One of the biggest questions surrounding the Easter Sunday carnage was how nine well educated youth from mainly affluent backgrounds could have been convinced to blow themselves up, killing hundreds of innocent people. After all, the attacks were completely senseless and served no purpose at all. Sri Lanka was not in a war with any Muslim majority nation and Muslims in Sri Lanka enjoyed full freedom to practice their faith. The Sri Lankan society had not done anything wrong to deserve such brutality.
But indoctrination works in mysterious ways. This is all too familiar to Sri Lankans who have lived through 30 years of war. The LTTE leadership convinced hundreds of youth to become suicide bombers. In the end, they gained nothing other than prolonged agony for their parents and the very community they claimed to liberate. The JVP, which did not go to the extent of having suicide cadres, nevertheless brainwashed their members to take up arms against the State, which was anyway a suicidal mission given the superior firepower of the State Forces. In all three cases, we see a clear pattern of extremist leaders brainwashing young persons into committing acts of death and destruction.
But the remarkable facet of the Easter Sunday bombers was that most, if not all, of them were well educated. Some of them had even studied abroad. This contrasts sharply with the suicide cadres of the LTTE, who were mostly deprived of education, having been snatched from parents at a very young age. Ditto for the JVP, which did not allow most of its cadres to complete the higher grades.
This is indeed a disturbing trend. We usually think of education as a buffer against extremism, insular thinking, religious fanaticism and racism. However, in this case, the insidious forces who radicalized these young men and women have managed to overcome that barrier of wisdom and knowledge and turn them into robot-like killing machines. What went wrong? We can only guess, but the one thing that stands out is hate. The preachers and others who had brainwashed the suicide bombers have inculcated hate against the other communities living in Sri Lanka in their minds. It is well known that these â€œhate preachersâ€ twist Koranic verses to suit their own ends and justify violence against non-Muslims and even Muslims who do not agree with their extremist views. And the Internet makes it all too easy to access such hate speech and other incendiary material even if one does not meet a hate preacher in person.
While the authorities are probing how the suicide bombers, who were normal young people just a few years ago, turned violent and Jihadist, immediate steps must be taken to stop the future radicalization of Muslim youth. The Government has already announced steps to streamline Madrasas throughout the country. No foreign clerics should be allowed to teach in these religious schools â€“ the authorities have already expelled many such individuals. Furthermore, members of the Muslim community must report to the authorities about any Moulavis who spread hate. Muslim parents must keep a close tab on the online habits of their children, lest they fall for the rhetoric of online hate preachers.
They must be encouraged to assimilate with children from other communities. (This is why some have called for an end to ethnic-based schools). Muslim organisations and Moulavis must also clarify the truth regarding certain Koranic verses that have been distorted online by miscreants, with the aim of driving fear into the hearts of other communities. They must strive hard to end the mistrust that has been created among the various communities by the actions of a few misguided individuals.
President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe have called on the other communities not to look at all Muslims with a suspicious eye. Indeed, it is wrong to victimize an entire community due to the actions of a few. Muslims must take this opportunity to voice their opposition to extremist voices in their midst and report any suspicious activity immediately. Indeed, this is how the Police and Security Forces were able to nab some of the terror suspects within hours after the Easter Sunday incidents. The Muslim community must take a firm stand against all forms of violence and assimilate in a more robust way with the Sinhalese and Tamils.
We are no strangers to ethnic and religious amity. If you go to any major town in Sri Lanka, you will see the temple, kovil, church and the mosque almost next to each other. The followers of various religions regularly participate in each otherâ€™s religious festivals. For example, during Vesak, which is just around the corner, it is not unusual to see Dansals offered by Christians and Muslims. That is the spirit we need following the horrendous events of Easter Sunday.
We need to root out extremism of any form, coming from members of any ethnic group or religion. Unfortunately, there are such fringe groups in almost every ethnic group and religion. But the majority of right-thinking citizens must defeat their designs and let peace and harmony reign in our land.Â