TWO months ago, it was Christchurch in New Zealand and now it is Colombo in Sri Lanka that have been the targets of attacks. In New Zeland, Muslims saying Friday prayer in local mosques were shot dead by an Australian-born man, killing at least 50 people and injuring 50 others. Now it is the churches and hotels in and outside Colombo where deadliest attacks were carried out, killing about 250 and injuring more than 500 people. Some of them were in a critical condition and fighting for life. But we, Bangladeshis, are also reeling in a state of shock because the little angel Zayan Chowdhury, the grandson of Awami League presidium member Sheikh Selim, suffered a tragic death in the bomb attack in Sri Lanka.
Perhaps the crave for a safe and secure life is no more an attainable goal. Large-scale attacks throughout the world are destroying our hopes to survive with a normal life. We are already faced with chaos and crises such as large-scale conflict and wars, global warming and climate change, unemployment and absolute poverty, oppression of undemocratic and so-called democratic governments, pervasive corruption and mismanagement, trivialised and stressed societies and, above all, persistent social, economic and political injustice at the national and international level, etc. With all these problems persisting across the world, our collective life has already become quite difficult and miserable. Now the terrorist attacks across the world has made our life a living hell as if the genie is just out of the bottle and having an all-out devilish dance, causing widespread death and injuries to the innocent people around the world.
The overwhelming majority of the people in every country, irrespective of cast, creed, colour, community or ethnicity, are absolutely peace-loving and tolerant. They try to maintain equality and seek harmony within diversity. But they are now captive to the nefarious act of a very small proportion of the total global population. They are the derailed lot from the peace-loving mainstream population with a very twisted mentality and thinking process. At the end of the day, these terrorist outfits feel glorified in taking the life of so many innocent people. And they carry out the carnage with a high level of sophistication and coordination. Sri Lanka attacks were also executed with a high level of sophistication, leaving the country in a profound state of shock and grief.
Sri Lankan attacks, like other previous attacks in other parts of the world, has been the act of an extremist religious group. ISIS has claimed the responsibility for the attacks. Some people identify the well-coordinated Easter Sunday attacks on the Christian and the Buddhist community in Sri Lanka as a prompt retaliation of massacre carried out in New Zealand in March 15 by an advocate of white supremacist. Sri Lanka’s defence minister Ruwan Wijewardene said: ‘Early investigations indicated the bombings could have been retaliation for the terrorist attacks on two mosques in Christchurch that killed 50 people last month.’ So, killing and counter-killing are going on without any respite.
It is said that an intolerant and aggressive form of Islam has been instrumental in causing and spreading terrorism across the world. It is reinforced by the argument that most of the extremist attacks in different parts of the world have so far been carried out by the young and educated Muslims who are operating under the banner of ISIS or al-Qaeda or any other Islamic militant groups, etc. The young zealots are recruited, trained and supported by ISIS and other similar outfits and are heavily brainwashed for executing a possible planned mission. May be, this claim is not unfounded. However, some people think that these people may have been indoctrinated in a systematic manner by some other vested quarters at national and international levels to realise their sinister design. It is argued that what is today called Islamic jihad is not the traditional ideology of the Muslim world. This is the position of the modern-day radicalised extremist groups. It is also said that extremist Islamic groups have not grown overnight or out of vacuum. They have grown out of persistent persecution of the Muslims in different parts of the world with the naked support of some western countries. In addition, they are the offshoots of contemporary global political, social and economic circumstances which are creating fertile ground for the rise of religion-based extremist groups. Asoka Bandarage writes in Asia Times: ‘In the case of militant Islam the major grievances include western, specifically US, control of oil, militarisation of the Middle East and support for Israel. Indeed, while much of contemporary ethno-religious violence may seem to come from the impoverished global South, the roots of many problems, including the emergence of groups like the Taliban and ISIS lies in polices of the US and the industrialised north.’ K Ratnayke from Srilanka writes: ‘How the US and its allies are responsible for criminal wars in the Middle East, Central Asia and North Africa that fuelled the Islamic extremists.’
Today, it is not just Islamic extremists who are involved in the extreme violence, rather extremist groups of other faiths and ethnic backgrounds are actively involved in committing organised crimes against the people of other communities. Sinhala Buddhists supremacist, white nationalists forces such as far right, alt right, hate groups, etc are just a few active extremist outfits operating in an organised manner. Buddhist extremist groups in Sri Lanka have the record of attacking the Christians and their churches as well as the Tamils and Muslim minorities. It is also said that the systematic persecution of Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar has not been the act of their army generals alone but also the Buddhist extremists groups who have fomented communal sentiments to carry out ethnic cleansing. Similarly, the white nationalist extremism are increasingly becoming a threat to global stability and order because they are deeply obsessed with the aim of protecting the ‘western civilisation’ by being strongly xenophobic, anti-immigrant, white supremacists, anti-Semitic, anti-Muslim, etc. Just recall how the Australian-born white nationalist attacker had carried out his murderous rampage in the Christchurch mosques in New Zealand. He not only did it in a cool-headed manner but also live-streamed his carnage with full knowledge and personal satisfaction.
