What can Assyrians Learn from the Tamil Protests in Toronto?

If you live in Toronto or Canada, you have most likely heard and seen it all. If you haven’t, let me fill you in. For the last few months, thousands of ethnic Tamils have been protesting in the streets of downtown Toronto, trying to bring public and government attention to their people’s suffering in the homeland at the hands of the Sri Lankan government.

And as the fighting between the Tamil Tigers (considered a terrorist organization and outlawed by Canada) and the Sri Lankan government has intensified, so have the protests and the number of protesters. And as of May 10 on Mothers’ Day, it is now starting to take a dangerous turn, almost literally.

On May 10th, thousands of protesters unexpectedly took over the Gardiner Express Highway (one of Canada’s busiest highways), and in the process bringing traffic to a complete stop. Worse, and having been staged on mothers’ day, hundreds of drivers were cut off from their destination and families. And as if storming a highway wasn’t bad enough, those who stormed the highway used their infant babies and females as human shields.

Should Assyrians go this far? While we lack both the numbers and passion that the Tamils have, we can certainly learn a lot from them.  Although we have staged many protests in the past, all around the world-and some attracted large numbers-I don’t recall or know of any that was truly as captivating as those of the Canadian Tamils.

On one hand, such loud and popular protests do bring a lot of attention from both the people and government, and in some rare cases action too. In the case of the Canadian and Ontario governments, they have agreed to raise the issue at the UN and send money and aid supplies to the people effected by the war. But you got to be loud enough and with an ‘in-your-face’ approach to achieve some goal and bring a desired change. Do Assyrians have what it takes to stage similar thunderous protests?

But this could also backlash as we saw with the recent Tamil protests.

To protest peacefully is one thing, but to protest by storming a major highway and bringing traffic to a halt, is a whole different story. By doing this, you are crossing a very critical thrash hold beyond which people lose any sympathy they may have had for you. In other words, you risk alienating people more than you can gain their support.

The key is to strike a balance between the two. While Assyrians have the right to protest just like any other group, and even more deservingly so, given the suffering of Assyrians in Iraq, they have to carefully examine the Tamil example. A lot can be learnt from it. While public order and law should always be respected and abided by, Assyrians should be smart enough to know how to grab enough attention while still doing it within the boundaries of the local order and by-laws.

Endurance and persistence pays off at the end. Although, and as I write this article, the Sri Lankan army has finally been able to defeat the Tamil Tigers- a war that has gone on for 26 years- it doesn’t mean the Tamil protests didn’t accomplish anything. They certainly have, at least for raising public awareness to the plight and suffering of the Tamil people in Sri Lanka. Doesn’t that sound familiar to you with our own Assyrian situation and people in Iraq?

In this day in age, wars are rarely fought in a real battlefield. It is all about the media and political lobbying powers and suppprt you have. Assyrians should take a note of that.


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