There’s been an incident. That’s the polite way of putting it. New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern described it as a ‘terrorist attack’ while Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said one of the suspected attackers, who was born in Australia was ‘an extremist right-wing violent terrorist’.
The incident we are talking about saw over 40 people killed and more than 24 seriously wounded in shootings at two mosques in Christchurch.
First and foremost, we are as horror-stricken as Ms. Ardern. We grieve, as do the near and dear of the victims. We are shocked, as are the people of New Zealand. We stand with them in their grief and fear and we shall stand with them in their resistance to such acts of terrorism.
We applaud Ms. Ardern for calling a spade a spade, not least of all because her counterparts in other parts of the world, especially Europe and North America have hesitated to do so when the perpetrators happened to look like the majority communities of the relevant countries. Even the words terrorism and terrorist were used only as afterthoughts, usually when it became impossible to defend any other descriptives.
It has been reported that members of the visiting Bangladeshi cricket team had been praying at one of these mosques. This brings to mind two terrorist attacks that people in New Zealand, especially cricket lovers, might remember.
On November 15, 1992 around 8.00 am the New Zealand cricket team, touring Sri Lanka at the time, woke up to the sound of a deafening blast. Ken Rutherford’s breakfast tray, which he had placed on his bed, ended up on the floor.
An LTTE suicide bomber on a motorbike had rammed a car carrying Sri Lanka’s Navy Commander, Clancy Fernando, directly outside the team’s hotel. Four people including the bomber died. Half the New Zealand team decided to pack their bags and return home.
It was not the first terrorist attack to interfere with international cricket in Sri Lanka.
Five years before, the LTTE exploded a huge bomb just 400m from the team hotel, destroying the Pettah bus stand and killing nearly 200 people. The bus stand was on the team’s bus route to the hotel. They had missed the bomb by just a few minutes.
Four years later, Australia and the West Indies teams competing in the Cricket World Cup opted to forfeit their matches against Sri Lanka, fearing terrorist attacks.
So we understand. We recognize. We sympathize. It was, after all, ‘our daily bread’ for thirty years. We understand, recognize and sympathize, and for this reason we will not call for a boycott of New Zealand ‘for security reasons’ when it comes to sporting events. As people in New Zealand might know, especially those who love cricket, the Sri Lankan cricket team was directly targeted by terrorists in Pakistan a few years ago and it was also the Sri Lankan team that first returned to Pakistan. We understand. We realize. We sympathize.
We hope this is a first and a last as well. We thought so when the Mayor of Jaffna, Alfred Duraiyappah was assassinated in 1975. Our hopes were shattered and in fact would be buried for 34 years.
If this is the beginning of such an unfolding, New Zealand would realize (as many other countries are beginning to realize) that such ‘incidents’ are ‘popups’ erupting from sources that are not satisfied with one eruption and indeed have what it takes for repetition and enhancement.
We know how that happened. We fought terrorism. We prevailed. We paid a huge cost in the process. We are vilified for freeing the country from that menace. We would not wish such an eventuality on any nation, not even those whose governments don’t seem to have had enough of casting Sri Lanka as the villain of the piece in the sordid history.
If laws are amended or ignored to enable effective engagement with terrorism, you would run the risk of annoying the human rights brigades who will harass you at every turn in relevant international forums. If it transpires that you’ve defeated such outfits militarily, you run the risk of being black-balled and insulted for decades thereafter. Pariah status could very well await you.
It was certainly a dark day for New Zealand. We hope it is the darkest day and that there would be no repetition in the days and years to come. It could very well be otherwise. It is prudent to resist the urge to be naive and innocent about terrorists.
We understand. We realize. We sympathize. We empathize.