By Samal Vimukthi Hemachandra –
Another terrorist attack has captured the attention of the world. More than 120 people are dead. ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) has taken the responsibility for this barbaric attack. Eye witnesses say that gunmen shouted “Allahu Akbar”, before shooting. Unlike most terrorists’ attacks, in which ISIS killed hostages one by one. They did not demand anything. When they knew they were going to get captured, they killed themselves by using explosive vests. It was very clear that they came with a very clear idea that is to kill innocent people who were having a good time with their family and friends after a usual busy week. By killing these innocent people, they also wanted Europe to taste their brutal killings in Middle East which shocked the world. World leaders have issued customary statements using words like “state of war”, “evil of terrorism”, “shocked but resolute, in sorrow but unbowed”, “we are with you” etc. Many landmarks have been illuminated with French colors. Facebook created a new tool to show the solidarity with French people.
How can we understand all these ‘drama’? Talking to BBC Radio 4, Peter Neumann, Professor of Security Studies, King’s College London stated “[…] it is not only about people being killed it is about creating a political effect. What worries me the most is that we will see in France and other European countries a polarisation, with different extremists egging each other on. People on the far right trying to take advantage. It’s about dividing societies.” As he predicts, from here onwards, in France, every Muslim will be treated as a terrorist. Therefore even the most innocent Muslim will be contempt to conscious about his identity? Finally, the society will be divided into two camps. In other words, this will mark the boundaries between Us and Them. Extreme rights will attempt to mobilize the ‘us-ness’ and terrorists will operate on ‘other-ness’.
The main victims in this catastrophe are innocent people. ISIS killed 120 innocent people. (Un)surprisingly the largest refugee camp in Paris has been in flames. So far no one knows who caused it. May be it was a coincident or maybe it was a retaliation. Poland stopped taking migrants. British Prime minister David Cameron has warned “We must recognise that however strong we are, however much we prepare, we in the UK face the same threat.” To induce more fear, ISIS has claimed that they have sent their 4000 terrorists to Europe through refugees. As it seems, both camps are acting quickly to strengthen their camps. This is where people who preach freedom through nonviolent actions, experience ambiguity. Both camps will ridicule them for being impracticable.
What are the lessons ‘Sri Lankans’ can learn from this context? Before 2009, Sri Lanka has experienced the same fear, the south by the hands of LTTE and the north by the hands of government military. However rather than talking about the state terrorism, I would like to discuss how LTTE deployed this same brutality and how extremist nationalist groups manipulated this brutality for their own progress.
As I believe the first incident of the polarization of the post-colonial Sri Lankan society was Black July of 1983. It was the first incident where mass scale violence on people belonging to different ethnicities was perpetrated. Tamils in the south were targeted by Sinhalese and Sinhalese were targeted in the North by Tamils. As there was a popular saying that you can find ‘Matara Bath Kada’ in Jaffna before 1983. On the one hand, a number of Tamils fled to India and Europe and some joined LTTE. On the other hand, LTTE received sympathy and ideological support from Tamils and other states like India and European states.
When LTTE started to send suicide bombers to public places and unleash violence on innocent civilians in boarder villages and Buddhist religious sites, what they were doing was creating the polarization of the society. In 1983 Black July, lot of people helped their neighbors and friends of the other ethnic to escape from the violence. However LTTE made sure that this relationship was no longer possible. The constant barbaric acts made it clear to each and every individual ‘their camp’. In other words, it made Us vs Them. However what LTTE did underestimate was the emergence of ‘Sinhala Buddhist extremism’ as a reaction to it.
In 80s, there were plenty of Tamil sympathizers in Sinhalese community. Some radical Sinhalese publicly accepted and supported Tamil demands. But with the emergence of Sinhala Buddhist extremism, this group had to decide whether to support/sympathize with LTTE or being silent/support Sinhala Buddhist extremism. Between 2005-2015, former were considered as ‘traitors’ and the latter as ‘patriots’.
Making polarization by using violence gave birth to the most extremist government under Mahinda Rajapaksha in 2005. He successfully used this polarization to conduct a bloody war against LTTE. Even this was unexpected for LTTE. For the first time in its post-colonial history, the state military was brought into its highest stage of development? All these were done through the consent of utmost majority of the Sothern society. However even after the war, though LTTE is dead, the burning question is how to approach this polarization which was created through extensive violence. So far the Sri Lankan society has not found a solution.
Therefore the Paris attack is showing the Sri Lankan society what went wrong in the society. Most importantly, it will be a perfect illustration of how the Sri Lankan society got divided. Now the war is over, we have the luxury of observing the Paris attack and its aftermath. If we are intelligent enough, we should be able to take lessons, most probably lessons of ‘not to dos’, to create a long lasting peace among each other. Finally Paris attack and its aftermath will be a mirror for ‘Sri Lankans’ to see how our own society divided through violence