Innovators in Terrorism: Sri Lanka's Tamil Tigers - Mid-Pacific Institute

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Innovators in Terrorism: Sri Lanka's Tamil Tigers

IB Global Politics students explore security using a case study approach

Posted on April 6, 2017 by Scot Allen

By Natasha Schultz

On February 6, 2017, all IB Global Politics students visited the Asia Pacific Center for Security Studies (APCSS) for a briefing of the center and a lecture by Shyam Tekwani, one of their faculty members. APCSS is a US Department of Defense institute that educates, empowers, and connects security practitioners from the Asia Pacific region. Deputy Director James Hirai welcomed the students, explained the center's mission and programs, and encouraged these future leaders to grapple with security challenges, particularly those illustrated by Sri Lanka's 26-year conflict with the Tamil Tigers.

Professor Tekwani provided a fascinating overview of the conflict from his experiences as the only photojournalist to be embedded with the Tamil Tigers, also known as the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, over the course of the conflict. He helped students understand how the oppression and marginalization of the Tamil minority by the Sinhalese government, a continuation of racial tensions stoked by the British during their occupation, ultimately led to civil war in 1983. He highlighted the role of the media, which the Tiger's supreme leader, Velupillai Prabhakaran, skillfully used to garner international sympathy and support for the Tamil cause. He also explained how Prabhakaran usurped the Tamil's struggle for sovereignty with his insatiable hunger for power.

Prabhakaran eventually achieved a de facto state for the Tamil people; nonetheless, it lacked the legitimacy needed to fully achieve his life goal. When the end came, his downfall was swift. However, the grievances that originally sparked the conflict have yet to be resolved. Professor Tekwani's stories brought history to life, as he peeled back the layers of complexity within the conflict.

This case study provides ample connections to the IB Global Politics curriculum. One focus is on peace and conflict. We discussed the situation that led to and sustained the conflict, the role of third parties and the international community, and the failure to create the conditions for lasting peace. It also asks us to consider the connections between sovereignty, legitimacy, and inequality. Another core unit, development, is relevant to this case. Sri Lanka was once considered a model for development in the region, yet its progress was quickly undone when the country's foundation was destroyed by war.

The Tamil Tigers are widely considered to be one of the most brutal, organized, and innovative terrorist organizations the world has ever seen, and their tactics have been commonly copied by their contemporary counterparts. Students discussed the role of globalization in the current war on terror and the extent to which this case study can be used to help us better understand and defeat groups like ISIS and Al Qaeda.

The students benefitted tremendously by engaging with this chapter from history. They will continue to contend with the lessons this case offers and consider the decisions all of the stakeholders made when faced with no easy options. They were fortunate to catch a glimpse of the narrative through Professor Tekwani's eyewitness accounts.


Professor Shyam Tekwani shares his expertise on the Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka.


APCSS Deputy Director Brig. Gen. (ret.) James Hirai presents a photo of the visit to Professor Tekwani's son Karan and one of the Mid-Pacific teachers.