Why fighting terror with terror won’t end terror

LAST Friday, a colleague who was rushing to toilet met me on the way and passed this message. "Riots in Colombo, Tamil shops are being smashed." I encountered many a landmine in my journey towards the bottom of this story. One report said it was a Sinhala mob that was attacking all the Tamil shops in Colombo.

By Ameen Izzadeen

Published: Tue 15 Aug 2006, 9:38 AM

Last updated: Sat 4 Apr 2015, 5:37 PM

"Oh, my God, not again another 1983," screamed a fellow journalist and peace activist, reminiscing the ethnic riots that the TIME magazine captured on its cover with the image of a Tamil being burned by the mob. Another journalist said it was the Muslims who were attacking the Tamils in Colombo. The truth was they were attacking not only Tamil shops but also Muslim shops which opened for business after Friday prayers in defiance of a strike called by some groups to protest the violence against the Muslims in Mutur, a Muslim-dominated town near the northeastern strategic port and military base in Trincomalee.

Mutur is today a ghost city and its people are living in refugee camps scattered all over the country. But does this warrant violence against innocent Tamils? Terror is not a response to terror.

If those Muslims who smashed the windows of the shops in Colombo really want to teach the perpetrators of the Mutur violence a lesson, they should join the Army and fight the terrorists. Some months ago, the Army wanted to launch a Muslim regiment called Walid — named after the legendary Islamic warrior Khaled bin Waleed — in a bid to attract the Muslim youths. The Army shelved the plan because only ten Muslims turned up for the walk-in interview.

The recent incidents in Mutur also blew up the LTTE propaganda that an armed Muslim group was operating in the area. If such a group had existed, it would have defended the town. But tales of terror that refugees carry with them tell a different story. One Muslim woman said the terrorists rounded up the people, separated the men from women and killed scores of young Muslim men while the wailing women folk begged to spare their lives. Another young girl said she was forced to leave behind her father’s body when the Kalashnikov wielding LTTE terrorists ordered them to leave the village.

A FAQ put to me is: Why don’t you join the protests? I tell them that I protest their protests. Often these protests are nothing but an opening for the Muslims to vent their anger at those who oppress or terrorise them not only in Sri Lanka but also in Palestine, Lebanon and other trouble spots. After shouting some slogans against the LTTE, Israel and its Western-backers, we disperse to carry on with our daily chores. I often wonder if all those people who burn US and Israeli flags at protests all over the world, should have taken their protests to the frontlines.

Some 15 years ago, at a diplomatic function in Colombo, I struck a conversation with an elderly Muslim gentleman whom I had never met before and did not meet thereafter. Soon our conversation turned to Middle East politics. He wore a Turkish Fez cap, which proudly identified him with the last Muslim caliphate. He said that when things turned worse for the Muslims in the Middle East after the creation of Israel in 1948, he did not join the protests in Colombo; he packed his bags and went to Palestine to fight the Zionists.

Although he is no more today, his story offers a lesson to all of us. Fighting for justice on behalf of the oppressed is a duty upon every one of us, whether we are Muslims, Christians, Jews, Hindus or Buddhists. Agrees my Christian colleague, who could not become a priest because he is visually handicapped.

In a weekly column that appears in the Colombo based Daily Mirror he wrote: "Christian fundamentalists of the prosperity gospel or corporate Christianity are seeing an Armageddon-like situation in Lebanon and believe it might be the final conflict. They interpret the imagery of the Apocalypse or the book of Revelation as pointing to a situation where the whole world will turn against Israel with only the US administration or the so-called new messiah from the Burning Bush standing by Israel.

"They say that is the point at which God will directly intervene on behalf of the Hitler-like killers of Israel and the forces of new Burning Bush, but other Bible scholars say the Gospels and the message of the Lord Jesus Christ make it clear that God is on the side of the poor and the dispossessed, the oppressed and the marginalised. God has made a preferential option for them. So if this is to be the final conflict, the key question would be on which side God is. Would He be for the rich and the powerful or the poor and the dispossessed of the Third World?"

Ameen Izzadeen is a Sri Lankan journalist based in Colombo

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