22 June, 2024


Searching For (Next) Zaharan Hashim

By Suren Rāghavan

Dr. 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.

Questions (Un)asked

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 

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Latest comments

  • 4

    Raghavan utters the most insipid academic mumbo jumbo that I have ever heard in the context of the ISIS loving, Jihadi maniacs who are Lankan Moslems. He should know that the die hard Dravidian LTTE cadres were easily wiped out in the asymmetric warfare of 2008/09 when Lanka received superior intelligence and firepower and aerial capabilities in kinetic warfare. Coupled with timely but basic diplomatic maneuvers, the Indian Brahmin disdain for the LTTE Dravidian hordes and the fear of a Dravidistan vis a vis LTTE at the tip of India, and high morale among ground forces, it was relatively easy and unnecessarily rather bloody work to take care of Prabhakaran’s men. In fact it almost seemed that the Lankan forces rather enjoyed the TV driven daily discourse on the last couple of months of the warfare and a sense of Mahavamsic destiny and Dutugemunu like prophesy for victory was reverberating among the Sinhalese at that time. That was a lot of excitement among Sinhalese even in London and Los Angeles. I too enjoyed the weekly war reportage that was coming from Lanka. The endgame was clear and LTTE was obviously looking to sacrifice all their young men to army bullets, which the latter eagerly obliged.

  • 5

    a great article.
    the theory that the urban middle and upper-class sectors of the Islamic especially the youth have first to be cultivated and wooed not to ever become the long beard-growing thoppi wearing religious fanatics.
    these yokels in most of the world especially in the moor world have been indulging in many an unthinkable sordid act.
    the saddest aspect is that 99% of this radicalised misled folk come from the poorest sectors of their societies are fodder food for the wealthy Muslims who whilst living in comfortable safe surroundings do not give a damn as to what happens to these misled unfortunate now become Allah’s infidels whose brainwashed ambition is to kill and maim their fellow Islamic brothers and sisters.
    the Tamil youth were forced to take up arms due to the sad facts of not being treated as equal respected citizens, deprived of educational facilities and the most frustrating fact was no job opportunities.
    so taking up arms for their own government and state were the only options left.
    now the Sinhalese fundamental petty racists along with their saffron-clad so-called the ever calm peace-loving Lord Buddha’s merciless men and women who mainly sprout from the lower end of the gutter society are blindly being misled by their political masters are hellbent on causing and creating many an act of unholy criminal deliberate mayhem.
    these Sinhalese worship the Hindu deities and the gods and ever since 1956 have by force taken over many a Hindu place of worship.
    these buggers despise us for our ingenuity intelligence education etc and are only hellbent on harming the innocent members of the minority communities
    bloody hypocrites they are.?.

  • 6

    Hey suren , did not read your article in full
    You been dragged to politics by previous government
    You been known to rubbish in Geneva and got banged by Michelle Bachet
    You known to have Buddhist conference in Sensitve tamil dominated area .
    What you did during the career while being a governer? to heal the wounded souls/victims
    Now you bring the LTTE-ISIS , combination to this article to boos your viewrs? or readers
    Your facts are immature and poorly constructed
    LTTE formed by subsequent discrimination of tamil-minorities , and well supported by Local and regional governments
    LTTE did not gave birth in a single night
    Premadasa and Rajeev ghandhi/south indian politicos – even Mahinda funded LTTE to save their political life.
    Neelan and Kathirgamar may be well educated , agreed.But they were involved heavily with the GOSL mechinary which was aggressively destruct the tamil livelihood Pre -2009
    There was a huge support locally and globally from Tamils towards the LTTE, It doesn’t mean Tamils were war-mongers, But the hardline Sinhala- governments not willing to share the basic privilages/rights where rest of the population entertaining
    good examples were Sinhala Only/De citinzenship/Colonisation/Jaffna Library etc
    We wont get Sahran or LTTED in future
    Will get another JVP or anti-Christian riot for sure.

  • 4

    It is very true what the former governor says. Govt should reach to youth of every ethnic group, they should be informed about world politics, the importance of self employment trying to belonged to the society that they live in. I think in that sense sri Lankan forces are doing a good job . Like wise, they should reach to muslim youth too.

