By W.A. Wijewardena –
Call for rising above narrow prejudices or biases
The gruesome killing of unsuspecting civilians in Sri Lanka by an extreme Islamic group connected to Islamic State or IS last week has been roundly condemned by local – religious, political, and civic – as well as global leaders.
The message delivered by all of them had one common plea: This is the work of an extreme group and it should not be used to castigate a particular religion or faith. In other words, everybody expected the masses to behave rationally and act beyond narrow personal prejudices and biases. This is in line with common characteristics which we all inherit.
Man has divided himself artificially
We, Homo sapiens or Men the Wise, are same everywhere genetically. Thus, unlike animals of different groups, they can merge and reproduce offspring that are fertile and capable of reproducing themselves. Nature has no division of human beings. It is humans who have divided themselves artificially into different groups.
Ethnically, people have divided themselves as white, black, yellow or brown. Culturally, Eastern or Western. Faith-wise, Christians, Muslims, Hindus or Buddhists. Thus, the whole world is a diverse society and when one lives in such a society, one has to accept, appreciate and understand different practices which others are following. If one group tries to impose its systems on others, it leads to conflict, conflict to suspicion, suspicion to hatred and hatred to aggression.
Destruction of man through implosion and explosion
When a society fails to check the boiling aggression, the inevitable result is man attacking man in numerous ways. First, it may be at a psychological level where people of other ethnicities or faiths are condemned in public. Then, it can spread to physical levels causing physical harm to them. Both these attacks are destructive.
The psychological attacks convert man into a subdued being by forcing him to suppress his intellectuality. It leads to destroy man from within causing implosion. The physical attacks destroy him by setting a process of explosion from outside. Sri Lanka had witnessed both these types of attacks being hurled by one community against another with total impunity.
The latest has been what it went through last week where some extreme Islamic elements had gone into action causing bloodshed and mayhem. Whoever who is causing such mayhem, it is a threat to democratic coexistence by denying right to live and right to prosper peacefully.
Man has always been battling with himself
But throughout history, mankind has been destroying each other on these lines. In the middle ages, there were battles between Islam and Christianity. Each side wanted to finish the battle by annihilating the other. Of them, the most gruesome was the battle for Jerusalem, which was claimed as the seat of faith by both parties. As documented by Oxford educated historian, Yuval Noah Harari, in his Sapiens, in some instances, the carnage made by battling humans was so gruesome that the streets of Jerusalem had been flooded ankle-deep with human bloods.
But with the general economic prosperity created by the advent of the industrial revolution, the focus of battle got shifted from religion to economics. Both the first and the second world wars were fought not for religious supremacy but for economic supremacy. However, in the recent past, while economics is still the main cause, the focus has shifted to ethnicity and religion. Accordingly, the extremists belonging to all religions have begun an all-out war against other believers.
It’s a global terrorism today
When these wars have spread from a centre to faraway places on the planet, they have become globalised terrorism. One such group which has taken terrorism to global level in the recent past has been the Islamic State or IS aspiring to convert the whole world into a single Islamic State on the line of the Caliphates that existed many centuries ago. Though its military power has been checked by counter military attacks in Iraq and Syria, its seat of administration, it seeks to show its strength by conducting isolated terrorist attacks in other parts of the world. Thus, the recent terrorist attack orchestrated by IS in Sri Lanka has been in line with this strategy. All it had to do was the use of its financial strength and ideological concoctions to recruit local agents to carry out the attacks.
Resemblances with economic globalisation
Thus, in many respects, it bears a close resemblance to economic globalisation. Both have origins in a foreign land, involves fund flows, recruit local workers and produce an output for the global market. The only difference is that economic globalisation produces a desired output called a global good, while global terrorism produces an undesired global output called a global bad. While the global good adds to the welfare of people, the global bad does the opposite. Hence, the latter has to be forced on protesting consumers by using terror tactics.
Willing and unwilling followers
What do global terrorists want? They have brewed an ideological concoction unique to them and want to send that bitter mixture down the throats of others by using coercion. First, they come up with verbal threats and those who yield to their threats willingly are hailed as their own brethren. Then, they target the unwilling. This group is coerced to accept their line of thinking and the worldview they have painted at the threat of causing physical harm. This group forms the unwilling followers.
Terrorist edict: Destroy who don’t obey
Thus, even the followers have two different class statuses, the willing always getting precedence over the unwilling. All others are vilified as enemies deserving to be destroyed. A lot of human efforts, talents and financial resources are then spent to plan and execute the destruction. The modus operandi usually takes the following form.
First, the foot soldiers who are to carry out the destruction on the ground are indoctrinated with an extreme religious ideology. They are often told that there is only one religion which is true in the world which is theirs. When others practice different faiths, it prevents them from attaining the ultimate goal of going to heaven. Thus, they are told, those obstacles have to be removed.
