In the aftermath of the crushing of the LTTE by the armed forces of this country, the people of Sri Lanka firmly believed a genuine peaceful era had dawned, and the country would settle into a peaceful era which existed in the pre-JR Jayawardena era.
Sadly that was not to be, instead we watched in shock, shame and silence as all of a sudden, a hate campaign commenced against other minority groups in the country namely the Muslims and Christians. A number of Christian churches were desecrated, and the Muslim community came under attack. At that time there was a fear that these attacks could lead to a radicalisation of and among youth of the Muslim community. But the recent Easter Sunday attacks do not indicate this to be so.
But what is surprising in the Easter Sunday attacks, is that the Sri Lankan Christian community, which had always enjoyed friendly ties with the country’s Muslims was suddenly and viciously attacked. Again the attack on Colombo’s tourist hotels too was also unexpected as the Muslim community is dependent to a great extent on trade, and tourism plays a major role in the economics of the country. Moreover, tourists had never been targeted by Sri Lankan’s even during the LTTE’s reign of terror.
The only group attacking Christians and westerners on a major scale have been Middle Eastern fanatics - fathered by Saudi Arabian billionaire Osama bin Laden’s Al-Qaeda and its breakaway branch - the ISIS - who seem to be still locked in the middle ages mindset, where Christian crusaders backed by different Popes attacked the ‘Holy land’ - Middle Eastern countries to free them from the ‘yoke of Islamic rulers’. It was in this milieu, some members in Sri Lanka’s Muslim community appear to have thrown in their lot with the ISIS. And today the ISIS is attempting to spread its tentacles into our country via these disgruntled sections of the community.
The initial Islamic terrorist attacks in Europe were centrally planned and carried out by groups. They involved the use of bombs, the best example being the 9/11 attacks in the USA. However, most attacks since 2014 have been carried out by individuals using guns, swords and vehicles - like the March 22, 2017 ‘lone wolf’ attack in the UK where an Islamist terrorist drove a car into pedestrians on Westminster Bridge, killing four and injuring over 40 others. He then crashed his car into the fence of the Palace of Westminster, fatally stabbed an unarmed policeman before being shot dead by other officers. There is a need therefore, to to learn from the experience of countries already victim to ISIS terrorism. We need to act immediately against forces who break the law with impunity. We also need to intensify our intelligence services so-as-to be in a position to nip plans in the bud before for such attacks are activated.
In this respect, Sri Lanka has been fortunate. The members of the Muslim community proved they are against the terrorism. The community provided information which led to the discovery of the terrorist safe houses at Kalmunai and leading to the the elimination of the terror squad hiding there. They also provided information leading to the discovery of caches of weapons in Sammanthurai and prevented more acts of murder and mayhem. Let us not forget, terrorism has raised its head twice in the space of ten years, simply because we - Sri Lankans - cannot put aside self-created differences based on race, religion and ethnicity as well as our inability to accept each-other as equal citizens of this country.
As a country, we will be able to overcome this new wave of terror not by creating further differences between each other, or condemning those who hold divergent views to our own. It is only by accepting each other for whom we are, with all our collective differences and weaknesses, that we will be able to eliminate the scourge of terrorism whether it is home-grown or internationally inspired.
The state cannot afford to lower its guard. Belated claims it was not privy to information beggar the imagination. If persons in authority do not know what is happening around them, it is time these folk pack their bags and go home. The state needs to treat all sections of our populace as equals. It needs to get rid of the causes which keep our people apart.
In short, as a country, we have a lot of soul-searching to do. Let us not forget that within a short space of a decade, terrorism has twice struck our motherland, leading to widespread death and destruction.
If we are unable to prevent these evil acts, we will be living up to the description of our country in Bishop Reginald Heber’s obnoxious poem “From Greenland’s Icy Mountains”.
‘What though the spicy breezes
Blow soft o’er Ceylon’s isle;
Though every aspect pleases
And only man is vile...