The Easter Sunday bombing is a BOON for likely presidential contender Gotabaya Rajapaksa, the Rajapaksa clan, and the rightwing Sri Lankan Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) with respect to the upcoming Presidential elections, as the Rajapaksas can rile up their Sinhala Buddhist base and say that the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe government is not only incompetent on the economic front but are even more incompetent on the national security front.
On Monday, the Sri Lankan government said that the terrorist attacks were carried out by the radical Islamic organization, National Thowheed Jamath. There is also speculation of a possible international connection.
After the Easter Sunday attacks began, news quickly emerged that 10 days prior to the attacks, a top Sri Lankan police official warned the security services in an advisory that a radical Islamist group was planning suicide attacks against churches. However, top government officials said that no such information ever reached them prior to the attacks.
In addition, Hilmy Ahamed, vice president of the Muslim Council of Sri Lanka, said he warned military intelligence officials about the radical Islamic group (National Thowheed Jamath) and its leaders about three years ago. Ahamed said in a phone interview from Colombo, “I personally have gone and handed over all the documents three years ago, giving names and details of all these people. They have sat on it. That’s the tragedy.”
A Tamil Colombo resident, speaking on the significance this terrorist attack has on Gota’s election prospects, said the following: “After the bomb blasts, he will be more popular because of his image. People want a strong leader who can end terrorism. Gotabaya perfectly fits their requirements. Sirisena is not just weak, he is also cunning. No one likes him. The UNP led by Wickremesinghe is facing too many issues; both internal and external.”
Gota will campaign on the fact that the government was negligent and incompetent in pursuing credible intelligence regarding the threat of Islamic terrorism that was available to them. The SLPP will stress to the Sinhala public that nothing like the Easter Sunday bombings happened during the nearly 10-year Rajapaksa rule because of their “tough on terrorism approach.” The SLPP will campaign on the principle that if Sri Lankans want to live safely and peacefully without fear of violence, then they must vote for Gota in the upcoming Presidential elections. Failure to do so, the SLPP will claim, will mean the possible likelihood of more Islamic terrorist attacks. It is only Gota and the Rajapaksa family, the SLPP will claim, that have the experience and history of successfully eradicating one of the world’s most ruthless terrorist organizations from the country. The SLPP will base their campaign in the upcoming months on a platform of instilling fear within the Sri Lankan public of more possible attacks if the incompetent Sirisena is re-elected. However, if Gota is brought into office, it will mean the implementation of stronger anti-terrorism provisions, greater powers given to Sri Lanka’s military, a greater control on social media surveillance, a tighter concentration of political power within the Rajapaksa family, a stifling of journalists, a dilution of democratic provisions within Sri Lanka’s constitution, and, in effect, this will result in a strong reduction of the civil liberties of the Sri Lankan people.
In the wake of the attacks, the Sirisena government has already given sweeping powers to the military to detain and arrest any individuals deemed to be suspicious. A state of emergency has been imposed as well as a strong restriction of the use of social media on the pretext of preventing the spread of possible misinformation and spread of hate propaganda against any communities. In the coming weeks and months, the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe government, in a possible effort to combat criticism from opposition such as the SLPP that they are not tough on terrorism, will possibly seek to strengthen the prevention of terrorism act (PTA) and introduce draconian measures and anti-terrorism legislation. Such actions will result in the unfolding of egregious human rights abuses and increased anger and resentment towards the minority communities, namely, the Muslim community.
Since the Easter Sunday bombing, there is fear within the Muslim community of large scale retaliatory attacks. According to Reuters journalist Ranga Sirilal, in the direct aftermath of the Easter Sunday bombing, shops were burned in Bandargama, and one mosque in Chilaw (North Western Province) was petrol bombed. In addition, another journalist Mujeeb ur Rahman reported that a Muslim owned house in Nattandiya was burned and fully damaged, and a Muslim owned shop was attacked in Mannar, resulting in minor damage. Rahman also reported that four shops (Bismilla Hotel, Ajmeer Hotel, Umar Hotel, and a fruit stall) in Mannar were attacked Sunday evening and faced minor to partial damages.
While the Easter Sunday attacks were occurring and hospitals were calling for blood donations, it is worth mentioning that Muslims were among the many people who flooded hospitals eager to give blood. The Sri Lankan Muslim community as a whole is not representative nor do they share the views of this fringe radical Islamic terrorist organization. The Sri Lanka Muslim community has historically been victims of persecution at the hands of both Buddhists and the LTTE. Most recently, in 2014 and 2018, the Muslim minority community endured violence at the hands of radical Buddhists. The Easter Sunday bombings have increased the possibility that the Muslim minority face even larger scale attacks at the hands of radical Buddhist organizations like Bodu Bala Sena. If Gota Rajapaksa is elected into power, radical Buddhist organizations like Bodu Bala Sena will feel even more emboldened to carry out attacks against the Muslim minority community with complete impunity.
To conclude this article, I will quote an important statement made by the Sri Lankan Campaign for Peace and Justice organization in the aftermath of the attacks: “As many living on the island today will attest, particularly members of the Tamil community, the roots of Sri Lanka’s repeated cycles of violence run deep and are still yet to be addressed. There is some thin hope, at least, that with tolerance, moral leadership, and respect for human rights, a descent into a new variety of that cycle may be averted”