The Tragic Familiarity of the Sri Lanka Bombings

Source: The New York Times

By Randy Boyagoda

Mr. Boyagoda is a novelist and professor of English at the University of Toronto.

TORONTO — The series of suicide attacks on churches and hotels in Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday, which has left nearly 300 dead and hundreds injured, is more than just a national or religious tragedy. For members of the Sri Lankan diaspora, including Catholics like me, who have family connections to the very places and parishes that were attacked, the country’s tribulations are no longer terrible, local and hard to explain to people unfamiliar with its unsettled history. Now they are terrible, local — and familiar.

Much of the world knows the outlines of Sri Lanka’s historic troubles — a three-decade civil war, fought along ethnic lines and punctuated by hundreds of suicide bombings carried out by the Tamil Tiger terrorist organization. But broad international interest in the island nation, and familiarity with its struggles, has largely been confined to the story of its civil war, which ended in 2009, and, at most, to ongoing, uneven reconciliations and renewals that have played out since then.

Now a new, shared context has emerged: All evidence so far suggests that the attacks were carried out by locally based Islamist terrorists.

The attackers knew their targets well, and seem to have chosen them for maximum symbolic value. St. Anthony’s, in the capital city of Colombo, is a national shrine, whose turn-of-the-19th-century origins are associated with the persecution of local Catholics by the country’s then-colonial Dutch rulers.

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