19 June, 2024


Homegrown Violent Extremists; A Threat To The Unity & Stability Of Sri Lanka

By Soraya M. Deen

Soraya M. Deen

With little doubt and honest admission one of the most dangerous terrorist threats to Sri Lanka today is homegrown violent extremists. Homegrown violent extremists (HVEs) are individuals who are inspired in many instances, by personal grievances and ideology to commit violent acts. They select their targets, and are not influenced by foreign terrorist organizations. They are radicalized in the countries in which they are born, raised, or reside.

History repeats

A little over a year has passed since mobs descended on the city of Digana and ravaged the city, killing two Muslims and destroying scores of businesses, mosques and homes belonging to Muslims.

In the weeks since the Easter bombings that killed more than 250 people, for which responsibility was claimed by the Islamic State- tensions have remained high across the island nation, particularly between the majority Buddhists and minority Muslim communities. Laying doubts to rest, on the 13th of May, just two weeks after the Easter Sunday bombings, the country plunged into darkness once again with a new wave of attacks more intense than that of Digana being mounted against the Muslims. This time the attacks spanned five towns in the North Western province with the possibility of the violence spreading to other areas.

Let’s name it

We have since learned that these were orchestrated, targeted attacks against the Muslims. Mobs who were unknown and from outside of the towns that were attacked destroyed 500 shops, houses and mosques belonging to the Muslims. Muslims were also beaten and one man was hacked to death. In some instances video footage revealed this carnage and destruction being celebrated by the mobs.

Erroll G. Southers, a former FBI special agent, professor of national and homeland security at the University of Southern California’s Sol Price School and director of Homegrown Violent Extremism Studies states, “For decades, racially motivated extremists have terrorized the communities they hate. Extremist violence is difficult to track because domestic terrorism law is simply not prosecuting the reality. There is seldom mention of the word “terror” in the prosecutorial charge.”

We don’t need another reminder that the events of May 13th should serve as a warning for collective accountability being imposed on Muslims.  Muslims across the country must formulate a course of action to deal with the hate and violence that flows towards them, sparked by hate and blind misunderstanding. With the repeated lackadaisical responses of the law enforcement there is no doubt that we will sadly witness again, escalated levels of terrorism against the Muslims of Sri Lanka. The community will sadly continue to stand the risk of living in fear of being a Muslim.

What is alarming and disturbing is the government’s failure and inability to address and prevent the violent extremism that took place on Easter Sunday and subsequently on May 13th, 2019.

Throughout history, we know, “It has been the inaction of those who could have acted; the indifference of those who should have known better; the silence of the voice of justice when it mattered most; that has made it possible for evil to triumph.”

The new norm

The immediate question before our government, law enforcement, civic and community leaders should be as to how to address homegrown violent extremism, and what we, as a country and society, can do to promote security and help make people, particularly minority communities safer. A question that begs answering is as to whether we lack will or skill?

Harry S. Truman once said, “Men make history and not the other way around. In periods where there is no leadership, society stands still. Progress occurs when courageous, skillful leaders seize the opportunity to change things for the better.”

Digana should have been a wakeup call for our community leaders, law enforcement and political leaders. Yet we know that it was well guaranteed immunities and impunities for the mobs and a series of denials and deflections by the Muslim communities.

Instead of aggressively building grassroots movements and strategic partnerships, which would strengthen national identity vs religious identity, there was very little in the way of concrete action by the Muslim leadership.

We live in a 24 hour news cycle. Much of what happens the day before or sometimes even on the day of, fades away from the public consciousness at considerable speed. Even for the people who addressed the debacle of Digana, justice was delayed and denied.

Sri Lanka gradually fell in to a deeper abyss, when the country was taken down by a Constitutional coup, this time led by the incumbent President Maithripala Sirisena and a former President Mahinda Rajapaksa.

Taking Action Beats Panicking Every Time

We can no longer just wait for delayed law enforcement responses, every time there is another violent mob attack against the Muslims. We must no longer witness with indifference the significant anti Muslim hate spewed by certain segments of the Buddhist clergy, without swiftly and aggressively responding to such slurs and insults. One hate incident can spiral to another. In the aftermath of the Easer attacks and the mounting anger against the larger Muslim communities no hate is too small of a concern.

We must as a nation, as concerned citizens’ act immediately to deescalate violence and hate. If we fail, this will become the new norm. And this apathy will impact all communities. A state of disorder due to a disregard of the law emboldens homegrown violent extremists.

