By Rifaq Azhar –
Easter Sunday attack was a great shock to all Sri Lankans irrespective of their race and religious identities. It is no doubt that malicious atrocities committed by Islamic extremists have devastated our dream and aspirations for the peace and harmonious coexistence in this country. There are many arguments going on internationally as well as locally as to why this extremist element staged this carnage or let say what are the motives that led so called ISIS to conduct their brutalities in this island nation? Many international political analysts and security intelligences keep this scenario under the tight scrutiny due to many reasons. In fact, this move has created many suspicions about the attacks of this magnitude and subsequent outbreak of violent incidents across the country. Since Sri Lanka is strategically located in the global security landscape, its position and alliance in world politics is significant and decisive too. Based on this fact, many miseries will be unfolded throughout this article whereas it illustrates the snapshot of geopolitics in the Indian Ocean with the support of three levels analysis.
Iceberg with mysteries underneath
It is reportedly said that security intelligence of the country was well aware of these coordinated attacks including details of those criminals who committed these heinous attacks in religious places and some tourist destinations and moreover, since their establishment to this date, they had been under the observation of intelligence. It is also believed that these brutalities could have been prevented by concerned authorities at the earliest if they wouldn’t have overlooked this establishment and their activities once they received the message from external source. Unfortunately, vulnerable people among them children, women and elders have been fallen prey to the trap of the some opportunistic politicians for their political catalysts and expedience. Moreover, unnecessary tense situation and subsequent backlash could have been wiped out at initial stage without making a hash of everything. As described by His eminence Cardinal Melcom Ranjith during his press interview taken place in the wake of these atrocities, these criminals, who were arrested soon after the tragedy, are merely surface of a huge iceberg and the master minds are beneath. Hence, we can assume that they are obviously proxies of some influential powers.
Despite the fact that ISIS claimed the responsibility of this carnage, initially there had been no strong evidence proofing either their direct involvements in these coordinated attacks or the relationship with local extremist elements until ISIS launched its video message. But, Deputy Minister of Defence rushed to point at a ‘Radical Islamic Group’ saying this atrocities were carried out in retaliation to the New Zealand Mosque attacks where of New Zealand Prime Minister said there is nothing to do with Christchurch attacks. Then another question arises as to why Deputy Minister hurried to announce that these attacks were in retaliation of Christchurch attacks. Answer is still a mystery.
There are many suspicions arise as to why any exhaustive interrogation does not conduct yet against those who know very well of this coordinated attacks and why government still maintain mysterious silence without taking any radical reforms within its state machine which deliberately ignored these brutalities that slaughtered innocent people. In addition to that, Muslim community itself had proactively taken necessary measures to certain extend and also they had already alarmed the concerned authorities of the activities of such elements and further, they had sought immediate actions against those perpetrators prior to the incident. Above all, there is another suspicion as to why the government is always being reluctant to give prominence to Field Marshal even at this crucial juncture if pseudo politicians and authorities really want to eradicate the clutches of terrorism.
It is also very sad to point out that since the attacks on Churches and some tourist destinations to this date, the most of mass media, which operate under the patronage of some political elites, have been playing greater role in blowing the scenario against Muslims by spreading provocative news of which most are of cause baseless. It is another suspicion arose as to how such media outfits before the preliminary investigation had been concluded, had proclaimed that a Radical Islamic Group is behind these incidents as if they know very well of them and their activities earlier. Besides, they deliberately blacked out the root causes of these atrocities by accusing entire Muslim community of Islamic extremism and fundamentalism while International media stand steadily against whatever local media had already propagated by revealing the blue print of this incident. Before we get to know as to how it was happened, we must know as to why it was happen. Then we can come up with clear picture about how it was planned, who would be mastermind of these brutalities and what are their motives desire to achieve in this paradise.
