The Tamil Diaspora in Norway

Life on the Outside: The Tamil Diaspora and Long Distance Nationalism by Øivind Fuglerud (1999).

Not a review of the book, just excerpts.  I found the book unbiased in my opinion.  The first chapters are a background of how the separatist movement evolved. The latter chapters are on the dynamics of the Tamil Diaspora in Norway.  The excerpts are from that part of of the book.

  • Link to the pdf of the book at end of post.
  • YouTube video of life in the Tundra at end of post.

Vasanthan, Thank you very much for sending the book link

Excerpts

A more radical change in climate and nature than that between Sri Lanka and Norway is difficult to imagine and if one is going directly the journey may be made in less than twelve hours. One Tamil lady explained to me how, arriving in the middle of winter with the snowdrifts high against the houses, she believed that people in this part of the world lived in underground caves

A refugee counsellor in the northern part of the country told me how a young Tamil boy due to be settled in the township where she worked had desperately clung on to the aeroplane steps, refusing to come with her into town. Seeing the barren, snow-covered environment he was convinced he was being banished to somewhere outside human habitation.

When he was moving to another town I asked Sri, a moderate LTTE supporter, how he would go about getting acquainted if he met a fellow countryman at his new working place. He answered: I will begin by asking him if he has any news from home, that is our standard opening. Then I will ask him what he thinks about this or that of the recent development in Sri Lanka. If I understand he supports the movement I may invite him home. If he criticises the Tigers but is basically neutral, we may keep on talking at work. I am not a fanatic, I don’t mind that. If I understand he is a member of one of the other groups, however, I will break off. I don’t want to socialise with traitors.

In dealing with fellow countrymen there is always the possibility that actions in Norway will have consequences in Sri Lanka. Tamil refugees are not fleeing a common enemy, the violence is within as much as on the outside. ‘They are here, don’t speak’, newcomers will be informed upon arrival. ‘LTTE is here, I cannot speak’

Even Wilson, a founding member of the LTTE who was permitted to leave the organisation after a dramatic escape from Batticaloa prison in the early 1980s, found that after finally obtaining a visitor’s visa for his mother she was being held back byhis former friends in Jaffna. ‘ Theyjust want to remind me that they know where I am’, he said to me. ‘They are afraid that after ten years in Norway I may be tempted to write a book or something.’ In fact, from 1990 this effort to execute control beyond their own borders has been institutionalised through a very strict exit control in the Tamil areas of Sri Lanka, which includes the obligatory signing of a ‘contract’ by a guarantor staying behind.

As already indicated, in Norway many Tamil refugees have in fact violated the ‘first-country’ regulation on their way. To remain in Norwaytheymust make up a storyand stick to it.

The idea that Tamils in exile tend to give each other away is part of the current self-understanding, a situation which prevents a communicative sharing of life histories. Most of my informants asked me not to tell their stories to other Tami

Another man asked me to take care of his passport when he was kicked out by his wife and had to staywith friends for some time. ‘You cannot trust Tamils when it comes to passports’, was his laconic comment

When the possibility of sending home Tamil asylum seekers came up for renewed
discussion in 1994, a frenzybroke out in one of the small northern settlements. It incited people to go to the police on their own initiative and provide what little information they had about their neighbours. Within a few days local immigration authorities were able to establish that, of the 120 Tamils resident in the village, more than 40 had been living in Switzerland before coming to Norway.

For example, it is a well-known fact among Tamils that in Norway the local LTTE people were for a number of years allowed to monopolise positions as interpreters for the immigration police.
That interaction between a police officer and a refugee in a situation of interrogation is on unequal terms, defined by the context and scale of Western immigration, is readily understandable. But when the refugee is afraid of telling his story to the police officer because of the interpreter’s connections to the militant opposition in Sri Lanka and this interpreter is employed by the Norwegian police, where do we draw the boundary of the system?


In terms of inter-personal relationships social fragmentation is not readily apparent to outsiders. To a Norwegian the first impression of Tamil life is one of dense sociality.

the divide among Tamils in Norway has been on an LTTE /anti-LTTE basis. LTTE is today the only militant group with a properly working organisation in Norway, keeping offices in the main cities and having more or less official representatives in most Tamil settlements.

Prabhakaran, lacking resources of his own, had temporarily joined the organisation TELO which was then under leadership of two militant leaders called Kuttimani and Thangathurai. Together with them he was supposed to have taken part in a famous armed robbery of the Neervely Bank in Jaffna. The second was that subsequently Prabhakaran had personally tipped off the Sri Lankan police on the whereabouts of Kuttimani and Thangathurai, this information leading to their arrest and, as a result of this arrest, their death in the Wellikade prison massacre.

