Terror and its manifestations

It is said that there is no terror in a bang, only in the anticipation of it. Terrorism is not merely about killing innocent people but instilling fear among the living. That fear and lack of safety will, according to the ideology of terrorism, turn to resentment against the state that is expected to provide those guarantees to its citizens.

After many years, even decades of trying to aspire to a greater cause of liberation, the LTTE seems to have come full circle as of recently and resorted to basic terror tactics with the hope of weakening the Sri Lankan state. There had been occasions in the recent past, when the organisation took extra precautions to minimise civilian casualties in the wake of growing international condemnation of terrorism. Having failed to deliver its promise of a separate homeland, the LTTE has once again resorted to the age old method of instilling fear in the populace, in the hope of creating a culture of fear and paranoia among the people, which will eventually lead to resentment against the administration. Similar orgies of violence have been unleashed by the LTTE when it had faced military set backs. After the fall of the Jaffna peninsula in 1995, the organisation carried out a series of attacks against civilian targets, including the Central Bank and numerous attacks in villages bordering the conflict zone.

One of the fundamental reasons of having a state with its many branches incurring massive costs; is to protect its citizenry. Yet, when a state fails to do so for whatever reason, the population loses faith in those institutions, which will lead to the ultimate collapse of the state, at least according to theory. National security, those who govern this country should learn, is not about protecting only the leaders, military and economic infrastructure of the country. It is also about protecting the ordinary citizen. The government, on many occasions has played into the hands of the terrorists, since they have failed to comprehend this basic reality. When Ministers of this government, who have almost no threat of being targeted except maybe for symbolic purposes, close roads and travel with massive security convoys, the rest of the masses are left wondering who is protecting them. When the general public is severely inconvenienced and made to bear the costs of this protracted conflict, it is but natural that there will come a time when the necessity of a state, one which cannot protect its people at that, is questioned.

Ironically, it is the same terror tactics that the government forces apply against the LTTE in its own territory. By selectively targeting its leaders and carrying out operations deep inside LTTE controlled territory, the military has managed to weaken the pseudo separate state that the Tigers had established and maintained with many of its ‘state’ institutions such as police stations and courts.

Adding to this fear psychosis; is the irresponsible behaviour of a few individuals who derive some warped pleasure from creating panic around the city. Last week, in the wake of a bomb explosion in Nugegoda, many were the bomb scares in the city of Colombo, mainly inspired by pranksters. The usual ‘the water has been poisoned’ panic also hit the city, but Water Board officials were quick to vouch for the fact that the water was safe.

There have also been numerous occasions in which the media has fuelled the fear among the public due to its irresponsible reporting of stories. Needless to say, this cannot be condoned. However, in this last week, it was the media that was taking the initiative to scotch the rumours by using the highly effective text message network to send out denials issued by public officials.

While many in Colombo tasted terrorism in one of its ugliest manifestations last Wednesday at Nugegoda, it also provided a window of opportunity for the southern populace to take a glimpse into the fear psychosis that prevails in another part of our country among another section of our own people. The people of the North and East and especially the Wanni, have been living in fear of both the military strikes and the intimidation of the LTTE and other groups for many years. The technicality of whether the Sri Lankan government forces consciously target civilians or not, remain simply a technicality to those people who face the real threat of being killed in an aerial attack just as someone in Colombo fears being killed in a suicide bombing targeted at a high ranking official or military institution. It is hoped that during this time of turmoil the people of this country can at least unite in their shared concerns for their lives and that of their loved ones.

It is hoped that the state will perform its basic responsibility and protect its citizens, irrespective of where they reside and the political power they yield. If not, the state will have to protect itself from its own citizens in the very near future.