Meanwhile, it is horrible to imagine that the country has been again plunged into ethnic tension due to spate of violence unleashed by racist groups whereas Emergency Law and curfew had been imposed. Many analysts suggest that there is no direct linkage between 21/4 attacks and those mobocracies since those were taken place several days later on and the villages that the mob choose and went on rampage, didn’t have any connection with those perpetrators. In fact, this racist element is a coterie of henchmen hired by local politicians who have jumped on the bandwagon of their international masters. It appears that these pseudo local agents spend their utmost efforts to adhere to the requirements of their international bosses and distort this beautiful country for their eternal survival in politics and get some perks instead.
While observing these series of incidents, it seems an artistic drama which consists of several episodes. First episode talks about the incursion of transnational terrorism into the country and then interference of regional and extra-regional powers in pre-text of terrorism and counter – terrorism and then it illustrates how it would be succeeded with the support of local agents. If we contemplate with eagle view, we can clearly comprehend what this first chapter is all about. By infuriating Muslim community and unleashing sporadic attacks on their houses, religious places and shops at a time when there is an Emergency Law, these extremist elements intend either to compel these indigenous Muslims to admit whatever so-called ISIS staged in Sri Lanka or force them to establish a locally made terror organization which is obviously their plan B. But the plan A is to urge them to go for a franchised agreement with any transnational terrorist organization like ISIS in order to cater to the will of their masters. When we read about the past history of Ecuador and Panama, we can realize how the indigenous people were divided and what they happened to lost instead. We had also experienced similar tragedy by being divided into two groups and what is more, both were trained by one master in separate camps. But, we didn’t realize yet and learnt nothing from past. Meanwhile, I wonder why so called hardline extremists element had been shedding crocodile tears over the atrocities that taken place in 21/4 while Christian community, who is the real victim of scourge of the terrorism, is still keeping calm without blaming entire Muslim community in Sri Lanka and moreover it seeks investigation over those who were very well aware of the attacks and also justice for innocent people who were killed.
Some critics are skeptical over government’s moves saying that there may be strong linkage between all the measures taken by the government to quell the tense situation prior to what is going on and subsequent silence maintained by some backbench politicians irrespective of political parties. According to the script given to this local agent, they must be silent or want to play deaf role until next scene starts. First, the Emergency Law was imposed island wide followed by the heinous suicide attacks. Then, tri- forces together with police carried out search operation in every nock and corner of Muslim houses even though Muslim community did their utmost for the safety of all people and the country as whole. Later on, it elaborates the role of another debut called media where they did their part at satisfactory level. Its role is merely to trigger and propagate anti-Muslim perception in the pretext of Islamic Terrorism. And then it describes the role of another junior cast where they have contributed to certain extend by ensuring the unavailability of weapons or swards inside Muslim houses and mosques. Upon their assurance, the chapter goes to depict the climax scene of the first chapter where it concluded with the victory of the mobs in destroying humanity and harmonious atmosphere in the country and threatening Muslims’ right to self- determination. The next chapter would definitely talk about the Election and subsequent cross overs of our politicians for their political expediency under the slogan of ‘there are no permanent friends or enemies but permanent interest’.
Apart from this aristocratic drama which is apparently familiar to almost everyone, there are many facts to be considered when we analyse the tense situation in Sri Lanka in view of the danger supposed to be encountered. Of cause, ISIS is a real threat not only to national security; moreover it is deadlock to freedom of each and every citizen of this country as well. When searching answer to above question as to why these unscrupulous incidents were taken place, some political analysts give a broader view on present context. When taking these series of incidents since the attack to this date into account, they highlight some sort of classifications in terms of nature and players of respective incidents. Some incidents point out the external influences and interferences. It is of cause beyond control of the government; but, most of these incidents are clearly indicating the failure of the government and its leadership and also the negligence of the bureaucratic institutions certainly security apparatus and Law and Order. It is apparently within the periphery and capabilities of the government. As such, some other incidents show the pathetic condition of grassroots particularly their behavior and attitude. Later is an individualistic and can be regulated by concerned authorities. Many political analysts evaluate all these series of incidents as classified above in the light of three levels of analyses namely system level, state level and Individual level analyses.