  • 2

    Dr. Raghavan, Good points – the US citizens Rajapaksa govt. with racist policies will radicalize Muslims.
    But please remember that the LTTE and other Tamil militant groups was set up and funded by India’s RAW and IB and it was India that WEAPONIZED ethnic riots and turned it into war. So too now US is weaponizing religious tensions in Sri Lanka at this time.
    RAW turned civilian riots into a WAR. Likewise an external spark was needed to turn Muslim youth into terrorists – Saudi funds and the CIA’s ISIS project – used Muslim youth and staged the Easter Carnage, to destabilize strategically located Sri Lanka and set up US military bases especially since ICJ had ruled against the Diego Garcia military base in the Indian Ocean.
    Muslim and Christian communities in Sri Lanka have very good relations as they are both minorities and Muslim youth should logically have attacked Buddhists, after such detailed planning but they attacked the Christians instead. Did the sucide bombers make a category mistake? NO if it was internal.
    Rather, Muslim youth attacked a fellow minority so that USA could enter Lanka to protect Christians and set up bases after signing SOFA and MCC land grab compact.

    Sri Lanka’s ethnic and religious diversity has always been played by foreign parties and Corrupt Local Politicians to Divide and Rule.
    However, if you look at the regional mess in South Asia – India and US that set up ISIS after invading Iraq to do regime change in Syria – a the bid culprits.

  • 6

    The northern Tamils had always been very religious, law-abiding and diligent to boot. They withstood a harsh agricultural climate but ensured a flourishing home garden sector. They also deferred to their Sinhala countrymen from the southern parts and would often use the salutary “Ayya” in those days when travelling to Jaffna was good fun and their hospitality a pleasant experience. Then, things changed. They or their LTTE and related cohorts earned the infamous adjective of “ruthless, barbaric and inhuman” according to the narrative that preceded their battleground loss in 2009. How were ordinary and respectful Tamils transformed thus? It almost seemed like a metamorphosis. This issue was never addressed by the Sri Lankan political class which thrived on demonising Tamils and creating a depiction of evil in anything to do with Prabhakaran or militant (terrorists). In a similar style, the present day Muslims are being pushed by arrogant chauvinists under the rubric of “nationalism”. I do not equate the northern Tamils and the dispersed Muslims in many aspects, but creating or nurturing another Zahran or Prabhakaran would have similar motivations to the previous one.

    • 4

      Lasantha Pethiyagoda

      “The northern Tamils had always been very religious, law-abiding and diligent to boot.”

      Whoever gave you that idea?
      Whoever gave you the idea was living in cloud cuckoo land.
      If true it begs fundamental questions.
      If their southern (converted descendants of kallathonies) brethren are different, why? What made them different from their northern ( descendants of kallathonie) brethren?

  • 1

    “In early 80s there were enough information about the militarization of Tamil young (men).”
    In fact there was enough in the late 1970s. The UF government, the SLFP especially, mishandled the rising militancy.
    The UNP was the main culprit since 1977, but what had the SLFP done, except for short spells of sensible attitudes (like Mrs B’s line in 1989).
    Chandrika declared a “War for Peace”.
    No right minded person should join a racist group. But young people do, not just the Muslimst, the Sinhala-Buddhist youth particularly.
    The writer has to address his questions to his SLFP (SLPP?) friends who play ball with SB racists.

  • 1


    “The UNP was the main culprit since 1977”

    Who was the culprit between 1955 and 1977?
    Perhaps Chelvanayagam!

    “(like Mrs B’s line in 1989).”

    What was her sensible attitudes other than bent on destroying provincial councils.

    “The writer has to address his questions to his SLFP (SLPP?) friends who play ball with SB racists.”

    The SLFP was born out of racism.
    You should be blaming SWRD Pandaranayagam, his weeping widow who
    strengthen the racists’ hand through various legislations, constitution, discrimination, …. aiding and abetting Pakistan committing war crimes, …

  • 0

    Doctor, excellent article but it misses one aspect ie: when the radicalization occurs indigenously on one hand and when it is imported and thrust upon an innocent community by the bigger players how do you overcome that ???????????

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