Deadly delusion | Daily News

Deadly delusion

How do you pick up the threads of an old life? How do you go on, when in your heart you begin to understand there is no going back. There are some things that time cannot mend. Some hurts that go too deep that have taken hold.

On Easter Sunday, a deadly terrorist attack claimed the lives of nearly 250 people and injuring many. The citizens of Sri Lanka are now living in a state of terror, not knowing when or where the next act of violence will take place. Life in Colombo has virtually come to a standstill with the people advised to keeping away from public places. People are experiencing feelings of hate towards the terrorists, unable to come to terms with how such an evil act could have been carried out with utter indifference towards the lives of innocent people – mothers, fathers, children, wives and husbands.

Daily News spoke to Professor Kalinga Tudor Silva of Department of Sociology, University of Peradeniya and Dr. Neil Fernando, Consultant Psychiatrist and Senior Lecturer University Hospital, General Sir John Kothalawela Defense University in an attempt to understand the mentality of these terrorists and their actions.

Fernando pointed out that the precise definition of this act of violence is termed suicidal terrorism. The method of suicide is used to achieve their objectives. Suicide is used as a form of terrorism. He stated that there are two main psychological views about the people who carry out these attacks.

Suicidal terrorism

“The first view, which is more popular, is that the people who engage in suicidal terrorism, the perpetrators, are basically ‘normal’ people. When I say this, what I mean is that there is no psychopathology involved. There is no illness as such. They use suicide as a form of mass destruction. They use their body as a weapon of mass destruction. They sacrifice their life for a purpose they believe in. So we may call this Altruistic. It is an altruistic form of behaviour. An Altruistic form of suicide. They sacrifice their lives in the name of some ideology which they believe in. That is the most popular view,” said Fernando.

Dr. Neil Fernando

Prof. Tudor Silva

When queried if these people are ‘brainwashed’, Fernando said that these people are ideologically driven towards this situation. For them, it is a rational decision that they make. They make this decision to achieve the ideas they believe in. It is a form of sacrifice. They are not trying to gain anything personally or financially. This is done for their movement, organisation or ideology.

“There is a second view countering this first popular view, and that view is that these people who commit these acts of terrorism are sick or mentally ill. They are driven to commit these acts because of their illness. This is what some studies propose. This is more common or applicable to perpetrators who go out and randomly kill people, by shooting them in public places or by driving a vehicle into public places killing people. Here they use a separate weapon and not the body as a weapon. They know that in response they will be killed. Psychologically this is called ‘Suicide by Cop’. Here they get a police officer to kill them. It is depicted as someone else ending their life and not by their own hand. That is mass destruction using a weapon (firearm or vehicle) other than the body,” pointed out Dr. Fernando.

There are many facets to the problem that we can only guess. Do these terrorist masterminds believe themselves that their acts will take them to heaven? Do the suicide bombers believe this themselves? Or is this motivated purely by a certain form of ideology – be it politics or economics? How do their minds work? Or do they do what they do out of personal gains?

“All religions condemn violence and regarding suicide as a form of killing. Killing yourself is very similar to killing another person. You are taking away your life. Many religions believe that your life does not belong to you and it belongs to God. If you kill yourself you are going against God. Suicide is not condoned by religion. I do not believe that the bombers think they are going to heaven. This is driven by ideology. That is what is driving them. It is done for a cause or ideology they believe in. The same thing was seen in LTTE suicide bombers. They had a cause and they sacrificed their lives for that. They were trained to achieve a certain objective,” explained Dr. Fernando.

Again Dr. Fernando desisted from choosing the precise term ‘Brainwashing’ saying that there is no brainwashing actually – it is that you believe in something and you work towards that. You are motivated to such an extent that you are motivated to sacrifice your life and take the life of another person.

“What organisations do is that they train these bombers to use their body in a more effective way. It is a more effective form of destruction. The organisers create weapons. They have their experts. The technical side is done by someone else. It is a smoothly running devious and deadly organisation. We know that these terrorist minds are excellent communicators and excellent propagators of their ideology and there are always people who will follow and accept these ideas. Yes, brainwashing is a lay term, and if you think that someone’s way of thinking is changed then you can call it brainwashing. They feel that what they are doing will achieve some purpose,” added Fernando.

Masterminds are good communicators. They are excellent at creating followers with their articulation and their ability to make an idea look attractive. How many youths are there in society who are aimless and without purpose? These masterminds give them a purpose to live for. But none of the religions condones these acts of violence.

“They may be right or wrong but people follow them because they are so good at communication. It is a very powerful way of communicating ideas. Of course, they may be using religion because religion is a very emotional subject. It is something very close to your heart and communicators may interpret it in a certain way to convince people,” said Fernando.

There is no justification really, you do it for a purpose you believe in. You are doing something, believing it is for some purpose. The purpose of the attacks on Easter Sunday was to cause terror. And it has been a success for these terrorists. It was used as a terror technique.