1. System Level Analysis
This analysis certainly deals with the contemporary global tendencies and subsequent integration of respective governments into such tendencies and patterns. In more explicit term, we can refer it as world order or nature of the world. Since the World order moves towards multipolar system, players would be more and the combat among them would be intensive ever before for establishing respective hegemony. Few experts say that the next turbulent region in the world followed by Middle East region would be the Indian Ocean region due to its geopolitical dynamics. Sri Lanka is strategically significant to regional and extra regional powers namely India, USA and China respectively due to various reasons certainly its geographical location in the global security landscape and its geopolitical dynamics apart from its resources. Since recent past, Chinese influence in this region by means of its OBOR initiative has been widely observed. India and USA may deeply involve in any attempt to undermine Chinese influence in this region at any const. Sri Lanka is therefore in a volatile state even though it adopts Non – Alignment foreign policy. Besides, each rival wants to exert influence in Sri Lanka for determining their strong presence in the region. Likewise, they have understood that any form of negligence or failure would definitely cause dramatic consequences not only in the region but entire region as well. This struggle for balance of power has extensively impacted on the dynamics of domestic politics. Each rival has identified their potential allies and been closely working with them for their dominance in the country and then region. While understanding these ground realities, we can somewhat comprehend as to why ISIS arrogated soon after the bombings. Perhaps, transnational terrorism in Indian Ocean will help US to certain extend to increase its interference in the name of counter-terrorism and also its active containment of China and aggression on Iran. Meanwhile, India is a close ally of US and definitely joint with its ally to meet its mutual benefits and interests in this region. Besides, China never gives up and will firmly move forward by strengthening its favourable ally in national polity since it has imperialist interest in this region as well. Therefore, experts suggest that there is likely to be an active conspiracy behind the veil due to escalation geopolitical tension and trade war in Indian Ocean.
2. State Level of Analysis
Secondly, in light of above analysis, we should overview the state level analysis, which is a midrange analysis, whereas the former is macroscopic. Generally, state level analysis illustrates what countries do and how they decide which policy to follow in global issues and trends. It means that it focuses predominantly on how country designs its foreign policy in line with emerging world order. While determining the foreign policy, a country should consider its domestic factors and its decision making process within its state machine. In this backdrop, many political analysts locally and internationally allude that since recent past, due to lack of understanding and trust between President and Prime Minister, the country had been encountering dilemma and subsequent backlash certainly in government policies ensuing the dysfunction of bureaucratic institutions and security apparatus and also consequent volatile foreign policy that ended with political turmoil last year.
While explaining as to why the ISIS choose Sri Lanka and a persecuted minority in it as the targets for one of its deadliest attack ever given that Sri Lanka is nowhere on the global radar of the fight against terrorism and moreover Muslim community have had cordial relations with Christian community and have been living peacefully, they have highlighted few significant aspects. As saying, the sophistication involved in the attacks points to external involvement and the government has said that the National Thowheed Jamath (NTJ) had ties with ISIS, whose leader Abu Bakr Al- Baghdahi has also claimed in a video message that the attacks were to avenge the recent defeat of his fighters in the eastern city of Baghouz in Syria, the outfit’s last known hideout in the Levant region.
Some security analysts suggest that although ISIS claimed the responsibility for the Easter bombings as part of the Islamic State’s global expansion through local ‘Franchises’, Sri Lanka’s targeting was either an accidental or opportunistic, as parts of the island nation had become a fertile ground for indoctrination. Perhaps, it may be true to certain extend due to the fact that having been driven out of Iraq and Syria by the military intervention of US led international coalition, ISIS lost its ability to carry out direct attacks. So, in order to carry out not so – sophisticated attacks such as in Europe, it began using home-grown killers, who are foreign Muslim youth attracted by ISIS and they were reportedly trained by ISIS when they had a territory to rule. And then it continued using encrypted messaging platform and other online communication methods including social media to promote its anti-west or anti – Christian narrative and to urge its supporters around the world to launch attacks on suggested targets irrespective of local communal dynamics in the attacker’s home country. Here, another question may arise as to why some Sri Lankan Muslims were particularly attracted by ISIS. Some experts argue as oppose to above such as Jonah Blank – a Principle Investigator and Senior Political Scientist for Rand Corporation. He reiterates in his interview with Daily FT, two significant issues on the Easter Sunday bombing in Sri Lanka. As far as he is concerned, the attacks were apparently the result of political negligence which is obviously an optimum opportunity to ISIS for their smooth operation with local partners and further, he firmly says ISIS didn’t choose Sri Lanka, but Sri Lankan group chose ISIS, which appears to be an accidental.
