Seek the truth behind the Easter Sunday attacks – Dr. Jehan Perera explains

Over a year has passed since the Easter Sunday bombings that stunned the nation and led to a self-imposed one month lockdown. The puzzle then was the motivation for the attacks and who was behind them – and it remains a puzzle to date.

The dead have no voice to demand justice so it is the duty of the living to seek the truth. This is one reason for the importance afforded worldwide to truth commissions to investigate controversial events of the past.

Credible truth commissions are usually led by people whose integrity is high, and have a track record of professionalism and nonpartisan service to the community. In South Africa, the chairperson of the truth commission was Desmond Tutu.

Official inquiries into the Easter Sunday attacks have so far been unconvincing.

Weeks after the bombings, the government arrested Inspector General of Police Pujith Jayasundara and Defence Secretary Hemasiri Fernando on grounds of dereliction of duty. Both of them gave evidence that they were either kept out of the loop at the highest levels or their advice had been disregarded.

Although the evidence that they were scapegoats is compelling, these senior public officials who were at the peak of their careers were incarcerated for months in prison before being bailed out.

The Easter Sunday attacks have been an embarrassment to the political leadership and this may be why the search for justice for victims appears to have been a desultory one.

There was reliable information prior to the attacks to suggest that a wide swathe of the country’s leadership on both sides of the political divide knew about the possibility of danger.

A senior government minister said his father, sick in hospital, had warned him not to go to church as there was warning of an impending attack on churches. There were media reports that the intelligence services of friendly countries including both India and the US had warned the government of impending attacks – including their time and place.

Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith’s dogged determination to ensure that the truth be unearthed may have its origins in the belief that Christian worshippers were made scapegoats for a deviant political agenda.

The perpetrators were Muslim and the victims primarily Christian. There has been no history of ill will or conflict between Muslims and Christians in Sri Lanka despite the situation in the international arena.

Nearly a month later, the Easter Sunday bombings were followed by instigated attacks in some parts of the country, hate speech and discriminatory practices against the Muslim community.

There’s a need to reflect on the extremism that lies within each community and be alert to counter it before it grows to be an uncontrollable monster – as it did on Easter Sunday – out of the womb of the Muslim community.

However, attempts to target communities and make them into enemies need to be deplored, and the government must step in and take action against those who seek to turn communities against each other for their own narrow purposes.

The experience of civil society at the community level – with inter-religious committees at both the district and divisional level – is that much of the charitable work to support those who have suffered as a consequence of the curfew are Muslim leaders and businesspeople.

Muslims have joined humanitarian relief efforts with almost all mosques around the country distributing provisions and dry rations to needy families in their areas without differences of race or religion. This indicates that the Muslim community is empowered to offer such assistance; and that it is making a special effort to reach out to the larger community.

In the coming period, Sri Lanka is likely to witness multiple nationwide elections for different tiers of government. The recent arrests of persons said to be involved in the Easter Sunday bombings have come in the context of an imminent general election, which gives rise to the inference that they may be part of the campaign.

Over the course of his sermon on Easter Sunday, the cardinal said he’d forgiven the bombers. This statement was not surprising as it is in keeping with religious teachings. What was more creditable on his part was holding Catholics back from retaliating in the immediate aftermath of the bombings last year.

He spoke against laying the blame on any one community then and the need to stand against it now, as all national leaders ought to. There’s also the need to get to the bottom of the mystery. Who instigated these bombings and why?