By Suren Rāghavan –
One full year has passed. News about some suspects being arrested had also come and gone. But a serious engagement with the sub-urban Muslim youth who may be the prime pool of ideology of the 2019 Colombo Ester bombing has not taken place as it demands. Dialogue for Deradicalization seems a fancy thing in the peripheries of politics. And the general civic society has not seen any such institutional processes in the Post –Zaharan period that calls them to unite against terrorism. When will we learn (If we decide to do so)?
Lessons from the Jungles
In early 80s there were enough information about the militarization of Tamil young (men). Then government did only two things. a) Ignoring and brushing it as a mere group of bandits. b) Taking the hard response and reacting indiscriminately when they were found. Both failed utterly and led to the birth and operation of one of the bloodiest protracted civil conflicts ever, robbing 100s of 1000s of precious lives including beloved academic Dr Neelan Thiruchelvam and just playful novice monks in Aranthalawa alike.[See: Sarvananthan, Muttukrishna. “‘Terrorism’ or ‘Liberation’? Towards a Distinction: A Case Study of the (LTTE (2018) and Corley, Christopher L. “The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).” In Financing Terrorism, Routledge, (2016)]
“In the short term, open societies may be more vulnerable to terrorism, because they allow extremists more space to operate, to recruit and advertise their misguided views than would be available in authoritarian regimes. In the longer term, though, terrorists will be less likely to succeed, because open societies allow people to express their grievances in ways other than through the use of violence. It is no accident, I believe, and that no democratic government has ever been overthrown by terrorists or insurgents.” wrote Fernando Henrique Cardoso – Former President of Brazil. A country with a long history of civil wars -now chair of Club de Madrid
What it entails in summary is that the best way to answer any form of Terrorism is to widen the democratic space. While all reasonable/responsible states and their governments will be called upon to respond to the mindless acts of terrorism in a military/security context, the actual justification and benefit of, even the undesired military action will be validated and bear positive fruits only within the framework of a participatory democratic process.
True the later-day hard-core of the LTTE became nonnegotiable with their one single goal of a separate state – such hard-core separatism and its abysmal terrorism could have been beaten within, had an alternative democratic space was constructed before we were pushed to the only option of stopping them by totally eradicating. From 1996 the state of Lanka took painstaking efforts to negotiate convince and convert the LTTE and its proxies to disarm and enter into a general political stream. Of course the LTTE refused because it had no pressure from the ground below to change – that is from the Tamil people (especially in the North and the East) to do so. Because alternative Tamil populace particularly the youth had no substitute avenue for politics to address their (perceived or actual) sociopolitical anxieties of being equal citizens of an undivided country. In fact it is during the war that large sections of moderate Tamil youth experienced the harshest treatment and attitude of the state towards them.
Yes it is an extremely difficult task to engage in a war while actively calling them for democracy. But unfortunately the world has not produced any other method yet. Defeat of the extremism of any type is possible only when the space for moderate democracy is widen.
If the LTTE terror was a formidable home/regional force that grew as one of the most gruesome none-state actors – The ideology behind the so called ISIS is far reaching and widely spread with deeply deposited roots- globally
Lessons from the Globe
Sri Lanka cannot irradiate the global ISIS. But we sure can and MUST make sure that not a single right minded Sri Lankan Muslim youth will join them and bring such primordialities home or promote elsewhere.
In a multi- approach strategy that including search, find and dismantle such groups/network and those individuals who may even undercover support Islamic terrorism in Lanka, We as a collective nationhood of which the Muslims are a significant and inseparable part must strive hard to provide the structural space for a Dialogical Democracy.
Engaging with (sub) urban / middle class Muslim youth should be paramount part of our state (re)building. History is an expense lesson particularly if/when we fail to learn from it
Radicalizing into any extreme group never happens overnight it almost all the times has a step –by-step process what some scholars are naming as “staircase model of Terrorism’. And all forms of ideologies have a life-cycle based on the nature, time or projection. It is unwise and we have no scientific reasons to assume that ISIS type (Islamic) Religion based Terrorism is over. In the contrary like many previous extreme armed groups, they may live and survive in other forms in different regions. If so, is the young Muslim community in Lanka still a ripe ground for sensitizing, indoctrinating, recruit and commissioning of suicide terrorism at home or aboard?
Other than the Global Islamic Caliphate promised in this world and other fancies in heaven, one important question that we as a state relentlessly should be asking is, WHAT ARE THE MOST ATTRACTIVE PROPOSITIONS FOR A LANKAN MUSLIM YOUTH TO BE RADICALIZED and join a Terror group? Can we trace and identify? Are they actual, perceived or imagined? Even if they are imagined and imported by an external element for reasons not so rationale to us, The state of Lanka has no option or excuse but to keep raising that question at every possible decision making juncture.
Like all other groups and situations the politics of terrorism has four key clearly identifiable segments of their universe 1. The (Religiously or Ethnically) Educated ideologues who generally are intelligent people. 2 the charismatic recruiter/s, 3 Operational suicide soldiers and 4 the silently observing Majority. It is not a pyramidal structure but a cycle with open doors for activist to enter and exit from one type to another. We as a state need to identify prominent and hidden agents of influence in each of these segments, create a constructive dialogue process. A well-researched recent study (Doosje, Bertjan, Fathali M. Moghaddam, Arie W. Kruglanski, Arjan De Wolf, Liesbeth Mann, and Allard R. Feddes. “Terrorism, radicalization and de-radicalization.” Current Opinion in Psychology 11 (2016): 79-84.), claimed that only a 6.5 % of the terrorists ever won their goals by means of terror. That is a great news for those of us who believe in the civilized form of dialogue/negotiations to solve problems. But the other side of the coin is also true. Same research reveals it is only a 4.7 % of the cases a state sponsored military won and eliminated terrorism. This speak to the truth that “in between” a far wider spectrum of possibilities are available to Tame Terrorism. Which tool to be used in what measure at what time are questions each state must answer for herself. Taking in the state-society engagement into accounts We Sri Lankans are able to ask only one single question at this time I assume. That is – are we asking any question at all about the Easter Bombing and? In order to engage with any form of extremist / terrorism that threatens the way of life and the foundation of our remaining democracy.
*Dr Suren Raghavan PhD was the 6th and First Tamil Governor of Northern Province – Sri Lanka. He is a Senior Research Fellow at the Oxford Centre for Buddhist Studies – University of Oxford