At least two of the suicide bombers had law degrees. Two were brothers from a wealthy Colombo family, one of whom attended university in the United Kingdom and earned a postgraduate degree in Australia. There were nine of them altogether, eight men and a woman. Most were “well-educated and come from (the) middle or upper-middle class,” Ruwan Wijewardene, Sri Lanka’s deputy defence minister, told reporters.
There is still much to piece together from what happened on Easter Sunday in Sri Lanka, about why the authorities did not respond to specific and actionable intelligence about an imminent jihadist attack, how it could be that clear warnings to and from Sri Lanka’s deputy inspector general went unheeded, and what were the names, even, of the terrorists. But this much can be said about them.
The atrocities they committed do not constitute some understandable if misguided act of resistance to Western imperialist hegemony. This was not an eruption of “blowback” for the trespasses of Zionists or American oil companies, as one routinely hears whenever the blood of innocents is spilled at a bus stop in Jerusalem, or on the streets of London, or at a nightclub in Paris. These were not “chickens coming home to roost,” as it was fashionable to say, over and over again, in the days and months and years following the atrocities of Sept. 11, 2001.
The atrocities they committed do not constitute some understandable if misguided act of resistance to Western imperialist hegemony
The murderers’ targets were innocent Sinhalese and Tamil Christians, mostly Roman Catholics attending Easter Sunday Mass at St. Anthony’s Shrine in Colombo’s Kochchikade neighbourhood, and at St. Sebastian’s Church in Negombo, just north of Colombo. More were slaughtered at Zion Church, a small Protestant congregation in the city of Batticaloa. Four upscale Colombo hotels were also hit: the Cinnamon Grand, the Shangri-La, the Kingsbury and the Tropical Inn.
The death toll keeps rising, but as I write this it stands at 359 people. Hundreds more were seriously wounded. This makes the Sri Lanka bloodshed one of the worst terrorist outrages since al-Qaida’s 9/11 slaughters in the United States. It’s arguably the worst single terrorist attack linked to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, also known as ISIS, also known as Daesh, since the monstrous al-Qaida offshoot emerged in 2014.
A video released by ISIL’s propaganda arm, the Amaq news agency, shows the killers swearing their loyalty to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, ISIL’s genocidaire-in-chief. The ritual is overseen by Mohammed Cassim Zaharan, a vile Islamist hate preacher also known as Zaharan Hashmi, who headed up a Sri Lankan Islamist supremacist group known as the National Thowheeth Jama’ath.
While ISIL lost the last enclave of its horrific “caliphate” in the Syrian desert only last month, owing mainly to a bloody struggle waged by the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces at a cost of 11,000 SDF fighters’ lives, the bloodlust that animated ISIL’s marauders is not satiated. Their death-cult fervour did not end in the rubble of Baghouz, the town that was ISIL’s last stronghold in the bleak and sprawling Syrian province of Deir ez-Zor, on March 22.
And it did not begin with al-Baghdadi, the shadowy, near-sighted 48-year-old former theology student formerly known as Ibrahim Awwad Ibrahim Ali Muhammad al-Badri, who arrived on the jihadist scene in August 2011 as the plotter behind the slaughter of 28 Muslims at prayer at Baghdad’s Umm al-Qura mosque. Neither will it end if anyone ever ends up collecting the $25-million bounty the U.S. has put on Baghdadi’s head.
It did not begin with al-Qaida, otherwise known as the World Islamic Front for Combat Against the Jews and Crusaders, and it did not end when the Saudi multimillionaire construction magnate Osama bin Laden was killed following a nighttime U.S. Navy Seals raid on his compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, in May 2011.
It did not begin among the Pashtun mercenaries and Haqqani seminary students — the talibs — that Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence agency, the ISI, armed and mobilized to extend its brutal control of Afghanistan all the way to the frontiers of Iran and Turkmenistan in the 1990s. It did not end when the Northern Alliance drove the Taliban out of Kabul, even before any regular U.S. forces arrived, in 2001. Or when the Taliban was driven back into the ISI’s welcoming arms, or after the cost of thousands of NATO soldiers’ lives, and tens of thousands of Afghan lives. That struggle continues.
It did not begin with Islam, and it does not end with Islam. It is the same thing that possessed the 28-year-old Australian white nationalist and gun enthusiast Brenton Tarrant, who murdered 50 innocent Muslims at Friday prayers last month in Christchurch, New Zealand, at the lovely Masjid Al Noor on Deans Avenue and the little Linwood Mosque on the other side of town.
It’s what possessed Tarrant’s role model, the Knights Templar fantasist and Norwegian Armed Forces reject Anders Breivik, when he set out on a killing spree in July 2011, in Oslo, leaving 78 corpses in his wake. It’s what preoccupied Robert Gregory Bowers, the 46-year-old truck driver, conspiracy theorist and racist loner facing 63 charges arising from last October’s mass shooting during Shabbat services at the L’Simcha synagogue in Pittsburgh that left 11 Jews dead.
It is what was at work a year ago this week on Yonge Street in Toronto. It’s the thing that killed 10 pedestrians, mostly women, rammed and run over by a man behind the wheel of a van. Consumed with self-loathing and a hatred of women owing to his “involuntary celibacy,” the accused, Alek Minassian, had found his own hero in the insanely misogynistic mass murderer Elliot Rodger, the “involuntarily celibate” 22-year-old who shot and killed six people in Isla Vista, Calif., in 2014.
It is what was at work a year ago this week on Yonge Street in Toronto
It is not exactly a coincidence that from ISIL to the depraved online “incel community” and from Elliot Rodger to the Taliban’s Mullah Omar, what stands out is that they hate women, they rape women, they enslave women, and they kill women. What leaps off the pages of Brenton Tarrant’s 16,500-word manifesto, and any and all of the various fatwas and declarations of al-Qaida and ISIL, is the same deeply paranoid and apocalyptic hatred of imaginary usurpers, outsiders and invaders.
Looking into the anxieties of certain white conservatives for the “root causes” of Tarrant’s terrorism in Christchurch is about as useful as flipping through the pages of the Qur’an for passages that would explain Easter Sunday’s terrorism in Sri Lanka. Drawing distinctions between a terrorist and a merely insane person is just as useless. Profound sociopathology is the first entry in any mass murderer’s curriculum vitae.
Study their justifications all you like. Read their proclamations, comb through their 4chan pages, weigh and assess their ideologies as much as you want. It’s all the same rationale for the enslavement and murder of Jews, or Christians, or Muslims, or women. All their various manifestos are, at bottom, the same. They do not offer an explanation, or a rationale. All they reveal is that they want us to be mistrustful of one another, to be fearful of one another, to hate one another.
All they reveal is the same eternal excuse, the same ancient pretext, to spill human blood.