Harim Peiris

Political and Reconciliation perspectives from Sri Lanka

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Christian forgiveness the key to rebuilding unity after Easter massacres

Posted by harimpeiris on April 29, 2019

By Harim Peiris

(Published in the Island on 27th April 2019)

Sri Lanka, in 2019 was celebrating ten years of peace and quiet after the end of our brutal, decades long civil war and sadly that tranquility was shattered by the Easter Sunday suicide bomb attacks on churches and hotels in Colombo, its suburbs, Negombo and Batticalo. The wanton targeting of innocents with extreme violence is contemptible and the horrific costs in terms of shattered lives is tragic and sorrowful. Emerging from the ashes of our civil war, Sri Lanka deserve better than renewed violence and sectarian conflict. Even as President Sirisena has convened an all-party conference and a multi religious forum to discuss the current state of affairs, a few preliminary observations can be made.

1) Colossal failure of state security

It is almost incomprehensible how a vast terror network could have been established and made operational in and around Sri Lanka, without the knowledge of our much-vaunted security establishment. This is not really a military failure, but a security failure for which the police and especially the state intelligence apparatus needs to held primarily responsible. The President has accordingly called for the resignation of the IGP and the Secretary to the Ministry of Defense. Holding somebody responsible for this colossal security failure would be an important first step in reestablishing confidence that the Sri Lankan state is able to perform that most basic responsibility of a nation state, namely the protection of its citizens. Specific security lapses, like how such a large amount of explosives were smuggled into the country, how they were moved around, bombs assembled, attacks planned, a suicide bomber who was arrested and then later released, widely reported as due to political pressure by a presidential governor appointee, why information from local Muslim leaders of radicalization was ignored or at least not monitored for a violent stream and why warnings from foreign intelligence agencies were ignored should all be fully investigated and those guilty of gross negligence and dereliction of duty held responsible.

 2) Christian forgiveness should be harnessed

It is laudable that after the Easter Sunday carnage that all Christian leaders, while still grieving the loss of innocents and loved ones, have unitedly advocated forgiveness in the midst of that pain and reassured the Muslim community that the actions of a depraved few were not being ascribed to all. Rev.Fr Jude Fernando, the priest who was celebrating Mass at St. Anthony’s Kochchikade, when the attack occurred and who survived, stated thus “we love peace. We forgive. Our God is a God of peace, He is not a God of revenge. We love each other. We forgive”.  Christian Parliamentarian MA Sumanthiran, speaking in parliament on the re-imposition of a state of national emergency stated “we are grieving, but we will not allow hate and revenge to overtake us… we do not respond to perpetrators who acted out of hate with hatred”. Sri Lanka Muslim Congress leader Rauf Hakeem acknowledged this when he tweeted “I bow to the Christian community and the Reverend clergy who have proven their magnanimity in practicing the word of Christ “if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also”. It is crucial that neither a backlash against other innocents nor communal violence is allowed to reoccur. The very essence of Easter Sunday, is that Jesus Christ came into the world, suffered as we do, took humanity’s sin on Himself, was unjustly crucified and rose again. It is a celebration of new life. That reality the suicide bombers cannot rob and they should not be allowed to let their hatred bread hatred.

That Sri Lankan communities are coming together rather than pulling apart through these horrific incidents was even recognized internationally, where in the British House of Commons, debating the loss of British lives in the attacks, special mention was made, that Sri Lankans are coming together, rather than pulling apart in the face of this tragedy.

This does not however mean that the perpetrators of the Easter Sunday massacres are to go Scott free, especially to wreak more mayhem. They must be neutralized, held accountable and justice should prevail. The attacks were not just on the victims, not just on Christians, but on all of us. The most crucial aspect of justice for the entire Christian community is the fundamental right to worship in peace and safety, in association with fellow Christ followers. A fundamental practice, which Christ followers have adhered to, through millennia, whether persecuted by the Roman Empire in the first century, or various other groups, ideologies and isms in the twenty first century.

3) Muslim leaders must squash the extremist violence

Sri Lankan Muslim leaders, both their secular political leadership and the religious leaders, the All Ceylon Jamiyyathul Ulama have unequivocally condemned the Easter Sunday massacres, distanced their community from the same and expressed their sorrow and grief over the situation. They would however, need to do more to address violent radicalism within a small sliver of their number. The reality is that the Saudi Arabian funded Madrasa’s in the Eastern province and a particular interpretation of Wahhabism as preached by the National Thowheed Jamath (NTJ) advocates violence. Islamic scholars and theologians would need to do much more, to challenge, dilute and mitigate the violence advocated by the NTJ.

Sri Lanka can and must rise out of this carnage and once again proceed on the journey of peace and unity, a journey we began afresh, a decade ago at the end of the civil war. We cannot afford fresh violence on new fault lines. The security establishment has the responsibility to prevent violence, religious leaders to engender harmony and political leaders to foster social cohesiveness rather than divisiveness.

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