Geopolitics of the carnage on Easter Sunday 2019
“We have met the enemy and he is us” – Walt Kelly of Pogo Comics, quoted in “ISIS is America: The Shocking Truth Behind the Army of Terror”
On the first Sunday of March 2021, religious congregations in Sri Lanka were joined by Buddhist monks and prominent Muslims for a multireligious demonstration on the occasion of “Black Sunday”; the second anniversary of the deadly Easter Sunday suicide bombings that rocked the country two years ago, killing 279 people and injuring many more.
Local and national religious leaders, aware of the militarization, fragmentation and ongoing use of religion against core values such as ahimsa or non-violence, by external actors interested in advancing their interests geopolitics in this strategically located island in the Indian Ocean, united in calling for justice and accountability for the victims of the mysterious attacks claimed by ISIS. Protesters held signs and demanded, “Tell us who the brains are?”
The simultaneous attacks on seven different luxury tourist hotels and coastal churches over Easter 2019 were mysteriously claimed by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (IS), far from this strategic island in the Indian Ocean.
The carnage that plunged the country into lockdown and the economy into a whirlwind was clearly designed, in the style of Hybrid Warfare, to cause maximum damage to the economy and society. The attack was clearly staged by a global-local network as the conception of the crime reflected foreign interests.
Sri Lanka is in the crosshairs of great power rivalry as a hybrid cyber cold war unfolds in the rapidly militarizing Indian Ocean region as major states use transnational religious networks and narratives of cultural ‘soft power’ and religious terror, including the Islamophobic narrative of ISIS, which Delhi scholar Saeed Naqvi considered a ‘diplomatic asset’, to cultivate local-global networks of political influence and bipartisan corruption rackets to advance their geostrategic interests.
While the attack on hotels was aimed at crippling the island’s tourist-dependent and heavily indebted economy, the attack on churches was believed to spark a cascade of interfaith violence and destabilization in this multi-faith country, making it vulnerable to attacks. foreign boots on the ground or even the establishment of a foreign military base to allegedly “protect Christians from the terror of ISIS” in the rapidly militarizing Indian Ocean region (IOR).
However, given that Christians and Muslims are minorities in this culturally Buddhist-Hindu country and have historically enjoyed excellent interfaith relations, it appeared that the foreign brains behind the Easter crime had miscalculated and imported a Euro-American story of the “clash of civilizations”. which has little traction in the multi-religious context of South Asia. There was no local history or ground for clash of civilizations between Christians and Muslims who had friendly interfaith relations on the island.
From a local perspective, the designers of the crime seemed to have targeted the wrong religious community, and so the blueprint behind the deadly Easter crime began to unravel with the Archbishop of Colombo, His Eminence Malcolm, Cardinal Ranjith , declaring that the attacks were organized by international actors who benefit from destabilizing regions and countries and arms sales.
It is in this context that the powerful Buddhist clergy of Sri Lanka, who have always been confronted with colonial projects, supported the Archbishop’s demand for accountability and joined the Black Sunday protest to coerce the government. of Sri Lanka to reveal the truth about the brains behind the attacks. since the recently released Presidential Commission of Inquiry (PCoI) report on the crime did not reveal any new analysis regarding the perpetrators of the attacks.
In order for this violence not to recur, it would certainly be imperative to identify the brains and hold them accountable.
Basic unanswered questions
Fundamental questions, or perhaps co-incidences such as why attack leader Zaharan Hashim and a second suicide bomber both targeted and died at the luxury Chinese-owned Shangri La hotel on the Colombo waterfront rather than in a Buddhist church or temple if their crime was primarily religiously motivated, have been ignored in investigations.
Apart from Shangri La, the other hotels and churches that were bombed were hit by a single suicide bomber. There is absolutely no evidence to indicate that Zaharan Hashim, leader of the National Thowheed Jamaat (NTJ), the obscure group blamed locally, knew or was concerned about Uyghurs in China.
Intelligence experts also stressed that a leader of a terrorist group would never kill himself initially and suggested the attacks were organized by other actors facing the local NTJ, which espoused the Saudi Wahhabi-Salafi project. launched during the Cold War years to militarize. Islam as a bulwark against communist and socialist ideologies.
