FIRST PERSON - Alex Magno (The Philippine Star) - April 30, 2019 - 12:00am

One might think this age has become numb to mass murder. Gruesome fanatical attacks seem to happen every few weeks.

On Easter Sunday, suicide bombers attacked Catholic churches and tourist hotels across Sri Lanka. About 300 people were killed. Innumerable others were injured. Masses had to be suspended for days because of the threat of further attacks.

Immediately after the carnage, the ISIS claimed responsibility. They say this is retaliation for the attack on two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand last month.

A deranged white nationalist who hated Muslims is understood to have single-handedly carried out the attack. But he appeared to be communicating with other white nationalists in Australia and Europe. Both areas have seen the rise of radical right-wing networks agitated by the flow of immigrants to traditionally white societies.

Security officials were initially skeptical of the ISIS’ claim. But police raids conducted over the past week revealed the extent of the terrorist network in Sri Lanka. Large caches of material for improvised explosive devices were found in the places raided, along with ISIS flags.

Stung by criticism they ignored warning signs pointing to an imminent attack, Sri Lankan police has mounted a comprehensive crackdown. Some of the findings were surprising. A radical Islamist cleric was killed after he detonated an explosive in a church full of worshippers. Some of the other bombers were scions of relatively wealthy families. Their radicalization appears fairly recent.

Until that Easter Day carnage, Sri Lanka seemed a peaceful society removed from the fanatical violence that has shaken many other countries. Followers of many faiths – Muslim, Christian, Hindi and Buddhist – coexisted in harmony. Something terrible has changed.

 While the terrorist network uncovered in Sri Lanka might not be organizationally linked to the defeated and dispersed radical movement that rose in all suddenness in Iraq and Syria, it is amply clear the bombers were inspired by the ISIS’ message and methods.

We know how that happens. Erstwhile bandits who found worthwhile identity waving the ISIS flag occupied the Islamic City of Marawi. They had designated themselves partisans of the terrorist group only recently crushed in the Middle East. It took many months and many lives to expel them from the city and yet, even after losing a thousand or so fighters, the local terrorist group remains a threat.

The mass murder at the Christchurch mosques was simply an excuse used by the Sri Lankan militants for their own mission of murder. From what the police uncovered the last few days of raids, the Sri Lankan militants have been preparing for attacks long before Christchurch carnage happened.

These terrorists chose to attack when their targets were most vulnerable: crowding in churches for Easter services. The timing is particularly pernicious.

Churches are always open to everybody. They are sanctuaries for the persecuted. They are homes for lovers of peace. They are bastions of prayer, not of hatred for ethnicities or other communities of belief.

In the US a couple of months ago, a gunman attacked a synagogue full of Jewish worshippers. At Christchurch, a gunman attacked two mosques filled with the faithful. And now at Sri Lanka, churches were bombed on the day celebrated for rebirth.

The terrorists achieved their aim in Sri Lanka. Everywhere there is fear not only further attacks on Christian houses of worship and also of retaliatory attacks on mosques. Everywhere, the faithful are postponing communal worship because these gatherings have become targets.

These terrorists are working to widen the fissures between communities, they precipitate a clash of civilizations. They relish the thought of endless retaliations, a mindless stream of attacks against the most vulnerable places of worship.

Since the 9/11 attacks in New York, we have become habituated to being searched each time we enter a building. We have become used to the indignity of being routinely suspected of carrying bombs or weapons. Intensive security protocols have become our way of life – and only because the modern genre of terrorism aims at mass casualties.

This is what has become of the civilization we share: cameras observe pedestrians constantly, guards man all doors, we habitually look over the other’s shoulder. Now, perhaps, churches will have to be “hardened” – to use the parlance of security specialists. The most vulnerable has become the most likely targets of violence precisely because they are vulnerable.

Now, in the aftermath of the Sri Lanka attacks, we actually confront the possibility of gangs of terrorists attacking symbols of the other’s faith, attacking communities simply because they are different and employing random violence on all.

We could have reached the tipping point. Radical groups spread their ideological scourge online, every insecure individual accumulates arms, every rebel without a cause finds a reason to kill. There are right-wing groups aiming to bomb immigrants to kingdom come, radical Islamists recreating the Caliphate and chauvinist movements intent on ethnic cleansing.

Every group with a grievance now seems to think mass murder is the means to achieve their goals. Every person who imagines himself a victim seems to think a bomb is the proper instrument for redress.

The bonds that keep our civility are truly fragile. All these movements enamored with violence, including those of the left as much as the right, chip at those fragile bonds with every horrific crime.

The facility with which acts of terror could be inflicted on the community in turn requires that the state acquire extraordinary means of control and surveillance over its citizens. It is an unhealthy spiral: illiberalism and terror.

  • Latest
  • Trending
Are you sure you want to log out?
Login is one of the most vibrant, opinionated, discerning communities of readers on cyberspace. With your meaningful insights, help shape the stories that can shape the country. Sign up now!

or sign in with