Domestic Terrorism

We must recognize that we have a grave threat in our midst and which is homegrown violent extremism. The government must unite to eradicate this grave challenge. Law enforcement must share resources and strengthen its capabilities and fully engage to solve this threat.  It must take into account the urgency to curb this menace.

More resources must also be allocated to deal with homegrown violent extremism.  We must acknowledge this threat and the source of this threat. Buddhist violent extremism carried out by a few extremists does fall within the definition of homegrown violent extremism

Most nationalistic, exclusivist ideology is steeped in justifiable hate and violence. It respects no one and stems from a deep rooted hatred towards the Muslim community. The government and relevant authorities must do everything within its power, to address the urgency of this phenomena. Social media and technology companies must also collaborate and work together with policymakers and activists, in addressing the impact of technology that is emboldening haters to spread their ideas online and on social media. A counter terrorism agency to address domestic terrorism is long overdue. These domestic terrorists pose an equally or if not more of a dangerous threat to our country than international terrorism.

Anti-Muslim hatred today is at grave risk of being legitimized. The legitimacy comes from many sources such as media, majority Buddhist communities’ sentiments, and fear rooted in blind misunderstanding. What is deeply concerning is that some of it is also political.

One thing is clear the attacks on the Muslim communities is not a recent phenomenon. It will take a comprehensive approach to fight anti-Muslim hatred. From intolerance to hate and unprovoked violence against this innocent community, the trends are pervasive and deep rooted.

Making our nation safe entails developing resilience factors in the areas of education, law enforcement-community relationships, civic engagement, empowering women and promoting religious leadership. It is ordinary individuals that transform into violent extremists. All communities must address extreme nationalism, Radicalism, and Fundamentalism.

Even though there is not one trait or reason that promotes violent extremism, political and religious ideologies, personal and collective grievances, networks and interpersonal ties, contribute to the dynamics of radicalization and extremism.

Sri Lanka will not find peace and co-existence in rearranging the circumstances of events. At our deepest level we must all have clarity and vision as to who we are as a nation, and what we can all do to achieve that vision.

*Soraya Deen is an international activist, lawyer, President of the Interfaith Solidarity Network. She is the founder of the Muslim Women Speakers Movement.

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Latest comments

  • 3

    Isis not choose sri lanka but sri lankan muslim extermists choose isis

    • 0

      Dear Soraya M. Deen

      RE: Homegrown Violent Extremists; A Threat To The Unity & Stability Of Sri Lanka

      “What is alarming and disturbing is the government’s failure and inability to address and prevent the violent extremism that took place on Easter Sunday and subsequently on May 13th, 2019.”

      Who were the First homegrown violent Extremists? Para-Sinhala Para-“Buddhists”
      Ask any Tamil about the events of 1958, 1977, 1983, 1983-2009,.

      Who were the First homegrown violent Extremists? Para-Sinhala Para-“Buddhists”
      Ask any Muslim about the events of 2012, 2014, 2017, 2019. Can also ask the Christians.

      Who were the Second homegrown violent Extremists? Para-Tamil Para-“Hindus”
      Ask any Tamil, Sinhala and Muslim about the events of 1983-2009,.

      Who were the Third homegrown violent Extremists? Para-Muslim Para-Wahhabies.

      Ask any Sufi Muslim about the events of 2002, 2006, 2012, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019 etc

  • 1

    This is the first time, I see a Muslim writing here that Two people died in Digana. IF you can write the two muslims names. They were Sinhala buddhsits who got killed. the first Sinhala buddhist Driver who was reading the news paper inside the Truck was killed by Three Wahhabi muslims because their three wheeler was obstructed by the stopped Truck ]. when he was hit with the Wooden pole he had fallen and had admitted to the hospital. After two weeks he died and then the violence began. during the violence another Sinhala person died. Muslims also attacked Police, You need to check the and report the facts. Read the Muslims comments here. Some muslims are violent naturally. they are saved because, sinhala politicians got BRIBES from Rishad Bathiuddin’s handler, I suppose.

  • 2

    It is not only the doings of 13th May, but also the basis for the tragedy of 21st April, could be termed home grown, through corruption of the political, and politicisation of the security, establishment. If the Police had not been politically obstructed from acting against the attackers on Rauf Moulavi and his Sufi mosque in Kattankudy on 10th March 2017, there would have been no Easter tragedy. It is remarkable how the failure to handle an entirely manageable problem in a small part of Kattankudy has been used to generate a tirade against all the Muslims in the country.