“There are many schools of thinking where the perpetrators are altruistic, acting rationally sacrificing their lives in the name of an ideology. They do not benefit, but others benefit from it. Another line of thought is that they have personal goals. There is another view that these people are mentally unsound. These extremists arise for many reasons – social, economic and political reasons, childhood reasons (childhood relationships) and personal reasons. The problem is multi-dimensional. Each factor may be different from one person to another. The profile is different for each person,” said Fernando.

Mass destruction

A small group of people led by a good communicator can create such havoc causing such mass terror. The desired effect is terror. It is called Fear Psychosis. Here if you can convince a few people you can create mass destruction. They are convinced to this extent. We know that in America every now and then there is a shooting. Will this be the same for Sri Lanka?

“Depending on how well it is counteracted by the government, then we can return to our normal lives. This is up to the government and Security Forces. With time, people will heal and feel safe with these elements being dealt with by the forces. You cannot compare America and Sri Lanka! The societies are different. Their firearms are freely available in America. Of course, now those laws are being tightened as well. So these things become common in America. In Sri Lanka that is not the case. In Sri Lanka we need a very efficient intelligence system and that officers need the freedom to perform their tasks,” stated Dr .Fernando.

The Buddha has said that ‘Hatred is never appeased by hatred in this world. It is appeased by love. This is an eternal law’.

Prof. Kalinga Tudor Silva of Department of Sociology, University of Peradeniya said that compassion is a must when treating the victims and helping the needy.

“The state, civil society, friends and neighbours must come to their help. It is perhaps important to have a social support network that will help them to cope with the trauma. All our experience in responding to multiple disasters from tsunami to civil war must be utilized in providing support to the affected people and communities,” said Silva.

It is so tragic and so disappointing that hate gives meaning to certain young people who become suicide bombers. Their parents educate them, clothe them, feed them and love them and what do they do? They join terrorist organisations and kill innocent people. Innocent people who have done them no harm. Innocent people engaged in worship in the name of love. Innocent people having a meal with their family members. Their lives snuffed out instantaneously.

“Making suicide bombers out of ordinary human beings is one of the tasks accomplished on a global scale by terrorist groups of one kind or another. In this instance, many of the suicide bombers appear to come from privileged social backgrounds which make it all the more puzzling. Perhaps people try to identify and cultivate a meaning or mission in life disturbed or disoriented in one way or another, by taking on this brutal task. Social isolation for extended periods of time and total immersion in indoctrination may be important steps in nurturing suicide bombers. A deeper analysis of their psyche and spiritual development is necessary for understanding how suicide bombers are made in different settings,” explained Silva.

What happened on Easter Sunday was heartless and incredibly cruel. The victims were innocent Christians attending service. At the hotels, innocent people were having breakfast celebrating Easter Sunday. They did not deserve this. What happened was unpardonable. It was despicable and inhumane.

Christchurch attack

“ISIS and its affiliates in Sri Lanka thought this will receive greater publicity in the Christian West. ISIS appears to be looking for an opportunity to make global headlines particularly in Western Media, however ruthless and heartless their action is. Also targeting the Easter Sunday Service was perhaps a strategic and deliberate move -attacking a large group and causing the highest number of casualties in a coordinated manner showing their firepower. We also cannot rule out the possibility of retaliation against the mosque attack in Christchurch, New Zealand even though there is no security intelligence confirming this point as claimed by the Prime Minister of New Zealand,” pointed out Prof. Silva.

Such cruel and cold calculation over such an extended period of time in the name of publicity? Is life worth so little?

“Those who planned this brutal act won’t achieve any long-term goals in Sri Lanka from the angle of establishing a foothold in the country. The only short-term benefit they will gain is instant global publicity to this coordinated mayhem in a country not known for previous ISIS activity. What motivated the seemingly well-established and well-educated core group of people to undertake this ghastly act requires further investigation and analysis,” said Prof. Silva.

Ten years of peace perhaps gave us false security in hindsight. But who could have anticipated that terror would raise its head in our island? All this was so unexpected by the civilians in Sri Lanka.

“The state has reintroduced security procedures widely used during the civil war. There is always a danger that these security procedures and consciousness will fade away after some time. What is needed is not cumbersome procedures that cause unnecessary delays in public affairs but basic security procedures routinely administered on a regular basis,” added Prof. Silva.

Perhaps death/ capital punishment is too lenient. Perhaps these terrorists should live with what they have done and never forgive themselves for the suffering they have caused and for the lives they have shattered, the irreparable damage they have done.

“They should live to see the damage they have caused not only to the victims and their families but their own families, followers and ordinary Muslims as well,” said Prof Silva.

“I am thoroughly impressed by Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith’s intervention in this whole affair. He was forthright, convincing and totally committed to the victims and their families in this moment of disaster. I only hope leaders of other religions too build on this tradition of trust building, healing and spiritual rejuvenation in a post-disaster environment,” explained Prof. Silva. 


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