The Easter Sunday carnage in Sri Lanka: Strengthening inter-faith harmony

Abdur Rahman Chowdhury from Falls Church, Virginia, USA | Published: May 03, 2019 21:49:58

The deadly attacks on three churches and three luxury hotels in Colombo in the morning of Easter holy day (April 21) generated deep shock waves all over the world. It is estimated that over 259 people were killed and more than 500 suffered serious injuries. Though people observing Christian rituals were mostly the victims, people of other faiths have also been killed and injured. Those who have had the audacity to carry out the most heinous crime deserve strongest condemnation. People across religious divide, all over the world, have denounced the carnage and declared their solidarity with the bereaved families. Many heads of the governments have condemned the attacks on the innocent people and expressed solidarity with the Sri Lankan government. Some governments have volunteered to share intelligence with the host government to identify the background of the perpetrators, sources of the supplies of the explosives and the agencies having complicity in the misdemeanor.

In the United States, all leading Islamic centres and mosques have condemned the attacks on the churches and hotels in Colombo in the strongest language. They posited that violence in any form against innocent people is a despicable crime. They expressed condolences to the bereaved families and launched raising funds for the families of the victims in Sri Lanka. Islamic Conference of North America (ICNA) issued a strong condemnation, it said "ICNA and all people of conscience are alarmed at these ruthless, barbaric acts of terrorism against innocent people that continue to raise their ugly head around the world. We are still trying to recover from the recent attacks on two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand and prior to that on a synagogue in Pittsburgh and a church in Charleston. The ideology of hate, bigotry and racism is taking a toll on the people of this world. It's time we unite against all those who subscribe to the ideology of hate, bigotry. It's time we show solidarity with those who have been the victims of these atrocities regardless of religion, race or colour.

ICNA announces a 'Day of Solidarity with people of Sri Lanka' this Friday, April 26, 2019. We request the Imams to share this Appeal' in their upcoming Friday prayer. It is extremely important that we share Islam's true message regarding these acts of terrorism."

I haven't, however, come across statements of condemnations issued by the Arab League and the Organisation of Islamic Conferences (OIC) on this carnage. These organisations should be spearheading the voices of solidarity with other faiths and make their positions loud. They have robust bureaucracies, but they are mired in inter-states rivalries and very often fail to uphold moral values of Islam.

The people of Sri Lanka enjoyed peace and tranquillity in the past 10 years following the defeat of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Elam (LTTE) in 2009. The entire country came under the writ of the central government. There was no major communal violence in the country though there were complaints of government's lack of efforts to win the hearts and minds of the minority communities including the Muslims. Tamils fought a bloody civil war lasting for around thirty years against the predominantly Sinhalese government in favour of an independent homeland encompassing northern and eastern regions of the country. Thousands died and many more became displaced. While the government troops were engaged in full-scale armed confrontation with the LTTE and JVP - a radical group infatuated with Marxism led by Vijayveera, took up arms against the armed forces in the southern districts of the country. A country of 30 million people was on the verge of falling apart. In the 1990s, the capital city Colombo witnessed frequent attacks by both the LTTE and JVP. Many senior Sinhala leaders were assassinated in Colombo. President Premadasa, while leading the May Day rally, was killed in 1992.

JVP leader Vijayveera was captured from a hideout in tea plantation area in Nurealiya in summer 1990 and was summarily executed. The execution of Vijayveera led the JVP cadres into disillusionment. They abandoned the armed struggle and JVP became dysfunctional. The armed conflict with the LTTE continued. But Rajiv Gandhi's assassination by a Tamil cadre in 1990 resulted into withering support of people and the government of India toward LTTE. LTTE found mounting difficulties in getting supplies from abroad while the Government of Sri Lanka continued pressure on them. In 2009, the government troops scored final victory. It captured Jaffna, the stronghold and de-facto capital of LTTE. In one of the combat operations LTTE leader Prabhakaran was killed. The civil war came to an end.

During the years of civil war, the Muslims were harassed both by the government as well as by the LTTE. They are spread mostly in the districts located in the east and central regions of the country. But the heaviest concentration of the Muslims is in Colombo. They constitute about 12 per cent of the total population of the country but remain under-represented in the bureaucracy, police and in the armed forces. Nonetheless, Muslims were ably represented by M.H. Mohammed (Speaker in late 1980s), A.C.S. Hameed, Minister of Foreign Affairs and later Minister of Higher Education and Abdur Razzak Mansoor, Minister of Trade and Commerce in the government during 1980s.

Despite being marginalised in different tiers of the government, the Muslims excelled in trade and commerce. The jewelry industry is largely monopolised by the Muslims. The export of spices to India and neighbouring countries is also dominated by the Muslims. During the civil war, they were uprooted from the north but their loyalty to the central government remained unfettered.

Sri Lanka's Interior Ministry announced that all eight assassins came from the Muslim community. Zahran Hashim, leader of the group, belonged to a wealthy family in Colombo. The other members of the group also came from comfortable background and some pursued higher education abroad. Hashim's sister mentioned that she and her husband were disturbed at his comment that Sri Lanka was a Muslim country and the Muslims would not accept the rule of others. This was a distortion of facts - Sri Lanka was never a Muslim-majority country.

The Sri Lanka government should seize the moment and seriously examine why a group of youngsters from wealthy social background embraced the Islamic State (IS) brand of Islam and resorted to mass murders. What troubled them? Have they been denied of justice anytime and anywhere? What fascinated them to sacrifice wealth, comfort and life? What were they longing for? Police have reportedly rounded up dozens of suspects and are still looking for another 150 suspects. Police and investigating team should make a sustained effort to get to the bottom of the motives of the perpetrators. Their revelations might throw some light to unanswered questions and would be beneficial to countries battling extremists.

Regarding the supplies of the explosives, it has been reported by some leading Indian newspapers that seven arms trading agencies, based in India, had supplied explosives to the militants in Sri Lanka. The Indian intelligence agency reportedly warned their counterparts in Sri Lanka about the possible terrorist attacks but the Sri Lankan officials either didn't take it seriously or failed to disseminate the information to the higher levels in the government. Their failure is to blame for the carnage. Sri Lankan government has since dismissed the defence secretary and the inspector general of police from service.

Sri Lanka has been a democratic country for a long time. Even during the days of civil war people had the power to change the government through electoral process. Of late, a power struggle between the president and the prime minister has divided the Sri Lankan society. The terrorists apparently took advantage of this while carrying out their dreadful actions.

Given the suppliers of explosives were based in India and the Indian intelligence agency had prior knowledge of the likely attacks, as reported by Indian newspapers, new Delhi should look into the allegations and take necessary actions.

The writer is a former official of the United Nations.


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