Next weekend is when the country should be celebrating the 10th anniversary of the defeat of terrorism and the return of peace. Instead, Sri Lanka has seen a return to terrorism of a different kind, but terrorism nevertheless. The people are under a cloud of anxiety, fear and foreboding. Having gone through temple, train and [...]


Resilience the rock of ages


Next weekend is when the country should be celebrating the 10th anniversary of the defeat of terrorism and the return of peace. Instead, Sri Lanka has seen a return to terrorism of a different kind, but terrorism nevertheless.

The people are under a cloud of anxiety, fear and foreboding. Having gone through temple, train and Central Bank bombings and massacres of innocent civilians at places of religious worship including Anuradhapura and Kattankudy, many are grappling with what it is now that such a people find difficult to cope with. How is it that having undergone 30 years of terrorism, people are virtually paralysed by fear after one day of terrorism?

Is it that the Government, having underplayed early warning signals of imminent attacks is now overplaying the issue; and in the process contributing to what the locals call the ‘goni billa’ syndrome.

The fact that there is little confidence in a Government plagued by in-fighting is as much a factor as that there is Intelligence that there remain ‘sleepers’ among the terrorist group that mapped out the Easter Sunday attacks. Many of those who overcame terrorism are retired from service. And the Government has not yet found a way of providing the people with credible information with every second person to whom a microphone is thrust giving an opinion, often contradictory opinions.

Government Ministers surrounded by a phalanx of armed guards do not infuse any confidence when they ask children to go to school this week. Unfortunately, we did not see any Ministers taking their children or grandchildren to school.

The collective ‘shock effect’ of the Easter Sunday bombings resembles the situation when the ambush of 13 soldiers at Thinnaveli in Jaffna in 1983 occurred. The reactions, however, contrast. The Church hierarchy was able to defuse the emotions among their flock from turning into violence. On the other hand, in 1983, angry mourners were whipped into a frenzied mob that set alight the country. And yet, as the northern ‘civil commotion’ of the time developed into a ‘war’, civilians became desensitised to death, destruction and casualties, and the killing of 600 policemen in one day in the East or nearly 1,000 soldiers when a camp was overrun in Pooneryn received muted reaction.

Time is the great healer. Provided, however, there are no more blunders and blasts of such a scale as we witnessed on April 21. The climate of vigilance is paramount as much as the on-going exercise to flush out the terrorists needs to be clinical and not breed more terrorists. It is going to be a long haul — and no quick fixes are available. Even the policemen on the street doing searches these days should be ordered to be polite and courteous, not to think that the Emergency powers vested in them are a licence to be obnoxious.

Muslim leaders, both political and religious, must take the lead as an embarrassed community and an embattled Government desperately tries to gain credibility among the people in fostering an environment where every Muslim is not seen as a terrorist suspect. Even in the United States, the then President Barack Obama had to caution his Police Departments not to think of every Black American youth wearing a ‘hoodie’ as a criminal.

Experienced psychiatrists would say that people do develop resilience after trauma. To do so, they need to be secure in the knowledge that everything possible is being done to prevent a recurrence; that they will be adequately warned of future threats and constantly kept informed by credible information. Sri Lankans developed resilience during the Eelam ‘wars’, and the 2004 tsunami. There is no reason they cannot do so again.

 Eagle eyes on Madrasas needed

 The issue of the mushrooming Islamic study centres (Madrasas) and the ‘Arabisation’ of the Muslim community of Sri Lanka has been the talk of every town in the country since the roundly condemned Easter Sunday bombings attributed to ‘misguided’ elements within the Islamic faith. The statistics of the numbers of Arabic colleges and Madrassas that have opened up in recent years are mind-boggling, to say the least.

In the heat of the Easter Sunday attacks, there’s a rush to look at these twin issues. It is not unusual for this easy-going island nation of so-called lotus-eaters to wake up to reality only when some shocking event occurs.

Muslim community leaders argue that the trend towards ‘Arabisation’ has its roots in those returning from work in Arab countries and is no different to other Sri Lankans who go to the West and return “Westernized’ with Western habits and dress forms. They admit that the Arabic dress codes that make for high visibility in multi ethnic societies especially when the garment is black, may also hinder social interaction. Black has no religious significance and the same garment in pastel shades might blend better with the rest of society and facilitate wider participation by the wearer in the life of such a multi-cultural society.

The Madrasas however, is an even more serious issue, one that the mainstream Muslim community has long been discussing and debating because of the informal and ad hoc way they have been established. They, too, have called for a common curriculum, a matter now under consideration. There is a justifiable call that these Madrasas come under the purview of the Central Government (not the Provincial Councils) and the Ministry of Education. The Muslim Affairs Ministry is more susceptible to pressures from clerics and politicians.

The problem, however, is the lack of staff proficient in Arabic which brings out the question as to the need for so many Arabic colleges in this country. What does a graduate from these Arabic colleges do in Sri Lanka other than teach Arabic to more and more students. This can even be equated to the inward-looking demand by some for a ban on private tuition classes on Sundays and insisting that young Buddhists attend Daham Pasalas at the expense of a general education that will enable students find places in the job markets and contribute to the economy of the country.

Muslim leaders point out that none of the Easter Sunday bombers was educated in Madrasas, except for the leader who, in fact, was expelled from one of them. The rest were students of international schools! The confusion may be that Madrasas in Pakistan were known to produce young people with militant ideology, but it is a fact that the number of foreign teachers from Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Pakistan etc., with such extreme ideology were given easy ‘entre’ to Sri Lanka. The visa requirements for religious teachers also must meet not only the stipulations of the Line Ministry (the Muslim Affairs Ministry), but those of either the Education, Defence, Law and Order or Home Ministry. In the UK, it is the Home Office.

Likewise, the controversial ‘Shariah University’ in Batticaloa must be made a campus for all – within the university system of Sri Lanka.



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