I AM very disappointed at countries and individuals who have not verified the truth about who was behind the latest rounds of terrorist attacks in Sri Lanka before finger pointing at Islam and Muslims for killing around 300 people in Colombo. This insensitivity, if not prejudice against Muslims, reminds me of what leading newspapers and analysts in the United States did on April 19, 1995, moments after Timothy McVeigh had bombed a federal government building in Oklahoma City, killing 168 people. They just imputed the terror attack to some undefined, unknown Islamist terror outfit. This is another déjà vu moment for me.
I have written a lot against Islamist terrorism, 9/11, the Taliban, al-Qaeda, HUJI, JMB, ISIS, etc. Now, where is the evidence to implicate Muslims for the latest terror attacks in Sri Lanka? What could be their possible motive? Can we really exonerate or keep some other suspects off the radar? Why should we not first finger point at countries or entities who do not like Sri Lanka flirting with China and allowing the latter to go ahead with its ‘String of Pearls’ and the ‘Belt-Road’ agenda in the country? Why should we not also suspect Sinhalese Buddhists who do not like Christians, Muslims, and Tamils? The world should not be told another hyped-up story about Islamist terrorism in Sri Lanka à la Oklahoma City bombing. By the way, one may pose the question to countries and media outlets who are now producing names and identities of ‘Muslim’ terrorists behind the Easter Sunday attacks in Sri Lanka: Since you knew the terrorists, why could you not inform the Sri Lankan authorities before they killed so many people?
We know terrorism has state- and non-state promoters and actors. States do it in the name of wars, counterterrorism, and counterinsurgency for the sake of ‘peace’ as well. The US-sponsored global war on terror may be mentioned in this regard. It was both pre-emptive and retaliatory against real or trumped-up terror attacks against American interests at home and abroad, purportedly by certain Islamist terror outfits in the recent past. We also know terrorists or non-state actors just react and retaliate against state-actors; and being too weak to fight conventional wars against the state, they resort to unconventional asymmetrical warfare against the state. While insurgents and guerrillas attack law enforcers and soldiers, terrorists being weak, target innocent/unarmed civilians, including children, elderly, and women. Most importantly, unlike guerrillas and freedom fighters, terrorists never win.
However, we know someone’s terrorist is always freedom fighter to someone else. We know despite being freedom fighters, the PLO, Viet Kong and Mukti Bahini in Bangladesh were stigmatised as terrorists and miscreants. Terrorism is not a primeval cause of ‘original sin’ either. Non-state terrorism is often merely a weapon of the weak, reflecting underdogs’ anger, frustration, helplessness in quest of dignity, equal opportunities, and freedom. In sum, the week’s terrorism is not an ‘action’ but an unfortunate ‘reaction’ to certain long-drawn discriminatory, humiliating, and oppressive acts and policies by governments and their internal and external allies and promoters. We must first address the problem that creates terrorism before even mentioning what terrorists have done, in Sri Lanka, Palestine, Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Pakistan, India, or anywhere else.
There are important variables in Sri Lankan politics and society with regard to state-sponsored discriminatory policies against minorities — Tamils, Muslims, and Christians — and non-state actors’, especially Tamils’, retaliations against the state. While both Sri Lankans and the world at large have become a bit relaxed and complacent about the prospect of having a durable peace in Sri Lanka after what appeared to be the decisive victory of the government against the Tamil Tigers in 2009, came this rude shock on this Easter Sunday. However, there is no scope of raising one’s eyebrows at the latest round of terror attacks in Sri Lanka. Firstly, the government retaliation against the LTTE, especially in 2009, was anything but humane. There are wide allegations of Sri Lankan government’s genocidal retaliations against the LTTE and innocent Tamil population. Last but not least, Sinhalese Buddhist mob attacks on Muslims are not that uncommon in the country any more.
What one analyst has pointed out about the Sri Lankan government’s and Sinhalese-majority’s treatment of Christians and Muslims in the country is very pertinent to explain the latest attacks in the country (KM Seethi, ‘Colombo carnage ominous signals’, Countercurrents, April 22, 2019):
‘In Sri Lanka, there were reports that some sections of the Buddhist majority were attempting to disrupt services in churches. The Sri Lankan Muslims, mainly of Moors, were also reported to have been attacked by the Buddhist sections from time to time…. Apparently, the Colombo attacks predominantly targeted Tamil Christians…. In 2018, there were more than 80 reported incidents of discrimination, threats and violence against Christians, says the National Christian Evangelical Alliance of Sri Lanka (NCEASL), which represents more than 200 churches and other Christian organizations. In the current year also, the NCEASL recorded more than two dozen incidents, including one in which Buddhist monks reportedly attempted to interrupt a Sunday worship service.’
To conclude, we do not know who was behind these ghastly attacks on churches, hotels, and public places in Colombo this Easter Sunday, a solemn occasion to commemorate the sacrifice of Jesus Christ for peace and human dignity. It is too early to pinpoint any entity or ideology behind these horrid attacks with absolute certainty. We do not know whether some state actors or non-state actors staged the attacks. Sadly, we will possibly never know the truth in this regard. However, singling out the Muslims for the attack, as India and Israel have done it, is the least objective, hence politically incorrect. Last but not least, the Sri Lankan government and people, and their counterparts elsewhere in the region and beyond should be vigilant against terrorism. Although the world is first entering the post-terrorist and post-Islamist phases of history, it is too early for complacency. We must remember ‘eternal vigilance is the price of liberty’.
Dr Taj Hashmi is an adjunct professor of criminal justice at Austin Peay State University, in Tennessee, US. He is an author, historian, and security analyst. His publications include Global Jihad and America: The Hundred-Year War Beyond Iraq and Afghanistan (translated into several languages).
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