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A carnage beyond the pale

  • Published at 12:03 am April 26th, 2019
A massive blow for Sri Lanka REUTERS

Only through education and empathy can we successfully counter extremist ideologies

In today’s world, where bloodshed without a declared war has become commonplace, the most recent carnage causing deaths of nearly 400 innocent souls in Sri Lanka is beyond the pale.

The sheer brutality and scale of this mayhem have put the deaths in recent years in war-torn Syria and Iraq in a single incident into insignificance. But let us not get bogged down over numbers, a carnage that is aimed at killing innocent people is abhorrent no matter if it takes ten or a thousand lives.

We mourn with Sri Lanka the loss of lives, as we mourn the loss of humanity in this out-of-control world and the violence and hate we are witnessing.

Whenever a calamity of such magnitude occurs, people first try to absorb the shock and then look for some explanation into why it happened. Some, particularly the government, look for possible offenders, while others, such as the media, try to find groups or entities that have a history of causing such brutality who could be behind this violence.

There are others who rationalize these mindless atrocities by finding causes. Some will be attributed to the retribution of a repressed community for perceived injustice done to them or retaliation for a certain act in the past against them. 

Other times, when the acts of terror have been carried out by a single individual, attempts would be made by analysts to explain the conduct as an outburst of psychological disorder.  

There has been no dearth of hypotheses for the mayhem for this latest tragedy in Sri Lanka, starting from attribution of this heinous act to an obscure Islamist group in the nation to international sponsorship of the act by IS. Then there are motivations offered by some inside Sri Lanka and outside as retaliation for the recent mosque attacks in New Zealand.

But none of these hypotheses or rationalizations will wash away the raw stench of death and violence that will envelope the gem of the sub-continent -- the island of Sri Lanka -- for years to come.

It is ironic that this tragedy should occur in Sri Lanka, which had come out of a civil war of two decades only 10 years ago. It is also ironic that this tragedy would be caused by suicide bombing, a phenomenon that characterized political assassination in Sri Lanka many years ago. 

Rajiv Gandhi, former prime minister of India, as well as President Premadasa of Sri Lanka, died from suicide bombers allegedly by Tamil militant groups of Sri Lanka. But the difference between then and now is that, at that time, Sri Lanka was going through a bitter civil war.

Now there is peace, the ethnic strife has ended, and the country has been going through a relatively calm period. There are no known reasons why any form of militancy should exist in Sri Lanka, and it is understandable why the Sri Lankan security apparatus could not, or did not, take any precautions. 

It is reported that all of the alleged bombers were local, who were probably born of this soil. Yet, they were caught in a trap, lured by false promises of eternal life. It is also believable that these youths were molded by an ideology that was sown in their minds through indoctrination. Such mindless violence does not happen as a reflex action to a sudden occurrence -- these bombers were trained over time.

The tragic incident at Dhaka’s Holey Artisan in 2016 brought into fore how a few youth, all of Bangladeshi origin, could perpetrate gruesome murders, not only of foreigners, but their own fellow countrymen.

All of this was done in the name of religion.

Were they reacting to some acts of injustice against them or their community, or were they doing something at the behest of a leadership that is intent upon changing the world order according to their belief?

It may take some time for Sri Lanka to apprehend the local minders of the six or so suicide bombers, but it will not be easy to trace the leadership or the main sponsors of this carnage who may be thousands of miles away. 

The alleged ownership of this tragedy by the all-but-defunct IS (as a geographic entity) may be bombastic as retaliation for the New Zealand mosque killings, since many of such acts in Europe, the US, or other parts were owned by the same entity in the past.

It does not matter if IS, which is in disarray, claims that it was behind the act. What matters is if such carnage is carried out by people claiming Islam as their faith.

What matters is the appreciation of the reality that people with deranged minds will continue to perpetrate such heinous acts when they are brainwashed in the name of religion.

In Sri Lanka, a small country with a tiny minority population, it may be easier to weed out any religious militant groups or even shape its youth in a secular way.

 Although we cannot vouch total victory against religious militancy and militant groups in Bangladesh, strong preventive actions against such groups in the last few years prove that we have been able to contain them after the July 2016 horror.

This was possible because we stopped deluding ourselves that our country was immune from the IS virus. The July 2016 incident proved that pernicious ideology does not honour international borders. This has once again been proven in Sri Lanka, with tragic results.

A false ideology will meet its demise when its spread is prevented by real education about religion, about humanity, and religious tolerance. Only countries that have such curricula in their educational systems can prevent the spread of such militancy and aggression. 

Ziauddin Choudhury has worked in the higher civil service of Bangladesh early in his career, and later for the World Bank in the US.

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