22 February, 2024


Terrorism: Punditry & The Problem   

By Sarath De Alwis

Sarath de Alwis

The term ‘terrorism’ means premeditated, politically motivated violence perpetrated against non-combatant targets by subnational groups or clandestine agents, usually intended to influence an audience. The term ‘international terrorism’ means terrorism involving citizens or the territory of more than one country. The term ‘terrorist group’ means any group practicing, or that has significant subgroups that practice, international terrorism (US Federal Law Code, Title 22) 

Easter Sunday turned on a master switch. Old fears returned to centerstage. Terrorism, what it means, what it portends dominates the national psyche.

There has emerged a demand for the total securitization of the state, by entrusting the business of running the republic to ‘You know who?” 

It explains how and why Wimal Weeranwansa the fastidious ultra-Sinhala nationalist partial to ‘Burberry’ and ‘Tommy Hilfiger’ attire has become a national security expert.

To me he and his coterie are the quintessential extremists. They are vociferously vocal and assiduously active in challenging our fundamental values, including democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and mutual respect and tolerance of different faiths and beliefs. 

He wants the select committee probe halted forthwith. He does not want the failure probed because it will prevent future failures! As an eminent academic pointed out to me the Sinhala term “Budhdhi Angsha” is an oxymoron- it meant different things to different people.  

I am no intelligence expert. But even with a superficial acquaintance with the vast literature available, it can be surmised that fighting modern terrorism demands painstaking research and a predictive logic that is beyond the inherent capacity of the average rabble rouser. And it is they who have commandeered the wheel at this critical time.  

We all know about the Russian psychologist Pavlov and his dogs. His pioneering discovery was that dogs could learn to associate the sound of a bell with a meal. When Pavlov sounded the bell, his dogs began to drool. The experiment led to the discovery of a profound truth about the human mind. Extremely strong associations could be formed between events. 

Post Easter Sunday events demonstrate how the idea of ‘Terrorism’ can spark a motivating fear igniting mass hysteria. The process affects us all. 

Can the terrorist deliver a message? Does the terrorist succeed in registering the message with the intended target? Have the Easter Sunday terrorists succeeded in influencing their audience? 

The following passage is an extract from last Sunday’s ‘political commentary’ in the Sunday Times. The column is widely respected and avidly read by the cognoscenti and the ordinary alike. The columnist has justifiably earned the repute of an authoritative commentator on defense and national security issues. 

“Retaliatory attacks from local extremists, avenging attacks on the ISIS in Syria by US trained Syrian forces, led to the Easter Sunday massacre – one of the worst in the country. 

Not having stopped at the ACSA, the US was pushing for a Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA). All to combat terrorism, a phenomenon the US’s own actions elsewhere have caused.

Though he faltered on entering into ACSA and its adverse impact on Sri Lanka, with the country becoming a breeding ground for Muslim extremists, President Sirisena should still be commended for being wise this time.”

The respected commentator arrives at two startlingly significant certitudes, related to the terror inflicted on Easter Sunday.

1. Easter Sunday carnage is a retaliatory attack by local extremists avenging attacks on the ISIS by US trained Syrian forces. 

2. The President by not agreeing to a ‘Status of Forces Agreement’ (SOFA) with the USA has prevented Sri Lanka from turning in to a breeding ground for Muslim extremists.

Interrogating the two propositions is not the purpose of this essay. But the suggested possibility of Sri Lanka turning in to a possible breeding ground for Muslim extremists is worrying. It is a subject for another essay on another day.    

What we confront today is International Jihadist terrorism. What we defeated in 2009 was a political struggle. It was domestic in scope and composition. It was rooted in’ a singular idiosyncratic local situation’. 

That explains why the end of war has not resolved the causes of the conflict. Why we are a nation at peace with victors and vanquished separated by bitterness. 

Terrorism that hit us on Easter Sunday is a new ball game. It has put Colombo, Negombo and Batticaloa in the same league as New York, Paris. London and Madrid. 

The quoted passage from the Sunday Times Political Commentary needs to be seen, severed and studied in this context.  

What the Sunday Times Political Columnist has done has a theoretical excellence of its own. The carnage of Easter Sunday is the politicization of an idea- the necessity of resisting US hegemony. Fighting the enemy that prevents the resurrection of the Arab Islamic caliphate.

It debunks the common frame of reference that ‘terrorists’ are pathological perpetrators of mindless evil that defies comprehension by rational minds. These guys have a purpose. 

How they found the fanatics in a distant land is not the question. The issue is they have found the land. Unless and until we get hold of their compass, we will not know how they got here or how long they intend to stay here.  

How should we respond? Do we prevent the breeding of terrorists by not signing the SOFA with the US? Ignorance is bold, and knowledge is reserved” said Thucydides.

