September 28, 2022
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    Challenge of Islamic Extremism to Inter-Communal Harmony

    August 08, 2019

    In this article, I have drawn the attention of the reader to the new challenge posed to the government by the terrorist movement of the Islamic extremists affiliated to the ISIS or in other word the challenge of global terrorism to the restoration of inter-communal harmony.

    Sri Lankans are now experiencing a certain degree of political instability in the country. After the break-up of the coalition government formed in the year 2015 there is a critical deficiency in the required degree of cohabitation between the President and the Prime Minister. President Maithripala Sirisena and the Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe express different views regarding very important national issues. The conduct of the SLPP, the main opposition party, and its leader Mahinda Rajapaksa, has further compounded the political instability of the country.

    Post-war reconciliation process

    The UNHRC has brought to the attention of the Sri Lankan government the steps that should be taken by the government for achieving post-war reconciliation. The government has already shown some progress in the implementation of the Resolution 30/1. But, the lack of consensus between the two factions of the government and strong objection of the main opposition, the SLPP, is the main reason for not proceeding with the implementation of some of the most important recommendations contained in the UNHRC Resolution.

    The leaders of the Tamil community express the view that the lack of political will on the part of the government is the main reason for not proceeding with the constitution making process and hesitating to implement other proposals for achieving reconciliation. The political parties and leaders of Sri Lanka are now preoccupied with a propaganda campaign for mobilizing the support of the electorate at the presidential and the parliamentary elections that will be held towards the end of this year. As such, it appears that the government is hesitating to deal with controversial issues regarding which the public opinion is divided.

    Terrorist attack on Easter Sunday

    The other most disturbing development affecting the inter-communal harmony in the country commenced with the dastardly act of bomb attacks on three churches, while Christians were praying inside, and on some hotels, on April 21, 2019, Easter Sunday, by an extremist Islamic group called National Thawheed Jamaath (NTJ) led by its leader Zahran Hashim. This dastardly criminal act caused the death of about 250 persons and injured a larger number. According to the Sri Lankan government, this extremist group consists of only a small number of active members, some of whom are now already dead or have been taken into legal custody for investigations and necessary legal action.

    The information now available is that the Islamic extremist group which carried out the bomb attacks on Easter Sunday is connected to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) which is an internationally organised Islamic extremist organisation which has branches or cells in many countries. This extremist organisation was formed initially for establishing an Islamic State comprising Iraq and Syria. But, now they have been militarily defeated and evicted from areas under their control by the government military forces in Iraq and Syria with the support of outside military powers. According to the information now available, the ISIS is now working on a plan for establishing an Islamic State in the South Asian region.

    According to the National Investigation Agency (NIA) in India, there are reports from Kerala and some states in North East India, Tripura, Assam and West Bengal, indicating that there are camps of terrorist outfits connected to the ISIS engaged in terrorist activities. For example, the terrorist organisation called Jamaat – ul – Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB) has established bases in Indian States above mentioned and also in Bangladesh. Intelligence available with the NIA has confirmed that it is the JMB which has carried out the bomb blast in Both Gaya on January 19, 2018 and several other terrorist attacks.

    Another terrorist outfit affiliated to the ISIS is Jammatul Mujahideen India (JMI). This group is motivated to attack Buddhist institutions being influenced by the Rohingiya Islamic militants who were driven out of Myanmar by the government military forces.

    According to media reports from India, after the bomb attacks in Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday, the NIA conducted raids in several locations in Coimbatore of Tamil Nadu and was able to arrest a terrorist leader called Riyas Aboobacker who had connections with Zahran Hashim, the Sri Lankan terrorist leader. The intelligence units of the Indian security establishment have very vital information regarding the operations of the Islamic extremist groups in Sri Lanka and their connections with the extremist terrorist groups in India. The Sri Lankan government should be grateful to India for providing information regarding the impending bomb attacks on Easter Sunday, although due attention had not been paid to this vital information by the officials of the Sri Lankan government responsible for national security.

    Pakistan too is seriously affected by ISIS affiliated terror organisations. According to media reports, a terrorist group called Wilayah Pakistan carry out attacks both on Indian army soldiers in some parts of India administered Kashmir and in the Baluchistan province in Pakistan. The neighbouring countries, Pakistan, India, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka have to remain extremely vigilant regarding terror attacks by the ISIS affiliated Islamic terrorist outfits operating in these countries.

    After the Easter Sunday bomb attacks, many countries have offered assistance to Sri Lanka in many ways to neutralize this terrorist outfit operating in Sri Lanka. The Sri Lankan government should get the support of all countries that offered assistance to Sri Lanka. However, the Sri Lankan government should establish a very close working relationship with the Indian intelligence units for exchanging intelligence and information regarding the activities of terrorist organisations in both countries affiliated to the ISIS and for effective cooperation to eliminate the threat posed by the Islamic extremist ideology.

    Anti-Muslim hate campaign

    Another unfortunate development after the bomb attacks on Easter Sunday is the sense of insecurity that the Muslim community is experiencing both in respect of the right to live as equal citizens of Sri Lanka and regarding their livelihood and employment opportunities.

    Some Sinhala Buddhist extremist leaders and organisations have launched an anti-Muslim hate campaign which has a serious negative effect of disrupting the harmonious relationship that existed between the Sinhalese and Muslim communities and between their political and religious leaders during the thirty years of civil war in Sri Lanka. Both communities had trusted each other and interacted with each other with the conviction that communal harmony contributes to the well-being of all citizens irrespective of the ethnic or religious community to which they belong.

    Three weeks had passed after the terrorist bomb attacks on Easter Sunday when a spate of organised mob attacks was launched targeting Muslim homes, business premises and even places of worship causing physical injury to the victims and loss and damage to the buildings in some areas in the North Western Province and in the Gampaha District.

    The anti-Muslim hate campaign led by some extremist politicians and Buddhist priests is characterized by a vociferous propaganda campaign against the Muslim political leaders holding office as ministers and Provincial Governors alleging that they were aware of the plan to attack the churches and hotels on Easter Sunday by the extremist terrorist organisation and had close connections with its leaders.

    Business transactions with Muslims

    The other feature of the anti-Muslim campaign is motivating the non-Muslims to stop all business transactions with Muslims and persuading them to boycott shops and other business establishments belonging to Muslims. This anti-Muslim propaganda campaign has a devastating effect on the economic activities and the livelihood of not only the Muslims but also non-Muslims employed at these business premises. The right thinking people of all communities in Sri Lanka understand the devastating effect of this anti-Muslim campaign on strengthening the unity among all sections of the Sri Lankan society.

    The government and the peace-loving people of this country should appreciate the constructive role played by the Muslim community by providing information and assisting the Security Forces and the Police to apprehend the persons both directly and in directly involved in the terrorist attacks on Easter Sunday.

    The government should undertake the full responsibility to ensure that the peace-loving Muslim community in Sri Lanka is protected from being physically harmed and their places of business and warship are not attacked by the misguided anti-Muslim extremists encouraged to do so by the extremist Sinhala Buddhist campaign, while at the same time taking all precautions to prevent the occurrence of terrorist attacks by Islamic extremists. Media institutions in this country too have a very responsible role to play for instilling into the minds of the people that extremist ideologies both of the Sinhalese Buddhists and of the Islamists are equally dangerous.

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