By Ruvan Weerasinghe –
Since much has been written on the completely unexpected catastrophe that hit our nation on Easter Sunday, I wish to limit this piece to just TWO main points: how do we understand ourselves individually and as a society recovering from this and how do we avoid making past mistakes. As such, it will avoid many issues that others have already written about.
What is happening to us as individuals and as a nation?
It’s not just psychologists who are familiar with the Kubler-Ross characterization of the stages of grief resulting from some type of unexpected loss. It can be loosely described as a cycle of emotions that humans can expect to feel after such a shocking event as that which took place on Easter Sunday. While these stages are primarily applied to those facing the loss of a loved one, they appear to extend to entire societies too.
Just 48 hours after the horrific events that took place that day, we can see these different emotions playing out especially on social media where people are able to express their feelings more openly. However, it also is evident in street corners, public places and corridor talk.
Judging by such responses, most of us are experiencing the first stage of grief, shock and denial: the families immediately affected clearly displaying numbness, others of us expressing these feelings with confusion (who did this and why? what earthly reason was there for churches to be targeted? etc), yet others reacting in fear (wipe out all those involved! how can we walk the streets again? never again trust another of a given background/appearance etc) and then those who are looking for who did it – who’s to blame. These are all well understood variants of the first stage of grief.
Some however, especially those of us who are less directly affected, have already started moving on to the second stage of grief, anger. It is the emotion that starts with the quest for searching for a single scapegoat on whom their emotions could be unleashed. This leads to the blame game which most notably the government is currently playing out before the public. It is all the fault of the Intelligence Service/Minister/PM/ President/previous regime/the Muslim community/the Buddhist extremists, are the content of a significant amount of content both in the mainstream as well as social media. While this generally is futile, it is understood to be an essential (even healthy) part of dealing with loss and grief. It is likely to affect those closest in the coming days and weeks, but those of us some distance from them (as clearly the state actors have proved to be) have embarked on this early. Frustration, anxiety, irritation, embarrassment and shame are feelings expressed in this stage of grief. One can only imagine how these must play out on (extended) families of those responsible for the attacks and their entire community, who at the same time will be dealing with the glare of suspicion of society.
Then comes the bargaining stage, where feelings of guilt that things could have been different and the situation avoided if only some other action was taken or condition met. Already in some social media postings we see this phenomenon playing out, and this article could also be thought of as an incarnation of this stage. How could we have avoided this, and in my case, how can we avoid something like this in the future. Feelings of guilt will also affect those who go beyond the blame game as well as those who narrowly escaped even while being at the affected site.
Our primary empathy as a society should be to those directly affected as they face the fourth stage of this process of recovery: depression. The first type of depression, that of facing the practical implications of the loss will hit members of these families and communities – especially those who feel responsible for how the family/families move forward. The other, more difficult type of depression is what goes on in private in the inmost thoughts of those affected. Groups such as Bakamoono.lk have provided and pointed to good resources in all three main languages for caregivers to help these families in this phase.
Reaching the acceptance stage of grieving unfortunately is a gift not afforded to all, it seems. However, it should be the goal of all who truly care for those most directly affected as well as the shattered community we live in today. This stage is deeply personal and singular in the case of those who’ve lost loved ones, but needs to somehow become a collective experience if we are to move forward as a healthy society.
Several critiques have been aimed at this model since its presentation in the early 1970s, but have mainly been directed at the fact that these stages may not occur strictly in sequential chronological order. Despite these however, the model itself is taken as helpful in understanding, primarily the process of grief taking place in an individual facing loss of a loved one. Its application to society has most probably been more thoroughly thought through in later work, which the author is not familiar with.
How do we move forward without making the same mistakes?
Since several have already written, arguably prematurely, about the way forward, I want to simply alert us to the way we should NOT go. The lessons we should draw on as a society that has been through 30 years of a previous ‘war’ which we fumbled through. There’d be no excuse for us as a nation, if we get this one wrong. So what did we do wrong last time around and what can we learn from it?
A primary lesson that we need to learn is that just because a terror group has members of a particular community, it doesn’t mean that all in that community are supportive or even sympathetic of it. Even with the restrictions placed on social media platforms, we see many of our society already making this dreadful and dangerous mistake. From suspecting every woman wearing a burka or even a headscarf and man sporting a long beard or headgear to calling for bans on such clothing is not unlike characterizing LTTE suicide bombers as Kurta-wearing pottu-bearing dark women. And history showed how wrong we were in making such simplistic generalizations.
