24 November 2015

Perpetrators and victims of suicide attacks

There was a time when one of the last things this country wanted to hear was news of a suicide attack.  That time is over now, thankfully.  However, I have been thinking lately that the terms ‘suicide attack’ and ‘suicide bomber’ have uses outside their conventional meanings. 

A suicide attack refers to all manner of violent actions carried out by people who are aware that the odds they will return alive are close to zero. They are perpetrated with the clear intent to kill a large number of people, cause widespread damage and intimidate governments and populations.  If we were to take the words ‘kill’ and ‘damage’ metaphorically, it occurred to me that ‘suicide attack’ is not a thing of the past, but a real, living, present phenomenon in our society. 

First, let us talk about why people decide to destroy themselves in this manner.  I think the suicide bomber is a sick individual more likely than not brainwashed, and yet, has to be made of stern stuff, commitment to a cause and 100% belief that the ultimate sacrifice would be of political use.  On the other hand, it is also an act of revenge for perceived wrong.  The bottom line is, the suicide attacker doesn’t give a hoot about the innocent lives he/she snuffs out. 

There is another element to suicide attacks: in cases where there is a specified target such as a high profile individual the attack may or may not be successful; innocents may die, but the target may escape.  Conclusion: success is never guaranteed in such suicide attacks (ask Sarath Fonseka and Gotabhaya Rajapaksa), but the suicide bomber perishes. That is guaranteed.

In general acts of revenge tend to boomerang on the perpetrator. They don’t always result in death as is the case of suicide attacks, but they do leave terrible scars on both target and perpetrator. 

Unfortunately, in Sri Lanka, politics is less about contributing (although we are not short on rhetoric about doing something good for the people and nation) than about revenge.  Politicians, apart from the primordial urge for power, self-aggrandizement and access to riches is also about not liking someone’s face, about umbrage at having been or perceived to have been belittled.

And it is not just politicians.  The average voter has also acted like a suicide bomber and preferred to vote in people by default; not because the voted is liked but the voted-out is disliked.  That’s revenge.  Guess he gets creamed at the end of the day? The voter! 

I remember something that happened in the first week of August, 2006.  There’s a name associated with that incident: Asvini.  She was a child who, like the famous UB 40 song ‘One in ten’, never learnt to read because no one spared the time.  Asvini was a little over two years old.  She was the daughter of a domestic worker. She had been thrilled to bits that day because her grandfather Rasiah, an employee in a restaurant, had bought her a pair of shows. She tried them out.  She took a walk down Dickman’s road after kissing her grandpa goodbye.  She was taken away moments later by a bomb set up by the LTTE targeting an ex-EPDP MP.  The perpetrator was Tamil, the intended victim also Tamil and the child who never got to read, was also Tamil. 

It was not a suicide attack, true. But this is what happens when you are moved by thoughts of revenge and destruction and have adopted a by-any-means strategy.  Innocents die. The difference in a suicide attack is that the attacker also dies. 

Who are the suicide bombers prowling in political circles today? That is a question we need to consider.  And there’s another question we need to ask ourselves: ‘Am I a suicide bomber?’  Well, there are other questions too, such as ‘is revenge my primary motivation in picking one choice over another?’ and ‘am I shooting myself in my foot?’ and of course ‘should I cut off my nose to spite my face?’  The possibilities are endless, aren’t they?  

All suicide bombers need to be stopped and disarmed unless they can be subject to relevant psychiatric treatment.  And the voter, well, he/she must be alert at all times, read between the lines, take frill and fairytale out of political rhetoric, figure out what these things are about, and always be conscious that the body-count after the fireworks will reveal that the suicide bomber has perished and so too a large number of innocents. 

We won’t have long to wait of course.  There will be elections soon and the paakshikayas of all hue will be fighting each other to vandalize all available poster-space all over the country.  There will be violence.  It would be good to keep in mind that we have some choices before us. We can be suicide bombers, we can be victims or we can be targets.  I think it would be good to have our wits about us and to remember that the suicide bomber can come wearing any disguise, sometimes even as saviour and saint.  


This was first published in the 'Daily News', November 23, 2009.