Lanka must not impose will of the majority after attacks
Sri Lanka's majority Buddhists will pounce on any perceived threat, to what is strongly espoused and held sacred in Sri Lanka.
Sri Lanka was not just a sitting duck for another terrorist attack. It was a prime breeding ground. And it wasn't just the lax security even if that would have also been a factor with whoever masterminded Easter Sunday's horrific attacks on Catholic churches and city hotels. One can argue that when terrorists strike, their targets could literally be anywhere, and in many instances state authorities and governments are caught unawares. We have plenty of examples, including the 9/11 attacks in the US, and more recently, the Christchurch Mosque Shootings on March 15, 2019 in New Zealand.
But this attack in Sri Lanka was not perpetrated by a lone, hate-filled White supremacist gunman acting off the grid, as was the case in New Zealand. This was organised terror. As was 9/11. Terrorists carefully masterminded a heinous plan that ultimately was a resounding success - for them. With tragic and lasting consequences for Sri Lanka.
This achingly beautiful tear-shaped nation has already suffered decades of violence and bloodshed. But Sri Lanka's cursed history is not just dogged with ethnic violence but strangled by successive governments who have not only in some instances been known to instigate, but actively support racial tensions, communal disharmony and violence against minority communities.
It is not just the maniacal Rajapaksas that must shoulder blame for this horrendous situation. The current government must also be held accountable. With its egoistic and largely corrupt coterie of ministers, a weak and ineffectual prime minister whose motto in life appears to be to view everything through tinted glasses, a divisive and ill- educated president, and if that cocktail is not distasteful enough, both leaders, and even the rest of them, are at loggerheads with each other. The rivalries and betrayals within United National Party is hardly Sri Lanka's best kept secret.
This is Sri Lanka's Macbeth. A tale of tragedy, bitterness and loss. Consistent and constant loss. This is the tale of a society that is torn, separated by communal tensions and economic heartache. The story of a country, a nation, ripped, by the inept, the ineffectual and the utterly corrupt. If ever a political fallout has played out on the world's stage, with devastating consequences, it has to be Sri Lanka.
Easter Sunday's horrific attack on an unsuspecting community could perhaps have been prevented but wasn't mainly because the country's coalition government has been feuding since October last year. On October 26, 2018, Sri Lanka plunged into constitutional crisis after President Maithripala Sirisena abruptly dismissed Prime Minister Ranil Wickremasinghe and replaced him with Mahinda Rajapaksa.
The drama ended on December 13, when the Supreme Court ruled that Sirisena's actions were unconstitutional. Rajapaksa was forced to step down as prime minister. But that did not end the political crisis. Tensions mounted and tempers continued to flare. So much so, the prime minister and president avoided each other like the bubonic plague.
Sri Lanka's tragedy is that it was presented with an opportunity to rebuild and ensure reconciliation. To give back dignity. To lift up lives that had long been stunted. But it failed miserably. What is important to consider at this moment is whether the tragic events could perhaps have been prevented had this coalition government acted on intelligence reports.
Unfortunately for Sri Lankans, the country has long been held victim to the machinations of politicians who no longer understand the meaning of the word integrity, and are far from selfless. Their political pledges are ambiguous at best, and outright lies at worst.
Since gaining independence in 1948, Sri Lanka has remained linguistically and racially divided. Planting Buddhism as the platform for Sinhala nationalism, the state was formed. Sri Lanka's majority Buddhists will pounce on any perceived threat, to what is strongly espoused and held sacred in Sri Lanka-Sinhala Theravada Buddhism.
In July 1983, following large-scale communal riots perpetrated by the majority Sinhalese on the Tamil community, a full-scale war broke out. Having suffered decades of discrimination, minority Tamils retaliated. Led by a fascist terrorist organisation, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, Sri Lanka was subjected to a bloody ethnic war that lasted 27 years.
Easter Sunday's attacks have currently lent a whole new dimension to these ongoing communal tensions. There is now bound to evolve tensions between Christian Tamils and Muslims, who populate Sri Lanka's east and northern peninsula, including her western coastline. Sri Lanka, if she does not exercise extreme caution, will see a whole new wave of ethnic tensions that if not controlled, could erupt into yet another decade, if not more, of bloodshed.
Since the April 21 bombings, President Maithripala Sirisena has imposed a national emergency under which the military has sweeping powers to prevent any form of communal violence from erupting. But it has to be carefully scrutinised and ensured that the military, almost entirely made up of Sinhala Buddhists, does not use or, rather misuse, their powers, to hunt down minority communities and subject them to atrocities that the Tamil community had to undergo during the height of Sri Lanka's ethnic war.
Open magazine, Frederica Jansz is the former editor-in-chief of The Sunday Leader newspaper in Sri Lanka.