Step up for harmony

Monday, 22 April 2019 00:10 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

The string of blasts on Easter Sunday has shattered all Sri Lankans and plunged the country into deep sorrow. As a country that had suffered through a brutal conflict for nearly three decades, the events had additional impact as there was hope that these sort of incidents were in the past and there was, finally, space for Sri Lankans of different religions and ethnicities to live in harmony.

Obviously relations between different communities did not improve automatically just because the conflict came to an end 10 years ago. There have been a multitude of efforts by different stakeholders to encourage coexistence, which has unfortunately been marred from time to time by violence. But the seemingly-coordinated attacks that took place on Sunday were not only targeted at a deeply-religious celebration but also at the soul of a country that was seeking, at least sporadically, to leave its past behind.

All Sri Lankans would find these attacks devastating and their repercussions are likely to be felt for many years to come. The intolerance and vehement disregard for humanity displayed by these attacks would rock citizens to the core. There is no doubt that this was a heinous and deplorable series of attacks but those who seek to sow hatred cannot be allowed to win. Sri Lankans, at this critical moment in history, cannot stand by and let those who seek to divide us succeed.

Sri Lankans have witnessed how other countries have responded to attacks on religious places of worship. It is time for us to now stand by each other and support our brothers and sisters. Care for them so that that their rights are protected, so they can follow the religion of their choice, enjoy free movement and show each other that we truly belong to one people. It is only by protecting and supporting each other that we can hope to eventually heal from the Easter Sunday attacks.

Peace is deeply connected to economic and political stability. The attacks on three prominent hotels in the center of Colombo has dealt a crippling blow to the tourism industry. In just 10 years the tourism industry had grown to a $4.4 billion industry, earning foreign exchange that Sri Lanka desperately needs. The economy, already burdened by huge debt and slow growth cannot afford to backslide, and tourism was one if not the only significant sector to show impressive post-war expansion. The livelihoods of thousands are dependent on the industry and the reputation of Sri Lanka has once again come under a dark cloud. How we respond at this juncture will have a massive impact on the impression seen by the world and how we view ourselves.

Many countries have undergone terrible events but taken control of the narrative and shown themselves to be people of great compassion, understanding and empathy. This is a time when the people can take action and through thought, word and gesture show how we can heal and move forward. This is a chance for Sri Lanka to define itself and show that it has learned from its past and is capable of building a better future. If there was ever a time to step up for Sri Lanka, this would be it.