By Vishwamithra –
“Men never do evil so completely and cheerfully as when they do it from religious conviction.” ~Blaise Pascal
In an age in which fragmentation of the global human community is advancing at a rapid rate, in which more and more elements in the larger communities are splitting into smaller rudiments, there is one element in the human family that is distancing apart from the rest. That segment is vastly advanced in business smartness; it is exceedingly careful as to how and when to attack the weak spots in the globe arena. Their conceptualization is frightening; planning is exquisite and execution almost to military precision. ‘Soft targets’, in the context of terrorism-attacks, is a term that has been added to our diction of late. These ‘soft targets’ are those zones located outside the ‘big powers’ of the world. United States of America, Russia, China and Europe, dwell in these exalted precincts of the rich world.
Sri Lanka naturally is one of those ‘soft targets’. Heavily indebted to the rest of the rich world, specifically to China, her brutal and tiresome war against the Northern Tamil terrorists has exhausted the prime soldiers beyond endurance. Political invasion into their professional lives has eaten into the regular poise and alleged gruesome orders from political henchmen close to the former ‘first family’ and sometimes from some members of the family themselves has corrupted their profession.
A ready propensity to look at all and everything through a distorted prism of nationalism has warped their insight; an unkindly-felt sense of isolationism has distanced them from the regular-thinking majority. A false sense of superiority and triumphalism has gripped their mindset. Against such a vicious backdrop, the poor men of national security, with their unsure and unsecured inwardness, develop a very strong sense of tribalism exclusively for the purpose of assuring themselves of that perceived superiority of their ethnic beginnings. However, he does not seem to realize that this concept of superiority is never confined to one single community. As mush as Sinhalese community feels proud of its heritage and beginnings, all other communities sense the same degree of pride and importance.
The inevitable clash between communities arise when one community that is militarily stronger and numerically larger, assumes artificial superiority and dominance over other communities. These clashes could also flare in the event of explosion of personal animosities whose ethnic identities are of different kinds, one from the other. The history of these perennial fights has been ugly and violent. The blood that had been flowing along the annals of inter-racial, inter-ethnic and inter-religious riots was more than sufficient to submerge cities and villages.
One cannot simply ignore the elemental human follies and responses to agent provocateurs. When circumstances suit and events occur, they seem to conspire to generate ethnic clashes based on frivolous mistakes and unnecessary misunderstandings. In this natural human evolution, the modern international society has come to acknowledge that terrorism unleashed against innocent bystanders as a norm not too infrequent in occurrence. Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) or Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), is one organization, albeit with no geographical base, that has managed to terrorize many parts in the world which now they call ‘soft targets’. Sri Lanka indeed is one of those soft targets.
Sri Lanka, in addition to being a ‘soft target’ for international terror organizations, is also known to be extremely volatile to situations that are usually classified as unusual in the context of peaceful coexistence among diverse ethnic groups. The 1983 riots and the appalling miseries brought down upon innocent Tamil civilians by marauding Sinhalese Buddhists- some allegedly led by Buddhist priests- may have fled the memories of the majority in the country, yet its after-effects are still lingering in the hearts and minds of those who were at the receiving end of that ethnic mayhem.
This time, on Easter Sunday of 2019, ISIS with the able, willing and eager assistance of some local Muslims launched a well-coordinated terror attack aimed at Catholic and Christian churches in key Catholic areas and leading 5-star hotels in Colombo located close to each other. The aim was crystal-clearly evident: Provoke the Catholics/Christians and extract some retaliation and hammer the tourism sector which has gathered momentum and was advancing as a key foreign exchange earner for the country. In the second goal, they certainly achieved their purpose, but the first one, they failed totally.
Inroads of Wahabism and fundamentalism into the Islam religion have been made over the last twenty years in Sri Lanka. While a placid non-Muslim population helplessly looked one, this grossly distorted version of Islam and its advance by way of terror and fear-mongering have taken deep root in modern global society. Unfortunately, Sri Lanka happened to be on route to this cruel carnage. Yet Wahabism or Fundamentalist Islam does not embrace the whole of Muslim community in Sri Lanka. However, the tribal riots which occurred during the last regime, the anti-Muslim propaganda so viciously executed by the interested parties, unregulated and unhinged behavior of Galagoda Atte Gnanasara and his Bala Kayas, have all contributed to a pervasive sensation all over the country, especially amongst Sinhalese Buddhists. These fringe elements calculatedly driven by some politicians and armed by international arms dealers ultimately take control of situations so that a real status of a given society is largely exaggerated to portray a genuine agenda of an internationally backed cabal as a clash between two communities in a country.
The vested interests of arms dealers are principally ignored; this billion-dollar industry keeps the fringe elements all over the world supplied with most brutal arms, ammunition and explosive materials. A suicide killer is not an alien; however, he or she is driven to the extreme by distorted religious teachings. Wahabism or fundamentalism of any religion is not the pure and true teachings of the religious leaders. Buddha never preached violence, nor did Mohamed of Islam religion. Yet blind followers of both these religions could be persuaded to take up arms against their own brethren; Buddhists by way of retaliation and Muslims by promise of 72 virgins waiting on the other side of heaven. Martyrdom is being held aloft, even more than saving of lives of hundreds that that martyrdom devours.
This is the sad story of all human life. It is not limited to Sri Lanka, yet being found in the midst of ‘soft targets’, she cannot escape, and as Napoleon said: ‘no country can escape from its own geography’. Sri Lanka has come home to find the eternal truth in that axiom. Fundamentalism, taken as a concept of extreme faith of and devotion to a distorted version of one’s religious values is inherently conflict-ridden and destructive. But resorting to armed-expression of that belief in fundamentalism is society-destroying and belittling all measures that are accepted as human.
Nevertheless, the line between belief and resorting to violent measures to impose that belief in others is very fine and thin. Sri Lanka as a ‘Unitary State’ yet ethnically diverse one has to tackle this complex reality with caution and patience. If the societal structures and their support for a stable emotional sense of the nation are in place this problem could be resolved with a sophisticated approach and a philosophical mindset. But, more often than not, our politicians seem utterly incapable of resolving such issues in a sensible fashion. A mature democracy is more capable of throwing, issues that matter, to the general public and expect a mature response. Sri Lanka has not attained that maturity. In fact, as a democracy she seems to be still at the crawling age, an age in which a toddler put everything he sees in his mouth and cries when what he has in mouth starts hurting him.
Failure to differentiate between belief and practice of that belief in violent and destructive fashion in order to achieve political objectives has cost us dearly. Repeat of such mistakes would throw us into the dustbin of ‘failed states’. That is not a very cozy dwelling for the oldest democracy in Asia in terms of universal suffrage, which was granted by the Donoughmore Constitution in 1931. Sweeping changes in our mindset need to be in place, if not that disgusting and dishonorable abode, ‘failed state’, is calling us and we would not be willing not to respond positively!