Like a poorly scripted soap opera, the Easter Sunday Conspiracy introduces a new antagonist each episode – leaving the audience to wonder who is next in line to take the blame. MP Rauff Hakeem now claims that the Easter Sunday attack was done by Israel and its intelligence agencies – the latest villain in the grand political theatre of the Easter Attack conspiracy.
After having failed to successfully implicate the Sri Lankan security forces as masterminds of the Easter Attack, certain Muslim politicians in Sri Lanka pointed to the Indian intelligence as the perpetrators. After that narrative failed, politicians like Rauff Hakeem are now claiming that it was the Israelis who were behind the attack. Politics would be too naïve a word to describe the wilful ignorance and possibly-criminal manipulation and distortion of reality being spewed by these politicians and their vested groups.
Rauff Hakeem made a bold speech in parliament last week accusing Israel of committing the Easter bombings. With his rather grandiose English and professional tone, Hakeem cited the report by the Commission of Inquiry chaired by Justice Janak De Silva to make his daring accusations. Yet examining the cited report closely, it becomes clear that all his grandiose and professional speeches fall apart, as even the finest perfumes of Arabia cannot expunge the smell of rubbish from rubbish. Hakeem seems to have overlooked multiple lines on the report and then taken the content completely out of context, hoping that we the public would consume his lies with our mouths wide open.
Rauff Hakeem claimed that the report discloses that a person called Pakkam Bin Abu points to Zahran as an Israeli agent. Hakeem also announced that Zahran was sceptical that Pakkam Bin Abu “gives information about [Zahran and Co] to intelligence agencies”. What Hakeem fails to mention – or rather carefully overlooks – is that the report stated that Zahran claimed that this Pakkam Bin Abu was a member of the Indian intelligence trying to spy on Zahran’s activities. In October 2018, Zahran posted on his Facebook that Pakkam could be an Indian operative. Due to this Indian intelligence accusation, Pakkam responds to Zahran the next day claiming that Zahran may be an agent of Israeli intelligence.
Hakeem conveniently overlooks segments of the same text which put these accusations into context. Page 106 of the report states that Zahran was vigilant of intelligence operatives pretending to be IS sympathisers in order to infiltrate his network. It further states that Zahran accused Pakkam Bin Abu in length, stating that Pakkam has come to Sri Lanka and attempts to build relationships with IS followers in Puttalam and Kalpitiya and then informs Indian intelligence operatives. This report states that it was in response to this sort of accusation by Zahran that led to Pakkam shooting his own accusation that Zahran could be an Israeli agent.
Having been aroused by Zahran’s paranoia, this was simply a blame game that Zahran and this Pakkam Bin Abu had been playing. Of course, no wild political tale is complete without a touch of cherry-picked evidence, expertly curated to fit the desired narrative. Yet the fact that these so-called leaders sit in their seats in parliament misinforming and disinforming the public is truly the very essence of the loss of faith in our political system.
Next, in his speech, Rauff Hakeem rhetorically asked “what did [the Muslims] have against the Christians? Why should the Muslims be pitted against the Christians?” Zahran himself answered these questions with multiple points in his infamous farewell video, where he said that Christians and Westerners were targeted because of the attacks on Muslims by white nationalist Brenton Tarrant in New Zealand’s Christ Church, attacks by the Western militaries on IS fighters in Baghuz, Syria and because the ‘Crusaders’ (Western militaries) waged war in Muslim cities in Iraq, Syria and Libya. In this same manner of questioning, we could perhaps posit a similar question to Hakeem asking him what did Israel have against Lankan Christians and Westerners – or even Sri Lanka in general? His accusations are not just ridiculous but would crumble like a house of cards when challenged appropriately.
In the midst of this melodramatic spectacle, it is easy to lose sight of the larger picture at hand. While the politicians engage in their verbal jousting, the urgent need for a cohesive and strategic approach to combat the rising tide of community radicalisation and extremism seems to be perhaps purposefully pushed to the sidelines.
