Govt should act firmly against extremism | Sunday Observer

Govt should act firmly against extremism

5 May, 2019

Two weeks have passed since the brutal terrorist attack on Easter Sunday. Colombo is still an uninviting city. Schools and universities are due to open next week, but there is an uncertainty in the lives of the people. About a decade ago, when we were all living in fear of bomb explosions, we had the habit of looking at others in a suspicious manner. Today, it has returned. This time, based on religion.

What can we do to make sure that this is not extended to a war-based on religion?

The Sunday Observer spoke to some of the country’s well-known personalities to obtain their views on this.

Filmmaker Asoka Handagama:

Considering the form of the Easter Sunday attacks, it is quite evident that this is imported terrorism. The brand name is ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Siriya). After the US announced that they had militarily defeated the ISIS in Iraq and Syria, the name of the organisation was changed to IS (Islamic State). Therefore, the theatre has changed. Although this product is manufactured in the Middle East, its real target market has now been revealed. It is global phenomenon.

Considering international and local geo-political facts, Sri Lanka has all the reason to be the backbone of this market. The attackers were all Sri Lankan citizens. To organise a terrorist attack with a significant number of young people with a Muslim identity, targeting the Catholic community and foreigners; there should be a significant reason related to local political phenomenon more than an international contract.

An item is imported to a country only if there is local demand. It is true that this imported terror – which I call an imported product, was used for the first time on Easter Sunday. However, the demand for this particular product had been cultivated after the Eelam war for about ten years. It can be clearly seen when one examines the post-war history of the country.

Couldn’t the series of attacks on the Muslim community from time to time, since the end of the war in 2009, have created a group of young people from the Muslim community with repulsive racial hatred? There were enough reasons to internalise the external terror. Although seeds and fertiliser came from overseas, fertile soil was being produced to plant them during the past ten years. Although, the international operators were looking for a massacre of Muslims, an anti-Muslim pogrom was not created.

All respect for this should be accorded to the Catholic Priesthood. We have a chance to think again. That choice is our own. The future of the country will be determined on that choice.

Senior journalist Victor Ivan:

Right now, the state system is completely corrupt including religious systems. Almost every religion is based on very old, unreformed believers and teachings. Everything taught at one time in the past is not suitable in today’s world.

Most religions have changed their teachings from time to time. In the distant era, all religions considered people of other faiths as pagans. The Catholic Church was also at one time a highly antagonistic religious institution. However, the Christian society in Europe came out of the Dark Ages and reformed Catholic and Christian faiths for the well-being of the society.

Today, the Pope kisses his followers’ feet, rather than they worshiping him. Every religion is run by priests. If the priests are not wise enough, their teachings will be confused. One of the main reasons for Sri Lanka’s fundamentalism and extremism is that priests are confined only to their own religion.

There was an era in Muslim civilisation which was very advanced.

Bertram Russell wrote about this. He argued that Muslim society could conquer many developed countries because they had no religious frenzy. Similarly, the contributions made by Muslim society to science and technological development were large.

‘Zero’ or the value of the infinite, is one of their discoveries. Muslims inherited Greek literature. Europe did not know Aristotle. Muslim philosophers introduced Aristotle to Europe. The connection that they had with the science of that era can be seen by the fact that the Muslims of that era were not extreme compared to today.

I think that the Islamic fanaticism started when oil money began pouring into the Arab world.

Muslim priests who study at Arabic schools are uneducated. They were often given long years of priestly education, which was limited to their own religion. Religious extremism is not limited to the Muslims. There can be extremists in any religion. There are times when we as the majority of the country persecute the Muslims.

Such behaviour has also contributed to the present environment. No one can go to extremes to get rid of others in society. What the State has to do is restrict extremist actions while developing non-extremist attitudes in society and take every measure to rehabilitate society.

Social/political activist Dr. Sunil Wijesiriwardena:

Human activities as well as religions must be transformed to create a better world. Modern trends in religions are the result of brake-less industrial growth in society. Religions have to be adjusted according to the so-called developed, cultural modern world. However, this modernity is now in crisis.

One dimension here is that all three human relationships (with oneself, with others, with the environment) are sick. If you look at modern religions, it clearly shows that none of the religions can interconnect these relationships. They always promise to liberate the individual alone.

We have come to a point where religious communities should be very keen on issues of religious freedom. The Sinhala-Buddhists, Hindus, Catholics and Muslims are compelled to rethink their religious life to live peacefully together in a new republic of the 21st Century. The Catholic community has made the most progress in this matter. A few Buddhist monks are less fortunate in this matter and two Orthodox fundamental institutes seem to be building up.

There are also Muslim organisations that have alternate views. However, they are weak. Their work has become more difficult because of the global Muslim fundamentalist (wahhabi) challenges to Sri Lanka since the 90s. Besides all these things, the corrupt political culture of Sri Lanka is one of the major hazards prevailing against the reforming factions raised by all of our religious denominations.

Human rights lawyer/filmmaker Visakesa Chandrasekaram:

We have to be mindful of our every act from now on. We should be extra cautious when we express an opinion even when we say something to a friend who we trust. Our comments should not push our Muslim friends further away from us.

This should work vice-versa too. A vast majority of the Muslin community in Sri Lanka never wanted to have such violence perpetrated against anyone in the country. This is not the time to challenge the traditions and beliefs of the Muslim religion which someone can interpret as a religion which opposes women rights and freedom, whoever brings out these fundamental issues in a crisis situation of this kind, does not support any progressive changes in Muslim society but supports terrorism indirectly as Muslim extremism has nothing to do with traditional Muslim believers.

In this unfortunate situation, many claim that this country needs an authoritarian leader who can assure every individual personnel safety. This is a very simplistic way of looking at this whole issue. We had one of the strongest leaderships during J. R. Jayawardena’s period and he had a vast majority in parliament and that was the strongest parliament that we had for more than 12 years, during which we had two civil wars and number of ways of oppressing minorities and there were lots of massacres.

The whole idea of having a strong leader has nothing to do with security and I think we have to rethink this. All these issues are because of we’ve failed to preserve democratic institutions and governance.

Political activist Gamini Viyangoda:

If the rulers in our country acted rightly, this massacre could have been averted. This does not mean that there is no Muslim extremist threat in the country. This is a global phenomenon and the previous regime should be held responsible for fertilising Muslim extremism.

This also can be understood as a result of State intervention against the Muslims during the previous regime. Muslims have been living with Sinhalese and Tamil communities for more than ten centuries in Sri Lanka. Although it is evident that ISIS had a direct connection with the radical Muslim extremists’ attack on Easter Sunday, we shouldn’t forget the fact that we let such ideology enter the country through anti-Muslim trends created over the past few years. The government should act firmly against any form of extremism. If that does not happen, there is no solution to this issue. We must ensure that all of us do not take this up to a religious war that will go beyond the 30-year Tamil-Sinhalese ethnic conflict.