Ethnic destabilisation will doom economy | Sunday Observer

Ethnic destabilisation will doom economy

How do sensible citizens cope with social disaster and tragedy? It would certainly not be by adding to it. Sensible citizens would want to mitigate the disaster; minimise the trauma and, rectify the damage.

That was how our citizens and most of their leaders responded to the devastating violence on Easter Sunday that shook the country and the world.

A religious festival was disrupted brutally, and citizens came forward to support those of the afflicted community. A second community was also affected by that same violent extremism and sought to expose and interdict those extremist elements. People have generally empathised, sympathised and appreciated the vigorous co-operation of that community with the security agencies.

The whole nation, much of the world, stood in solidarity with leaders of the targeted community, the immediate victims; while the community whose faith was treacherously exploited by the terrorist gang was also given a sympathetic hearing. Most notable was the Muslim community’s unanimous and forthright rejection of the Easter Sunday bombers and their twisted doctrinal goals.

It was a rejection so expressively demonstrated by the community-wide collaboration with the authorities in rooting out the terrorist cells, hideaways, finances and ordnance. All our religious communities have their miscreants whether it is sexual crime or fraud and imposture or incitement of mob violence, or terrorism. But since the interpretation of faiths gives licence to all kinds of demagoguery and extremist behaviour, many miscreants in more than one of our religious communities have got away with their obvious crimes and deviancy due to the misguided endorsement by some segments of that community including leaders.

Just as much as the sexual malpractices of clergy of a religion are sometimes shielded by the higher clerics and, racist hate speech by clergy of another religion is glossed over by their own superiors and fervent followers, the extremist preachings of wayward clerics had been ignored for too long by the Muslim community.

Today, Sri Lankan Muslims have had the sagacity to collaborate fully with the security and judicial authorities. At the same time the community has initiated moves internally aimed at beginning a trend towards religio-communal renewal. Already, administrative and institutional steps are being taken at community and theological levels to refine both community teaching as well as doctrinal training.

In this, the Muslim community seems to be leading the way as a Sri Lankan community in rooting out extremist preaching and incitement within its doctrinal and organisational folds. All must appreciate these initiatives and support their success.

The current broad national consensus among political leaderships about the socially estranged nature of this outburst of terrorism is a vital step towards wholly isolating this phenomenon and effectively modulating it. The national contingency is such that no senior societal and political leader has so far strayed into any identity politics. The crucial focus is on threats to security of state and society.

The very non-ethnic nature of this terrorism is a key advantage for our strategy to overcome this security challenge. This social isolation enables Sri Lanka’s highly experienced police and armed forces to rapidly target and interdict the remaining terrorist cells.

Every attempt to conflate this extreme doctrinal tendency with the Sri Lankan Muslim community is a cynical distortion of social reality that is grotesque given its potentially violent outcome. Fortunately, no political leadership seems to be allowing such dangerous behaviour among its ranks.

A counter terror campaign free of social group conflict dimensions will likely achieve its objectives with a rapidity and degree of success that will reduce international concerns – a factor critical for achieving the larger goal of economic recovery. An intense discipline of daily political practice is, therefore, needed if the nation is to stay on the track of inter-ethnic peace and social stability.

It is not just tourism and its myriad ancillary sectors that is affected by the current contingency. Any hint of inter-ethnic and inter-community hostility will colour international perceptions of national stability. The ending of the war and ongoing constitutional consultations have successfully reduced the level of social conflict to pre-war levels providing the conditions for investment, productivity and growth. All this is, now, in suspense.

As long as this consensual political discipline is maintained and the counter terrorism operation smoothly proceeds, we may avoid the immense collateral damage that would occur if ethnic perceptions are manipulated causing conflict. The parallel example of terror bombings in Bali by a similarly isolated extremist group and the quick recovery of that legendary tourist haven must surely inspire us in our endeavours to overcome this challenge to security and prosperity.