When we delve this scenario deeply, we can simply say that it is a hybrid nature due to political and security negligence and also Frustration – Aggressive Theories. It is bitter truth that Political dilemma due to ailing coalition and subsequent paralyzed condition of state machine including bureaucratic institutions, legal system and security apparatus ensured the smooth correspondence with local extremist groups and conducting trainings. Thus, they had known that a rotten political system will have rotten security services and will be able to exploit the vulnerabilities. On the other hand, the Muslim Community in Sri Lanka has long been marginalized politically and often economically too. In recent years, there has been a sharp rise in sectarian tensions, mainly a result of the emergence of Buddhist nationalism. Discrimination and alienation along with persecution and overwhelming mobocracy had developed sense of frustration amid Muslims. This scenario created a breeding ground for hardliner groups, which have adopted Wahhabi version of Islam. However, I would rather say that both groups found conducive environment for executing their demonic objectives. Due to unstable domestic factors in the country and consequent failure of the government to identify a pragmatic foreign policy to barricade the complex mix of conspiratorial politics, radical theology, sectarianism and apocalyptic prediction, the incursion of transnational terrorism and interference of international actors became inevitable. In accordance with this analytical tool, we can simply state that the country is now facing instability in each and every aspects, so that everyone can easily exert their influence and fragment the country as per their will.
3. Individual Level Analysis
Thirdly, the individual level of analysis, which is relatively microscopic, deals with the role of individuals in domestic and world politics and also addresses the situation at grass-root level profoundly through its different perceptions such as human nature, organizational behaviours and idiosyncratic behaviours. Many political scientists suggest that whenever policy makers intend to design any policy, they should perfectly absorb the aspirations of public and they must also understand their spheres of influences as well before they conceptualize and execute any policy. Meanwhile, individuals as part and partial of particular society should make sure of what they decide or perceive are perfect outcomes of their rational inquiries and exhaustive researches based on genuine sources. Civil societies, all kinds of media and religious leaders should also determine to put those individuals on right track. By doing so, those individuals will be able to come up with cognitive decisions and honest perceptions.
When it comes to human nature, there are many factors that help general public to come up with right decisions related to any domestic or International issue and also to shape their behaviour and attitudes within ethical frame. In this sense, cognitive and psychological factors among other factors will enable individuals to reach right decisions personally. Cognitive factors consist of seeking cognitive consistency, accuracy in data and information and analysing them with wishful thinking. These will help each individual to inculcate in themselves habit of rational inquiries enabling them to reach smart and cognitive decisions over personal or political issues. Similarly, public psychological traits should also be taken into account when making policies. For instance, policy makers should comprehend “Frustration – aggressive theory which means frustrated societies become collectively aggressive towards other communities or government. We can use these primary analytical tools broadly while analysing the nature, behaviour and attitude of our people in decision making. As mentioned above, Educational Institutions, Media and Civil and religious institutions can play greater role in moulding human nature particularly in Sri Lankans’. For instance, perception of majority towards minority in Sri Lanka should be created on the basis of above factors in order to avoid misconceptions, suspicions and discrimination.
At this critical stage, where racism is rampant, media and civil organizations, together with parents and teachers can play great role in regulating mind-set of individuals and can collectively contribute to create rational and cognitive opinion at grass root level over the current issues without infuriating yet further. What were happened recently across the country is simply because of the collective failure of the stakeholders to address this human nature in the way it should be treated. Misconception, propagating false information and provocative news, and malpractices of opportunistic leaders and their political expediency led majority community to adopt aggressive psychology against minorities and absorb manipulated information about minorities and other way around. Here, we must understand that such individual perceptions have inevitably been transmitted to several organizations and communities where these individuals are attached to and in efflux of time it becomes the norm of the organization. Whatever we instil in the minds of individuals or breed among the societies, we will have to reap the consequences end of the day. Therefore, root causes of frustration and negative psychology should be carefully addressed before they become phenomenal and spread everywhere.
