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Terror attacks: Difference in public reactions in India, those in Colombo, Christchurch

By Battini Rao*
Recently, on April 20 during Easter Sunday, more than 250 people were killed in a series of coordinated terrorist attacks in churches and hotels in Colombo, Sri Lanka. Local Islamic organisations Thawheed Jamath (NJT) and Jamathei Milathu Ibrahim (JMI) are held responsible for the attack. Islamic State has also claimed responsibility.
Sri Lanka has had a long history of majoritarian Buddhist and state violence against religious and ethnic minorities. During the civil war, the Tamil group Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) too had attacked Muslims in its Eastern province. However, there have been no cases of inter-ethnic clashes between Muslims and Christians in the island nation.
Motivation for these attacks apparently came from what is seen as persecution of Muslims in other countries. Multi-religious and multi-ethnic countries of South Asia are especially in danger of being sucked into global terror spawned by imitations of the Islamic State and its virulent ideology.
Before Colombo, there was the Dhaka attack on a café in which 29 people were killed. Signs from Pakistan and Afghanistan are not propitious where IS inspired terror groups have deeper base. Like Sri Lanka, India too is not immune from this kind of terror.
A month earlier, on March 15, 50 worshippers were killed in two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, during Friday prayers. The terrorist in this case was an Australian white supremacist driven by anti-immigrant sentiments and hatred against Muslims. He live streamed the mass killing on Facebook, which was watched by thousands worldwide.
Facebook claims to have blocked 1.5 million uploads of the livestreamed video within a day of the attack, however its copies, which were put up by other people,were available on many other social media sites. This scale of social media spread shows that the support for his action was not insignificant.
Attacks in Christchurch and Colombo show how terrorism in our times has acquired a global character.Governments respond to such attacks militarily. Such reactions completely miss the fact that the background to these attacks is political, and only a broad based democratic politics can snap the feedback loop of false victimhood on which such terrorism feeds.
Almost all the countries from Pakistan in the East to Libya in the West, in which Islam is the majority religion are mired in political crises. Western imperialism has a dominating military presence here. It is in cahoots with the most reactionary, monarchical and religious regimes like Saudi Arabia and Emirates.
In countries like Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya it has destroyed existing state and civil society structures by military aggression. While the reasons of direct imperial intervention are well recognised, the other aspect of the crisis, the internal failure of these societies to respond in a democratic and secular way is little appreciated.
In the absence of such responses these societies are caught up in the self-destructive dead end of religious populism. Elected leaders like the Turkish president Erdogan, or Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan represent one strand of this populism. Other strands are formed by violent jihadi groups, with Islamic State being the most violent of these.
Democratic possibilities of the Arab Spring have been squashed by hard core military and monarchical regimes on the one side, and religious populism on the other. Hence it is no surprise that the kind of terrorism seen in Colombo does enjoy a legitimacy among a section of Muslim communities, and this legitimacy has a global spread.
A similar kind of global spread of anti-immigrant politics and hatred of Muslims is seen in white Christian countries, many of which are liberal democratic. This politics of hatred is justified for the sake of safeguarding the interests of native citizens from what are seen as predatory intentions of immigrants, and lies at the core of the successes of extreme right wing politics in countries like Hungary, Austria, Germany, France, and the US.
Neo-liberalism and economic crisis here have weakened old arrangements of political representation and caused widespread economic distress. Both of these developments have contributedsignificantly to the rise of the extreme right wing. Here though it should be noted that the New Zealand PM Jacinda Ardern, and ordinary people of the country,  have responded in an honourable and wise manner to the terror attack in Christchurch.
Not only the New Zealand PM came out unequivocally against violence on Muslim citizens of her country, she also undertaken domestic legal reforms so that this kind of violence becomes difficult in future. Ordinary New Zealanders too came out in large numbers toreassure their Muslim neighbours.
The use of hijab as a symbol of their support has been rightly criticised by secularists and feminists, since it represents the hold of patriarchy on Muslim communities. However, it cannot be denied that the liberal sentiment of inclusive openness, which lies behind the public gestures of Jacinda Ardern, New Zealand Prime Minister, of New Zealand, and the people of the country, is essential for the success of democracy in any multi ethnic society.
This should be compared with public reaction to attacks on minorities in a country like India. Here, political parties involved in horrific killings during riots have reaped handsome electoral rewards in 1984, and 2002. Past five years have seen multiple cases of public lynching in the name of cow, and a party which openly targets minorities is ruling the country.
Terrorist attacks such as those in Colombo and Christchurch are driven by pure hatred and legitimise violence against innocent civilians. These sentiments are no different from those of Hindutva violence against minorities. They need to be countered by the democratic value of equal respect for the rights of every human being.
People should guard themselves against easy seductions of religious fundamentalism and extreme right wing. Only a consistent application of democratic and secular principles in public life can help humanity overcome the crisis it faces at present.
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*Convenor, People’s Alliance for Democracy and Secularism. Contact: battini.rao@gmail.com

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