Easter Sunday serves as one of the most important days for the Catholic Church and devout Catholics throughout the world. A day where Catholics come together to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus from the dead, is now going to be remembered in Sri Lanka as one of the most tragic days in the island’s modern history. The more than 290 deaths caused by Islamic extremists has served to remind Sri Lankans of the painful memories of the bloody civil war that almost tore the nation apart.
While the Island is no stranger to terrorism, the violence has usually been between Hindus and Buddhists instead of a coordinated attack against both Muslims and Catholics. This year’s Easter bombings came after the country had been largely at peace since the Sri Lankan Civil War ended almost ten years ago; a war that went on for over two and a half decades and proved to be extremely brutal and detrimental to the social fabric of the Island. While the conflict between the government and separatist Tamil rebels ended and signs of tranquility finally replaced the hostile atmosphere that engulfed the nation for the duration of the war, this year’s Easter bombings have showed the world that ethnic clashes are still a prevalent issue in the “Pearl of the Orient”.
Sri Lanka has a long history of ethnic tensions, thus the coordinated Easter Sunday terrorist attacks have prompted the Sri Lankan government to take numerous measures to circumvent the possible rise in tensions within the nation’s ethnic minorities: Muslims and Christians. President Maithripala Sirisena has been intensely scrutinized by members of the opposition party for diluting the powers of the national security apparatus and ultimately making it easier for radical groups to conduct terrorist acts. The power struggle between the President and the Prime Minister, which reached its peak when President Sirisena briefly replaced PM Wickremesinghe over political differences late last year, led to a breakdown of the system and prevented critical information from being shared. As a response to such critics, the Sirisena administration has begun to establish a form of “big brother” state to prevent future despicable acts of violence from taking place. From banning social media and the use of the burqa and niqab to requesting copies of sermons given inside mosques, the Sri Lankan government is taking unprecedented steps to bring back peace and tranquility to the Island.
While a lot has already changed in Sri Lanka since the Easter bombings, many fear that the worst is still to come. A recent Wall Street Journal article conveys the idea that the terrorist attacks could threaten the Island’s economy for years to come. Eric Bellman writes that while Sri Lankan authorities claim that they have rounded up almost all the people connected to the April 21st attacks, “the long-term damage to the economy will be harder to tally.” The Sri Lankan government has forecasted a 30% plunge in tourist arrivals for the year, meaning $1.5 billion less in foreign currency coming in—a significant hit for country with a GDP of $89 billion. While Sri Lankans living abroad are likely to offset such decrease in the tourism sector by sending more money back home to help their loved ones, the economy could experience a second wave of damage from the bombings as security concerns damp foreign direct investment and trade.
The Easter bombings may prove to be disastrous not only in economic but also in social terms to millions of Sri Lankans. As reported by the New York Times, the April 21st attacks caused Muslims in Sri Lanka to fear for their own safety. The President’s ban on “all forms of clothing that cover a person’s face and prevents them from being identified” are seen by many as a direct attack against Muslim women. Moreover, the government is taking several steps to monitor activities inside mosques, a move considered an absurd by many, especially considering that the island’s Muslims, a little under 10% of the population, are a peaceable minority.
While religious figures on all sides have issued calls for peace and harmony among the religious groups on the island, the government’s establishment of a “big brother” state aimed at cracking down on the Islamic segments of the Sri Lankan population could serve to create a renewed rupture within the Island’s ethnic groups, which in turn could once again plunge Sri Lanka into an unending civil war .
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