Life As A Weapon: Tamil Tigers and Jihadists

Michael Roberts:  A recent invitation to present a Zoom Lecture from Dr. Geethika Dharmasinghe of Colgate University in USA found me stumbling upon one of my unpublished Notes from yesteryear: a “Note” which seems worthy of resuscitation for public consumption now with suitable illustrations added.

Young LTTE recruits receive their kuppi (cyanide capsule) as final award at a passing out ceremony filmed by the BBC in Jaffna in 1991 …. One of the LTTE officers at this ceremony was the Australian Adele Balasingham, who told he BBC team that “the cyanide capsule has come to symbolise a sense of self-sacrifice by cadres of the movement, their determination, their commitment to the cause and, ultimately, of course, their courage.”

Apropos of the misleading interpretations of suicide attacks by Western commentators such as the political scientist, Robert Pape, it is important to note that the act of suicide was initially adopted by the LTTE as a defensive tool to protect the organisation from the leaking of information after capture. It was also a mark of their dedication to the Tamil liberation cause and thus a method of drawing popular admiration. It was not till 5 July 1987 that it was deployed as a low cost precision weapon when Miller (a nom de guerre) drove a truck bomb into an SL Army encampment at Nelliyadi. This was but one instance of uyirayutham — life as weapon.

Pirapaharan pays homage to Miller one 5th July to honour his act of using his life as a bombing weapon

As training was formalised, like all armies the LTTE had a passing out ceremony for their soldiers and sailors. The induction of a batch of female fighters is graphically depicted in a BBC documentary filmed in the LTTE territories in 1991 where one sees/hears them chant in unison in response to their female commander’s initial prompt:

“Our revolutionary organisation’s purified aim

is for a free society to achieve Tamil Eelam

My life and soul and all this I sacrifice to

our organisation’s leader, our brother, Mr Prabhakaran

We fully accept that for him we will be very faithful and trustworthy

The aim of the Tigers – Tamils’ freedom.”

Though this oath has been presented in articles elsewhere it is buried within lengthy texts so it is reproduced here as a means of introducing readers to the important BBC documentary entitled “Suicide Killers.”

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A poster presenting a pantheon of LTTE heroes (in my possession after Col Ramesh gifted it to me at Kilinochchi in late November 2004)


As further supplement, see this list of articles from my pen where the details of the LTTE’s dedication to cause and their organisational capacities are described; together with others that address Islamic fervour, hate speech, rumour-mongering and ethnic bigotry.

* “The Agony and Ecstasy of a Pogrom: Southern Lanka, July 1983” Nēthra, April-Sept 2003, 6: 199-213… RE-VISITED in

* “Cricketing Fervour and Islamic Fervour: Marginalisation in the Diaspora,” The International Journal of the History of Sport, 2004, vol. 21, pp. 650-663 …. ….

* “Tamil Tiger “Martyrs”: Regenerating Divine Potency?” Studies in Conflict & Terrorism, 2005, vol. 28, pp. 493-514.

* “Saivite Symbols, Sacrifice, and Tamil Tiger Rites,” Social Analysis, 2005, vol. 49, pp. 67-93.

* “Pragmatic Action and Enchanted Worlds: A Black Tiger Rite of Commemoration,” Social Analysis, 2006, vol. 50, pp. 73-102…. Also posted on 13 May 2013 at

* “Tamil Tigers: Sacrificial Symbolism and ‘Dead Body Politics’,”Anthropology Today, 2008, vol 24, pp. 22-23.

* “Suicide Missions as Witnessing: Expansions, Contrasts,” Studies in Conflict & Terrorism, 2007, vol 30, pp. 857-887.

* “Suicidal Political Action. III,” April 2009,

* “Tamil Tigers and Their Practices of Homage,” 15 December 2009,

* “Understanding Zealotry,” 13 March 2010,  AND

* “Encountering Extremism: Biographical Tracks and Twists,” 6 March 2010,

* “Killing Rajiv Gandhi: Dhanu’s Metamorphosis in Death?” South Asian History and Culture, 2010, vol. 1, pp. 25-41…. ALSO as abstract in

*   “Hitler, Nationalism, Sacrifice: Koenigsberg and Beyond … Towards the Tamil Tigers,” 19 March 2010, AND

* “Studying Collective Consciousness over Time in Sri Lanka: Questions for Post-Orientalism, Part II,” 21 March 2012,

* “Emotion and the Person in Nationalist Studies,” 21 May 2012,

* “Marakkala Kolahālaya: Mentalities directing the Pogrom of 1915,” 13 March 2013,

* “From Godse and Gandhi to the Selfless Sacrifice of Tamil Tigers,” 13 June 2014,

* “Running the Gauntlet in Academia: The Case of ‘Selfless Sacrifice’ — A Rejected Article,” 15 June 2014,

* “Encompassing Empowerment in Ritual, War & Assassination: Tantric Principles in Tamil Tiger Instrumentalities,” Social Analysis, 2014, Vol. 58, pp.88-106.


Robert A. Pape: ‘The Strategic Logic of Suicide Terrorism,  American Political Science Review, Vol.97, pp”. 343-61.

Robert A. Pape: Dying to Win: The Strategic Logic of Suicide Bombing, Random House.

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One response to “Life As A Weapon: Tamil Tigers and Jihadists

  1. Sach iSr iKantha

    Hello Michael, greetings. Your introductory sentence, ‘misleading interpretation of suicide attacks by Western commentators such as the political scientist, Robert Pape’ captured my attention. I should know, because I was one of the main contributors on Black Tiger literature in Tamil, to Prof. Pape’s database, somewhere around 2004.

    While pointing fingers at academic hustlers like Prof. Pape, you yourself makes misleading interpretation. Your title of this brief commentary begins with ‘Life as a weapon’ and ends with ‘and Jihadists’. Where is your comparison, in the text between Tamil Tigers and Jihadists, other than the final bit of the final sentence that ends with ‘…with others that address Islamic fervour, hate speech, rumour-mongering and ethnic bigotry.”
    You don’t even mention the word ‘jihadists or jihadism’ in the commentary.

    Now, here is a reference to Jihadism in the wikipedia, that states,
    “… militant Islamic movements that are perceived as existentially threatening to the West’ and ‘rooted in political Islam.’ [source:

    And, mark the phrase ‘existentially threatening to the West’ please. My question is, did any of the Western politicians or political pundits who forced a tag on LTTE as ‘a foreign terrorist organization’ consider that LTTE was (is) a threat to the Western political thoughts?

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