Remembering terror victims | Daily News

Remembering terror victims

Terrorism is one of the scourges of the modern world, where armed non-state actors target both military and civilian installations and people in the name of upholding an ideology or winning a territory. In the words of UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres, “terrorism is one of the most challenging issues of our time and a serious threat to international peace and security. From Tajikistan to the United Kingdom, from Baghdad to Barcelona, these ruthless attacks have shaken us all to the core. No country can consider itself immune, with almost every nationality in the world falling victim to terrorist attacks”.

We in Sri Lanka probably have more experience regarding the horrors of terrorism than people in most other countries which have recently been affected. Sri Lanka faced the bane of terrorism for nearly 30 years and it was only 10 years ago that it was vanquished. In fact, Sri Lanka is among the handful of countries that had successfully dealt with the threat of terror.

While more countries are affected by terrorism today, the number of victims has largely been concentrated in a small number of countries. In 2017 alone, nearly three-quarters of all deaths caused by terrorism were in just five countries: Afghanistan, Iraq, Nigeria, Somalia and Syria. There have also been terrorist attacks in countries such as the UK, France, Turkey and Belgium. The death toll from global terrorism-related attacks accounted for approximately 6,123 fatalities in 2017, but it is a large decrease from the 25,673 that occurred in 2016, of which 9,765 deaths were in Iraq alone, and much less than the peak of 31,321 deaths in 2014.

The Islamic State (IS) was the deadliest terrorist group in 2016, responsible for killing 9,132 people, and the next three deadliest terror groups Boko Haram, Taliban, and Al-Qaeda, killed 6,011 people in the same year. The September 11, 2001 attack on the World Trade Centre Twin Towers in the US remains the single biggest terror attack with over 3,000 recorded deaths. The world needs to formulate a coordinated response to terrorism, with better intelligence gathering and cross-border cooperation in order to avoid further carnage.

In today’s 24/7 news cycle, these sometimes look only like numbers. But behind each number is a person who was near and dear to his or her family and friends. That ‘number’ could have been a breadwinner in the family. That ‘number’ could have been someone who had skills and talents needed by his or her country. Victims of terrorism all over the world continue to struggle to have their voices heard, have their needs supported and their rights upheld. Victims often feel forgotten and neglected once the immediate aftermath of a terrorist attack fades, which can have profound consequences for them.

After terrorist attacks, we rarely hear about those who were killed and injured; the ordinary women, men, girls and boys, who were going about their daily business when their lives ended or were changed forever. We rarely hear about their surviving families, friends and communities, who must learn to live with the burden of terrorism for their entire lives. Only a few countries have the resources or the capacity to fulfill the medium and long-term needs required for victims to fully recover, rehabilitate and integrate back into society. Victims can only recover and cope with their trauma through long-term multi-dimensional support, including physical, psychological, social and financial, in order to heal and live with dignity.

This is the primary idea behind the first-ever observance of the International Day of Remembrance of and Tribute to Victims of Terrorism. Today, the International day of Remembrance of, and Tribute to, the victims of terrorism, reminds us to stop and listen to the victims and survivors of terrorism, to raise their voices and recognize the impact terrorism has on their lives. Even if physical scars of terrorism and conflict can be healed, it is often very difficult and sometimes virtually impossible to heal the mental scars.

In some instances, the conflict itself can be resolved per se, but the underlying causes and the mutual distrust among different communities affected by the conflict can take a long time to be addressed. There are some conflicts which ended decades ago, but those affected are still searching for answers and peace. The conflict in Sri Lanka is no different. It was a conflict that pitted brother against brother and sister against sister, exacerbated by extremist politicians in both the North and the South. Nearly 10 years later, we are in the nascent stage of searching for peace and reconciliation, which cannot, of course, be achieved overnight after a 30-year conflict. We have to address the grievances of victims on all sides. If we do not open our hearts to each other, the search for reconciliation will be in vain. If we still look at other communities with a prejudiced eye, peace will remain elusive. It is a process that should begin in and from the heart, until we all think of ourselves as Sri Lankans first and foremost with no petty divisions and differences. 

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