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Book Explores Separatist Conflict in Sri Lanka

December 18, 2008 – In her latest book, The Separatist Conflict in Sri Lanka: Terrorism, Ethnicity, Political Economy (Routledge 2009), Georgetown University government professor Asoka Bandarage provides a detailed and historical analysis of the evolution of Sri Lanka’s civil conflict over efforts to establish separate states in its northern and eastern provinces.

The conflict between the Sri Lankan government and the secessionist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) is one of the world’s longest-running contemporary armed struggles according to Bandarage, who teaches in the conflict resolution program at Georgetown. Known to have introduced suicide bombing to the world, the internationally banned LTTE is considered the prototype of modern terrorism and recently became the first terrorist organization ever to acquire air power.

Describing Sri Lanka as a “resplendent island at the southern tip of India,” Bandarage explains that it is the oldest electoral democracy in Asia and one of the first developing countries in the world to promote free universal health care and education. She notes that Sri Lanka had the highest score among South Asian countries on the United Nations’ 2007 human development index.

“Yet, in recent decades Sri Lanka has become home to one of the world’s most intractable wars and the longest-running conflict in Asia,” writes Bandarage, an associate professor specializing in comparative politics and South Asia. “The armed struggle between the Sri Lankan government and the secessionist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam has turned Sri Lanka into one of the most dangerous places on earth.”

Bandarage’s book broadens the discourse on the separatist conflict in Sri Lanka by moving beyond the familiar bipolar Sinhala versus Tamil ethnic antagonism to show how the form and content of ethnicity are shaped by historical social forces. Her multipolar analysis takes into account diverse ethnic groups, intraethnic, social class, caste and other variables at the local, regional and international levels.

“The ‘iron law of ethnicity’ – the assumption that cultural difference inevitably leads to conflict – has been reinforced by the 9/11 attacks and conflicts like the one in Sri Lanka,” Bandarage writes. “However, the connections among ethnic difference, conflict and terrorism are not automatic.”

“Dr. Bandarage's wide-ranging analysis of the separatist conflict in Sri Lanka demonstrates the complex historical and contextual roots of the ongoing power struggle, but it also suggests that no easy solutions are emerging through globalization processes,” says Fathali Moghaddam, director of the conflict resolution program at Georgetown University. “Globalization is raising the applicability of universal human rights principles in Sri Lanka and other conflicts around the world, but globalization is also resulting in more outside factors interfering in local conflicts – with consequences that are not always positive.”



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