Daily Mirror (Sri Lanka) - - EDITORIAL - By Lionel Wi­je­siri

For two dif­fer­ent rea­sons, both Sri Lanka and the USA (in­clud­ing its al­lies) should be con­cerned about the lat­est ter­ror­ist at­tacks in Sri Lanka. For the USA, it was yet an­other warn­ing that it’s time it changed its strate­gies. Some po­lit­i­cal an­a­lysts be­lieve that the ma­jor rea­son why th­ese at­tacks keep taking place is that the Us-led global war on ter­ror­ism has failed. It is be­cause the US has focused on elim­i­nat­ing ter­ror­ists and their net­works, not on de­feat­ing the ji­hadi ide­ol­ogy that in­spires suicide at­tacks around the world. The ba­sic lessons have been the same in Iraq, Syria, Afghanista­n and through­out the Is­lamic world.

The US may be po­lit­i­cally cor­rect when it says that the struggle against the global ter­ror­ists can be a long drawn af­fair. But re­al­ity tells us some­thing dif­fer­ent. The real threat is not the at­tacks but Is­lamic ex­trem­ism.


Where Sri Lanka is con­cerned, we have a prob­lem with Is­lamic ex­trem­ism be­cause it is driven by a par­tic­u­lar in­ter­pre­ta­tion of Is­lam that be­lieves Is­lamic law or sharia, is an all-en­com­pass­ing re­li­gious-po­lit­i­cal sys­tem. And sharia must be en­forced in the pub­lic sphere by a global Is­lamic state.

As such, Is­lamic ex­trem­ists con­sider it to be the only truly le­git­i­mate form of gov­er­nance and re­ject democ­racy and the values of hu­man rights. Is­lamic ex­trem­ists also be­lieve they are ob­li­gated to in­stall this form of gov­er­nance in Mus­lim-ma­jor­ity ar­eas, coun­tries and even­tu­ally, the en­tire world.

This is in­deed a serious is­sue for a Bud­dhist-dom­i­nated coun­try like Sri Lanka. Rec­og­niz­ing and fo­cus­ing on this fact, is crit­i­cal to any hope of win­ning the real “war on ter­ror­ism.” The “war” we are en­coun­ter­ing is re­li­gious and ide­o­log­i­cal and not military. It is a type of struggle for the fu­ture of Is­lam and is not generic, global or focused on po­lit­i­cal sys­tems. There­fore, the real war on ter­ror­ism can be won only with the sup­port of the Is­lam com­mu­nity and at a re­li­gious and ide­o­log­i­cal level.


How­ever, this does not mean that im­prov­ing ev­ery as­pect of counter-ter­ror­ism at the na­tional and global level is not rel­e­vant. It is very im­por­tant. But it does mean that no amount of out­side ac­tion by the US and al­lies or non-is­lamic coun­tries can do more than par­tially con­tain the vi­o­lence. It is only the re­li­gious, po­lit­i­cal and in­tel­lec­tual lead­ers of Is­lamic coun­tries and com­mu­ni­ties, par­tic­u­larly in the Arab world, that can suc­cess­fully en­gage and de­feat Is­lamic ex­trem­ism at a re­li­gious, po­lit­i­cal and cul­tural level. Taking all th­ese facts into considerat­ion, what Sri Lanka needs today is a new counter-ter­ror­ism strat­egy to com­bat the ex­trem­ist ide­olo­gies, per­pe­trated by ac­tors of­ten spon­sored from abroad Those have proven to be a de­ci­sive fac­tor in pro­mot­ing rad­i­cal­i­sa­tion and a driv­ing force behind ter­ror­ist at­tacks in Sri Lanka.

We thought Sri Lanka was a coun­try un­likely to be at­tacked by Mus­lim ex­trem­ists. The coun­try does not have any his­tory of rad­i­cal Is­lamist ter­ror­ism. Mus­lims were recog­nised and well-treated within the coun­try. But it hap­pened and the event un­der­scored how far Is­lam mil­i­taris­tic the­ol­ogy can spread and why we need to tackle it at its roots.

If we an­a­lyse this mat­ter a lit­tle deeper into rad­i­cal Is­lamist ter­ror­ism, we find that the ide­o­log­i­cal roots can be traced back to Wah­habism. It is an ex­treme form of Sunni Is­lam­pro­moted by Saudi Ara­bia. Wah­habism ad­vo­cates that non­be­liev­ers are “to be hated, to be per­se­cuted and even killed.” Such is the power of this de­cep­tively at­trac­tive ide­ol­ogy.

Wah­habism was founded in the 18th cen­tury by a cleric named Muham­mad ibn Abd al-wah­hab and Wah­habism re­mained a fringe form of Is­lam. At one stage, it was highly funded by the USA. Saudi Ara­bia, too, heav­ily pro­moted it. Grad­u­ally, Wah­habism has been snuff­ing out the more lib­eral Is­lamic tra­di­tions in non-arab coun­tries hav­ing Mus­lim com­mu­ni­ties, thus creating a toxic en­vi­ron­ment in which ex­trem­ism can thrive. Sri Lanka is one of the vic­tims.


