I was up late on social media last night reading about the terrorist attack in Sri Lanka, and as a result I have a full understanding of why the Sri Lankan government has attempted to shut down social media today.
This attack is the most significant violence in Sri Lanka since the end of the civil war in 2009. Sri Lanka has enjoyed a decade of relative peace, though extremist organizations have been growing in strength in recent years.
In reaction to questions about who was responsible, spokespoeple for Sri Lankan first responders put out statements saying that they were focused on saving lives, and securing air ports and other public spaces, that the question of bringing the guilty to justice comes later.
The statements are carefully crafted. And I think they were made because “We don’t know yet” is the sort of lack of information that causes more chaos, panic, and confusion, especially in a nation which has seen years of violent religious and ethnic conflict.
But various people with personal agendas have already taken to the internet, blaming multiple groups.
There are two active, local terrorist movements in Sri Lanka. The Sinhala Buddhists who have been burning out Muslim communities, and the remnants of the Tamil Tigers, who are an ethnic separatist terrorist organization and majority Hindu. Despite this, Indian and Buddhist twitter in the region ramped up anti-Muslim rhetoric in the immediate aftermath of the attack.
I was told by one person on Twitter that all Muslims were celebrating these attacks. When I said that this obviously wasn’t true, I was called delusional, and told that there’s some secret knowledge or techniques I need to use in order to ferret out the *real* emotions of Muslims. So you know, a rational perspective there.
Blame was hurled by these groups at Pakistan and the ISI. This is mostly Modhi supporters, who like to blame Muslims in general and Pakistan in particular for… well, everything really. Westerners are also quick to blame Muslims for this.
Blame was hurled by others at Sinhala Buddhists, citing a recent history of terrorism and violent extremism among Sinhalese Buddhists. And while that might sound odd to a lot of westerners who think that Buddhism is not really a religion but mostly a philosophy, and a peaceful one at that, there’s reason for this. Bodu Bala Senu (Buddhist Power Force) is an extremist Buddhist organization in Sri Lanka, which has ties to the terrorist 969 Movement in Myanmar which has been targeting Rohingya Muslims. They’ve been involved in anti-Muslim riots and numerous acts of religious violence targeting Muslims. They are anti-Christian as well, but have not responded to Christians yet with the same level of violence with which they’ve targeted Muslims. There have been events of kidnapping and home invasion by them targeting Christians, and they see colonialism as a Christian enterprise, and blame local Christians for the historic atrocities carried out by colonial states. Many of their rallies have been as anti-Christian as they are anti-Muslim.
With the Tamil Tigers’ history of suicide bomb attacks in Sri Lanka, and the fact that these appear to be suicide attacks, blame was thrown against the Tamil ethnic group, Hinduism in general, India, and Indian PM Modhi’s Hindu-Nationalist rhetoric. Various Tamil extremists have called for the removal of other Religious and Ethnic groups from what they see as their country, and have attempted multiple times to declare independence from Sri Lanka to create an independent Tamil state called Eelam. It should be noted that middle-eastern use of suicide bomb attacks was essentially copied from the Black Tigers, the suicide wing of the Tamil Tigers, who developed the techniques later used in middle-eastern terrorism. Sri Lanka is where suicide bomb attacks were first perfected as a weapon of terror.
In reaction to all of this blame, and the way various political groups are attempting to use the attacks to push their preferred narrative, the Sri Lankan government blocked social media platforms to fight the disinformation and thoroughly uninformed hatred being spread on them locally.
Which was probably a wise decision.
Nobody actually knows who is responsible for this yet, possibly not even the Sri Lankan government, though seven arrests have been made. We don’t know if that’s a fishing expedition or an attempt to prove that the government is acting, or if they have solid leads. No group has claimed responsibility yet, though this was obviously a coordinated terrorist attack.
I wouldn’t believe anyone about who carried this out until hard evidence is presented. Even the Sri Lankan government is not to be inherently trusted, as Amnesty has accused them of carrying out numerous acts of state terrorism in the recent past.
Please be skeptical of anything you read, and wait for real evidence. And when it arrives, please fight the tendency to blame an entire group of people for the actions of a few extremists.
It’s always a tragedy when a hateful act like this to spread more hatred.
We live in a world where Synagogues in the United States, Mosques in New Zealand, and Churches in Sri Lanka have been attacked in recent months. Terrorists and violent extremists are enemies to all of us, all of our communities. They want to divide us with hatred. We shouldn’t allow them to.
Sunday, Apr 21, 2019 · 3:32:44 PM +00:00
Per the New York Times, since writing this, the Sri Lankan government does appear to have found the attackers:
“One suspect detonated explosives during questioning by the police inside a home in the suburb. Officials at the site said they believed the attacks had been planned there. As the authorities questioned members of the group, another suspect escaped, and was being sought by a circling helicopter.”