The Guardian view on the bombings in Sri Lanka: fear and hope | Editorial

The worst violence in a decade has struck the heart of a nation

The message of Easter is a message of hope – that most vital yet fragile of qualities, both an instinct and a choice. The devastating blasts that tore through multiple sites in and near Colombo and a church in Batticaloa in eastern Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday could hardly be crueller. More than 200 people were killed and hundreds more wounded.

That three Catholic churches were struck on the most important day in the Christian calendar, as well as three hotels, speaks for itself. Two more blasts appear to have occurred as the police pursued suspects. Yet it is much too early to discern the precise motivations of the bombers, and it would be not only foolish but also potentially dangerous to speculate in a country with such a complex and troubled history.

What is clear is that whoever was responsible was willing to claim the lives of people of all faiths; of children as well as adults; of Sri Lankans and foreigners. What is also clear is that in sowing terror, they hoped to reap division in a country that has endured horrific violence in the past, and that is home to multiple ethnicities and religions, with the Buddhist majority living alongside sizable Hindu, Muslim and Christian minorities.

This is by far the worst incident of violence since the long and brutal civil war with Tamil insurgents, in which so many civilians died, ended a decade ago. It is a shocking and heartbreaking blow to the hopes of an island still striving for a lasting peace, amid enduring tensions. “I thought Sri Lanka had left all this violence behind us,” said one survivor, voicing a common sentiment. It also occurs at a time of political instability. Last year’s standoff between the president, Maithripala Sirisena, and Ranil Wickremesinghe, the prime minister, concluded with the latter’s reinstatement. But if the immediate constitutional crisis ended, the tensions underlying it were in no way resolved. A presidential election is due this year, and a general election in 2020.

Now Mr Wickremesinghe is overseeing the emergency response, a month after he offered his condolences to New Zealand in the wake of the mosque attacks that claimed 50 lives in Christchurch. That attack itself bore terrible echoes of the shooting a few months earlier at a synagogue in Pittsburgh, which claimed 11 lives.

Sri Lankan police say they have already arrested suspects. To bring the perpetrators to justice is, of course, essential. But one danger is that officials’ rush to do so – and to show that they are doing so – may itself bring injustice. In a country with a history of security forces committing abuses with impunity, there is particular reason to be concerned.

Injustice and hate can manifest themselves anywhere. So too can love and faith, whether of the sacred or profane variety. So far, politicians from all parts of society have banded together to call for unity and strength. There is hope in that shared message, and in the similar sentiments voiced by leaders from around the world, even if in truth some of the speakers have been responsible for exploiting and encouraging divisions. There is hope in the sight of Sri Lankans of all ethnicities and religions pulling together, and in the immense rush of wellwishers to donate blood and aid survivors in other ways.

It is not only Sri Lankans and Catholics who feel the pain of this atrocity, and fear the further damage it could spawn. It is not only those of the Christian faith who believe that, even in the harshest of times, hope can and must endure.

Contributor

Editorial

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
The Guardian view on religious freedom: protect believers | Editorial
Editorial: Across much of the world, millions of people are persecuted for their beliefs

Editorial

22, Apr, 2019 @5:30 PM

Article image
Sri Lanka’s Christians were left unprotected for far too long | Tasnim Nazeer
Politicians and police have done little to halt the persecution of religious minorities, says Tasnim Nazeer, a journalist and UPF ambassador for peace

Tasnim Nazeer

21, Apr, 2019 @5:16 PM

Article image
The Guardian view on the pope in the Gulf: an important signal | Editorial
Editorial: As the first leader of the Catholic church to visit the Arabian peninsula, Francis knows his contact with Muslims will be as important as the mass he hosts for the Christian minority

Editorial

03, Feb, 2019 @6:43 PM

Article image
The Guardian view on Easter: it would take a miracle | Editorial
Editorial: The myth of the resurrection can say more to the defeated than historical facts can

Editorial

30, Mar, 2018 @3:34 PM

Article image
As the Sri Lanka attacks show, Christians worldwide face serious persecution | Giles Fraser
It is ignored in the west, but Christianity is the most persecuted religion. Why is there such silence on the issue, asks parish priest Giles Fraser

Giles Fraser

21, Apr, 2019 @3:32 PM

Article image
The Guardian view on 'post-Christian' Britain: a spiritual enigma | Editorial
Editorial: The majority of us do not belong to any religion. But for most, atheism is not an option either

Editorial

28, Mar, 2021 @5:30 PM

Article image
The Guardian view on the Catholic contraceptive ban: a historic mistake | Editorial
Editorial: It is 50 years since Pope Paul VI restated the Catholic church’s ban on artificial contraception. He destroyed the authority of his office – and the lives of millions of women

Editorial

25, Jul, 2018 @5:26 PM

Article image
The Guardian view on Sri Lanka’s election: danger ahead | Editorial
Editorial: Voters choose a new president this weekend on the Indian Ocean island. If they opt for the Rajapaksa family it augurs badly

Editorial

14, Nov, 2019 @6:27 PM

Article image
The Guardian view on closed churches: a necessary sacrifice
Editorial: This is an Easter like no other for regular and occasional churchgoers. But Britain’s faith communities will be vital in helping Britain through the coronavirus ordeal

Editorial

10, Apr, 2020 @5:31 PM

Article image
The Guardian view on Sri Lanka: president v prime minister | Editorial
Editorial: The manner of Ranil Wickremesinghe’s ousting is a step backwards. This constitutional crisis must be resolved peacefully; a punch-up in parliament is an alarming sign

Editorial

15, Nov, 2018 @6:56 PM