He posted a 74-page anti-Muslim manifesto online to create a strong anti-Muslim sentiment worldwide. In the similar manner a Norwegian called Anders Breivik posted 1,500-page manifesto and tried to justify his act of terrorism. He killed 77 people in 2011 to stop multiculturalism and immigration of the Muslims into Europe. The Christchurch mosque shooting is not the only incident of its kind that happened in New Zealand. The world has seen a similar mosque shooting in Quebec city on January 29, 2017 just before evening prayers at 8:00pm in which six people were killed by a white nationalist who was believed to be a strong fan of US president Donald Trump. White nationalist forces in the USA and in most of the European countries, particularly in Germany, Italy, France, Austria, etc are targeting immigrants from other parts of the world, particularly Muslim immigrants from the Arab world to stop the Muslims influencing their age-old way of life. According to the findings of a research carried out by Dr Barbara Perry, director of the Centre on Hate, Bias and Extremism at the University of Ontario Institute of Technology: ‘Between 1980 and 2014, in Canada, there were roughly 120 incidents inspired by right-wing extremism, compared with seven incidents by Muslim extremists. These include assaults, arson, vandalism and homicides.’
So our calm, composed and rational world has undergone a big change. Religious bigotry, intolerance, extremist views, misinformation, misrepresentation of religious tenets have taken a firm root. And these developments have made our everyday life uncertain, risky and threatening. Extremism from any faith or any force are destroying the peace and stability of our wider international community, besides intensifying tensions between the different religious communities. Is there any way out to get rid of this untamed and savage menace and make our life safe, secure and smooth?
An honest answer to this question is that there is little room for being hopeful to put out this communal fire given the present international order, leadership styles of the world leaders, particularly the USA and other super powers, role of the international bodies like the United Nations, particularly the UN Security Council, global geopolitical matrix, quality of democratic governance, role of social media, accountability of the politicians, etc.
The ascendency of Donald Trump as president of America is a turning point as far as the spread of global ethno-religious violence is concerned. Everyone is now familiar with his leadership styles. Time and again, he has directly and indirectly endorsed the activities of white supremacists in his own country which has also bolstered the white nationalist forces in Europe and other parts of the world. He is now an icon to a lot political leaders and activists in western world who love to stoke racial and anti-Muslim sentiments. He defended his travel ban on several Muslim countries by saying: ‘I think Islam hates us.’ His crude comments against Islam and moral support for white supremacists is spreading hate among far-right extremists across the world. After the Christchurch attack by the Australian Fraser Anning, an Australian senator was heavily criticised for his comments that sounded like sharing similar sentiments with the mass murderer. So, politicians and heads of the government have a vital role to play in controlling the behaviour of extremists and that they can do by exercising wisdom, tact and judgement in their utterances and open statements. Politicians should be held to account for making any irresponsible comments and statements that can give a shot in the arms for the militants and extremists. Here, we must recall the role played by the New Zealand prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, after the Christchurch attacks. She has done her best to stand by her citizens, no matter whether they are Muslims or non-Muslims. She told her grieving country it was targeted because ‘we represent diversity, kindness, compassion. A home for those who share our values. Refuse for those who need it. And those values, I can assure you, will not and cannot be shaken by this attack.’
It is said that there is a supportive role of social media in promoting extremist activities. Extremists outfits use different social media sites to promote their beliefs and ideas and also organise their destructive activities. People expect that these web-based sites should have forceful role to defeat the moves of terrorist and extremist groups. Facebook played a proactive role by blocking the sites of white nationalist groups from its platforms after the attacks in the mosques in Christchurch. More is expected from every social media sites as far as self-policing is concerned or else they might be subjected to government’s regulation to control the activities of the extremists.
Peace-loving people across the world expect more principled stand from the international community against every forms of ethno-religious violence as well as state sponsored attacks on any country. The United Nations Security Council is expected to change its age old pattern of decision-making process. Blocking well-judged resolutions by the veto power of any one permanent member does not resolve the problem; it rather perpetuates the problems and conflicts. The world community expects that veto power should be exercised by the permanent members on merits of the issues, not on the basis of crude politics. Otherwise, injustices will be done to the suffering countries and injustices will keep breeding the extremists and their violent behaviour.
So, in order to ensure peace and security in the world we have to apply our collective effort to stop the spread of hate and also shun myopic attitude of stereotyping a particular ethnic community as terrorist and extremist. A healthy and enlightened society cannot be based on ‘us and them’ or ‘holier than thou’ approach to life. Our collective life flourishes only when we sincerely strengthen our bonds of humanity which is the ultimate purpose of our life. Let us not get tired of achieving this undying values of life and thereby preserving our civilised existence.
M Ashiq is a former teacher of economics at Scholastica.