Mother is the name for God in the lips and hearts of little children.
- William Makepeace Thackeray
Sri Lanka’s $4.4 billion tourism industry is reeling from cancellations as travellers shun the sun and sand Indian Ocean island after multiple suicide bombings that killed over 250 people two weeks ago. Suspected suicide bombers from little-known Islamic groups in Sri Lanka attacked churches and luxury hotels in the country on Easter Sunday, killing worshippers, tourists and their families. Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attacks. Tourism, which accounts for 5 percent of the country’s gross domestic product, has suffered as tourists from around the world cancelled hotel and flight bookings fearing more attacks. Net hotel bookings, reportedly, has dropped a staggering 186 percent on average over the week following the attacks compared to the same period last year. According to Sri Lanka’s Tourism Bureau Chairman Kishu Gomes, cancellation rates at hotels across the country averaged 70 percent as of Saturday. It is almost 10 years since the end of Sri Lanka’s three-decade long civil war, in which the country stands “terribly wounded”. Ratings agency Fitch, in its latest Asia-Pacific regional sovereign credit review on April 24 warned that the Easter weekend bombings “will undermine tourism receipts, which had been rising steadily in recent years, and create new downside risks to the growth outlook.” Sri Lankans in general and business owners in particular are now asking if the Easter Sunday attack was a one-off, or whether it is the start of a cycle of violence that could send an already shaky economy into a downward spiral.
Now, as a wounded country tries to pick up the pieces, the threat of communal polarization and further attacks lingers. Since the government is a divided house, and this divided house threatens to make matters worse. Investigators have said local Islamist organisation National Thowheed Jamath (NTJ) was behind the attacks, possibly with help from international networks. The Islamic State (IS) has claimed responsibility for the attacks through its Amaq news agency and released a photograph of what it claimed to be the bombers. In conformity with the hate-filled and totalitarian vision of ISIS, the terrorists targeted worshippers who were celebrating Easter in churches. Another report indicates that among the suspects who perpetrated the bombings are two women, one of them seemed to be absurdly young.
Had Sri Lanka’s security apparatus initiated preemptive measures, the bombings could have been prevented or at least the damage could have been less. Neither of those happened, evidently. One thing is certainly clear from recent events, and that is that the world is not free of terrorism. Whoever turns out to be responsible for the Easter attacks in Sri Lanka, it is crucial that extremism in all its forms be challenged and rooted out. Tit for tat violence on this scale should be avoided at all costs.