 We are indeed in a Thucydides trap – what Henry Kiesinger called the cardinal challenge to world order.  No pun intended. 

We don’t allow his Holiness the Dalai Lama to worship at the Temple of the sacred tooth relic. Yet, we readily escort   Prince Charles to the holy of holies to offer a tray of jasmines. 

Are we to frame the fight against the new terrorism of Islamic fundamentalism on the same principle of realpolitik that denies the Dalai lama the privilege that is readily conceded to the heir to the crown of our former queen whom we jettisoned only in 1972?  

Since the carnage of Easter Sunday, we have been lectured on the subject by many Terrorism pundits.

The platitudes on terrorism delivered are in incredulous competition for polish with the sheen of the pundit’s baldpate.   

Since 2009, with fanatical tenacity we hold on to an imagined truth- that we defeated the world’s most vicious terrorist organization. The natural corollary to that, is that it required the construction of a surveillance state that has no other parallel.

The post Easter Sunday national introspection is devastatingly dumb. It is appealingly alluring to those yearning for a ‘Tribal Chief’ who would herd us all into a chauvinist stockade. 

Dismantling of the disciplined dystopia managed with precision by Gotabaya Rajapaksa is seen as the primary cause for the recent carnage. 

One result of the thirty-year war is that we have no shortage of terrorism experts. 

Priests, Prelates and Preachers flaunt their in-depth mastery of the topic. Some of them wax eloquently on the mechanics of moles implanted in suspected terrorist outfits.  

Ultra nationalist demagogues insist on their matchless expertise in the fine art of intelligence gathering through clandestine operatives. 

We have Television anchors and self-proclaimed perception managers who can split, segment and sub divide ‘terrorism’ we fought successfully and locate the challenges presented by the new terrorism manifested on Easter Sunday. 

Governments and academic analysts had no agreed definition on ‘Terrorism’ until Jihadist terror hit global capitals. 

Most self-styled Terrorism experts ignore or gloss over the essential truth that terrorism is a problem with history. The history matters for the way, we think about it and our efforts to work out possible remedies. 

Dismissing the terrorist as a mindless psychopath is not the answer. Preempting terror attacks is necessary but offers no long-term solution. 

In a path breaking study “Disciplining Terror – How experts invented” ‘Terrorism’ Ms. Lisa Stampnizky of the University of Sheffield makes a case for introducing a new discipline on Terrorism studies that combines several disciplines.

Rather than trying to determine the one true meaning of ‘Terrorism ‘she examines how ‘terrorism’ is socially constructed.  She says, “when the phenomenon of terrorism is socially constructed it unveils and removes the mask showing the true face underneath that causes it to lose its power over us.” 

That requires us to recruit and train sociologists and social anthropologists as counter terrorism experts.

“Buildings are constructions. Analyzing how they are constructed is the only way we can understand how they were put together. In the social world, this means asking how problems, concepts and institutions came to be, how they become so powerful.” 

She points out that terrorism covers several disciplines and asks, how anyone with unbiased knowledge of the topic can self-proclaim as an expert. 

There is no licensing body to certify terrorism experts. There is no agreement among terrorism experts about what constitutes useful knowledge on ‘terrorism’. 

There are no benchmarks to determine who may be regarded as an expert. The “key audience for terrorism expertise is not an ideal-typical scientific community of other terrorism experts. 

The key audience is the public and the confused state.  “Terrorism” must be understood as operating at the contested boundary between politics and science. 

The 1972 Munich attacks, broadcast live, brought terrorism to the fore as a political weapon.

 A mindset that terrorist acted irrationally and pathologically emerged, ignoring underlying reasons for their actions. 

If terrorism is seen as a means to an end by its perpetrators, its objectives must be understood in a larger political and social context.  

Unfolding events should not surprise us.  Philosopher and Social Theorist Michael Foucault neatly encapsulated how a given society functions in adversity.  “Each society has its regime of truth, its “general politics” of truth”. 

“…. People know what they do; frequently they know why they do what they do; but what they don’t know is what ‘what they do’ does.”

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Latest comments

  • 1

    Sell the Nationalism and live. What else is available for preaching.

