The Sri Lankan counter to post-bombing revenge

A jihadist goal in the Easter Sunday bombings may have been to provoke retaliation against the minority Muslims. Tales of unity after the attack offer a counternarrative.

Buddhist monks in Sri Lanka pray for the victims of the suicide bomb attacks on churches and luxury hotels on Easter Sunday.

First shock, then flock.

That may be the best way to describe the response of dozens of people standing outside St. Anthony’s Church in Sri Lanka’s capital on Easter Sunday after a terrorist bombing struck Christians worshipping inside. According to press reports, local residents of all faiths and ethnicities rushed to help the victims staggering out of the Catholic church.

“Tamil, Sinhalese, Muslim, Buddhist, Christian and Hindu citizens of that crowded, oldest, part of the city were the ‘first responders’ even before the emergency services arrived,” stated the Daily News media outlet. “The sheer spontaneity of the people’s immediate collective response symbolized Lanka’s social unity and sheer grit in the face of extreme violence and tragedy.”

This story, along with similar ones about Sri Lankans coming together after the country’s worst terror attack, is worth retelling because it serves an important purpose. Narratives of shared purpose could quell instincts toward retaliation against the minority Muslims, who make up about 10% of the population.

One goal of jihadist bombers is to provoke vicious cycles of revenge in a society and eliminate any coexistence between faiths. Social division can then drive Muslims into extremist violence and toward a final apocalyptic battle. This helps explain why Islamic State (ISIS) took responsibility for the April 21 attacks that killed more than 250 people.

“Intercommunal conflict and schism is precisely what ISIS hopes to provoke,” wrote Alan Keenan, project director in Sri Lanka for the International Crisis Group, about the attack.

“In addition to the Christian community that was the direct target of the bombings,” he adds, “what was attacked was Sri Lanka’s strained but still living tradition of inter-religious and inter-ethnic cooperation and friendship.”

Tales of Sri Lankans uniting after the bombing are starting to create a virtuous cycle that can counter the vicious one. Both Muslims and Buddhist monks have aided Christian mourners. Representatives of Islamic nations have met with Catholic clergy. Religious leaders of all faiths have appealed for calm.

“In a situation of this nature, we should not point our finger at any individual or group holding them responsible for the recent acts of violence. As a united nation, we have to rise from the ashes of destruction,” says one Catholic bishop, Raymond Wickramasinghe.

Last Sunday, after emergency workers arrived at St. Anthony’s Church, the residents who had helped the victims continued to stand together. They held hands and prayed. Like the Easter that had been celebrated in the church, they rose above the scene of death with a different story. They were living out Sri Lanka’s centuries-old tradition of religious harmony. And perhaps such acts can crowd out any cycle of revenge.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.
Real news can be honest, hopeful, credible, constructive.
What is the Monitor difference? Tackling the tough headlines – with humanity. Listening to sources – with respect. Seeing the story that others are missing by reporting what so often gets overlooked: the values that connect us. That’s Monitor reporting – news that changes how you see the world.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to

QR Code to The Sri Lankan counter to post-bombing revenge
Read this article in
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today