This is definitely not the first time politics superseded public security in parliament. We remember the uproars and rather heinous accusations levelled against then-Justice Minister Wijedasa Rajapakshe in 2016 when he warned parliament of rising community radicalisation and that 32 Sri Lankans from ‘well-educated’ families had travelled to Iraq and Syria to join IS. He was called a racist, Islamophobist and a blatant liar by several Muslim politicians including Mujibur Rahman and others. Three years later, the Easter Sunday attacks shocked the world and multiple Muslim politicians subsequently resigned from their posts after the attacks.
Had Muslim political and religious leaders, like the All Ceylon Jamiyyathul Ulama, heeded the advise given by Justice Minister in 2016 and combated community radicalisation instead of pulling the race card, the Easter Attack could have possibly been prevented. Ideally, authorities should have taken decisive action in 2016 and banned all Wahhabi and Jamaat-e Islami organisations, recognised as potential breeding grounds for extremist ideologies. Having done this, the trajectory of events leading to the Easter Attack might have been significantly altered. However, playing blame games rather than solving the issue contributed to the unchecked proliferation of community radicalisation and the general lack of resilience against radical ideologies within the community.
Now the same cycle continues where community radicalisation and extremist ideologies are swept under the rug by politicians hungry for votes, donations and power. Instead of promoting rehabilitation and reconciliation in the country, groups of elite Muslim leaders instead lobbied for the delisting of previously proscribed groups. Earlier this year, five banned groups were delisted, including Zahran’s former network Sri Lanka Thawheed Jamma’ath (SLTJ), All Ceylon Thawheed Jamma’ath (ACTJ), Ceylon Thawheed Jamma’ath (CTJ), United Thawheed Jamma’ath (UTJ) and Jamiyathul Ansaari Sunnathul Mohomadiya (JASM).
By asking ‘what did the Muslims have against the Christians?’, Rauff Hakeem paints the Easter Attack as something perpetrated by the Muslim community. Nothing could be more insulting and degradative to the millions of peace-loving Sri Lankan Muslims than their own political leaders spewing such politically-charged nonsense. The Easter Attack was conducted by a group of deplorable terrorists backed by a radical ideology of hate and destruction. Islam continues to be a religion of peace distorted by extremist elements to further their personal and ideological agendas.
The recent security developments in the Israel-Palestine conflict have led to a rise in anti-Israel sentiment amongst the global Islamic community. Local politicians like Rauff Hakeem are popping up from their armchairs to quickly collect Muslim votes by jumping on the anti-Israel bandwagon. The Muslim community and general public in Sri Lanka have seen this game being played a thousand times over the years and should not be deceived by it.
Rauff Hakeem has also been disingenuous and duplicitous. Whilst remembering the fiascos in 2019 surrounding Hakeem’s meetings with Zahran pre-Easter, new accusations are circulating on socials with a photo of Hakeem shaking hands with Zahran at an alleged meeting. This raises serious questions on Hakeem’s connections to Zahran and whether his outrageous military-India-Israel blame game is a posthumous defence of his alleged terror colleague. The Sri Lankan community must remain vigilant of duplicitous leaders across the political spectrum and perhaps could instead view Zahran’s video themselves and arm their communities against radicalisation and foster peace and communal harmony within the social and religious spaces.
Image of Hakeem meeting Zahran circulating on social media recently
Rather than throwing mud and hoping some of it would stick, political leaders must come together to combat community radicalisation and extremism in the country. Casting unwarranted aspersions and fuelling baseless conspiracies do not support the strengthening of communities against recruitment and radicalisation efforts by extremist elements.
By resorting to the dangerous game of blame-shifting, these individuals risk perpetuating a cycle of mistrust and discord that undermines the very fabric of communal harmony and progress. It is essential for leaders to rise above the allure of finger-pointing and instead focus on fostering a culture of introspection and open dialogue within the Muslim community. It is only through a concerted and collaborative effort that the country can hope to navigate the treacherous waters of extremism and emerge stronger, more united, and resilient than ever before.
By: Jude Amory
Jude Amory is a national security analyst [email@example.com]