The serial blasts on Easter Sunday in Sri Lanka have left more than 300 people dead and 500 injured. Three churches filled with devotees for Easter celebrations came under attack. Three posh hotels were also the targets of the deadly blasts. Sri Lanka was ravaged by decades of civil war against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Elam (LTTE). During the separatists’ heydays, bomb blasts were common in the capital. After the LTTE were neutralised in 2009, the 22 million-nation was relatively peaceful.
The coordinated attacks were perpetrated on St Anthony’s Shrine ( a tourist landmark) in Colombo, on St Sebastian’s Church (of gothic-architecture) in Negombo, 30 km from the national capital and the Zion Church in Batticaloa, 250 km east of Colombo. Two bombings were at a guesthouse. Three luxury hotels in the heart of Colombo – Cinnamon Grand (a stone’s throw away from the official residence of the Sri Lankan Prime Minister), The Shangri La and Kingsbury Hotel s – were victi ms of the mindless and senseless acts that killed , among others, 35 foreigners includ ing nationals from USA, Denmark, China, Japan, Pakistan, Morocco, India and Bangladesh.
According to Sri Lankan authorities, the National Thowheed Jama’ath, a little-known radical Islamic terror organization was behind the mayhem. Aiming to promote Islamic radical ideology, the group was involved in vandalizing Buddhist statues with its secretary, Abdul Razik arrested in 2016. So far 24 people are said to have been arrested in connection with the blasts. Authorities say the group ‘aims to spread the global jihadist movement in Sri Lanka and to create hatred, fear and divisions in society’. Officials also informed that intelligence warning was issued on possible attacks on church by the group. Even if warning was indeed given, we have to wait for the answer as to why no preventive action was taken. In the meantime, the world is shocked at the ghastly and barbaric explosions been carried out by the terrorists.
The modern world today is a religion dominated world. Regions and countries are inevitably classified by religions. Europe and the Americas are associated with Christianity. In Africa, Islam and Christianity share honours. Asia, from where all major religions originated, is naturally a home of all religions. The Middle East is dominated by Islam, while the South East Asia is, by and large, a Buddhism stronghold. For obvious reasons, we mention the Indian subcontinent here. India and Nepal are Hindu majority, while Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan are Muslim nations, and Myanmar and Sri Lanka are Buddhist majority countries.
In principle, adherents of all religions claim that their respective religion is peaceful. Their sacred Scriptures contain tenets of love, peace, brotherhood, unity, forgiveness, compassion, acceptance, besides offering guidelines for a meaningful life. None of these ‘rule books’ preach hate, division, killing, violence and war. Christianity says love is the greatest virtue, Islam says its very meaning is peace, Buddhism’s chief teaching is non-violence and Hinduism’s strength is inclusiveness.
If these are the lofty doctrines of religions then where have we gone wrong? Why is the world still full of hatred, violence and killings? Why the bomb blasts, the terrorist attacks, the mass shooting, riots, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity? Ironically most of these cruel acts are religiously and scripturally inspired. They are committed in the name of religions, holy books and God himself. It is a fact that the main culprits of violence anywhere in the world are followers of the mainstream religions. We don’t hear of large scale violence perpetrated by adherents of traditional or indigenous religions. It is time to reflect hard, otherwise the major religions might be judged unkindly.
There is war extremism, fanaticism, fundamentalism and radicalism in every religion. Without exception there are extremists, fanatics, fundamentalists and radicals in every religion. Intolerance and bigotry, chauvinism and jingoism exist in all religions. This is the ugliness elements of religions that should be seriously addressed.
While Islam is a ‘religion of peace’ jihadists galore like the ISIS, Boko Haram, the Al-Qaeda, and the Taliban to name a few. These groups pledge allegiance to Islam, commit crimes in the name of Allah and publicly justify their heinous acts in by the Koran. It is not only terrorists groups but there are Mullahs who consider non-Muslims as infidels.
Fundamentalist attitude is present among Christians too. There is a strong view in the Church that unless you accept Christ and the personal Lord and Saviour you are doomed for hell. It is not uncommon in the USA for mainstream and street preachers to articulate this ‘conviction’. We have had examples of individuals who burned the Koran and insulted Prophet Mohammed and Islam as a religion. It is alleged that in the West ‘Islamophobia’ results in crimes and violence against the community. The recent mass shooting in two mosques in New Zealand is connected to Islamophobia, some opine.
In India fundamentalist organisations and right wing individuals are prevalent. The Bajrang Dal, RSS, the VHP and other outfits in Sangh Parivar are intolerant to the likes of MF Hussain, Graham Staines and others. Gujarat riots, Kandhamal mayhem, demolition of Babri Masjid are not just history, but there are still groups who are proud of these shameful anarchies. There are Individuals and groups who commemorate Mahatma Gandhi’s assassination and honour Nathuram Godse. In the last five years we have seen lynching of Muslims, Ghar Wapsi, Love Jihad, ‘go to Pakistan’ and ‘anti-national’. Recently the nomination of Sadhvi Pragya, accused in the 2008 Malegaon blasts, is seen as a gift to right wing constituency.
Buddhism’s strongest weapon is Ahimsa or non-violence. But not all practice this powerful teaching of its founder, Buddha. In Myanmar the political and security leadership are mainly Buddhists. However, the Rohingya Muslims in that country face discrimination and atrocities on a large scale at the hands of the government and the army. Last year thousands of them had to flee to Bangladesh and India. In Sri Lanka groups of Buddhist monks are accused of being intolerant to Muslims and Christians.
According to latest reports, the ISIS has claimed responsibility for the bloodbath in Sri Lanka. But others need not be judgemental because extremism has shown it’s ugliest of faces in all religions at some time and place in history. The present global analysis shows that extremism stares at you in the eye and it can explode anytime and anywhere. It is Sri Lanka today. It will be somewhere else tomorrow. Sad, but religion is linked to violence.
(Published on 29th April 2019, Volume XXXI, Issue 17 & 18)