That is the greatest service they can perform for God from whom they have got everything in life: livelihood, success at examinations, career advancement, family life, intelligent and super children and so on. Hence, it is morally correct to destroy all others who practice different faiths. Then, the deadly schemes are funded out of moneys raised globally for the purpose. Weapons and explosives are acquired, foot soldiers are lined up and the final assault on those who stand in their way to reach heaven is carried out.
No dearth of voluntary foot soldiers
On earth, those who have sacrificed their life in the hope of going to heaven are hailed as martyrs. Though there is no evidence that they have reached heaven as expected, those on earth continue to believe so. Hence, when one person has sacrificed his life, there are many more to take his place. As a result, there is no dearth of volunteers willing to sacrifice their life for the sake of their faith. Thus, carnage continues and since it is directed from foreign lands, national governments fail to eradicate it.
Mistrust is a threat to democracy
Democracy thrives in an environment where people trust each other. At an individual level, a person should trust his neighbour, his employer, businessmen who supply his needs, teachers, religious leaders and so on. This trust is needed to build personal human relations as well as numerous economic relations which a person has to have. But the fear with which everyone gets inflicted due to terrorist attacks, because it is his or her life which is at stake, causes them to mistrust everyone. At every corner of the street, he will see death approaching him. Therefore, he will not step out of the house. Even when he is inside the house, though it may be fully protected, he runs into unexplainable fear if he is disturbed by the slightest noise coming from outside. As the proverbial Sinhala saying says, he will see a terrorist even in a water basin in the kitchen.
Reinforcing fear in people
Once a person is inflicted with fear, the first casualty will be the rational thinking and sanity. Friends, relatives, media personnel, politicians, religious leaders, knowingly or unknowingly, contribute to reinforce fear in him.
Immediately, after the recent terrorist attacks in Sri Lanka, I continued to receive messages, posters, short audio clips and videos which all asked me to be careful and to be on the alert because there are all kinds of Sri Lanka’s enemies who are at work to destroy this beautiful island. It appeared that the objective of the senders of these unsolicited messages was to drive fear into me. When one examines them carefully, one would soon find that the messages conveyed or stories narrated do not stand to reasoning. Yet, the gullible people swallow them without subjecting them to any critical inquiry or background checking.
Without stopping at that, they re-forward these fear-striking messages to their contacts as if they are doing some service them. But, knowingly or unknowingly, they help terrorists to achieve their goal: striking fear into their target group.
The fallacy of a strong man
The fear that is built in the minds of people and the consequential irrational thinking then become a fertile ground for the appearance of person in the guise of a saviour but with some dictatorial ambitions with him. This is the biggest danger to democracy as I have argued in the previous article in this series. The danger with such saviours is that at the time they get power, they appear to be fully docile and well-intentioned. But sooner or later, after they have tasted the power, they become monsters making it impossible for people to remove them resorting to normal democratic processes. The authoritarian rules that are created in those countries, as I have argued, tend to suppress freedoms of people in the name of national interests.
To get the people’s support for the repressive actions, feelings of nationalism are aroused among the citizens. Once they are intoxicated with nationalistic feelings, they are presented with a host of enemies threatening the very existence of the nation. All repressive and authoritarian actions are justified on that ground. Hence, without due checks and balances in place, it is inappropriate to call a strong man to assume power simply to eradicate the menace of terrorism in the country. The post-2009 period in Sri Lanka is a testimony to this.
Global origin of the present terrorist attack in Sri Lanka
The present terrorist attack in Sri Lanka has a global origin. IS has set up a terrorist cell in the country in order to destroy the targets of its choice as and when it chooses to do so. They have funded the cell, supplied it with explosives and provided training to foot soldiers. Sri Lankan armed forces will be successful in apprehending the local agents and bringing them to justice. But it will not end the threat of terrorism, since its global masters are still at work.
What this means is that global terrorism should be tackled by global action and not merely by national action. This is because global terrorism is a global bad like global warming affecting all the nations in the globe. Today, it is in Sri Lanka. But tomorrow, it will be in another country. Hence, these incidents are not isolated ones confined only to national borders of a country. The terrorists will continue to fight their war with the global community since they have the necessary ideological backing, funding and a continuous supply of foot soldiers to fight their war.
Thus, the global community should get together in order to fight this war. For that purpose, a global action programme should be drawn with common funding, intelligence sharing and joint collaboration. Without this, any action taken by individual states to eradicate terrorism with a global origin will not be a success.
It is therefore time for the global community to work together.
*W.A. Wijewardena, a former Deputy Governor of the Central Bank of Sri Lanka, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org