To Sri Lankans the events of April 21, 2019, commonly referred to as the ‘Easter Sunday massacre’, or the ‘4/11 of Sri Lanka’, is deeply etched into our hearts and minds. In the short space of two hours, over 300 persons lost their lives and around 500 others were seriously injured via the machinations of a group of terrorists, claiming affiliation to the Islamic faith.
Since then, the terrible incidents have hogged headlines world-wide, and Sri Lanka is in the news once again, for all the wrong reasons.
A group of misguided, brain-washed members of the Muslim community of this country, joining hands with an international band of terrorists claiming to follow the teachings of Prophet Mohamed, savagely killed innocent Christians in Churches and tourists at breakfast in hotels. Words cannot describe the pain, shock, anger and trauma of the families of the dead and the injured as well as ordinary Sri Lankans.
The rising tide of public anger against the perpetrators of this heinous crime is understandable. Feelings are exacerbated; especially in the light of the fact that Sri Lanka is only just emerging out of a trauma of a long-drawn civil war which ended a scarce decade ago.
The fact is the suicide bombers were all Sri Lankans from the Muslim community made the situation worse. Sadly, the cause behind the indefensible attack was not some crime visited on the Muslim community by Sri Lankans, but rather, blindly following the diktat of an international terrorist organisation led by Abu Bakr al-Bagdadhi, leader of the now militarily-defeated Islamic State (IS).
The worst fallout of the day’s terrible action has been that, the entire Muslim community is now being tarred by the actions of a motley group of Sri Lankan Muslims numbering less than a single percentage point of the community. The overt reaction against the Muslim community in the country has been muted, save for a few isolated incidents, and this is good. But below the surface, people are beginning to be afraid to interact with members of the Muslim community.
Householders refuse to rent their homes to the Muslim community. Commuters are refusing taxis and vehicles driven by Muslims. Muslim shop owners have been asked to remove their wares from places which they used to store them etc... and this is bad.
Overreaction to the the dreadful events which overtook the country must be avoided at all costs. The Muslim community must not be made to feel isolated. We need to help them realise they are an integral part of the Sri Lankan community. Failure to do so, would drive them into the arms of the terrorists
We, Sri Lankans have past experience of the result of emotions getting the better of sober reflection. Meeting non-violent protests organised by members of the Tamil community in the mid-1950s against perceived grievances, gave birth to one of the world’s most dreaded terrorist groups (the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam) and snow-balled into the commencement of a 30-year ethnic war in the 1980s, and it led to disunity in the country along ethnic lines. Ultimately over a hundred thousand Lankans from all communities lost their lives, many more were injured, homes and businesses were destroyed and the country was devastated.
Unfortunately, even today -- nearly a decade after the war was brought to an end with the military defeat of the terrorists -- the wounds left by the war have not still healed, with the Tamil community’s grievances still unresolved.
What should be clear to us today is that alienation of particular sections of the community will not help solve our problems. Militarily crushing of opponents does not help resolve societal issues. Rather, it leads to triumphalism on the part of the victor, humiliation of the defeated and a festering of unresolved problems.
We need to help the Muslim community understand that just as the entire Sinhalese community was not responsible for the depraved acts of the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) led by the late Rohana Wijeweera, and all Tamils not responsible for the dastardly terror unleashed by Veluppillai Prabhakaran and his cohorts of the LTTE, we as Sri Lankans do not hold the entire Muslim community responsible for the hatred unleashed by less than a hundred individuals who unfortunately belonged to their community.
The Muslim community too needs to stop heightening differences between themselves and the community at large. Rather they need to engage. Hate only begot hate. The sermon preached by the leader of Sri Lanka’s Catholic community, Archbishop Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith (the community most affected by the Easter Sunday bombing), using the words of Christ at his Crucifixion “Father forgive them, for they know not what they did...” paves the best way forward.
This does not mean we drop our vigilance against the perpetrators of terror, but we should make clear we do not hold whole communities responsible for the crimes of a few bigoted individuals.