  • 2

    Threat to the unity and stability of Sri Lanka began in 1956. Whilst polarizing its people it took many turns in giving rise to caste, class, and religious differences, insurgencies, a long drawn out terrorist war, and the recent Muslim terrorism. Extremism is now inbuilt in the Sri Lankan society. Politics in future will be fought on “them and us” – majority versus the minorities ( race and religion). Many places of Christian worship have been attacked by mobs recently whilst the law enforcement authorities turn a blind eye. The recent events only provide fuel for politicians for the upcoming elections.

    • 1

      Steve, usual Tamil rubbish. All this country’s extremism has come from the minorities unwillingness to accept that they are minorities. Christians planting churches , Tamils and their ‘Tamil homelands’, Muslims and their expansion and radicalism.

      • 1

        No, not usual Tamil rubbish; Sri Lankan rubbish.

  • 0

    This comment was removed by a moderator because it didn’t abide by our Comment policy.For more detail see our Comment policy https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/comments-policy-2

  • 2

    Soraya M Deen

    Well, you’ve come up with a new idea of terrorism to Sri Lanka; Home Grown Violent Terrorism.

    Let’s make it more relevant to Sri Lanka by just calling it, “Homegrown Terrorism” as there can be terrorism with violence or without violence (Silent).

    This homegrown terrorism can be linked to international terrorism or international terrorism be linked to Sri Lanka’s home grown terrorism for each others benefit/advantage; as we’ve experienced now.

    It should be accepted that we don’t know clearly who started any of these past terrorist actions (except the latest that destroyed life & property @ churches & some hotels) whether @ Digana or anywhere else though the 2 sides point fingers @ each other.

    It’s a well known quality of minority extremists or terrorists to instigate the majority, most often innocent with great respect for humanity to make attack upon them & make a strong noise to seek international sympathy.

    Your scribbling is just another silly attempt to garner support for Sri Lanka’s emerging Muslim terrorism.

    Sinhalese & Buddhists in particular are being labelled as extremists & presented to the world.

    Unfortunately by the very people who had been given every thing by the host Sinhala Buddhists.

    It’s an irony.

    Hope that international community will understand it very soon.

    • 1

      I think you did not read the article carefully. Your comment is reflecting the pattern of selfish crowd who have been driving the country for decades. The author has attempted to say that, a little group within Buddhist community/ monks and a little group within Muslim community are terrorising the country while justice is pretending to be sleeping. Majority of Sri Lankans love their neighbouring communities and respect each other. Only a tiny selfish minority who occupy seats or who are in seat hunger are behind all these, whether it is Digana or 21 st April or any other.
      My question is why should an educated citizen ally with extremist? Extremists are the enemy of humanity and there is no difference between blood thirst jihadists, racist monks and sudo mobs. Why should we glorify them?
      A civilised citizen should not be talking about majority community or minority community philosophy. It could be beneficial for those who want to take advantage of it but it should make no difference for people like you and me. Human being must respected as individual. None of us choose to be born in a community that we like and we only realise this community politics as we grow in the community in which we are born. We are more active in justifying what our community does thank looking at the problem with sincere hearts. If a person commits a crime it is blameworthy in the sight of sincere citizen and it cannot treated as praiseworthy because someone is from our community has done it. Likewise being a member of majority doesn’t give licence to bully the minority.
      You do not have to worry too much about your reputation in the sight of the international community if you are sincere. The world has its own eyes. LET US BE SRI LANKANS

  • 0

    In Sinhala we call this kind of writers “thoththa baba”. The motivations of the writer are very clear, i.e. providing cover and justification to extremist Islamist terrorism spreading around the world including in Sri Lanka. The local branch of this extremist Islamic terrorists could have been dismantled before they struck the innocent people if we had an effective govt in place (unlike these pathetically incompetent yahapalanaya). Defeating the extremist Islamic ideology that fuelled the carnage however will be a drawn out battle mainly because of the cover provided by the writer’s ilk and their political masters. Their propaganda machine is now targeting Sinhala Buddhists because they know in Sri Lanka, any counter measure/response to extremist Islamic terrorism primarily will come from Sinhala Buddhist society.

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