    • 3

      So SDA, out with it, who do you think designed and led some deluded Muslim youth to commit the Easter Sunday crime?
      Johan Blank who works for Rand said that IS a “franchise”,
      Like an American corporation, like Mac Donalds or KFC,
      Blank revealed the US corporate model on which the IS terror franchise is based,
      IS is a US franchise
      Blank disagrees with Rohan Gunaratne, that Al Bagdhadi risen from the dead, wants his Caliphate in a small Indian Ocean tropical island
      Blank and Rand and have been weaponizing Islam in Indonesia and South and Southeast Asia,
      They are Experts and would know better than the pseudo-expert from SIngapore I think?
      So, was IS set up by CIA with Saudi to weaponize religion, destabilize countries, spread violence and Islamophobia, cause attacks on Muslims and destroy multicultural societies?
      Is this CIA project is also on going in Myanmar against the Rohingya. https://www.transcend.org/tms/2017/10/shifting-blame-as-us-agenda-unfolds-in-myanmar/

      • 3

        Good stuff Sarath, Keep it coming
        Yes we need to get to the bottom of the Easter Sunday crime.
        We must de-bunk fake foreign terrorism spin experts, like Amarnath Amarasingham, Keethaponkalan, Blanck, who do Internet Research on the other-side of the world and pontificate and write reams of terrorism fantasies! These fake experts have not been near Sri Lanka in recent years, and claim that they bspeak to unspecified local informants and are crafting the narrative to hide the fact that Saudi funded and US operated IS was behind the carnage in Sri Lanka!

        • 0

          Indeed, US terrorism continues with unknown oil slicks in the Indian Ocean and Wellewatta beach that IS Mr. Bagdadi is so fond of!
          We must tell the US to take its war ships and war machine and Mr A l Bagdadi who CIA resurrected on Easter Sunday and get out of the INDIAN OCEAN – go back to the Pacific and Atlantic and leave Sri Lanka which is in Asia alone!
          US has not signed UNCLOS and has no rights in the IO where it is violating the rights of Chagos Islands peoples while talking bullshit about a rules based international order in the Indian Ocean.
          US should mind its business in their oceans and not come to the Indian Ocean talking Bullshit about International Rules based order, when they are the biggest violators of international Law occupying Chagos Islands with the hideous Diego Garcia CIA black site, having forcibly displace Indian Ocean people from their island home and against the Ruling of the ICJ. They want to do the same in Sri Lanka it seems.
          There is no such thing or ocean called the “Indo-Pacific”, which the US invented! Trumpland must get out of the Indian Ocean and take its oil slicks and tell its EU buddies, particularly the Frogs (French) who are looting Indian Ocean marine resources and fisheries while doing fake fisheries development projects in the Miracle of Modayas!

    • 2

      Ha Ha Ha You, wittingly or unwittingly have stoned a hornets’ nest!

      They are coming out of the woodwork to berate you …………. to elicit such a reaction you have certainly hit upon a few cardinal truths!

      Less than 5000 rag tag bunch of young boys, the LTTE, looked good for 30 years because of the monumental stupidity and incompetence of us the Singhalese.

      Try telling that to the Sinhalese! ………. They now want to believe we eliminated the most ruthless terrorist outfit in the world!

      How can a race that cannot govern themselves competently for 71 years post-independence, all of sudden like magic, find competence to fight a war? ……. It defies logic! ……… We fought the war just like we govern ourselves!

      Until Sarath Fonseka appeared on the scene and copied Janka Perera’s playbook ………. and how did the Rajapakse’s show gratitude to Janaka Perera? Withdrew his security and let him get blown to bits. Who needs enemies when we are our worst enemy?

      Yeah! the truth no one wants to know!

      Keep up the great writing, Sarth. We need people to rub the truth in people’s faces ……… it doesn’t happen with many other Lankan “writers.”

  • 3

    “…. People know what they do; frequently they know why they do what they do; but what they don’t know is what ‘what they do’ does.”

    The scumbags who perpetrated our Easter misery has left us to workout the ‘ ‘what they do’ does.”. They have left their community with a noose round its neck, and the evil forces of division left in this country are doing their damnedest to pull the noose tight.

    Terrorism by suicide bombing is an infection that spreads slowly but surely, especially in Sri Lanka where imitation runs rife. Easter Sunday has probably given our easily impressed wannabes ideas for going out with a bang. We urgently need a smarter, intelligence led security system, and politicians who will return and act on the evidence brought to them.

  • 1

    Round and round he goes, trapped in his own verbiage, name dropping, when he pleases..

    Time to get a life and shut up– if you have nothing to contribute for awhile, Sarath?

  • 3

    See how Ortega got over his problems. He did not scream. See how Maduro is doing. Maduro looks like he is another Fidel Castro.

  • 3

    Dr Ranil must have read Pavlov before taking over the Yahapalana Mob in Kotte.
    Instead of Meaty Bites Dr Ranil used Car Permits.
    And extra LKR 100,000 for the Mob to sit and tick in Dr Ranil’s CA..

    After Dr Ranil’s incessant attacks on on the Sinhala Buddhists, their Buddhism and their Monks, while letting his crooked mates lead by Dr Mahendran, Kirriella, Rajitha Galleon Ravi, Mallika and Bathideen to rob the day light out of the Public purse. some suckers who were feasting on Dr Ranil’s Meaty Bites pulled the Plug.