Other generalizations such as that suicide is a way to get entry into heaven for Muslims need to be desisted from, since the Quran is clear that life is sacred and belongs to God (and those who take their own lives will face hell). In the present circumstances, judging by the information coming in, it seems that even many close members of the families of the bombers were NOT aware of what was going on. This, we should know is one of the modus operandi of all extremist groups ranging from al-Qaeda and ISIS to LTTE, Boko Haram and the Taliban.
We also need to realize that a terror group’s activities are also targeted at winning citizens over and not alienating them as it appears on the face of things. As such, just as the LTTE gained every time the Army harassed or killed a non-LTTE person, the extremist Muslim group responsible for the attacks (a fraction of the so called breakaway National Thowfeek Jamaath, almost certainly ‘handled’ and not just inspired by an international group such as ISIS) will only gain by us citizens attacking or even marginalizing the Muslim community at large. As such, our actions from now on, as individuals and the armed forces (forget about the politicians on whom we clearly can’t rely) will largely determine who will ‘win the war’ of attracting the majority of Muslims to ‘their side’. As Sri Lankans (not as Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims or Christians) we need to see how we should act in order to rise from this catastrophe as a stronger nation, one which can show the rest of the continent, and indeed the world, how to really win the war against terror.
As such, it would not be enough simply to be indifferent to the Muslim community – instead, we’d have to go the extra mile to befriend (even defend) them and accept them as an integral and important part of our society – one which is essential for our progress and prosperity (as indeed they have been thus far).
The question then is: are we strong enough to learn from past mistakes and take this country forward despite our politicians, or are we content to let them make their opportunistic decisions and make the same mistakes we made with the Tamil community and take this country down with them, so that our children will long to flee the country even in unsafe makeshift boats?
SL kolla / April 24, 2019
Stay strong and never lose your faith. The dead aren’t really dead. They are alive and well, under our Lord’s feet in heaven.
He will definitely take revenge on the perpetrators and the ones who were knowingly silent regarding the attack.
bingo / April 24, 2019
The UNP government,
1. Killed and burnt TAMIL civilians (1983)
2. Destroyed and looted MUSLIM properties. (2018)
3. Killed and destroyed Christians, churches and hotels. (2019)
The sinhalese buddhists are the only ones left and they should take extreme care due to the stupid careless and racist government.
Masterminded by India / April 24, 2019
bingo…..I am not a Troller but how can I stop my self not to comment on Comments like these …..bingo…I am sure you are a Minority in SL but mate don’t post Things like these……what is behind Easter-Sunday Massacre are well beyond Sri Lanka …and Indefinitely far far away from ISIS as well…..ISIS acknowledgement of the attacks seems to make everything OK….Does it ?
paul / April 24, 2019
4. Kidnapped, tortured and killed thousands of young Sinhalese Buddhists by using death squads in white vans in order to ‘control terrorism’ (1987-1989).
Native Vedda / April 24, 2019
You are a clever boy/girl at last you have found something nasty about the rotting state.
Do you know Gota and Sarath and his six man hit squad was entrusted with search and destroy mission under Janaka? Many held top ranks. Udugampola is still active. Did you know he was hiding in India from JVP?
Masterminded by India / April 24, 2019
Wake up ruwan for God sake man it is tragic as well as a disappointing reality is due to side tracking Left-Right leaning… Global to Local to [SL-exclusive] Retard Sinhala 3rd class Oriented Journalism has lost its Credibility.
ruwan you should read the Article written by you very own Colleague LATHEEF FAROOK about mastermind Behind it……
Ruwan do you believe 9-11 was done by bunch of Islamist with Box-Cutter Knives Hijacking passenger planes…..if so research it……yet question remains Do you have the Brains-Will-Self Sacrifice to go through the Horrifying truth to see the Lies behind it….when 2nd plane hits the WT Tower Videos-Potos Shows a Very Large object Attached to the Belly of the plane-Colour of the Jet is Too Gray to be United AL
SL armed forces to Let alone Buddhists-CHRISTANS got nothing to do with ISIS.
