By Mohamed Harees –
‘When you call yourself an Indian or a Muslim or a Christian or a European or anything else, you are being violent. Do you see why it is violent? Because you are separating yourself from the rest of mankind. When you separate yourself by belief, by nationality, by tradition, it breeds violence’ – Jiddu Krishnamurti
What happened in Sri Lanka on this black ‘Easter Sunday’, in a series of well-orchestrated and coordinated terror attacks on churches and other locations is an unforgivable and brutal tragedy of catastrophic proportions. The spate of senseless killings and terror attacks on innocent civilians, on a day when the Christian brethren were engaged in reflection and prayer, deserves severe condemnation by people of all faiths ,which brought back ugly memories of the bloody chapter of an inhumane war which engulfed the Nation for over three decades in our recent history. Those responsible for this dastard crimes should be identified, brought to book and punished with the full force of the law.
However, the very nature and patterns of these despicable attacks clearly shows that it a part of a greater machination beyond mere cat-paws involvement, to bring further disaster to Sri Lanka, which sadly appears to mar the dreams of the people of Sri Lanka to live in a peaceful and an inclusive Post-war Sri Lanka. The fact that many churches and members of one religious group were pointedly targeted in a country where they were a minority and the fact that these attacks were directed at many locations all over Sri Lanka (which ‘sophistication’ was not seen even in the days of the Tiger brutalities) should send signals to the investigators that this was not the work of an ordinary lone wolf , a psychopath or a small hate group. Certainly, there are international dimensions with professionalism and expertise which should be probed into in toto, without pointing fingers only at the cats’ paws. This is not mere extremism; rather use of terror to achieve many nefarious ends including political.
Having said that, it is much important that the government, the law enforcement and also the people of Sri Lanka act with much restraint at this hour of need without allowing the terrorists to achieve their aims to further engulf our nation in another spiral of hate, violence and mutual mistrust. Merely giving into emotions and baser instincts to overcome rational thinking and foresight will also make the grieving nation to miss the woods for the trees. This is what Sri Lanka should avoid at all costs.
The Easter Sunday massacre was certainly a shocking tragedy. However, it should not be turned into an act of another war of hate and racism. For, it is being repeatedly stressed that the potency of terror lies not in the act but in the aftermath. The act is death and destruction, horrendous in itself. The response is what gives it political traction. All what the terrorists wants the world is to go berserk, declare emergencies, tear up freedoms, persecute the people at the grass-root levels who have nothing to do with the massacre and thus making them engage in a chain reaction of attacks and attacks, creating mayhem in the already wounded nation by the scars of war. By capitulating to these desires, the country would vastly increase the power of the terror – and the likelihood of imitation. Sure words of wisdom, aren’t they?.
The world does not anyway work the way we have been led to believe – by our mainstream media and by our politicians. We are bombarded daily with so much misinformation, disinformation, propaganda, half-truths, and outright lies, that it takes a persistent individual to sort through the fog of information to find the truth. On top of this, social media has also become a double edged sword with vested interests seen to be fishing in troubled waters, with hate peddlers sharing many conspiracy theories and canards to drive wedges among the various communities. It is therefore imperative for the general masses to allow the law enforcement authorities to do the needful, and avoid doing the dirty works for the terrorists and the hate peddlers by not giving the oxygen of publicity they seek. The law enforcement will have many angles to investigate this despicable tragedy as stated earlier- both local and international and any attempt by the people to divert their attention by jumping into conclusions and take the law into their hands will prove both counter-productive and also lead to dangerous consequences. Besides, it will also place obstacles in the way of the law enforcement authorities to expose the actual culprits and forces behind the cat paws who inflicted these unforgivable crimes. The patterns of harm were so well orchestrated that the likelihood of international connections cannot be ruled out.
The world a month back faced a similar tragedy in Christchurch New Zealand where more than 50 worshippers were gunned down in cold blood by a far right supremacist terrorist. This made the so-called civilized world to question its’ own moral compass and conscience and the danger of hate politics and media sensationalism. Terrorism is thus far from a new phenomenon – neither in Sri Lanka nor elsewhere in the world. Terrorism, is nothing but the intentional random murder of defenceless non-combatants, with the intent of instilling fear of mortal danger amidst a civilian population as a strategy designed to advance political ends. Further, regardless of its ‘root cause’, terrorism is diametrically opposed to the requirements of liberal morality and can only be defended at the expense of relinquishing the most basic of liberal commitments. Ted Honderich, a philosopher in his controversial After the Terror says,’ “their (victims) deaths were not the first intention of their killers, but necessary in the carrying out of another intention, a justified one. Their very first intention may indeed be, achieving their political ends’. Thus, no doubt, as Honderich suggests, terrorism is a sub-set of politically motivated violence which falls short of conventional war and is internationally illegal and (to say the least) morally questionable’. Thus, it is also not possible to discount the possibility of involvement of many scheming political elements in this despicable Easter Sunday massacre.
