LTTE. The West is cracking down on Tiger operatives, blocking them from collecting money and purchasing new weapons and technologies. This tough line has helped us immensely in the undeclared Fourth Eelam War. The LTTE, because it is hurt by these restrictions, would want to see them removed or relaxed. With this objective in mind the Tigers seem to be acting with greater precaution, with more attention to political factors. They are picking their targets carefully and refraining from the kind of conduct which can earn them more international odium. The international illegitimacy of the Tigers is not a function of their separatism but their terrorism. What sticks in the collective gullet of the international community is not so much the Eelam demand but the use of child soldiers and the deliberate targeting of civilians. By covering up for the child proscription activities of our necessary ally, the TMVP, we have managed to get the Tigers a bit off the hook on the war crime of using child combatants. If the LTTE can refrain from attacking civilians for a considerable period, the basic precondition for re-legitimisation can be created.

A recent statement by Hilary Clinton, who is likely to be the next US President, is of significance in this context: "I believe terrorism is a tool that has been utilised throughout history to achieve certain objectives. The bottom line is you can't lump all terrorists together. And I think we've got to do a much better job of clarifying what are the motivations, the raisons d'Ãà’ƒÆ’Ãà’‚ªtre of terrorists. I mean what the Tamil Tigers are fighting for in Sri Lanka, or the Basque separatists in Spain or the insurgents in al-Anbar province may only be connected by tactics. I think one of our mistakes has been painting with such a broad brush (The Guardian 23.10.2007 my emphasis). The 'painting with a broad brush' is a function of President Bush's 'global war against terrorism'. His successor, even if it happens to be a Republican, is unlikely to continue with this line. Under a Democratic President (especially under a President Hilary Rodham Clinton), the US will revert to its old policy of distinguishing between 'good terrorists' and 'bad terrorists'. This obviously is what the Tigers are aiming at to be a good terrorist, like the Kosovo Liberation Army, vis-Ãà’ƒÆ’Ãà’‚ -vis which Bill Clinton played Fairy Godfather. It is not for nothing that the LTTE invoked the example of Kosovo in its recent letter to the UN Sessions. (It is to be hoped that the Rajapakse administration would not react to this statement by getting its more unsavoury members to heap invective on Hilary Clinton, who will Remember, if she becomes the President).

Being rude to foreign visitors or attacking the abysmal human rights record of the Americans may give us a momentary satisfaction. But beyond the immediate term, it can only help our enemies. It would avail us little if we win the polemical war at the cost of the politico-military one. The bottom line is we cannot afford to behave like brutes, criminals and boors as we did in the aftermath of the Saliyapura attack: "Sri Lankan authorities stripped the bodies of Tamil Tiger guerrillas killed in an attack on a key military air base and put them on public display, local residents said" (AFP 23.10.2007). This is an act of petty vindictiveness which shames every one of us, all the more because it was committed in the crucible of ancient Sinhala civilisation, in the very city where King Dutugemunu set an example to all posterity of how members of a great civilisation treat their fallen enemies. Predictably the Tiger media is giving the widest publicity to this incident. Minister Rambukwella has promised an investigation; the authorities need to punish those guilty of this barbaric act, to reclaim our honour as a nation. If we fail to do so, we will only help substantiate the burden of the song Vellupillai Pirapaharan is likely to sing on his Birthday the Sinhala Buddhists are barbarians who are intent on dominating and humiliating the Tamils.

Looking to the Future

In the aftermath of the LTTE's attack on the Saliyapura airbase, we can fall into two opposing errors. One is to dismiss the attack as the last roar of a dying Tiger; the other is to attribute invincibility to the LTTE. The Tiger is not invincible; but he is not a paper Tiger either. Despite its recent setbacks, the LTTE still retains a hardcore of committed and efficient cadre. Though this is insufficient for the Tigers to defeat the Lankan Forces on the battlefield, it is more than sufficient to keep the war going until we find it unsustainable. Given our stratospheric defence expenditure, the far from healthy economy, wanton corruption and wastage and the overburdened populace, that breaking point can come sooner than many of us fear.

The timing of the Yala and Saliyapura attacks cannot be accidental. They happened at the onset of the tourist season. With most countries removing or relaxing their travel warnings, the tourist industry was looking forward to a new boom. A regenerated tourist sector would have helped the economy to regain some of its lost bounce. Given the slowdown in the construction sector, the economy is badly in need of a high growth sector and tourism could have filled this role. Not now. With the Tigers displaying their capacity to bring the war to us, including to the nerve centres of the tourist industry, the expected pick up is unlikely to materialise. Mr. Pirapaharan's aim could be our financial and political asphyxiation. The fate of the Soviet Union offers some lessons to us. The pressure brought upon a weak economy by sky rocketing military expenditure (both the final arms race and the war in Afghanistan took a heavy toll on the USSR) metamorphosed the crisis in the Soviet system into a systemic crisis. History is replete with examples of major and minor powers which fell because they became structural over-spenders.

As the Saliyapura attack demonstrated, Mr. Pirapaharan's greatest assets are his suicide cadres. Men and women who are willing to kill themselves for a (non-religious) belief are unlikely to be discouraged by the thought of defeat, because defeat would not destroy their faith. What is needed is to create a sense of doubt, of uncertainty about the need for an Eelam and by extension of the Eelam war. If the Lankan state is manifestly willing to share power with the minorities at the periphery, if there are no unseen and impassable barriers to a non-Sinhalese reaching the pinnacle of political power at the centre, the need for Eelam may look less urgent and overwhelming. Even if we cannot induce most of the existing Black Tigers to abandon their destructive vocation we will be able to impede Mr. Pirapaharan from creating another generation of human killing machines.