Our hearts bleed for Sri Lanka, again!

Nazarul Islam
Published : 20:55, Apr 22, 2019 | Updated : 21:00, Apr 22, 2019

Nazarul IslamAnother dark day, that will survive as a sad reminder of our troubled existence! The evil in our lives touched us again, with its vicious and uncompromising ferocity. We have all been drawn into fresh conflicts, to defend our values and beliefs, one more time.....was this only a ‘cowardly’ act, perpetrated by those who harbour extreme ideologies? As we have liked to do in the past.....we lean on sympathy to defend the misguided killers.
The events are familiar, the responses are text book stereotypes as the victims are encouraged to hold on to the same thread of human sympathy, reminding them that they need to move on, past the remains of the Easter Sunday horror. We continue to live our lives on the complexities of god’s paradoxes!
As many as 290 people have been killed and 450 hurt in explosions, at the churches and hotels in Sri Lanka. Eight blasts were reported, targeting three churches at Negombo, Batticaloa and Colombo's Kochchikade district, during Easter services.
The Shangri-La, Kingsbury and Cinnamon Grand hotels and one other, all in the capital Colombo, were also targeted.
Then followed the usual rhetoric. A national curfew has been put in place ‘until further notice’, and social media networks have been temporarily blocked.
A foreign ministry official said 27 foreign nationals were among the dead.
The first reports of explosions were available at about 08:45 (03:15 GMT) local time —with six blasts reported close together at churches and luxury hotels. St. Sebastian's church in Negombo was severely damaged in one explosion, with dozens killed at the site.
Images from inside has shown blood on the pews and the building's ceiling shattered. There were also heavy casualties at the site of the first blast in St Anthony's, a hugely popular shrine in Kochchikade, a district of Colombo.
The UK's High Commissioner to Sri Lanka, James Dauris has said British citizens were caught in the explosions, but has not given further details. One Dutch national is among the dead, Foreign Minister Stef Blok said in a statement that two Turkish citizens were also killed,
A seventh explosion was later reported at a hotel near the zoo in Dehiwala, southern Colombo, with police sources reporting two deaths.
An eighth explosion was reported near the Colombo district of Dematagoda. Media say it was A suicide bomber attack and that three people, believed to be security personnel, were killed during a police raid. Local media reports said that the military had been deployed, and security stepped up at the country's main Bandaranaike International Airport.
A statue of Virgin Mary broken in two parts is seen in front of the St. Anthony`s Shrine, Kochchikade church after an explosion in Colombo, Sri Lanka April 21, 2019. REUTERSColombo resident Usman Ali told the BBC there were massive queues, as he joined the people trying to donate blood. In the aftermath of the fresh calamity, everyone had just one intention and that was to help the victims, no matter what their religion or race. People were helping each other in filling forms.
Quite expectedly, rumours have been rife of more attacks, the police have ordered people to stay inside their houses and remain calm. But there is some panic. There is a heavy military presence in front of all major state buildings. No one was expecting this, it was a peaceful Sunday morning - everyone was going to Easter services.
And the priests who were in the church were really shocked, as were the police officers. It was all a well-planned, co-ordinated attack and officials believe it's too early to say who is behind it. After the Tamil Tigers were defeated in 2009, Sri Lanka has not really seen this kind of incident.
President Maithripala Sirisena has issued a statement calling for people to remain calm and support the authorities in their investigations. Sri Lanka’s Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe has chaired an emergency meeting. He had strong words of condemnation. He had condemned the cowardly attacks on the people of Sri Lanka on the fateful Easter Sunday. He has repeatedly called upon all Sri Lankans and urged them to remain united and strong.
Pope Francis, in his traditional Urbi et Orbi speech at the Vatican, also condemned the attacks in Sri Lanka, calling this to be a ‘grave and cruel violence’ which had targeted Christians celebrating Easter.
Again, Cardinal Archbishop of Colombo, Malcolm Ranjith, told the BBC: ‘It's a very difficult and a very sad situation for all of us because we never expected such a thing to happen and especially on Easter Sunday.’
In the years since the end of Sri Lanka's civil war in 2009, there has been some sporadic violence, with members of the majority Buddhist Sinhala community attacking mosques and Muslim-owned properties. That led to a state of emergency being declared in March 2018.
The civil war had ended with the defeat of the Tamil Tigers, who had fought for 26 years for an independent homeland for the minority ethnic Tamils. The war is thought to have killed between 70,000 and 80,000 people.
Theravada Buddhism is Sri Lanka's majority religion, followed by about 70.2 percent of the population, according to the most recent census. It is the religion of Sri Lanka's Sinhalese people. It is given primary place in the country's laws and is singled out in the constitution. Hindus and Muslims make up 12.6 percent and 9.7 percent of the population respectively.
Sri Lanka is also home to about 1.5 million Christians, according to the 2012 census, the vast majority of them being Roman Catholics.
According to Open Doors charity, global Christian support network Sri Lanka ranks 46 among 50 countries, where Christians face the most extreme persecution. A rising number of attacks have meanwhile been reported across the region, including in Pakistan, Myanmar and India which has ranked tenth on the checklist. The southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu now has close ethnic ties with Christian minorities in the island of Sri Lanka!
Evangelical Alliance of Sri Lanka, representing more than 200 churches, had reported last year that they had verified 86 instances of discrimination, threats and warnings against Christians. The Alliance has further reported 26 similar incidents so far for this year.
Once again, practitioners of religious fanaticism, have succeeded in creating a scare in human hearts. Old wounds have re-opened. The Christians were caught off guard by yesterday’s repeated attacks. Much bitterness and grievance remain in the country, where war is still an unfinished business, for some.
Although no one has claimed responsibility for the massacre, only seven people have r been apprehended. Attackers could be foreigners or home raised terrorists. The motives are still not very clear. Almost simultaneous targeting of three luxury hotels in Colombo city, that were popular with foreign tourists, are suggestive of the fact that the explosions could be the work of anti-western or anti-government elements, carried out of hatred borne out of religious fanaticism.
It is also possible that all the firepower was somehow linked to or intended to dramatize, the next month’s tenth anniversary of the bloody end of the decade-long Civil War, between the government forces and Tamil tigers in the north of the country.
Sri Lanka’s overall failure to come to terms with its violent past, may form a part of the context, for Sunday’s attacks. Much bitterness has prevailed and for some on both sides the war is still unfinished business. Sri Lanka has obviously failed to come to terms with its past. The government had fought for three decades, a long Civil War against Tamil separatism, culminating in the bloody suppression of the Tigers, who had pushed for an independent state. They are determined to say they do not condone torture, and are committed to the adherence of human rights. Reconciliation however, has proved elusive.
The tragedy in Sri Lanka also may be viewed against the backdrop of a sharp increase in the persecution of Christians and minorities across the Middle East and SoutH Asia. It was the Catholic congregation of three churches that appeared to have suffered in the biggest casualties yesterday, as the overall toll of the dead and wounded rolled past several hundred.
Could the massacre in Sri Lanka be the harbinger of fresh hostilities, against the forces that had never reconciled in the country? Perhaps another, long and dreaded civil war? Perhaps not!
The author is a former educator based in Chicago.

***The opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the opinions and views of Bangla Tribune.