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Mourners light candles during a vigil in memory of the bomb blast victims in Colombo, a week after a series of blasts targeting churches and luxury hotels on Easter Sunday in Sri Lanka. AFP PIC
Mourners light candles during a vigil in memory of the bomb blast victims in Colombo, a week after a series of blasts targeting churches and luxury hotels on Easter Sunday in Sri Lanka. AFP PIC

FOUR hundred years ago, Shakespeare helped write the play The Book of Thomas Moore. The play depicts a London rocked by anti-immigration protests. Shakespeare castigates the violent rioters for their “unthinking cruelty”, and admonishes them for their “mountainish inhumanity”.

As Sri Lanka confirms the dead from the bloody carnage at 310, Shakespeare’s reproach is as relevant today as it was then.

As we stand with Sri Lankans, our thoughts and hearts go to those who lost their loved ones. Even as Sri Lankans come to terms with this tragedy, it may be appropriate to ask what drives suicide bombers to such abominable violence.

Poverty cannot be a driving force as some of the terrorists in Sri Lanka’s suicide squad hailed from rich families; some were even highly educated. Osama bin Laden, for example, also came from a rich Saudi family.

In his 2006 book, What Terrorists Want, Louise Robinson delves into the minds of terrorists to conclude that terrorism is meant to punish the West for its oppression of the Muslim world.  It is this misguided sense of compassion for the oppressed that compels otherwise responsible citizens to seek revenge.

Social media too plays a part in fuelling fanaticism as hate and guile are spewed at others on these platforms. Whatever the root cause, terrorist attacks impact on the economic, social and political fabric of the afflicted nation.

FIRST , the damage to the economy. Terrorists seek to inflict maximum damage on the economy even though the damage may not be long-lasting. The attacks on Wall Street on 9/11 and on tourists in Tunisia in 2015 are emblematic of such a motive. 9/11 for example, reduced the gross domestic product of the US by half a percentage point in 2001. Terror attacks may also cause a temporary disruption to economic life as when bombers struck London in July 2005.

If an economy is reliant on tourism like Tunisia and Sri Lanka, then the impact on the economy can be severe following a terrorist strike. After news streamed in of the horrible tragedy, I called my friend, Thilak, in Sri Lanka to inquire after his and his family’s safety.

While he and his family are well, he lost some friends in this barbaric attack. He lamented that only recently Sri Lanka was prospering after a three-decade long civil war. It had even obtained international recognition as a tourist paradise. All that has now gone up in smoke, he bemoaned.

SECOND , the potential economic impact that would flow from the counter-measures countries institute following a terrorist attack. We are all too despairingly familiar of the stringent security measures at airports.

There is an economic cost to these measures in time wasted in queues and expenses on security. These resources could have been better spent on productive activities. The extra policing and security measures also stunt growth, more so, if terrorism is sustained. Such was the case of Northern Ireland. Northern Ireland’s nightmare lasted for 30 years with the attendant sharp decline in foreign investments, employment and tourist arrivals. It required the government to pump massive amounts of public money to keep the economy afloat.

Socially, terror attacks can stoke fear that other such attacks are imminent. The community associated with the attackers might also dread retaliatory attacks against it as anger and feelings of revenge numb rational thinking. All this can cause ethnic divisions and strife in society.

Politically, terrorist attacks cause a shift in the delicate balance between freedom and security of life and property. For example, Australia has a slew of tough anti-terrorism laws that impinge on personal liberties. Among other things, these laws allow the government to gain access to computer networks and to detain and question suspects without charge.

Sri Lanka’s intelligence failure and the government’s inaction over specific foreign intelligence on the imminent threat of bomb attacks hold lessons for governments worldwide.

Three things should be the focus of our nation.

FIRST , is the state of preparedness for any eventuality. Lord Baden Powell, the founder of the Scout Movement, gave a lasting legacy to the scouts in the form of the slogan “Be Prepared”. That seems a sage advice to the government as well. Such a state of alertness involves total vigilance and a triangulation of all intelligence — local and foreign — to spot any emerging pattern of a possible attack. Intelligence gathering by our security forces should therefore be beefed up;

SECOND , mistrust among political leaders at the highest level in Sri Lanka resulted in government dysfunction. Let that not be said of our cabinet or of our security forces; and,

THIRD , the public must remain united. Despite political ructions, our communities have been able to get along well with one another. That augurs well to deter any potential terror group from driving a wedge into or tearing apart the fabric of society. Society too should be quick to condemn and refrain from any denigration of any community lest it emboldens the radicals.

As Shakespeare asks in his play: “Would you be pleased to find a nation of such barbarous temper, that, breaking out in hideous violence, would not afford you an abode on Earth?”The writer is a former public servant and lectures at the Graduate School of Business, Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia

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