EVEN in times like these when mass-casualty attacks have become frighteningly common, Sunday’s bloodbath in Sri Lanka stood out for the terrorists’ calculated brutality.

The Easter attacks, targeting churches and hotels, have claimed some 300 lives, while hundreds more are injured.

A number of victims were killed while attending Easter services, while others fell as they settled down for Sunday brunch. At this point, it is not clear who is behind the atrocity, though the Sri Lankan government suspects a local jihadi group of involvement.

Officials have not ruled out the possibility that foreign elements may have had a role.

However, the Sri Lankan government’s handling of news related to the massacre is to be appreciated; the state acted responsibly by not allowing fake news and misinformation to colour the narrative, and did not point fingers at any community. In such sensitive situations, misinformation can result in revenge attacks and retaliatory violence targeting members of the accused communities.

As the Sri Lankan government rounds up the suspects and starts investigations, it must continue to handle the situation with care.

Indeed, those involved in this heinous act of violence must face the full force of the law. But whole communities must not be demonised.

Sri Lanka has seen its fair share of ethnic and communal violence. It has been only 10 years since the brutal civil war — pitting the Sinhalese Buddhist majority against the mostly Hindu Tamil rebels, fighting for a separate homeland — wound down.

It was a conflict marked by great ferocity. In more recent times, a militant fringe of Buddhist monks has sought to isolate the island’s Muslim majority; communal violence last year led to a state of emergency being declared in the country.

The country’s leadership has done the right thing by appealing for unity in the wake of Sunday’s attacks. Communal forces must not be allowed to fan the flames of hatred, as Sri Lanka cannot afford a return to the days of hostility between communities.

Transnational terrorism — due to its very nature — requires a global, coordinated response. Militant movements rarely recognise borders, which is why governments must share information and intelligence to thwart attacks beyond their respective frontiers.

Moreover, it is necessary for countries to conduct an internal stock-taking exercise, and take action against extremist nationalist and religious movements that thrive on exclusivity and hatred of the ‘other’.

As is evident across the globe, the far right is on the march, and it appears that states — including those that swear by democracy — are not doing enough to rein in the hatemongers.

Challenging as it may be, all countries, regardless of their social, cultural and religious outlook, need to take firm, coordinated action against terrorism — especially at a time when hatred and extremism are outstripping all measures to maintain peace.

Published in Dawn, April 23rd, 2019

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