Here, organizational behaviour which is second aspect of Individual analysis will help to examine how people act in such organizations as individuals as well as group. As mentioned above, majority of individuals will decide the norms and behaviours of particular organization, no matter what they adopted, the behaviour would continue. This organizational behaviour will predominantly influence the decision making process of the state. Nowadays, we can see widespread of inactivity of several bureaucratic institutions in our country causing severe damage to the national interest and security. The plight of these institutions brought many negative implications such as lack of coordination and corporation between institutions, lack of accountability and professionalism, widespread of lethargy and discriminative approaches. These ground realities will definitely impact on policy makers and their policy to larger extend. Hence, it should be highlighted that genuine and cognitive decisions of individuals will be the breakthrough to alter the groupthink and common perception whether it may be of the organization or communities. Mutual trust and understanding will be conceived in a society built upon above factors resulting in the birth of genuine and ethical aspirations and demands among communities. This outcome will enable policy makers to come up with ethical and people friendly policies and also help to minimize the gap between public and policies.
The final perception of this individual analysis is idiosyncratic behavior of individuals which emphasizes the idiosyncratic characteristics of political leaders. It assumes that individuals or high profiles make policy decisions including foreign policy and also different individuals are likely to make different decisions. There are five basic characteristics of individual decision makers such as personality, Physical and mental health, their Egos and ambitions, their sense of political history and personal experience and then their perception. For instance, we can recall the dissensions between incumbent president and Prime Minister. When we evaluate both President and Prime Minister and their respective allies under above five criteria, we can clearly find huge gap between both. The slogan of this government “Good Governance” will never be achieved as long as this gap is widened.
In short, when observing the recent Easter Sunday Attacks and subsequent violent incidents, we can simply conclude with the fact that negligence of security intelligence as well as government’s failure and inability to avoid all casualties caused to this nation are prime reasons for current crisis. The worse thing is that concerned authorities including political leaders were alarmed by external sources as well Muslim community prior to this attacks and possibility of outbreak of violence and moreover, NTJ since its establishment was under tight observation and by the time the security intelligence was in the position of controlling their activities. The reason why we came to this point is because of the suspicions related to this incidents and thereafter. However, the price that public paid for all the failure and negligence is killing of more than 250 innocent civilians. Whoever involved in inaction against this brutality and subsequent violence across the country should bear the sin of murder and offence.
It is no doubt that ISIS unlike other rebellious groups is a real threat to national security due to its nature and strategies that uses. This article identifies some major root cause of present situation under three analytical levels which are interconnected each other. It is true that regional and extra regional power blocks are more concerned and vigilant on this region particularly in Sri Lanka due to its strategic location at the heat of the Indian Ocean. Therefore, the country should take necessary measures just like strengthening its security apparatus and designing a pragmatic foreign policy in order to face external challenges and any form of conspiracy. Similarly, government should pay equal attention to regulate its domestic factors including bureaucratic institutions and policies so that it can ensure the coordination and cooperation among its institutions in event of any crisis. Unlike above analytical levels, the individual level of analysis is considered as basic foundation upon which national policies would be formulated. As many suggested, It is the point from where we should start our healing process. General public, institutions and political leaders are areas of concern of this individual level of analysis. Reforming the perceptions of respective parties gradually and moulding their behaviours and attitudes individually will contribute to birth of general opinion of a community or groupthink of an organization.
However, unless, the idiosyncratic behavior of individuals which emphasizes the idiosyncratic characteristics of our political leaders has been rectified, the sustainability of policies and productivity of bureaucratic institutions are merely a mirage. No matter what the rank each politician are belonging to, they all should keep their dissension aside and build the nation together. Sophisticated and pleasant atmosphere in the institutions along with leadership of visionary leader will surely help to bring sustainable and everlasting policies by which country can combat internal crisis and external challenges. Similarly, identifying the root causes of frustration and adopting optimum ways and means to mitigate it and unite people under one slogan as Sri Lankan” are prime duties that prevail ahead. This will also help individuals irrespective of their ethnic differences to avoid indoctrination of any extremist ideology and adopt moral values in personal life as well as political arena and also enable them to contribute immensely in building the nation and policy formulation.
