- It is the State’s duty to bring all those behind the Easter Sunday attacks to justice
- United States’ invasion of Iraq was a major turning point in the bomber’s views
April 21, 2019 will be remembered as one of our darkest of days. The deadly, near simultaneous suicide attacks that ripped through churches and hotels in Sri Lanka snatching 253 precious lives and injuring 521 individuals thrust virtually the entire country into lock-down mode. As heart-wrenching scenes of a most cruel carnage were telecast live, Sri Lankans were left in utter shock, horror and despair as they tried to make sense of a most senseless carnage.
That three of the attacks were on churches on Easter Sunday, a day of worship and celebrations for Christians across the world made it immediately clear who the targets were. But answers to the burning questions – who carried out these despicable acts of extreme violence and why – took longer to gain clarity. When the shocking details later came to light, it both enraged and shattered the spirits of all peace-loving Sri Lankans, including those from the community the suspected perpetrators were identified with.
Suicide bombing is not a new phenomenon to Sri Lanka. During the 26-year long armed conflict, the country witnessed several terrorist attacks including suicide missions undertaken by home-grown terrorists. What was different this time is that responsibility for the attacks was not claimed by a local terrorist organization, but by an international one: the self-proclaimed ‘Islamic State’ which operated primarily from Iraq and Syria but has been nearly annihilated.
This group which calls itself the ISIS more appropriately referred to as Da’ish, has committed horrendous acts of terrorism causing mass civilian casualties in many parts of the world. It is probably Islam’s greatest enemy, and Muslims have borne the brunt of their violent attacks. Da’ish has carried out terror attacks in Istanbul, Dhaka, Baghdad and even in three locations across Saudi Arabia including Al-Masjidan-Nabawi, the Prophet’s Mosque in the city of Madina. This beast must be eliminated. We cannot let it survive anywhere.
The sanctity of human life is a value that is enshrined in all religions, including Islam.The Sri Lankan Muslim community has condemned the tragic loss of life in the Easter Sunday attacks in the strongest possible terms and without any reservations, even refusing to have anything to do with their corpses. They have called for swift State action to bring all those behind the attacks to justice. They have explained that Islam prohibits both terrorism and suicide, and have asserted in no uncertain terms that there is no justification for taking innocent lives or one’s own life – notwithstanding the cause.
"Local Muslim community has condemned the Easter Sunday attacks without any reservations, even refusing to have anything to do with the bombers’ corpses"
The suicide bombers who carried out the Easter Sunday massacre have acted in a manner antithetical to cardinal Islamic beliefs. The Quran (Surah 5: Verse 32) equates the murder of one innocent person with the murder of the whole of humanity. The terrorists have hijacked Islam for their political causes, which can never be helped by such immoral acts.
Addressing the underlying causes of violent extremism is essential. Terrorism is a complex phenomenon and there is no agreed upon pathway towards it. People are attracted towards it for a variety of reasons. Emotional, material and group-based mechanisms have been identified as potential drivers of violent extremist actions and multiple causal factors lead normal people to resort to terrorism. In many cases, a perception of community victimisation plays a major role in the path towards violent extremism.
Consider the case of the Western-educated bomber, who detonated his explosive device in a budget hotel in Dehiwala. According to a Reuters report of April 26, 2019, the explosive device had failed to go off at the Taj Samudra Hotel in Colombo mercifully saving the lives of hundreds of guests and staff after which he had set it off at New Tropical Inn in Dehiwala, claiming the lives of the only two guests staying in the hotel at the time. The Reuters report states that the United States’ invasion of Iraq was a major turning point in the bomber’s views, according to those who knew him. “He was really angry with the US and its alliance’s attacks in Iraq during his stay in Australia,” a close friend had stated.
Terror attacks also have an aim beyond the immediate casualties: to pit communities against one another. The Archbishop of Colombo, His Eminence Cardinal Malcom Ranjith’s admirable leadership during these trying times has been a source of inspiration and encouragement for all those committed to reconciling Sri Lanka. On April 26, 2019, the respected Cardinal told Al Jazeera, “Everybody understood that this probably was an attempt to provoke us unnecessarily.” He went on to explain that “It was not with any religious motivation that this kind of attack took place. It is very important for us to make the distinction between what we believe and practice in religion and then what these terror groups who identify themselves with one religion try to portray in their actions.”
As Sri Lankans, we cannot let terrorism spill over by allowing violence to cause hatred, suspicion and divisions among our diverse communities. We cannot let it win by allowing it to manipulate our minds at a time when emotions are naturally running high. We cannot let it win by aggressively calling for cultural assimilation as the solution to the terror attacks. This is not a prudent strategy and may even prove counter-productive, a remedy far worse than the disease.
We cannot let it win by demonizing Muslims or by putting Islam on trial. The solution is not to expect Muslims to disown their faith. The pressing need is to promote peaceful co-existence within and between all communities and respect for every human regardless of race, religion, caste or creed. Those who link Islam to terrorism are either knowingly or unwittingly strengthening the narrative of the terror groups who abuse Islam to further their objectives.
"The terrorists twist Islamic doctrines to their advantage and helping them in this grotesque endeavour is totally uncalled for"
The Christchurch mass shootings were not carried out by a ‘Christian terrorist’ though his detailed 74-page manifesto has racial and religious references. Likewise, those responsible for the Easter Sunday attacks are not ‘Muslim terrorists’ though they seek to implicate Islam. It is nothing short of Islamophobia, if the entire Muslim community is blamed, viewed with suspicion or harassed because of the dastardly actions of a few politically motivated individuals or groups that may well be backed by agents with vested interests who engineer conflicts across the world.
It is the State’s duty to bring all those behind the Easter Sunday attacks to justice in line with the law and for the government to ensure accountability. Equally, it is important to ensure that fundamental rights are not stifled upon and that people are able to practise their faith without fear. The terrorists twist Islamic doctrines to their advantage and helping them in this grotesque endeavour is totally uncalled for.
Further, it would be a great shame to place terrorists high up on pedestals. In the aftermath of the Christchurch attacks, New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern stated, “Speak the names of those who were lost rather than the man who took them. He may seek notoriety, but we in New Zealand will give him nothing, not even his name.” This is certainly an approach worth emulating.
That Christians were the prime targets of the Easter Sunday attacks is undeniable. But it was not an attack against one community; it was an attack against all Sri Lankans and in the group that carried out the horrific attacks, all peace-loving Sri Lankans have a common enemy. And to defeat this common enemy, we must stand united. We must stand together. Pushing the government to implement the 24 steps proposed in the ‘Diyawanna Declaration’ launched on April 26, 2019 by the Parliamentary Select Committee on Communal and Religious Harmony chaired by Speaker Karu Jayasuriya, will be an excellent starting point.
There is also a critical need to address the exploitation of Islam by terrorist groups. The extremists should not be the public face of Islam. Disrupting, not propping up their vile narratives of hate and fear is key to mobilizing against their intolerant views and stopping their proliferation. They must be countered with messages of love, hope and peace. Let’s unite, as Sri Lankans, to defeat all terrorists who promote hatred and violence in the guise of religion. For truly, blessed are the peacemakers.