Counter-terror must shield all communities | Sunday Observer

Counter-terror must shield all communities

How tragedy and trauma bonds people! Literally within hours of the Easter bombing tragedy, the security agencies were tracing the bombers’ hide-outs and accomplices, even as three Police officers gave their lives in the effort. The speed of the security response was enabled by a rapid, overwhelming, societal response in supportive co-operation.

Despite being stunned at the sudden horror, the civilian population across the country was responding promptly – perhaps learning from past experience of such massive violence. With the Muslim community at the forefront of this civic response, people were quickly informing the nearest authorities, on suspicious behaviour and mystery establishments.

Since religion cuts across the narrower ethnic divisions, people of all communities, ethnic and religious, are feeling the immense pain of the human loss. The consequent collective perception of powerful threat has enveloped the whole nation, despite the seeming religious motivation of these mass murderers.

Since most of the bombers had lurked in Muslim neighbourhoods that dot our multi-ethnic society, the speed of the detections were primarily the result of the spontaneously rapid co-operation of those neighbourhoods. Clearly, although they had planted themselves in those neighbourhoods, the bombers were strangers to the spirit of those communities, marginal aliens remaining aloof from their neighbours.

That sense of strangeness prompted these neighbourhood communities to note the bombers’ behaviour and react responsibly on hearing of the attack. The sheer all-encompassing response from the Muslim community and, the spontaneity of their co-operation with the authorities, reveals the alien-ness of this covert terror group motivated by a bizarre, geo-politicised, pseudo religious ideology. They did not represent the Muslim community nor the community’s aspirations and struggles.

This country has endured and survived three previous large scale insurgencies, North and South, in which the insurgent movements evolved historically and, to some extent at least, were articulations of the perceived and experienced grievances of certain sizeable social groups. In one case, the originating population of two successive Leftist insurgencies was the rural poor and in the other, a long-drawn secessionist war, segments of the largest ethnic minority were the originating population.

Decades of preceding civil agitation are the clear indicators of this social rootedness of those – happily past – insurgencies and this social reality is something now recognised by most of the nation’s combined leaderships.

This is clearly not the case with the insane mayhem of the bombers of April 21, 2019. The very fact that the Muslim community itself so overwhelmingly reacted to inform the authorities of the slightest indicators of organised terror is itself an indication of the freedom of the community from any allegiance or bondage to any movement or network.

That was certainly not the case in both the second JVP-inspired insurgency or the extended Tamil separatist war where extensive insurgent networks were embedded within whole social constituencies. Information on these insurgent movements were not so easily accessible to the state forces partly due to social sympathies with the insurgents and, partly, the fear of insurgent retribution by dissenting social elements.

And, the parallel Sinhala and Tamil and other communities have all appreciated the ready cooperation extended by the Muslims against these bloodthirsty fanatics. This spontaneous cross-community empathy at a moment of national peril must not only be treasured but be actively exploited to the maximum by one and all – by State and society – in our collective endeavour to overcome this unforeseen threat to our island civilisation.

This trans-community empathy and solidarity is a unique national moment in our recent modern history, perhaps in our entire post-colonial nationhood. The bombs’ vicious shrapnel has cut across the whole society, tearing down – at least for this moment – the rigid communal divisions that lie deep in our national formation and have plagued the nation for decades.

This comprehensive social solidarity must be nurtured and protected because it is this unity that is the principal foundation for victory against terror and any form of destabilisation of State and society.

We have enough experience of the pain of counter-insurgency when the State endeavour to suppress a socially supported rebellion had resulted in ‘collateral’ social damage – sweeping mass arrests and detentions, harassment of whole neighbourhoods and communities by security agencies frustrated by lack of access to insurgent networks and resources. Often the inability to produce results has led to indiscipline and irresponsible behaviour, sometimes cold-blooded ‘disappearances’. Deliberate political manipulations by those in power - less interested in peace and more in retaining power – hugely added to the corruption and impunity that encouraged Security Forces’ misbehaviour.

In the past, the State and political leaderships soiled the nation’s reputation in the global community and, today, we still not only suffer from that ill-repute but, more importantly, those victimised by this misgovernance still bear the pain.

Today’s national consensus in the face of this extremist terror is, thus, vital to re-build our civilised standing and stability of our nationhood. The Security Forces are professionals with a firm commitment to their duty and proud, already, of their past achievements in spite of the depredations of indisciplined elements and the manipulations of politicians.

The troops and officers are seasoned with the experience of past outcomes of overzealous counter-insurgency where body counts were deemed more important by leaderships than was overall political-military success.

Having already benefited from spontaneous social cooperation in these first steps in post-Easter counter-insurgency, our police and troops now need the full backing of all political leaderships, Government and Opposition, in providing a rational and socially sensitive guidance in the conduct of security operations.

Hence, there is absolutely no reason, whatsoever, for any elements in the political leaderships to use old inter-ethnic fears or cultural stereotyping to promote party loyalties. Likewise, there should be no tolerance whatsoever, of those miscreant elements indulging in cults of ethnic or religious supremacism and exclusivism.

Given the up-coming election season, the need for rational separation of electoral politics from the national security effort cannot be over-emphasized. The whole nation already owns this moment of clarity about the need for societal solidarity rather than division. Let us not lose sight of objectives and fail. Don’t we already know the price of failure for our country?