I strongly believe in that perfect education policy and media based on ethics and moral values will greatly support for this surgical process and cure the diseases. At the same time, both education and media should empower all the citizens with above mentioned three level of analysis and also educate them about the right to self-determination and its significance. By doing so, government can achieve its vision while minimizing ethnic discrimination and isolation. Therefore, let’s begin with us and build our nation together with mutual respect and shared vision.
- Angshuman Choudhury and Sarral Sharma, Sri Lanka: A New Patter of Transnational Terror, The Diplomat, April 30, 2019, https://thediplomat.com/2019/05/sri-lanka-bombings-a-new-pattern-of-transnational-terror/.
- D B S Jeyaraj, Anti-Terrorist Action Must not become a Witch Hunt Against Sri Lankan Muslims, Daily Mirror, May 4, 2019. http://www.dailymirror.lk/opinion/Anti-%E2%80%93-Terrorist-Action-Must-Not-Become-a–Witch-Hunt–Against-Sri-Lankan-Muslims/172-166462.
- Dilrukshi Handunnetti, Sri Lanka needs exemplary leadership during this national catastrophe, The Guardian, https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2019/apr/22/sri-lanka-exemplary-leadership-bickering-bombings.
- Dr. Boniface Perera, Easter Sunday Bombing and their Impact, Daily Mirror, May 22 2019. http://www.dailymirror.lk/opinion/EASTER-SUNDAY-BOMBINGS-AND-their-IMPACT/172-167521.
- Dr. Harinda Vidanage, National Security, Electoral Politics and Conspiracy Theories, Daily Mirror, May 27, 2019. http://www.dailymirror.lk/opinion/National-Security–Electoral-Politics-and-Conspiracy-Theories/172-167915.
- Harsh V. Pant, Kabir Taneja, ISIS’s New Target: South Asia, Foreign Policy, May 2, 2019, https://foreignpolicy.com/2019/05/02/isiss-new-target-south-asia/.
- Jason Burke, from 9/11 to Sri Lanka: the terrorists’ deadly message we have failed to grasp, the Guardian, April 29, 2019. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/apr/29/sri-lanka-bombings-terror.
- Jason Burke, Pressure builds on Sri Lankan Officials as ISIS claims Easter Attacks, April 24 2019, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/apr/23/pressure-builds-on-sri-lankan-officials-as-isis-claims-easter-attacks.
- Jehan Perera, Safeguarding Country from Recurrence of Easter Sunday Bombing, June 10,2019, https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/safeguarding-country-from-recurrence-of-easter-sunday-bombing/.
- John T. Rourke, International Politics on the World Stage, (1999), PP – 49 – 125.
- Michael Sufi, Covering the Sri Lanka attacks: It’s about giving voices to victims. The Guardian, May 25, 2019. https://www.theguardian.com/membership/2019/may/25/sri-lanka-attacks-voices-victims-coverage.
- Michael Sufi, Sri Lanka told of extremist network months before blasts sources, The Guardian, April 24, 2019. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/apr/24/sri-lanka-knew-of-extremist-network-months-before-blasts-sources.
- REND Corporation, The US – China Military Scorecard, Forces, Geography, and Evolving Balance of power 1996- 2017, 2015.
- Siddharthy Roy and Stephanie Rose Justin, From the Ruins of the Caliphate: Sri Lanka’s Bloody Easter, The Diplomat, April 26, 2019. https://thediplomat.com/2019/04/from-the-ruins-of-the-caliphate-sri-lankas-bloody-easter/.
- Vishal Arora, Why Did the Islamic State Target Sri Lanka?, The Diplomat, May 08, 2019. https://thediplomat.com/2019/05/why-did-the-islamic-state-target-sri-lanka/.