Sri Lankan Civil War

The Sri Lankan Civil War has been in the news a lot lately, especially here in Toronto where a large number of Tamil people have been protesting daily, calling on the Canadian government and the UN to intervene. It's hard to know what to make of the situation since accurate information is very scarce and both sides have their share of atrocities. Yet the situation in Sri Lanka serves as a reminder of the balancing act we have here in Canada, where there is a sizable minority of people who want to make their own country by carving their province out. The situation in Sri Lanka is roughly the same as if the FLQ had been more effective in their initial attempts to start a civil war in Quebec.

It's very interesting to note that there are linguistic aspects to both our struggle and the one in Sri Lanka. On Language Log there is a post describing this history. It's a very interesting article. To summarize it, when Sri Lanka was under the control of the British, the civil service was run in English. American missionaries had been very successful in teaching Tamil youth English, and thus the Tamil were a big part of the civil service; only about a quarter of the people are Tamil but half the civil service was Tamil. After Sri Lanka gained its independence in 1948 there was call to change the official language of the civil service to a local language. Initially it was intended to be Sinhala and Tamil, together, but Sinhalese nationalists, assisted by numerous lay Buddhists and activist Buddhist monks, organized emotive and impressive processions demanding a Sinhala-only policy. They called Tamils parasites, said that Sinhalese and Buddhism were under threat by the Tamils, and demanded a Sinhalese-only state. The result was the passage of the Sinhala-Only Act of 1956. The Tamil responded by protesting; the protesters were attacked by Sinhala protesters, and riots ensued. Over the years, the situation further deteriorated, and even attempts to elevate the Tamil language's status in the 70s and 80s didn't solve the problem.

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