Why target this teardrop island?
News analysis

Why target this teardrop island?


Amul has come out with a profound cartoon showing the Baby shedding a tear for the Teardrop Island that Sri Lanka has for long been known to be. It’s a tribute to 253 or over 300 who died in the Easter Sunday bomb blasts in churches and star hotels in Sri Lanka. The cartoon calls it an attack on the defenceless. And the act is senseless. There can be no clearer answer to the nagging question as to why Sri Lanka. It could have been anywhere. Sri Lanka was chosen because it was a soft target.

Secondly, It is basically an irrational act carried out by religious fanatics, in this case National Towheed Jamaath. It is a fact that Sri Lanka has become complacent since the bloody ethnic war ended ten years ago. A contributing factor is that Sri Lanka has not learnt the right lessons from the ethnic strife. It is still driven by Sinhala-Buddhist majoritarian impulses.

The recommendation reconciliation commission set up after the war, like the one set up after the apartheid in Sri Africa, has been completely ignored. It said there should be a collective admission of responsibility by the political leadership and the civil society, the Tamil and Sinhala, for the bloody conflict that tore the island apart. There is no mention about the sizeable section of Tamil and Sinhala speaking Muslims who also were discriminated by the majority Sinhalese though they did not take to arms like the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam.

Cited are growing friction between the Buddhists and Muslim in the north and the east over construction of new Buddhist temples by the side of mosques and Hindu shrines. As Jaffna journalist Soumitran has put it, it started after the end of the Eelam war in May 2009 and the Sinhala regime, whose constitution gives primacy to Buddhism as State religion. He also suspects that the events coming close to the tenth anniversary of the Mullivaikal massacre where LTTE leader Prabhakaran died in the final battle.  Though the LTTE is extinct and the war ended ten years ago, the army has not been withdrawn from the north and the east. The Easter Sunday massacre will give the armed forces to stay on, especially as one church in eastern Batticaloa was also blown up.

If the carnage was a retaliation for the massacre of 50 Muslims in Christchurch, New Zealand, hardly a month ago, how could such a well –coordinated attack have been carried out at such a short notice? Obvious, there was external assistance. Only further probe will establish it.

As many as eight suicide bombers had carried out the attack.  The one to hit the headlines are Ibrahim brothers, well-educated sons of a rich spice trader of Colombo. How did they get radicalised? The answer lies in spread of Wahabism, the puritanical form in Islam exported by Saudi Arabia. A radical champion of this brand of Islam is the Islamic State which was operating from Syrian territory so far and which has since been ejected from its last post by US-led forces.

Like recruits from India, who were caught and were de-briefed by our security forces, a sizable number of Sri Lankan Muslims also have a sizable presence  in the Gulf and have been exposed to Salafism and Wahabism and IS.  Ironically, Ibrahim brothers were not one of them. They were self-taught. But surely among the 70 arrested so far, many have had Gulf connection.

What begs for an answer is how the Sri Lankan Government did not wake up to the Islamist threat, more so after the Christchurch attack. The immediate reason is the power struggle between the two constitutional heads—President Maithalapara Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremasinghe who are part of a national government formed to keep former President Mahinda Rajapakse out of power.

Both have admitted they were not in the loop. Ranil, however, has said though National Towheed Jamaath may have carried out the attack, it is more likely to be a radical, splinter group as the majority of the Sri Lankan Muslims are peace-loving and they abhor IS. Sirisena on the other hand has shown his helplessness by saying he will ask the Defence Secretary and the Police chief to resign. He could have dismissed them straightway for not informing him about the intelligence alert from various sources, including India.

While putting in his papers, Defence Secretary Hemasiri Fernando has said there is no fault on his part and he is quitting on moral grounds.  It shows a defiance of the all-powerful office though the President may be weak. It is said that the happenings in Sri Lanka is a warning to India. An apparent reference to five years of Modi’s rule where Hindu majoritarianism is aggressively pursued. But Islamists have struck in liberal regimes. Examples are equally serious attacks in New Delhi, Mumbai, London and Paris. But not in such a scale which even Sri Lanka has not seen during the worst days of the civil war. It is Sri Lanka’s 28/11 or 9/11 moment. It is a wake–up call to countries believing in liberal democracy to help Sri Lanka to meet religious extremism in this region.