The terrorists of the National Thawheed Jama’ath cold-bloodedly killed around 300 Christians just because they were Christians. That was clear by the statement made eight days after the terrorist attack by Abu Bakr-al Baghdadi, the leader of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) which seemed to be behind the Easter Sunday massacre.
Baghdadi during his first public appearance after five years last month said in a televised speech, that the suicide attacks on three Christian churches and three luxury hotels in Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday (April 21) were launched to avenge their defeat in their last stronghold Baghuz in Eastern Syria.
It was the same fanatic and unfounded hate that has led to the anti-Muslim riots in Minuwangoda in the Gampaha District and Kuliyapitiya, Hettipola, Bingiriya, Dummalasuriya, Rasnayakepura, Kobeigane and several other areas in the Northwestern Province on Sunday and Monday (May 12 and 13).
The mobs set fire to houses as well as shops that belonged to Muslims and attacked mosques just because the victims were Muslims.
It had been the same mindset that was in action- “one has to be eliminated for not being us”- in both cases, despite one being too savage and called extremism and terrorism.
Interestingly, both attacks were, in a way launched by the perpetrators against friends, in real life, proving the hatred to be unfounded.
Christians and Muslims in Sri Lanka have been sharing the same apprehensions during the hate campaign against both communities but mainly against Muslims during the recent past.
Christians sympathized with the Muslims during those hate campaigns over the Halal issue, so-called sterilization tricks and so many other unfounded and ludicrous allegations. There has never been any major issue between the two communities in Sri Lanka, except for the trade rivalries during the colonial era.
Yet, the terrorists with the Muslim tag targeted the Christians on the holiest day of the latter and turned it to be the blackest day in the history of the Sri Lankan Christians.
Likewise, Muslims were furious over this crime against humanity and were subject to self-humiliation.
They felt a sense of shame and guilt as the terrorists killed around 300 innocent men, women and children in the name of their faith. Those who had lived in this country for over a thousand years with dignity and a reputation of being loyal to the country became a suspected lot overnight.
Hence, they as a community rose against the terrorists despite the latter being the members of their faith and volunteered to assist the security forces to weed out the bad apples among them. It was revealed after the Easter Sunday barbarity that some Muslim organizations which had the knowledge about a dangerous trend within their community had been continually providing information about it to the authorities since 2013.
They were not on the side of the terrorists but on the side of the anti-terror forces. It was against such a community that the mob attack was unleashed on Sunday and Monday.
These riots cannot be considered as a backlash of the terrorist attack as they took place 21 days after the latter and the large majority of rioters did not seem to be Christians.
Both the mainstream and social media are to be blamed to some extent, for these mob attacks.
They who failed to distinguish terrorism and ordinary crimes put both into one basket to portray a devilish community out of Muslims. The recent capture of swords, knives and various legal, as well as illegal items, were all jumbled with “Islamic” terrorism.
Some items were repeatedly shown on TV and all those who were arrested in connection with those items were identified with terrorists who blew up hundreds of people.
The seizure of swords from mosques was generalized when they were recovered from only two out of 2,500 mosques in the country.
Arrests were counted but the releases after questioning were ignored. Muslims were ridiculed with some fancy stories about virgins of paradise, which were tagged with these incidents, ignoring the fact that during the 1,400 year-long Islamic history or the 1,000 year- long Sri Lankan Muslims’ history no Muslim killed a member of another community to attain such virgins.
The irritation among the non-Muslims about Muslims was brought to a peak with the unrelated media reports such as the ones about lawlessness and underworld activities, which were not confined to a particular community in Sri Lanka.
Despite the repeated claims that only a very small number of Muslims were involved in terrorist activities, ultimately the entire community was put in the dock. This media hype reignited the hate that had been sleeping and paved the way finally for politics in disguise as well as business rivalries to capitalize on the situation in the Northwestern Province and Gampaha District.
Besides this media vilification, Muslim women began to be harassed at Government and private institutions all over the country after the terrorist attack.
In spite of the recent ban preventing only the donning of the face veil, they were forced to remove their head cover as well, hurting their religious sensibilities.
These incidents could be attributed to the confusion created by the media, lack of knowledge on the face veil ban, apart from racism.
The impact of these riots and humiliations on Muslims seems to be negative. Earlier they had been enraged by the terrorists who desecrated their faith and humiliated them by their inhuman massacre of innocent people at churches and hotels. Their concern over rooting out the extremist forces from their ranks now seems to be gradually fading away and it is being replaced by security concerns.
They are worried over the reports that law enforcement authorities had not been so prompt in containing the rioters. They are puzzled as to how such vast damage was done in Muslim pockets when the State machinery had been put on high alert.
The situation seems to have heavily impacted on the country’s economy as well. It was at a time when the government was banking only on tourism, terrorists killed hundreds of people. The victims being Christians, the day the crime was perpetrated being the holiest day for Christians and the terrorists being linked to a well known international terrorist outfit with a Muslim tag attracted unprecedented attention of the world, which in turn had its impact on tourism in the country.
One newspaper report before the anti-Muslim riots said that only 4 out of 140 rooms in a hotel in Nuwara Eliya had been occupied, while in another, room occupation had been only one out of 40.
President Maithripala Sirisena called on some countries to lift the travel adversaries, which they had announced for their citizens who intended to travel to Sri Lanka. The anti-Muslim riots might have somewhat nullified his assurances to those countries.
It is with collective efforts by the Government, the media and leaders of all communities that the situation could be rectified. It would be a gigantic task in the light of the rivalries among media outlets and among political parties, apart from the motives of people with vested interests.