The Sri Lanka Attacks, and Their Effect on Our Community

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Tejas Vadali

The brutal, raw violence of the recent attacks in Sri Lanka equated them to a scene from a nightmare. On Easter Sunday, April 21, 2019, nine suicide bombings were carried out at multiple churches and high end hotels throughout Sri Lanka. Over 250 people have been confirmed dead, and nearly 500 wounded. So far, the Sri Lankan government is holding over 70 Muslim citizens in custody on suspected charges. ISIS has claimed responsibility for this terrible tragedy, and the immediate reaction is that the attacks are a response to March’s mosque shootings in New Zealand.

The Easter bombings reignited traumatic memories of Sri Lanka’s 26-year long civil war for many residents, who later learned that the attacks were carried out by a locally reviled group, National Thowheeth Jama’ath, or NTJ. NTJ’s largest operations prior to the Easter bombings consisted of defacing local Buddhist statues and posting anti-Christian, anti-Western hate speech online. Sri Lankan authorities are still piecing together why ISIS harnessed such a small terrorist organization in order to carry out an attack of such magnitude well outside the Middle East. Senior Mahee Gandhi, who is enrolled in a GOA course called 9/11 in a Global Context, stated that in “my 9/11 GOA class, we’ve talked about the origins of political Islam, jihadists, and extremist groups. The difference between ISIS and other extremist groups such as Al-Qaeda is the significance of territory, and what it means for ISIS. Because ISIS has lost considerable territory in Syria and Iraq, they are utilizing even the smallest insurgent cells in different regions so that they can retain their international legitimacy.”

In the wake of the Easter bombings and the recent uptick in radical Islamist violence, some members of the Latin community have found reason for concern, while others have remained resolute. An anonymous student said that there “are times when I don’t feel safe going around the city. I live downtown, and it’s scary to think that terrorism can reach into even the nicest parts of the most populous cities all over the world. I shudder to think that there are people somewhere on the planet potentially planning to intentionally harm people, and that thought makes me feel very vulnerable.” While there has clearly been fear of terrorist attacks due to recent trends, others are standing firm with their beliefs in society. Freshman Shaan Kamal remarked that “yeah, people have said things to me. They’ve made jokes and all that. But it doesn’t bother me anymore. I believe in my faith as a Muslim, and I know that those terrible people who do such horrible things are not the true representation of my faith. Real Muslims are hardworking, everyday individuals, and no matter what terrorists may do, that’ll never change.”

In light of the Sri Lankan attacks, two Latin student groups, Latin’s Islamic Club and the Asian Student Alliance, have issued statements about how they will address student concerns. Freshmen Elise Maajid and Noor Ahmed, the two heads of Latin’s Islamic Club, have stated that “Latin’s Islamic Club will be talking about this at our meetings because this is something that needs to be addressed. We want people to have the ability to have all their questions answered because of media nowadays the message about why this happened might be warped.” The Asian Student Alliance released a similar statement, expressing that “ASA has already had a conversation with its members regarding the implications of this attack, and we would like all members of the Latin community to recognize that this attack does not at all reflect the Muslim community at large. We understand that this is a heavy topic, and we welcome further discussion. For any students who wish to pursue dialogue about this topic, they are welcome to speak with the ASA heads.”

While Sri Lanka reels from this terrible tragedy, there has been an outcry of support for the island nation. President Trump offered his condolences to Sri Lanka, and he pledged U.S. aid if need be. The same sentiments were echoed by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The UN Security Council convened to condemn the attacks and to confirm that its members are working tirelessly with the Sri Lankan government to find and punish everyone responsible for this unjustifiable act. Motivated by the support from other nations, Sri Lanka’s President Maithripala Sirisena remains determined to exact justice. Sirisena accepts “collective government responsibility for the failure to protect people from these attacks,” and he vows to search every house for unknown persons so that his government may finally “stamp out ISIS from Sri Lanka.”

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