The political, religious and civil leaders have a pivotal role to play in ensuring that the aims of the terrorists are not fulfilled and need to have the courage and determination of Jacinda Ardern, New Zealand’s prime minister, to manage this explosive situation in our country. She, in the aftermath of the Christ church massacre vowed never to refer to the Christchurch mosque attacker by his name, and said he would face “the full force of the law.”. She also said that she wanted to ensure that the killer did not enjoy any publicity as a result of the shooting, and that attention should instead focus on his victims. “He sought many things from his act of terror but one was notoriety”. “That is why you will never hear me mention his name.”. Observers hailed the calm and compassion she has shown in the wake of the worst mass killing in her country’s modern history. She led a multiparty delegation from the country’s capital, Wellington, to Christchurch, mourning with relatives and friends of the victims. Ardern has also followed through in rhetoric and action. She immediately decried the hate politics and ideology that fuelled the massacre and spoke firmly for what she believed were her country’s values. The death toll itself was a catalogue of New Zealand’s budding diversity. Among the dead were worshipers from Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, Turkey, Malaysia, Indonesia, Somalia and Afghanistan. She insisted that the victims “are us” and the “perpetrator is not”. Ardern’s decisiveness and conviction have thus laid down a marker for leaders to follow. Sri Lanka too needs this type of forthright leadership in this challenging hour of need.
Across the country, New Zealanders, unaccustomed to violence on this scale, performed the haka, the traditional Maori dance that has been made famous by the country’s rugby team. Rival motorcycle gangs came together to perform the dance outside the Al Noor Mosque, where most of the killings occurred. “We came here out of respect for the fallen, and that’s why we did the haka; it’s a sign of respect,” Hamish Hiroki, the national president of the Bandidos motorcycle gang, told Reuters. In Auckland, students at New Zealand’s largest Muslim school also performed the haka. It is thus ultimately the way people respond to a challenging situation is how maturity of a nation is measured.
In the case of Sri Lanka too, this type of altruism and selflessness has been not novel or strange. Our people across racial or religious divides have rose upto meet and face the challenges of this nature in the past whether natural or man made disasters. Whether 1983 anti Tamil pogrom, Aluthgama/ Digana anti Muslim violence or floods or even cancer appeal, our people donated blood, gave their money or in kind lavishly and did not bother whether the recipients are Sinhala, Muslim or Tamil. It is in their blood to help others in the time of need. Their actions showed that racism or evilness in only in the fringes and not in the mainstream. Only area the people should be mindful is our collective weakness of allowing some of the sections of our community to take the law into their hands and/or emotion to take precedence over rational thinking. Level headed thinking is what is imperative at this time. Mainstream Media too should play a responsible role in ensuring sensationalism is avoided and all steps taken to ensure unity of purpose in fighting terrorism together is not lost for mere economic gains .
Sri Lanka will have to figure out how to move forward ;so events like this one don’t recur. As other countries around the world have seen, these are complex issues that lack clear solutions: Gun bans don’t end violence; cracking down on social media does little to deter racism or hatred. It is a concerted plan of action and public activism which is needed to do the right things to avoid emotional outbursts, to ensure people are alert to the evil elements amongst them, expose them and forge unity among people across racial or religious divides to ensure common values of humanity and human dignity are protected at all costs. Let us as Sri Lankans, as followers of four great religions show the world that our beloved motherland is a place where there is no tolerance for racism. Ever. As individuals, we cannot know the grief of those unfortunate victims in full, but we can walk together with them at every stage. The evil of deranged individuals or groups should not allow our collective will or determination to mar our collective identity as members of one humanity. United we stand; but divided we fall if we attempt to help the terrorists in their evil plans to divide us and achieve their evil ends by acting rashly and failing to manage this challenging hour with tact and responsibility.