Over the past week I have been posting pictures and commentary from a road trip through Sri Lanka. I have posted pictures of Colombo, Anuradhapura, Jaffna and Trincomalee, as well as a few pictures I took along the way. But my pictures have received both comment and criticism, both on Twitter and through a direct comment on this site. While I understand where this criticism is coming from, I feel I should respond.

Here is what Ken wrote:

Hey Josh,

The world of ‘humanitarians’ has finally woken up to the actual extent of violence unleashed on the Tamil civilians in sri lanka and are promoting a boycott of sri lanka as a tourist destination.

It’s bad enough that you have visited sri lanka but please try not to promote war crime tourism. I am well aware of the lankan ways of gifting those who promote their version of ‘truth’. But ultimately we are all answerable to God’s version of truth. Hope you will do the right thing.

Regards.

Ken

PS: I am an impartial observer.

 

So, to address Ken, for starters I have Sri Lankan heritage, I previously lived in Sri Lanka, I visit the country frequently, and I have lots of family in the country. In other words, I am not an ordinary tourist. This is my country too. As a result of this connection I am keenly aware of the atrocities committed both by and against the Tamil people, and have been for some time. Ken is right to highlight the violence unleashed on the Tamil civilians (not least that which was unleashed by the LTTE themselves), but an impartial observer of Sri Lanka has to admit that there are really no innocent parties here. All sides have done wrong. Yes we can argue about degrees, and yes it is possible to make the point that democratic governments should be held to a higher standard than terrorist groups, but if this country wants to heal and take a step forward to some extent they need to put the past behind them. And whatever you may think about who did what to whom, a tourist boycott is not going to help anyone.

Much of the north and east are finally opening up. As time passes and more tourists (both domestic and foreign) begin to arrive, the north is seeing improvements in roads, sanitation, and power supplies (etc.). Hotels are being built, as are the tourist related activities (like tours and shops), and in Tamil dominated areas (like the North and East) it is the Tamils themselves who will see the benefit of these jobs and development. More money means more jobs, better schools, better quality of life, and a better hope for the future. Tourism also brings more attention to affected areas, which in turn will bring more assistance to the Tamil people from the outside (e.g. countries like Australia and the United Kingdom are currently building lots of houses for Sri Lankan IDP’s). None of this is bad for Tamils, but is exactly what will stop if a tourist boycott is enacted. Yes, a tourist boycott will hurt the Sinhalese, but it will also hurt the very people who you seek to protect.

Just as an aside, I received this Tweet by Sandy Vadi that I feel I should share. It is a picture of a camp of people still internally displaced from the war. I have been posting pictures of how beautiful Sri Lanka is, and how wonderful it’s history is, but there are still many thousands of people reeling from it’s recent civil war.