Extremist acts emanate from deprived, suppressed and oppressed communities. The communities deprived and radicalized by extremists could feel compelled to get involved in further violent acts. Thus, communities should be closely monitored and supported to create co-existence and peace. The main reasons that lie behind extremism and radicalization are identity crisis, exposure to radical content both offline and online, political alienation and injustice, economic deprivation and social exclusion etc.
The power of Coexistence
Building a community that can co-exist with others is the best solution for uprooting extremism from any country. Has Sri Lanka been successful in bridging the gaps and bringing the communities together post-Easter attacks?
In a visit to the East after the attacks, which was the home of the mastermind of the attacks, a Catholic Priest insisted that they have co-existed with different religious communities, but the Catholics were being betrayed and they have lost the trust since they did not inform the Catholic community about the attacks. When meeting the Muslim Federation, which is a nonpolitical body consisted of Muslim community in Kattankudy that conducts periodical meeting on every Sunday to discuss all Muslim affairs, they criticized the brutal acts of extremism that were committed by some belonging to their community. It was a shame to them, and they insisted that when propaganda was carried out by Zahran in public open spaces, they have informed the authorities and would have done the same if they had a clue about the attacks.
The community pay the price for the atrocities committed by few. This led to the loss of trust among communities, a boycott of Muslim shops, media pressure while attributing fault on the whole community of Muslims and overall alienation where many Muslims avoided other communities for some period out of fear.
Security and freedom are both imperative, and no one should compromise any, despite the community that they belong. According to the UN Counter-Terrorism Strategy, civil society engagement is vital, and that is the best possible option to uproot extremist and radicalized thoughts. Therefore, it is necessary to re-assess the progress made in bringing communities together and implement measures that can apply to all the affected and look forward to solutions.
The power of Trust
It is always apt to learn from best practices in the region. Since the context varies, best practices could strengthen the process of thinking regionally and acting locally. The first concern should be building trust among communities. Once local believes and ideas are perceived, people feel less distanced and more belonging to a community that is recognized. It is necessary to address the grass root level issues and get back to them on the progress. Sharing information becomes noteworthy and successful only if it served the needs of communities as they may vary from community to community and person to person. Further research can be conducted to understand the grievances and other conditions that make them separate from others.
When implementing community engagement projects, they should be paying attention to long-term achievements. The officers engaging in community engagement and policing should be trained, and it is best to incorporate officers from various professions such as public officers, non-governmental activists, academics and media etc. Their involvement makes communities feel credible and close to each other, reducing barriers among different social levels, and this has proved successful in Kenya. It becomes an added advantage if the officers involved can speak the language of that particular community. Some discussions are being held at the community level, yet that is limited to community leaders, including religious leaders and heads of organizations. In a first-hand experience, the head of a madrasa -where Zahran was first enrolled and suspended studentship for spreading radical Islamic ideas among students –was involved in these discussions in measures to accept diversity among different communities. However, the results were limited until various layers of the community got involved.
The power of Gender
The role of women should never be downplayed. They become the heads of the household when men either get arrested, rehabilitated or die for the sake of religion. Most importantly, they are close to the family and the first to recognize of the peculiar behaviour of family members. Promotion of dialogue among mothers, daughters, wives and their families should be supported. In Kosovo, women were the first to recognize and inform authorities when their men were amassing weapons . Therefore, women should not be discriminated based on gender, and better results can be reaped via women’s engagement in decision making and policing.
The power of Awareness
Creating awareness among all the communities has always been a common agenda in countering violent extremism. Narratives of the locally radicalized, who were involved in past attacks or supported at various levels, and rehabilitated to be reintegrated into the society could be displayed with the grave consequences everyone had to undergo. This could be invigorated via building strong counter-narratives and disseminating these online, specifically among youth. The unemployed could be targeted and instil their minds with values of co-existence and later provide economic opportunities. Once awareness is created essential services for all can be ensured without discrimination.
If these actions are not taken today, Sri Lanka will become a breeding ground for more extremism and terrorism. With a history of successful defeat of LTTE, Sri Lanka has the potential to manage the threat of extremism. The communities being the grassroots is vital in achieving positive peace, and all other actions by government and other authorities become futile if the communities are not brought together.
We do not need any more bloodshed in this beautiful island.
“Women's Contribution to Conflict Prevention, Early Warning and Disarmament.” PeaceWomen, February 8, 2015. https://www.peacewomen.org/node/90224. Ranstorp, Magnus. “The Root Causes of Violent Extremism.” RAN Issue Paper, January 4, 2016. https://ec.europa.eu/home-affairs/sites/homeaffairs/files/what-we-do/networks/radicalisation_awareness_network/ran-papers/docs/issue_paper_root-causes_jan2016_en.pdf.
Ruwanthi Jayasekara is a Researcher at the Institute of National Security Studies Sri Lanka (INSSSL), a national think tank under the Ministry of Defence. Opinions expressed are her own and does not reflect that of the institute. This article was originally published by National Institute of Advanced Studies (NIAS), International Peace Research Initiative (IPRI).