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The Ethnic Conflict Research Digest

2000, Vol. 3 No. 1 .


Conflict and Community in Contemporary Sri Lanka: 'Pearl of the East' or 'Island of Tears'?
Siri Gamage & I.B. Watson (eds),

(New Delhi, London, Thousand Oaks: Sage, 1999)
368pp. Hb.:29.99; ISBN 0-7619-9393-2



This is a worthy but somewhat loosely thematically linked collection of essays on the genesis and susbsequent trajectory of the ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka. The papers have their origins in a conference held in 1995, which were later published in the journal South Asia in 1997 and have finally appeared in book form at the end of 1999. The shortcomings of the time-lag involved is all too obvious in that although the conflict has escalated considerably since the election of Chandrika Kumaratunga as President in 1994, little of this is evident from reading the book. In their rather brief introduction, the editors also freely admit that minimal effort was taken to update the most of the papers to reflect more recent events. However, several of the chapters have distinct merits, including those by Purnaka L. De Silva on 'The Growth of Tamil Paramilitary Nationalisms' in response to Sinhala chauvinism; Rohan Gunaratna on the 'Internationalisation of the Tamil Conflict' and its propagation by the global diaspora; and Margaret Trawick on the 'Reasons for Violence', which provides an ethnographic account of the development of the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). Special mention should be made of the paper by V.Nithiyanandam on 'From Non-News to Stale News', which cogently explores why, despite the exponential increase in violence seen in the Sri Lankan civil war, the western media has grown tired of reporting such events, except when assassinations of top politicians or generals occur, or bombs blast the hotels in Colombo where journalists and tourists stay. This title is essentially an uneven collection of conference papers, which will appeal more to the South Asian specialist than the undergraduate student who is seeking an up-to-date, comprehensive, explanatory and analytical account of the conflict.


Alan Bullion
The Open University




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