Tuesday, May 12, 2009

How not to advocate on behalf of the oppressed

As a follow up to my blog post of yesterday, I would encourage you to read Christie Blatchford’s commentary entitled “Whose rights are really being trampled?” in today’s Globe and Mail where she asks:

Are the Tamils merely exercising their rights or have they somehow breached the covenant, unwritten but understood, they have or ought to have made with their new country?

Many Torontonians have long been puzzled by how without any public discussion they remember, let alone any consensus, their city has become home to so many folks from around the world who periodically hold the rest of the place hostage while they make their voices heard about the very issues or crises that drove them here in the first place.

I know already that some readers will argue that Tamils are Canadian, too, and of course they are, but I have to say this was not terribly in evidence Sunday night on the Gardiner Expressway for the now-notorious occupation.

At one point, standing at the front line where the Toronto Police were but two or three feet from the protesters at their feet - infants, toddlers and women for the most part - I looked out upon the crowd and counted a single Canadian flag and 29 of the large, red flags of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, the separatist Tamil organization deemed a terrorist group by dozens of countries, including the United States, Australia, the nations of the European Union and, oh yes, this one, too.

I couldn't begin to count the number of tiny, red paper flags or the Tiger T-shirts I saw, though I did note that one of the chants had the person at the megaphone yelling, "Tamil Tigers!" and the crowd answering, "Freedom Fighters!" This struck me as not very respectful of the Canadian Parliament and the elected representatives who decided, in their wisdom, to put the Tigers on the terror watch list.

Blatchford’s commentary addresses some of the same issues that I did yesterday. Is this a legitimate expression of civil disobedience if no one really knows what they are asking us to do or if little to no public discussion has taken place prior to the protests. To just yell out, “Canada must do something!” without answering the obvious question, “What?” is to invite the rejection of one’s cause, such as that which the Tamils feel is evident in Canada and elsewhere. And is it any wonder that the feds don’t want to talk to the protestors when they show such blatant disrespect for our government by flying the flag of a terrorist organization? 

I would suggest that the only ones whom the Tamils can blame for the lack of public sympathy for their cause is themselves.  For advocates around the world, like The Voice of the Martyrs, this has been an education in how not to do it.

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