In a month filled with global news, the most disturbing came from Sri Lanka, where the worst terror attack in recent memory occurred and claimed the lives of 250 people from Sri Lanka, India, the U.K., Australia, Portugal, the U.S., China, and others, the diversity of which underscores one undeniable fact: the coordinated terrorist attack was against one group, Christians, regardless of nationality or ethnicity, as they gathered on Easter Sunday to celebrate in places of worship and in family celebrations their holiest festival.
The world now has to grapple with more undeniable facts.
First, the attacks are not over, The U.S. State Department issued a warning on travel to Sri Lanka because terrorists continue to plot more attacks.
Second, terror groups are capable of organizing and attacking anywhere in the world. Until Easter Sunday, the Sri Lankan government had largely turned a blind eye.
And third, the growth of violent cultural and religious extremism continues unabated. Sri Lankan Christians have been the target not only of extremist Muslims, but also of violent Buddhist groups. And, the Sinhalese Buddhists and Sri Lankan Muslims hate each other as well. Yet the government has allowed these violent extremist groups to foster and grow.
When politicians allow the cancer of cultural and religious violence to develop, terrorist groups can become organized and emboldened. The terror group ISIS, long known for perceiving Christians as “crusaders,” and which claimed responsibility for the Easter massacre, has also been known to attack Muslims perceived to be “liberal.”
When such attacks occur, they include innocent foreigners, children, and bystanders along with their targets. The Easter attack left another 500 people wounded, and dealt a severe blow to Sri Lanka tourism as well, one of the world’s most beautiful garden islands, whose tourist industry had just emerged after years of the nation’s bloody civil war.
What can be done? Are we to allow a nation’s culture, economy, and religious groups to be hijacked by violent extremists?
Some governments condone violence explicitly under the guise of “tolerance,” while others do so implicitly — whether through silence or on purpose in an attempt to win elections and gain power. Such a twisting of political ideals is a short-sighted and misguided policy. As with ISIS, the violent cultural or religious groups will eventually devour even members of their own who are opposed to their philosophy and ideology.
The global political class, whether democratic or not, needs to answer the question whether to allow every kind of violent extremist cultural and religious group to emerge or find a way to stop them. If we are to stop them, what action can we take to prevent their growth?
First, we must be politically aware. Reports indicate a failure in the Sri Lankan anti-terror intelligence system. Similar intelligence failure has cropped up in other attacks in different regions of the world. It is time global leaders cooperate at a high level at both identifying violent cultural or religious extremists who are apt to resort to violence.
Second, the general public in every nation must be educated about suspicious activities or gatherings of extremist groups. If some Muslims in Sri Lanka had spoken up, as reported, the Sri Lankan people should have been informed and taken this seriously. There is no such thing as a safe nation anymore in terms of violent terrorism. Suicide bombers first began in Sri Lanka, which has spread to violent extremist groups who are intent on capturing global media coverage.
Third, there must be global outrage from political and religious leaders about such attacks, regardless of what group is targeted. For example, some Middle East Muslim leaders publicly condemned the Easter massacre.
In particular, the Christian world must be in solidarity both in word and action when fellow religionists are attacked. Christians being targeted outside of the West is a full-blown global phenomenon. Christians are perceived as a soft target, given their minority size. And yet historically, killing Christians has not destroyed their faith — whether from those torn apart by animals in the Roman Colosseum to those blown apart as they peacefully worshipped in Sri Lankan churches. Jesus himself was martyred, so Christians’ faith in Jesus Christ only grows and multiplies, and Christians draw inspiration and strength from their belief in him to be productive, patriotic, peaceful citizens of their respective nations.
Lastly, the world must join with the leaders in the nation where attacks occur and where governments can become destabilized. The citizens of Sri Lanka, and any nation that experiences terrorism, fully deserve and desperately need the good will and help from all of us in the global community.
Most Rev. Joseph D’Souza is widely considered one of the most influential voices of global Christianity. He is a justice and peace campaigner, civil rights advocate, interfaith peacemaker and Christian theologian. Rev. D’Souza is the founder and international president of Dignity Freedom Network, a multinational advocacy and humanitarian aid alliance dedicated to restoring human dignity to the poor, marginalized and outcastes of South Asia. Since its founding in 2001, the network has impacted an estimated 14 million people through its educational, anti-human trafficking, health care and economic development initiatives. Rev. D’Souza presides as moderator bishop and primate — or archbishop — over the Good Shepherd Church of India. He is a sought-after international speaker, participating in conferences, peace summits and civil society forums across the world and debriefing governmental bodies on religious freedom and human rights issues. He is a contributor at The Hill and The Washington Times, among others. To read more of his reports — Click Here Now.
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