The island nation of Sri Lanka has been under siege as a day of joy and celebration turned into one of terror.
In a coordinated attack, terrorists strapped with explosive material blew themselves up at eight churches and hotels. The attack took place on Easter Sunday and has left 350 dead and more than 500 injured.
A radical Muslim organization in Sri Lanka, as well as the Islamic State terrorists (IS), have taken responsibility for the wave of bombings. The reason is not clear and some believe it was a response to the recent mosque attacks in New Zealand. More than 60 people have been arrested in connection with the attacks.
The People Of Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka is not new to terror attacks. This island nation, located to the south of India, has suffered through decades of communal violence. And just last year, the country saw attacks against Muslim-owned businesses as a result of fake rumors spread on social media.
About 70% of Sri Lanka's population is made up of Sinhalese people who follow the religion of Buddhism. They live in the western and southern part of the island. Buddhism came to Sri Lanka from India in the 3rd century B.C and was spread by the descendants of King Ashoka who adopted the teachings of Gautam Buddha, the founder of the religion. While Buddhism subsequently disappeared from India, it thrived in Sri Lanka. The country boasts 6000 monasteries and has more than 15,000 monks who serve and preach Buddha's teachings.
The Tamil people of Sri Lanka make up about 12% of the population. They were brought from neighboring India to work on tea, coffee, and coconut plantations in the 19th century by the British who colonized both countries. They live mostly in the northern and eastern part of the country and follow the religion of Hinduism. The longest civil war in Sri Lanka's history was between the Sinhalese majority and the Tamil minority that was demanding self-rule.
Muslims and Christians make up 9.7% and 7.4% of the population and are a minority. Muslims came to Sri Lanka from the Middle East by sea on historic trading routes during the 7th century and after. These Arab and Persian merchants married locally and settled in the region, and are referred to as "Moors."
The Christian people of Sri Lanka are referred to as "burghers," a term used in Europe to describe middle-class merchants. During periods of Dutch and Portuguese colonization, European merchants settled and married locally. They make up 7.4% of Sri Lanka's population.
What Happens Next?
The recent attack by one minority group on another in Sri Lanka is puzzling. Experts believe it may have to do with the rise of radical Islamist groups worldwide that oppose western ideology and religion.
Sri Lanka has banned social media like Facebook, Whatsapp, Instagram, and YouTube to prevent the spread of fake news that could incite fear and religious violence. The ban is temporary until investigations are complete. It has also come to light that the attacks could have been prevented had the government heeded warnings it received in early April. Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena has asked the Defense Minister and the Inspector General of Police to resign for failing to act.
Sri Lanka declared a day of mourning on April 23 as the victims were buried. Tensions are high between the Christian and Muslim communities. It is going to take the coming together of people in grief, irrespective of religion, to heal the wounds.
Sources: BBC, NYTimes, AlJazeera, lanka.com, Wikipedia