Four Chinese marine scientists in Sri Lanka for joint marine exploration lost their lives in the attack on the Kingsbury Hotel. Remarkably, the US-owned and Indian-owned Hilton and Taj hotels located next to Shangri La were not affected.
The global and local narrative after the Easter carnage focused on the religious motivations for the Easter attack and sidestepped the economic and geopolitical dimensions, while some foreign experts suggested they had been staged in retaliation attacks on a mosque in New Zealand, a claim that was rejected. by New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.
Too many Chinese strategic targets to be a coincidence? Did the designers of the Easter attacks use religion as a partial smokescreen? While media attention and investigations have focused on the churches that have been attacked, the media narrative has been designed to obscure vital facts of the crime that may provide clues to the brains and obvious messages in geopolitics. behind the carnage of Easter and its economy. patterns.
There has been a veritable infodemic of swords in mosques in the local media, although no one has died from sword attacks. Various other stories about ISIS’s establishment of a caliphate in the Eastern Province of Sri Lanka have been circulated by international experts.
As answers to basic questions were lacking after two years of investigations, people from all faith communities on the island came together to express their disappointment at the PCoI report, which increasingly appeared to be a ‘ cover-up ” bipartisan politics, especially from the international actors behind the attack. It was seen by many locals as part of a larger hybrid war against the Sri Lankan economy and society amid a Cold War waged by the United States and its NATO allies and the Quadrilateral dialogue on security or friends of the quadrilateral, on China.
Following the attacks, then Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera announced that the US government. was prepared to shell out US $ 450 million as the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC), a “ grant ” that would give US companies access to land and transportation sectors to be restructured despite strong opposition from Sri Lanka unions -Lankan and civil society groups.
Seven simultaneous suicide bombings on the east and west coasts rocked Sri Lanka on a calm and bright Easter morning with a precision of “ shock and respect ” in Hollywood in April 2019. Young bombers with backpacks targeted luxury beachfront hotels and churches killing more than 279 people and injuring many more. Four tourist hotels in Colombo and three churches on the west and east coasts of the country were targeted.
In the aftermath, the country’s economy, already trapped by debt, dependent on tourism and the multicultural society, crashed and was stranded, seemingly an empty race for lockdowns from the COVID-19 pandemic. The latter was imposed on four hours’ notice in 2020, once again crippling the economy although COVID-19 data indicates the disease is milder than seasonal flu in Sri Lanka, as in other countries in Sri Lanka. Southeast Asia, such as Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia.
The leader of the small group of suicide bombers, Zaharan of the NTJ, and a second suicide bomber hit the brand new glittering Chinese Shangri La hotel on Colombo’s luxury hotel street.
The fact that two suicide bombers, including Chief Zaharan, targeted a Chinese asset in Shangri La Hotel, indicated that it was the “crown jewel” of the Easter bombings. Saint Anthony’s Church, famous for its miracles, attracts people of all faiths – Buddhists, Hindus and occasional Muslims, and overlooks South Asia’s busiest and most strategic port has also been bombed. The church was one of the three most important targets after the Shangri La and Kingsbury hotels, owned by Hong Kong, where the four Chinese marine scientists were killed.
The economic and geopolitical targets of the attacks appeared designed to send a coded message to China – Sri Lanka’s maritime domain.
This strategically located Indian Ocean island sits at the center of the busiest trade, communication, and power transportation routes and, more importantly, a spaghetti junction of submarine data cables ( UDC), which carry over 90% of the data that keeps the global economy going and the financial system passes amid COVID-19 lockdowns and is vital to securing what the United States calls its “free and open Indo-Pacific “.
(The author is a cultural and medical anthropologist with research expertise in international political economy, peace, and development studies in South and Southeast Asia. Her research focuses on issues of gender and empowerment of women, migration and multiculturalism, ethno-religious identity politics, new and old diasporas and world religion, especially transnational Theravada Buddhist networks in the Asia-Pacific region. Darini was a senior lecturer at Open University of Sri Lanka. Her BA is from Brandeis University and her MA and PhD are from Princeton University.)