By Rasika Jayakody –
It’s been nearly three weeks since the Islamic State-inspired series of coordinated attacks on Easter Sunday, and Colombo is yet to return to normalcy.
The government has re-opened schools for the second term with increased security, but attendance remains low. The city is yet to return to its usual hustle and bustle. Ongoing search operations and daily reports of explosives, weapons and firearms being found by the security forces have created fear among many Sri Lankans.
There is also a deepening sense of mistrust between the Sinhalese and Muslim communities. Persistent social media campaigns discouraging the Sinhalese communities from engaging with Muslim-owned companies in business continue. This polarization comes even as businesses, especially in the capital city of Colombo, are still reeling from the catastrophic effects of Easter Sunday attacks.
Sri Lanka — a country that grappled with a three-decade long war— has seen many explosions. The nation has withstood debilitating terrorist attacks that shook the very foundations of our economy. But Sri Lankans have always remained strong and resilient. The country’s economic machinery functioned under highly challenging circumstances and the people went about their daily lives, despite constant threats of terrorist attacks. Even the Central Bank explosion in 1996 — arguably the most destructive terrorist attack carried out by the LTTE — could not bring the country to a complete standstill for three weeks.
The Easter Sunday Explosions, however, has plunged Sri Lanka into unchartered waters. Apart from the visible casualties and colossal damage to properties, the attack has struck fear into the hearts of every Sri Lankan, leaving the economic machinery and the business sector in the doldrums. Sri Lanka has thus far failed to demonstrate the same resolve and resilience the country espoused in the face of terrorism a decade ago.
The primary objective of any terrorist movement is to instill fear in society and destabilize the lives of people in every possible way. If we let the recent unfortunate developments affect our daily lives, we will end up serving the interests of those carried out the heinous terrorist attacks on April 21. So it is important to place stronger faith in our defence forces and support them in their consistent efforts to establish normalcy in the country.
There are sufficient grounds to believe that certain unscrupulous political elements are exploiting the situation in the country to jeopardize the national economy by not allowing the public to return to normalcy. These attempts are tied to their petty political needs, as they have no qualms about furthering their narrow agenda at the expense of the country’s economy.
One of the key tactics they use is the spread of fake news and misinformation on social media platforms and messaging apps; deliberately creating fear among members of our society. Fake news, rumours, unverified reports and misinformation thrive during this current situation and the public — oblivious to the agenda of these unscrupulous elements — have fallen prey to their systematic and well-timed campaigns on many occasions.
The government has taken certain measures to counter this problem by creating a mechanism to release verified information through official spokespersons of the defence forces on a regular basis. Members of the Cabinet and the official spokespersons of the security forces and the Police address the press on a daily basis, updating them on the current situation and the measures adopted by the government to reestablish normalcy.
The government has also warned the public that under Emergency Regulations, printing or publishing any document that gives information on, or comments on the activities of any banned organisation, or any matter pertaining to investigations of the government into a ‘terrorist movement’, or any matter pertaining to the security of Sri Lanka are strictly prohibited. The spokespersons of the defence forces have made it clear that those who disseminate false information and rumours aiming to destabilize the country will run the risk of facing legal action under the Emergency Regulations.
What the country requires at the moment is a multi-pronged approach by all stakeholders, including the citizens, to restore normalcy in the country as soon as possible. Society must place greater trust in defence forces that have so far done a commendable job with dismantling the nascent terrorist groups by tracking down members, busting open safe houses and arresting suspects along with explosives, weapons, a multitude of other suspicious items. At the same time, strong measures need to be adopted to distinguish ordinary Muslims from the extremist militants and address the alarming polarizing which, if unaddressed, will yield far-reaching ramifications.