Terror in Sri Lanka

APRIL 28 — At around 9am on Easter Sunday, a man walked into a crowded restaurant in the Shangri La hotel in Colombo, Sri Lanka and blew himself up. His backpack was filled with explosives and in seconds dozens of people were killed and even more wounded.

At around the same time between 8.45am and 10am, at least six other suicide attacks took place in churches and hotels in Colombo and in churches in the the cities of Batticaloa and Negombo. 

Men detonated packs of explosives and as a security response began, there were more explosions. In total close to 300 people were killed  and a nation was left in turmoil

That is a very crude summary of what was a cataclysmic event in Sri Lankan history and a tragedy for hundreds of families.

But as intelligence services unpack exactly what happened on the day — how so much explosives, material, men and vehicles were co-ordinated into such deadly attacks, there is also the crucial challenge of reflecting on the future.

How do we stop this from happening again... in other parts of the world? 

ISIS claimed responsibility for the attacks in Sri Lanka. They revealed that the bombers were aligned with their ideology and opened the possibility of similar attacks anywhere in the world. 

Muslims constitute under 10 per cent of Sri Lanka’s population. A relatively affluent minority with  no history of religious violence or violent extremism but reports indicate that the attacks were carried out by young men from well-off families. 

Their minds filled with imported extremist ideology.

This ideology isn’t specific to a particular nation; extremist rhetoric is accessible everywhere and generated everywhere via social media groups and forums. 

And of course extremism is not confined to a single religion or belief system. Extremists exist across various spectrums. With young men (and sometimes women) being sucked into worlds of online hate and rage and the sharing of destructive  ideas. 

With faster communication and easier travel, the opportunities to act on hate have only grown. 

So we now find ourselves in a world where acts of outrageous but almost random violence are commonplace. 

All of us — whether you live in Singapore or Malaysia — are not safe. The recent attack against mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand made it clear that even peaceful towns in the world’s safest countries can see random attacks. 

That we are all threatened means it really is time for all of us to take action. To go beyond simply blaming the government or media but to actively stand for moderation, tolerance and vigilance. 

Isolation, silos and the failure to connect with or understand those who are different from us — those are the dangers. We need to confront prejudice and ideologies that lead to extremism wherever we find them. Emphasising wherever possible what unites us — over division and polarisation.

It’s really time for us to move beyond thinking based on ethnic groups and religious rivalries. Only more cohesiveness, more unity and more awareness can prevent future acts of mindless violence. 

* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.

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