Against this sce­nario, if we are to fight Is­lamic ter­ror­ism ef­fec­tively, the main role needs to be taken by the USA. Its coun­tert­er­ror­ism pol­icy should be re-ori­ented and focused not merely on en­e­mies like IS but also by ex­ert­ing pres­sure on Arab and Gulf coun­tries and char­i­ties which are push­ing a ji­hadi agenda. Their fund­ing for Is­lamist mil­i­tancy around the world needs to be con­tained. US Pres­i­dent Trump, a few months ago, called Saudi Ara­bia “the world’s big­gest fun­der of ter­ror­ism.” He ac­knowl­edged, “Saudi is a safe haven to the ter­ror­ists we hunt in Afghanista­n.” Yet, when US listed some coun­tries as “state sponsors of ter­ror­ism,” Iran, Sudan, Syria, and North Korea were in­cluded but not Saudi Ara­bia. The US Gov­ern­ment con­tin­ues, to this day, to pro­tect the royal Saud fam­ily, which owns and con­trols Saudi Ara­bia and its Gov­ern­ment.

If the US gen­uinely wants to erad­i­cate ji­had ter­ror­ism and help non-mus­lim coun­tries, such politi­ciza­tion must end. Then only a con­certed and sus­tained in­ter­na­tional on­slaught on the per­verted ide­ol­ogy of rad­i­cal Is­lam can be­gin. Such an offensive is es­sen­tial be­cause, as long as vi­o­lent ji­hadism is perceived as a cred­i­ble ide­ol­ogy, suicide bombers will be mo­ti­vated to carry out hor­rific at­tacks.

While work­ing to sys­tem­at­i­cally bring into dis­re­pute the ji­hadi ide­ol­ogy, puni­tive sanc­tions should be slapped on Saudi and other Per­sian Gulf ter­ror­ist fi­nanciers as well as char­i­ties still fund­ing over­seas Is­lamist sem­i­nar­ies, cler­ics, and groups.


At the same time, Sri Lanka too should make its own moves. The ter­ror­ist at­tacks in Colombo have re­sulted in a po­lit­i­cal de­bate on how to strengthen our se­cu­rity and in­tel­li­gence or­gan­i­sa­tions. But this is only one side of the story. What is miss­ing from the de­bate is a bet­ter un­der­stand­ing of how pre­ven­tion works and why we need it.

It may be worth­while if we look at some of the ex­ist­ing mod­els that were de­vel­oped to pre­vent rad­i­cal­i­sa­tion and vi­o­lent ex­trem­ism. Den­mark, Ger­many, Belgium and Bri­tain, among others, are clas­sic ex­am­ples of rea­son­able success. Let us re­view briefly the English model.

It is known as CON­TEST strat­egy and cur­rently counter-ter­ror­ism strat­egy of Bri­tain. CON­TEST is split into four work streams that are known as the ‘four P’s’: Pre­vent, Pur­sue, Pro­tect, and Pre­pare. Pre­vent: To stop peo­ple be­com­ing ter­ror­ists or sup­port­ing ter­ror­ism. Pur­sue: To stop ter­ror­ist at­tacks. Pro­tect: To strengthen our protection against a ter­ror­ist at­tack and Pre­pare: To mit­i­gate the im­pact of a ter­ror­ist at­tack.

In an ar­ti­cle writ­ten for The Ob­server, former Bri­tish Prime Min­is­ter Gor­don Brown stated that the strat­egy was “rec­og­nized by our al­lies to be worldlead­ing in its wide-rang­ing na­ture, and leaves us bet­ter pre­pared and strength­ened in our abil­ity to en­sure all peace-lov­ing peo­ple of this coun­try can live nor­mally, with con­fi­dence and free from fear.”

Maybe, a thor­ough study of this pro­gramme by our in­tel­li­gence per­son­nel might be worth­while.

As an end­ing note, let me stress that ter­ror­ism is only a tac­tic, and we should be wise to rec­og­nize that we can­not wage war against it. In­stead, we need to fo­cus on the so­cial and emo­tional rea­sons for ex­trem­ist be­hav­iour. We need a hu­man­cen­tred ap­proach , one that starts from within.

Im­ple­ment­ing a “win­ning” strat­egy in this struggle does re­quire mu­tual co­op­er­a­tion be­tween Mus­lims and non-mus­lims in the coun­try. And the key lies in the abil­ity of those who are part of the Is­lamic world to ex­ploit the spe­cific lim­i­ta­tions and ca­pa­bil­i­ties of the enemy and de­feat them at the heart of their ide­o­log­i­cal ar­gu­ments -- in mosques, in class­rooms, on the tele­vi­sion screens and at all lev­els of civil so­ci­ety. This is the job of Mus­lim re­li­gious lead­ers, gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials, busi­ness bosses and in­tel­lec­tu­als.

At the same time, Sri Lanka too should make its own moves. The ter­ror­ist at­tacks in Colombo have re­sulted in a po­lit­i­cal de­bate on how to strengthen our se­cu­rity and in­tel­li­gence or­gan­i­sa­tions

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