On 1 May 1994 the writer and publisher, Sabaratnam, was killed by unidentified gunmen at his home in Paris

Critics of the LTTE in Norway pointed out to me that shortly before his death Sabaratnam had written an article in the Canadian magazine Thayagam. In this article Sabaratnam had observed that all who participated in the Neervely Bank robbery, except Prabhakaran himself, were now dead, killed either by the Sri Lankan authorities or by the LTTE. He implied that Prabhakaran saw it in his interest to remove the other participants in the action in order to conceal his own co-operation with TELO.
Sabaratnam had promised to return with another article disclosing the real story behind the robbery and the capture of Kuttimani and Thangathurai, but was killed before this could take place – allegedly by the LTTE itself. By the adherents of the Thayagam version, the killing of Sabaratnam and Prabhakaran’s betrayal in the late 1970s were seen as closely connected events which should make people turn their backs on LTTE activities in exile. Not only did Prabhakaran’s tip-off constitute a collaboration with the enemy, but the killing of Sabaratnam reached the lowest possible level of human baseness. It was claimedby people familiar with the early history of the militant movement that in the mid-1970s, years before the Neervely robbery, when Sabaratnam himself was a political activist in Jaffna, he had taken Prabhakaran into his house while he was wanted by the police and had kept him in hiding for several weeks, putting his own life in danger. Repaying this old debt with murder constituted a breach with the militants’ most fundamental ‘code of arms’ and, by implication, left his organisation, LTTE, without any legitimate claim for support.

Tamils are the group of immigrants with the highest rate of employment and with the lowest level of welfare support in Norway. One reason for this situation is the acceptance of the kind of work which is not in demand. In Oslo, according to a recent statistical survey (Djuve and Hagen 1995), only 1.3 per cent of Tamils’ income comes from welfare, as compared to, for instance, 41.7 per cen among Somalis and 37.5 per cent among Vietnamese. In fact, the Tamil level of welfare support is lower than among Norwegians (2 per cent).

In this rather inhospitable area Sri Lankan Tamils have won a reputation as workers in the factories where fish is cut and packed. Even if the numbers are small, seldom more than 50 to 100 in one village, statistics will show that in several villages Tamils represent 5 to 10 per cent of the total population

In the anthropological literature the dowry has generally been regarded as a pre-mortem inheritance to the daughters of a family (Comaroff 1980). In the prevailing war situation it is normally a chosen son who pre mortem inherits the realisable capital of the family and invests it in migration against taking further responsibility for his native family upon himself. This implies, inter alia, that he must procure his sisters’ dowries before establishing a family on his own.  (my comment: This is one of the biggest differences between Tamil and Sinhalese culture, among the Tamils (and northern muslims) the house goes to the daughters, among the Sinhalese the house goes to the son)


most Tamil asylum seekers arriving in the early 1980s had been granted recognition as refugees while those arriving after 1986 had not. In their understanding this was related to the fact that most of these early applicants had been active LTTE-members, in other words that Norwegian authorities intervene and take sides in internal conflicts, caring less about the killed than about the killers.

from people who have fled to get away from their dictatorship in Sri Lanka and have relatives still suffering under their rule there. It is here, at this precise point, that the spirit of selfsacrifice of the LTTE soldiers becomes important. The actual materiality of death makes it difficult not to believe the LTTE when they say that their fighters die on behalf of the Tamil nation. Even people who in public take upon themselves the burden of speaking against the LTTE may sometimes admit in private conversations that, emotionally, they are not able to free themselves from sympathy for the organisation and its cause.

In 1903, for example, there were 2021 Jaffna-Tamils employed as functionaries in the federated Malay States Railways compared to 84 Sinhalese, 278 Malays and 1084 Chinese (Ramasamy 1988).In 1903, for example, there were 2021 Jaffna-Tamils employed as functionaries in the federated Malay States Railways compared to 84 Sinhalese, 278 Malays and 1084 Chinese (Ramasamy 1988).

The main reasons why Ceylon Tamils were favoured by the British administrators were their recognised industriousness and their fluency in English. As noted in Chapter 2, at the turn of the century the Tamil community already had a long-standing relationship with English speaking missionaries. The acquiring of language proficiency was, however, not a passive process. Education was an asset seized upon by the ambitious, something that aspiring Jaffna families put their minds to without regard for the costs.

Migration to areas like British Malaya was clearly one way of ‘converting . English education into cash’. The Money Order remittances returned to Ceylon in a good year like 1918 totalled 736,652 Ceylon rupees from the Federated Malay States and 289,651 rupees from the Straits Settlements, quite substantial amounts at that time. The importance of these remittances was such that on two occasions, with a twentyseven years’ interval, the government agent in the Northern Province found it necessary to point out that it was the money coming from Malaya which accounted for the relative prosperity of Jaffna (Ceylon Administrative Report 1903 and 1930).

https://zodml.org/sites/default/files/%5BIvind_Fuglerud%2C_Oivind_Fuglerud%5D_Life_on_the_Outs.pdf

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American Caste (a)

Caucasian Intelligentsia

Some at Brown Pundits have expressed dismay at my using the phrase “caucasian intelligentsia”, maybe because they see this as a criticism of white people. To be clear I am not criticizing people of European ancestry or European influenced culture; but rather a very subtle, pernicious and dangerous colonization of the mind. Some caucasians and non caucasians are at the epicenter of this imperial oppressive hegemonic system. And many good caucasians and non caucasian are fighting against the caucasian intelligentsia. Malcom X and Ali ably describe this caucasian intelligentsia. They call this phenomenon the “white liberal.” Since many caucasian liberals fight against the caucasian intelligentia, I am uncomfortable with the term “white liberal.” I also do not completely agree every aspect of what Malcolm X and Ali say. With that caveat, please listen to the whole thing. the clip is only six minutes long. Some great quotes:

  • “The white liberals [caucasian intelligentsia] from both parties cross party lines to work together toward the same goal”
  • “The white liberal differs from the white conservative in only one way . . . the  liberal [caucasian intelligentsia] is more deceitful, more hypocritical than the conservative”
  • “Both want power but the white liberal [caucasian intelligentsia] is the one who has perfected the art of posing as the negroe’s friend and benefactor and by winning the friendship and support of the negroe the white liberal [caucasian intelligentsia] is able to use the negroe as a pawn or weapon”
  • Ali says that we should love our race and culture

Most but not all of the caucasian intelligentsia comes from post modernism. A sizable minority of the caucasian intelligentsia comes from other caucasian pathologies that can be elaborated on in another post. To massively oversimplify post modernism seeks to negate all metanarratives and universalist norms to observe the world as it truly is. In practice however, modern post modernists see the world through a very narrow incomplete, misleading and biased western ethnocentric filter. In practice they dispute the core of European Enlightenment liberalism and Eastern philosophy, three features of which are:

  • All humans are created equal and endowed with inalienable rights, including the right of life, liberty and pursuit of happiness (eastern philosophy conforms)
  • All humans have the right to freedom of art, speech and thought (eastern philosophy conforms but adds freedom of intuition and feeling)
  • All human beings are potentially powerful, potentially wise and sovereign (eastern philosophy conforms but adds “divine”)

Post modernists disagree with all of these, seeing them as tools of oppression, hegemony, exploitation, colonialism, imperialism, sectarianism, bigotry, prejudice, racism. Post modernists see free expression, liberty or the concept of everyone being potentially wise, powerful and sovereign; as potentially violent and potentially oppressive.

Post modernists are trying to damage the self confidence (Atma Vishwaasa in Sanskrit) of black Americans of African ancestry similar to what they did to former European colonies in Africa and Asia during the 1800s and 1900s. To quote from a previous Brown Pundit post:

Continue reading “American Caste (a)”

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On ethnicity


A really strange conversation on ethnicity broke out below. The primacy of lots of different variables was argued.

My family arrived in the USA ~1980 when there were not too many South Asians compared to today. Additionally, they have lived in major urban areas, small towns, and medium-sized cities. My parents grew up in (East) Pakistan, married and had their first children in Bangladesh, but have spent most of their lives now in the United States of America. Both speak English with a strong accent and are moderately religious Muslims. You wouldn’t call them secular, but neither are they visibly or ostentatiously Muslim. In American politics, they are staunch Democrats, while if they have an opinion on Bangladeshi politics they are Awami League (the ratio of discussion of American to Bangladesh politics in my family growing up was about 100 to 1 in favor the former).

Today my parents’ social circle, in a relatively large urban area, are Bangladeshis. Most of these people (almost all in fact) arrived in the United States much later than they did. But in the 1980s my parents had a much smaller pool of social acquaintances who were Bangladeshi. In the early 1980s, there were 15,000 Bangladeshis in New York City. Today there are probably closer to 200,000.

Here are some things I will observe in relation to my parents’ more diverse social circles in the 1980s. First, they were overwhelmingly South Asian. Those who were not South Asian were usually married in, and usually white. Second, a core group consisted of Bangladeshis. But the next group probably consisted by Indian Bengalis. A somewhat more established community. In fact, the boundary between Bangladeshis and Indian Bengalis were somewhat fluid. The two groups spoke the same language, and there was a large dietary overlap.

Next in order to the Indian Bengalis were a variety of other social clusters of South Asians that they met through various acquaintances and friends. For example, one cluster of friends consisted mostly of people from the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh, but with a large minority from other parts of India. Because there was ethnolinguistic diversity in this social group generally everyone spoke English, rather than Telugu, which was the most numerous language.

Another group consisted of people from Pakistan and Indian Muslims. This group also had some other token Bangladeshis. The unifying factor in this group was that all were South Asian Muslims. The de-unifying factor in this group is that the non-Bengalis would sometimes make the proactive case for Urdu as a unifying language, which my parents and the other Bengalis always objected to (because of their age, almost all the Bengalis in the group could follow the conversation in Urdu, since they grew up in Pakistan).

One issue in social circumstances with Pakistanis is that my parents found the food less palatable. This was a very important criterion for them for social interactions and a primary reason why sometimes they preferred going to parties thrown by their Hindu Bengali friends in preference to their Pakistan Muslim friends. By “less palatable”, I mean here that Pakistani cuisine was not “comfort food” for them.

My parents went to a multi-ethnic mosque several times a year. From what I could tell the South Asians kept to themselves, the Arabs kept to themselves, the Turks kept to themselves, etc. There was no real deep interaction. My parents never had any close Muslim friends who were not South Asian. In fact, we went to dinner with Chinese people (my father’s colleagues) more often than we went to dinner at a non-South Asian Muslim’s house.

That’s about it from me. Below are some genetic plots.

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