Many Byron Bay-based individuals and businesses have a strong connection to Sri Lanka. As one of them, the recent catastrophe in the county I love has hit me very hard. I have been attempting to work through the various thoughts and emotions. Elizabeth Kubler-Ross’s five stages of grief came to mind: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.
When I first heard there was a terrorist event in Sri Lanka I went to denial. It must only be a small, isolated problem, I reasoned. I even told a friend that that day’s news would be the next day’s newspaper bin-liner. I assumed it to be an outbreak of the decades-long civil war between the majority Buddhists and the Hindu Tamils that ceased 10 years ago.
Anger surfaced as the extent of the death and tragedy kept increasing. I thought of the Sri Lankan people and how they would be coping with this. I knew how much they had been celebrating and cherishing the hard-fought peace that finally felt permanent. They would be shocked and devastated. But worse, I am sure, is their fear for tomorrow. Will this be the start of another factional war?
As we all gleaned more information about the attack, I found myself bargaining and rationalising it away. How could this be? There is no conflict between the Muslim and Christian minorities. When the militant Buddhists – yes sounds like an oxymoron – and the LTTE (the Tamil Tigers) were head to head, both of the minority religions stayed admirably neutral and uninvolved.
Ethnic divisions and tensions in Sri Lanka are deep and complex. The 70% Sinhalese speaking majority includes Buddhist nationalists who refused to countenance any form of self-rule by the Hindu Tamils in the north. 17% of Tamils are also split in two. The majority are “Sri Lankan Tamils” who migrated many centuries ago before passports and borders were a big deal. About a third are Indian Tamils who were bought in by the British Raj to be workers on the tea plantations.
The 5% Christian population is predominately along the west coast in major towns like Colombo, Negombo and Galle. The centuries of contact with the Portuguese, Dutch and then British traders and colonisers converted them to the new religion. They include the Burgher class who are a mixed race between the locals and Europeans. The Muslims make up the remaining 10%. It is common in Sri Lanka to see a Christian cathedral, a Hindu temple and a mosque all on one, relatively, harmonious street.
I am currently at the depression stage in the Kubler-Ross progression. This senseless act of mayhem depressingly makes sense within the mindset of these lunatics, in this case, a local, amateurish Islamic outfit with serious assistance from ISIS. The mix of spices and ingredients in the complex curry of life in Sri Lanka has not just been upset by too much chilli or salt. The whole pot has been ruthlessly tipped over into the fire.
This is a diabolical plot worthy of a mastermind Doctor Evil. Rekindling the old grievances between Tamils and Sinhalese would be fiendish, but inflicting a wound and a serious division where none has been before has the potential to be catastrophic.
The debacle over early warnings and bumbled intelligence is the tip of the iceberg with Sri Lanka’s dysfunctional politics and governance. Last year, the president unconstitutionally sacked the prime minister, who was then reinstated by the courts. The current president is under investigation for financial malfeasance on the same scale as the Malaysian 1MDB scandal. Power will probably now be restored to a previous president, Mahinda Rajapakse. He is this country’s strongman version of Trump or the Philippine’s Duterte. He won the war against the Tamils in a most ruthless fashion, with war crimes still under investigation by the UN.
Acceptance of this situation may yet come. I am hopeful because the people are resilient and have a strong craving for peace and stability. Sri Lankans have contacted me asking for help and to not give up on them. Some local’s back in Byron have asked if there is a charity or fundraiser that they can contribute to. Although there is no Byron based organisation, here is an Australian registered charity, Australians Love Lankans that will kindly take donations. And my request is for anyone who was contemplating a visit or a holiday to only delay their plans and not abandon them. Tourism is the main driver of the economy, as is support from visitors to help stay on course with development and governance. We can’t let the bastards win!
What to Do
As soon as the travel warning has been removed by DFAT, Best of Sri Lanka Tours will be operating a ‘Support Sri Lanka Tour’ in September. We are currently working with partners to provide a high-quality 10-day tour with heavily discounted rates. Go to Best Of Sri Lanka Tours for more info if you want a deal and want to support Sri Lanka and its people.