Pic by Pradeep Pathirana
Questions will keep racing through everyone’s minds. Why Sri Lanka? Why now? Why churches and hotels? Why was Sri Lanka targeted and why was it done?
Our harrowing history of war, conflict and polarisation, is again on the knife edge and may take a tragic turn.
Memories of bombings and deaths, attacks on Churches, Mosques and Temples from the past will be rekindled. And those that feed on the politics of polarisation will be emboldened.
The horror of these Easter attacks, the deaths and injuries, the trauma and fear will shape our future. But we also have a great challenge before us to turn our grief into a future of co-existence.
Each of us will have a story of this Easter Sunday. Where we were and what we were doing when all hell seemed to break loose. For the Christian community, recalling the preparations, the lent season into Easter, followed by the destructive disruption will be unnerving. The shock of the Easter attacks has traumatised a community in the midst of their worship of celebrating life.
In my home in Jaffna, we awaited the arrival of the Anglican Priest to give communion to my mother who has dementia and restricted mobility following multiple strokes.
As we waited for the priest to arrive, the news of the attacks came with phone calls from all over the country and abroad.
My mother, who could hardly communicate or walk, attempted to stand up and greet the priest. The significance of the priest’s arrival, of receiving communion, was so deeply ingrained in my mother. After the short service, the conversation turned to the tragedy. Each narrated his or her experiences of fear and loss, the July 1983 riots, violence and so on.
- Immediately arrest the politics of division
On Good Friday, two days before Easter, I was at a meeting at the Green Mosque in the Moor Street area in Jaffna. Friends from the Tamil-Muslim Relations Forum, whom I have worked with over the last seven years, sat with a few of us to discuss their challenges with resettlement. The process of return and resettlement has been frustrating and continues to be so for this community even thirty years after their eviction from the north.
The Muslim community leaders we met with were clear. They spoke of blocks in the resettlement process and an uncooperative administration. They had been abandoned by successive Governments and deceived by promises of politicians. But on one matter they were unwavering; they were confident of their friendships with ordinary Tamils and were certain they could rebuild relations with the Tamil community.
However, the undercurrents of anti-Muslim rhetoric, the lack of broader initiatives from the Tamil community to ensure the return of the Jaffna Muslims and rebuild a plural Jaffna, worried me as I left the meeting.
After the short service, the conversation turned to the tragedy. Each narrated his or her experiences of fear and loss, the July 1983 riots
Polarisation and co-existence
As news reports emerge that some so-called Islamic elements were involved in the Easter attacks, I wonder how we will come together to address the festering polarisation?
The young priest, as he prepared to leave our home after providing my mother communion, was thinking of the days ahead. Phone calls came to cancel all services and Christian gatherings over the next couple of days.
The priest was clear and determined in his thoughts. Those who attack do not see the suffering of those who have been killed and maimed, this has been our history, the politics of division, which has torn our country apart, he said.
The priest’s message was important. The Christian clergy, religious leaders, teachers, community leaders and opinion makers must resolve that we will not let these politics of division overtake us.
As our hearts go out to those whose loved ones have been killed, as well as those injured, devastated and traumatised by these horrible attacks, we must reach out to the Muslim communities that now live in fear of a backlash.
We need to do so immediately to arrest the politics of division and reaffirm our commitment to co-existence.
- Reaffirm commitment to co-existence