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The Ethnic Conflict Research Digest

1999, Vol. 2 No. 2 .

Life on the Outside: The Tamil Diaspora and Long Distance Nationalism
Oivind Fuglerud

(London: Pluto Press, 1999)

With increased displacement and refugee flows since the end of the Cold War, research on transnational identities by anthropologists have proliferated. About 40 countries have produced 25-30 million asylum seekers or refugees. But empirically grounded studies on radicalised Diaspora supporting nationalist, separatist and irredenist movements are few. Among the most notable are: Andrew J. Wilson's Irish America and the Ulster Conflict (1968-1995) (Belfast: Blackstaff Press, 1995) and Darshan Singh Tatla's The Sikh Diaspora: The Search for Statehood (London: UCL Press, 1999) and the current work by Fuglerud. Diaspora's supporting insurgent networks engaged in international propaganda, fund raising, procurement are extremely difficult to research. Often, the level of secrecy between the insurgent-Diaspora nexus determines the success of the ethnic project either to create autonomy, independence or reunification. Other than the current study by Fuglerud, there is only one other study on the radicalised Tamil Diaspora in the open literature. Although the author does not refer to Christopher McDowell, in many ways, the current study forms a companion volume or a sequel to A Tamil Asylum Diaspora: Sri Lankan Migration, Settlement and Politics in Switzerland (Oxford, Berghahn, 1996) 208pp.

The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam draws support from politicised segments of its 850,000 strong world-wide Tamil Diaspora to politically and militarily campaign for a mono-ethnic state in Sri Lanka. Fuglerud's study, based on extensive fieldwork both in Norway and Sri Lanka, draws from his valuable experience as a Norwegian immigration official and a NGO worker. Fuglerud, currently senior researcher, Centre for Development, University of Norway, examines the Sri Lankan Diaspora production, formation and development through several theoretical frameworks: migration, globalization and identity politics.

After discussing the dynamics of the Tamil community and the conflict, Fuglerud's study assesses the difficulties the Sri Lankan and host states have of reintegrating the Diaspora into the parent community. The author confides that his initial belief - that it was 'necessary and possible' (p. 19) for governments to access refugee claims in order to provide to those who need it most - was shattered by his findings. As with every major study, Fuglerud's work is not without flaws. As most researchers are emotionally influenced by the community they study, Fuglerud too develops an emotional attachment and sits on judgement of the 'other' community. 'There is no doubt that the main responsibility for the political catastrophe which Sri Lanka is must be put on the shoulders of opportunistic and short-sighted political leaders on the Sinhalese side.' (p. 31) The inherent vulnerability of sympathy by both foreign and native researchers to their subjects, can be minimised by conducting comparative research say between the Tamil Diaspora in Norway and another Scandinavian country or between the Tamil and Kurdish Diasporas in Norway. In context, Alexander George's Structured Focus Comparison Method would have enhanced the value of such a study. Other than this flaw, Fuglerud's work demonstrates hardwork, sound analysis and a high level of integrity.

On Diaspora nationalism, which the author terms 'long distance nationalism' or 'exile nationalism', the Fuglerud study is a prototype for any anthropology or political scientist working on politicised-radicalised Diaspora. Although Life of the Outside is his first book, the access and incisive analysis Fuglerud brings to his craft promises much greater works in the future.

Rohan Gunaratna
University of St Andrews

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