ISIS-ISIL themselves are Scratching their heads like what the…..hell did we just do ?……were they suppose to create a such a massacre ? No but somebody else wanted….
thamizh / April 24, 2019
“…of all extremist groups ranging from al-Qaeda and ISIS to LTTE, Boko Haram and the Taliban.”
another piece that does not fail to mention LTTE and somehow tries to make a connection between the armed Tamil uprising and islamic extremists, for political reasons that we Tamils are aware of, to de-legitimise the Tamil struggle. LTTE was a guerrila outfit that grew into a semi-conventional military force with a navy, army, and an air wing controlling a defacto state at the peak of its power. most of their suicide attacks were against military targets and that is because they were the weaker opponent in the asymmetric warfare. yes they did carry out attacks on non-military targets in the south but the war zone was the north and east and Tamils took the brunt of the war – sri lankan state has no moral ground here. in fact, the sri lankan state armed and groomed muslim extremist groups in the east in their war against LTTE, which has come to haunt them now.
Emil van der Poorten / April 24, 2019
Unfortunately, a thought-provoking article has brought forth the usual narcissistic viciousness of so many whose abuse and hate-generation should not be permitted on these pages at a time like this.
CT needs to take a good, hard look at its editorial policy and block hate-generation just as it seeks to prevent personal abuse.
Masterminded by INDIA / April 24, 2019
Emil van der Poorten..HEllo Like we don’t who You are MR ….?
all most 400 dead ….Maccecurred and another 500+ Hospitalised with in Critical condition….
MR. Emil van der Poorten…who the heck do you think you are to lecture us about rightful Feelings ? where our Innocent helpless women & Children are been butchered ? Look around MR…..may be you are not a father hell I think you are some single Dude just Trolling here and there
who the hell asked your Opinion about someone else’s written article ? ? ? you haven’t seen the worse yet Wait till FB – YOUTUBE Blockade to be Lifted… ….
Old codger / April 24, 2019
“Unfortunately, a thought-provoking article has brought forth the usual narcissistic viciousness of so many whose abuse and hate-generation ….”
I wonder where the ghoul that calls itself Jay Chambers fits into this?
Native Vedda / April 24, 2019
Emil van der Poorten
Please bear with those whom you consider narcissists.
They are only impressing their wife.
Its like their incompetent war criminals who had vital information yet they sat on their back until so many innocent lives are taken away.
It appears the armed forces have started raiding many Muslim houses in Jaffna today.
Torture chambers in the old Pass Office near breakwater is going to be over crowded. The head of Torture Department will be sworn in as the recruiting sergeant for the ISIS.
thamizh / April 25, 2019
emil van der poorten
i am not sure to whom you are referring to in your comment but let me tell you some of us Tamil readers of CT are offended when the writer makes a passing reference to our armed struggle against state oppression, comparing them with islamic extremist groups or white supremacists for that matter at this moment. it is not as if we don’t understand the political connotation of this. i thought it was necessary to expose the author’s bias here. otherwise, i am not here to belittle the suffering of the victims of this attack or spread hate.
Chitra / April 24, 2019
There is enough of blame to go around, but our government after our nightmare with the LTTE ended, should not have let their defenses down, and should have continued to be vigilant. We should have expert security surveillance systems, always. There is no other way, to prevent these horrible attacks happening. Some people were asleep at the wheel, and innocent people paid with their lives. The authorities were warned by concerned Muslims about these radical criminals, but apparently nothing was done.
If the government does not stop this poison right now, and be very vigilant, things can get worse.
K.Pillai / April 24, 2019
Thank you Dr Ruvan Weerasinghe for the timing of the carefully worded and sequenced article.
Yes, we are shocked but we have started blaming, often giving vent to our prejudices.
“To The Way Forward”?
We had chances to move forward but our ‘leaders’ led us astray. The silver lining is our realisation that we are being misled.
The ‘leaders’ must realise that the language/religion-divide path led us to where we are.
kali / April 25, 2019
Dr. Ruvan Weerasinghe
Sadly there is no way forward and we are stuck in the Mud with more rain forecast ( like victory for MR and the Cohotrs) with high winds making the journey treacherous.
chiv / April 25, 2019
The goals of our Lankan politicians are to not to move forward. So it will always be a wish which never came true.
Occam / April 25, 2019
This writer mistakenly draws a false comparison between the LTTE, which deployed unspeakable terrror in pursuit of political goals, and islamist terrorism, which marches to a different drummer, one of uncompromising religious zealotry.
There is no prospect of any accomodation with militant islamism, nor should one be attempted out of a misplaced liberal idealism such as that deployed in this piece.