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Those encouraging terror need to be destroyed

  • Published at 12:02 am May 12th, 2019
Sri Lanka
In memory of the ones we have lost REUTERS

Terrorism and extremism are enemies of humanity 

Terror has continued to spread its presence through an osmotic process. 

It had touched Dhaka nearly three years ago through the Holy Artisan Bakery incident. There had been fundamentalist and communal attacks at different times earlier, but the Holy Artisan incident and the alleged association of the IS in this equation generated a strong and determined response from our government.

This was consistent with their belief that there should be zero tolerance in matters related to terror.

The world has, similarly, witnessed the tragic outcome of a number of coordinated and organized terrorist attacks recently on Easter Sunday on churches and hotels in different areas in Sri Lanka. 

That killed at least 250 people and injured hundreds, which included many visitors who were staying in hotels. Most unfortunately, it also included visitors from Bangladesh. Tears and troops now occupy the streets of several areas in Sri Lanka.

Various dimensions have also emerged from the recent Sri Lankan massacre. The ruthlessness of the new atrocities has stunned the nation anew. Violence is not new to Sri Lanka.

It went through turbulent times during a left-wing insurrection in the 1970s followed by a nearly three-decade bloody war with the Tamil Tiger rebels. Tens of thousands of people were killed.

Some analysts have termed the events in Sri Lanka as clearly a security and political failure. Many have also raised questions about the nature of communal strife in that country’s more recent history. 

A few have pointed out that during the civil war; Muslims were also targeted by Tamil Tiger rebels and suffered at their hands. Some Muslim community leaders have also criticized successive Sri Lankan governments for their failure to restore confidence among young Muslims following more recent attacks by some members of the majority Sinhalese Buddhist community. 

Consequently, it is being alleged that a minority of Muslim youths might have been led towards groups like the National Thowheed Jamath (NTJ) led by Zaharan Hashim, a radical Muslim preacher from eastern Sri Lanka.

Sri Lankan Health Minister Rajitha Senaratne has alleged that NTJ has been responsible for the bombings. The electronic media has also noted that even though connections with global jihadist groups are unclear, the choice of major luxury hotels and Christians as a target -- in addition to the sophistication of the operation -- makes it plausible that local radicalism has come under the influence of global jihadist networks.

It needs to be mentioned here that a few days after the terrorist incidents, the IS group stated that its militants had carried out the attacks. It also published a video of eight men the group claimed were behind the attacks.

Political deadlock and confusion have continued to haunt the corridors of power in Sri Lanka. The prime minister has accepted that there had been warnings provided to officials that had not been shared with the cabinet. He said only the president would get such briefings, even though it is not clear if he personally did, in this instance. 

Such a difference of opinion between the prime minister and the president has only underlined how both these political leaders have been at loggerheads for much of the past year.

This lack of coordination is being interpreted by critics as to how political discord can have serious consequences in undermining trust within governance. 

Apparently, according to the US media -- the Sri Lankan government may also have had warnings from US and Indian intelligence about a possible threat. The Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena, who oversees security forces, has now set up a committee to find out what went wrong.

For Sri Lankans, the loss of so many children appears to have had calamitous consequences. It has been reported in the Sri Lankan media that it is not the bombers who are the subject of conversation, but the children -- the “innocent generation.” 

In the days immediately after the attacks, versions of events involving the children began to circulate on WhatsApp and Facebook, in family conversations, and even during exchanges in the street.

The deaths of so many children on Easter Sunday are leaving behind a poignant taste, because this was the first generation for decades for whom violence was not part of their daily lives. The bloodshed that regularly affected Tamils, Sinhalese, and Muslims of generations before had all but gone.

Consultant Psychiatrist Dr Gadambanathan and the UNICEF need to be congratulated for their courageous pro-active approach in reducing anxiety among children. They have been putting out guidelines to help adults talk to their children about what happened in an age-appropriate way. 

In the meantime, from April 29, almost a week after the attacks, Sri Lanka has banned face coverings in public. President Maithruipala Sisirsena has said that he was using an emergency law to impose the restriction from Monday. 

Any face garment which “hinders identification” will be banned to ensure national security, his office has said. The niqab and burka -- worn by Muslim women -- were not specifically named, but the move is perceived as targeting these garments.

Sri Lankan authorities have also taken steps to monitor closely social media to avoid the spread of violence and misunderstanding.

It may be recalled that during the Arab Spring, Facebook was hailed as a vital new weapon in the battle against authoritarian governments. 

However, now, many have deplored how it has been used to incite violence against the Rohingya in Myanmar and also during the broadcast of the murderous spree by the Christchurch gunman. Many now see social media casting dark shadows within the geo-strategic paradigm.

Before April, Sri Lanka had been able to claim considerable success in creating a stable and thriving country in the wake of a 25-year civil war against Tamil separatists, who had entrenched the use of suicide attacks as a weapon of guerrilla terror. Now, that stability is in jeopardy.

There is only one way of resolving this growing instability. Urgent steps need to be taken to pull the beautiful country together through the cessation in the operation of parallel governments.

Offices of the prime minister and the president need to hold inter-active security meetings together and stop issuing competing narratives, as both try to blame the other for the government’s failures to prevent the Easter Sunday tragedy. 

Muhammad Zamir, a former ambassador, is an analyst specialized in foreign affairs, right to information, and good governance. He can be reached at [email protected]