by Esha Karam ’21
Published on May 13, 2019
All opinions expressed are strictly those of the writer and do not reflect the views of University School of Nashville or The Peabody Press.
On Easter Sunday, April 21, 2019, 253 people were killed in a series of religiously motivated bombings in Sri Lanka, the latest attack in a world of increasing religious hostility.
The first set of attacks targeted three churches – St. Anthony’s Shrine in Colombo, St. Sebastian’s Church in Negombo, Zion Church in Batticaloa – in the middle of morning Easter services.
Several additional bombs targeted four luxury hotels in the capital city Colombo, a popular tourist location. An eighth bomb exploded at a house during a police raid, killing three police officers.
Ten days after the attacks, Sri Lankan police identified and arrested nine local perpetrators in connection to the bombings. A local South Asian Islamic terrorist group National Thowheed Jamath (NTJ) was labeled as responsible, but officials claim that the group received aid from a larger international organization.
The explosions sent shockwaves all over the world. For one, 39 of the victims were foreigners, hailing from Australia, Britain, China, Japan, Portugal, and the United States.
On another note, the attacks come at a time when divides between religions are deepening. As of late, the world seen an uptick in religious hate crimes. On March 15, shootings at mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand killed 50. Inspired by those attacks, a shooter killed a woman at a synagogue in Poway, California on April 27. Six months prior to that, on October 27, 11 died in a shooting at a Pittsburgh synagogue. This endless violence and deepening divide between religions reaches to religious communities in our own city too.
Not only is the world experiencing more severe violent attacks on religious communities, but certain countries, particularly South Asian ones, are experiencing an increase in identity politics centered on religion. In Myanmar, Buddhist leaders have enforced ethnic cleansing campaigns against Rohingya Muslims. The government is establishing a clear national identity, excluding those of a particular faith. With big elections coming up in India, leaders have also stepped up their religious rhetoric, as the governing Hindu nationalist party attempts to push the Muslim minority further away. Additionally, Muslim leaders in countries such as Indonesia and Bangladesh are leaning further conservative and rejecting secularism.
This mix of politics and religion only leads to more violence and even deeper divides. The violence seen around the world today is a direct result of dangerous ‘us vs them’ mentalities promoting one belief or faith over another.
On Tuesday, March 5, Middle Tennessee State University held an forum discussing rising religious tensions titled “Protecting Places of Worship.” The forum featured a panel of religious leaders from various temples, synagogues, and churches across the city along with law enforcement officials. The event was coordinated in conjunction with the US Department of Justice Community Relations Service. An official from the Department of Justice Walter Atkinson said the program was created “in response to a series of violent acts against houses of worship across the country.”
According to the event organizers, the purpose of this discussion was to “to provide faith-based community leaders and members of the community with information to help them develop and implement security measures, share information, and address potential risks, such as an active shooter situations.”
Education events and interfaith panels such as this one, help facilitate a conversation about the dangerous path of hate our world is headed down. The way to combat these hostile feelings is through education and open discussions. Receiving an unbiased education regarding other religions and various beliefs will help to eliminate the divide between faiths and promote understanding instead of hostility.
The United States’ strategy to addressing terrorism is complicated and convoluted. The international situation in the Middle East regarding terrorist organizations will require a nuanced solution. However, as members of an international and domestic community, it is our responsibility to ensure that hate does not succeed; that terrorists do not succeed in their attempt to incite fear and create divisions. This can be achieved through understanding and compassion and through a recognition that terrorists do not represent the beliefs of large groups of people.