What happens in Sri Lanka should not stay in Sri Lanka. The shock waves of bomb blasts across several locations in the capital city of Colombo, Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday left more than 250 people dead and many more injured. Whatever the motives of these twisted criminal perpetrators, some who had strapped bombs upon their bodies before setting them off, has added to the woes of a country slowly coming to terms with ethnic and religious violence.
The victims, all civilians, had no knowledge or inkling of the fate that was to sweep over them that fateful day. Civilians that included worshippers at churches celebrating Easter Sunday, tourists enjoying a meal at a hotel, women and children and ordinary pedestrians going about their business on the busy streets in metropolitan Colombo.
In an island state just at the southeast tip of India, Sri Lanka is a multi-ethnic, multi-religious country with a diverse and rich culture. Its population of about 19 million people is by and large warm and friendly.
At first glance, one would easily mistake this island for a tropical paradise, with its unspoilt beaches, lush greenery, and cooler climates in the hilly regions, famous for Ceylon tea.
Sri Lanka is made up of a composition of different religions, the largest being the Sinhalese Buddhists who make up about 70 per cent of the population. Hindus are the largest minority followed by Muslims and Christians, converts when their forefathers landed on the island’s shores centuries ago. And while one senses no animosity between the different religions and the cultures associated with them, the various ethnic groups with their pattern of random killings, has over the years made it an uneasy state.
For more than three decades, the island had to put up with the Tamil Tigers of Sri Lanka, or the LTTE, a sinister force intent on creating its own distorted brand of independence through mayhem. The LTTE, a terrorist organisation, was intent on dividing the island and carving themselves a nice chunk of real estate in the northern provinces of Sri Lanka. The composition of this group was primarily Tamil who had deviated from the humble sonnets of the Hindu religion and were conducting a terror campaign throughout the island.
Taking a page from the Israeli ethnic cleansing of Palestinians on Palestinian lands, these like-minded terrorists had butchered various other sects up in the northern provinces where they were seeking to wrest control from the government.
They invaded villages, burned and slaughtered their inhabitants, and had been engaging in war with the government forces with substantial aid from their sympathisers outside of Sri Lanka.
The pitiful images of fallen bodies resulting from their criminal acts were painful to bear, to say the least. The widows and orphans left as a result of their crimes and fleeing their villages in fear and desperation are a grim reminder of those terror days.
When the Sri Lankan government launched an all-out against the LTTE, hundreds perished but before that many of the victims were among the minorities who were unable to escape the wave of violence that swept them. The Sri Lankan government was able to manage through a series of armed offensives to defeat the violent group and reunite the island.
The calm lasted barely a couple of years before a fiery brand of nationalists, Sinhalese Buddhist extremists, the Bodu Bala Sena (BBS), began their own terror campaign against the minorities of Sri Lanka, the Christians, and the Muslims. Through acts of deliberated terror they burned mosques and churches, killed and dismembered their victims and confronted a government unwilling to take them on.
Muslim and Christian religious leaders often complained of being put under pressure from the authorities to end or curtail services, which they deemed to be “unlawful gatherings”.
Now, following the BBS, a new threat seems to have emerged. Based on initial reports, a splinter group of radical Muslims had planned and participated in this latest criminal act. There was absolutely nothing Islamic about their actions. Muslim communities and leaders around the world condemned these abominable acts. While the motives are not yet clear, their actions will undoubtedly spawn a series of reprisals against minorities, including Muslims, for some time to come.
The patience of the peace-loving people of Sri Lanka has worn thin with periodic atrocities by fringe groups against minorities. The government has to deal with them firmly and absolutely. And the people of Sri Lanka deserve it to be so. Let their country be an unspoilt paradise, unstained by the actions of these thugs.
Tariq A. Al Maeena is a Saudi socio-political commentator. He lives in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. Twitter: @talmaeena.