    Mind you that is purely to save their asses at the next Election ,and not by any love for the Nation or the Sinhala Buddhism-

    Castrating the Intelligence Services , and jailing the brave Intelligence Officers were the root cause for Ibrahim boys to flourish.

    By mollycoddling Bathdeen, Dr Ranil and My3Sira both helped the Terrorists free access to Funds , Import of C4s and safe hiding places-

    Some jurnos in Colombo who write in English are good at those fancy theories about the importance of Western Countries.
    But they mean jack shit to our great majority of the inhabitant population.

    Dr Ranil finished off the Intelligence Services by providing the coordinates of their Hidden Place in Athrugiriya to Mr Piraharan and Pottu Amman…
    That was when the Armed Forces were getting the upper hand against Tamil Terrorists..

    Dr Ranil is doing the same now through his PSC with his UNP Stooges sitting there to finish off even what ever Intelligence capacity which is left, when our Armed Forces are desperately trying to prevent future Jihadi Suicide Attacks.

    What the whole Catholic Community and the Cardinal want too know is how All UNP Ministers and MPs boycotted the Good Friday and Easter Sunday Mass?…..
    As Simple as that , Not these fancy theories…

    • 1

      Jayampathi wicramarathne, Sumanthiran, Ashu Marasinghe are there to pass information. I think Sarah Fonseka may have been fooled by some one, I cam guess, to explain everything thing to him who will pass it to those who want it. I think they want to buy those people and more. JVP got money from both UNP, BAthiuddin and I do now know who else. so, JVP may be there to make it legally palpable. AKD destroyed JVP.

  • 2

    Another paper terrorist expert trying to teach us about terrorism. The bugger forgets that SL forces achieved an unparalleled feat in militarily annihilating a world renown terrorist group. That feat is a subject of deeper study among the best known terrorism experts world over. It is an acknowledgement of the anti terror capability of SL security apparatus built over a period especially under the leadership of “you know who” as acknowledged by Robert Blake recently. It is very difficult for “experts” like the writer of the article to acknowledge our own home grown capacities especially when the credit would go to “you know who”. It is well known that those capacities have been intentionally weakened under yahapalanaya by not only pig headed Ranil, Mangala band wagon, but they were amply supported by the peace merchants, the NGOs and the writer’s ilk. It is innocents of the land who paid the ultimate price for their folly. Yet these “experts” still try to hoodwink us and try to take us up the garden path (may be to the arms of the 72 virgins!)

    • 1

      Paper Terrorist would write any one for money, just cash or certified cheque. all in the same boat.

  • 3

    The writer seems to believe that he is the fountain of all knowledge and he knows even about terrorism, better than people like Wimal Weerawansa who has been in politics for nearly two decades.
    Whether one agrees with weerawansa’s politics or not, one has to agree that his exposure to intelligence material over that time makes Weerawansa an expert onthreats to national security. The writer can only dream of being one.
    Therefore what is written here is pure bunkam, no change.

  • 2

    We have so many experts including monks, public, politicians,cardinal, TV anchors, Government analyst , self claimed analyst Rohan and DJ, academicians and THEN WE HAVE RAJEEWA, the greatest of all , but we still are not able to stop a riots caused by bunch of Buddhist Extremist. Sarath, the goal of MS/MR is simple and very clear. At any cost they will block PSC and there by truths being told to public.. We already heard enough (with just few sittings) about denial, negligence, callous attitude and obstruction by MS. If not for this Pujitha will still provide in the court as evidence. (unless he disappears or bought out). So they are trying to escalate issues like Richard, Governors, Doctor in Kurunegala, they boycotted PSC,request people like Rajeewa to write PSC off as “white wash, Wimal screaming and yelling, Rathana fasting, Ganasara antics, pressure from priests and prelates , more hatred and violence in public through coordinated riots and killings ___-etc. PSC constitutes SF and Sumanthiran who can screen evidence for security, political and legal cover ups. So the game is on.

  • 0

    It is the Nasty Appe Aanduwa peed on everybody’s faces. There was no terrorism or ISIS on April 21st. Witness is the Comedy Cardinal.

    Now, there was some planning took place. Ranil and Old king talked with coterie and in another meeting individually. No Tamil or Muslim within the Ruling or Opposition gangs.

    They fooled the report that they were talking about Ratnam’s fasting and country’s economic problems. They don’t have time for those talk parliament talk because, there, they fill up their water gun toys with Silly (chili) Powder & shoot each other with those. Who knows which church going to blast off tomorrow after these two guys talked secretly?

    I don’t know which Modaya teacher tolerated and waiting and watching until they go up to 8th grade. After all Ranil and Old King are two Lanakwe first class lawyers.

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