By Harsha de Silva, PhD, M.P
(Minister of Economic Reform and Public Distribution)
Recovering from a terror attack is easy, recovering from a racial conflict isn’t
As an economist, I’ve spent most of my career exploring ways in which Sri Lanka can be developed and modernized to meet its full potential. I’ve expressed my views on the approaches we must take to get there; some have agreed with those views and others haven’t. That’s the beauty of living in a democracy; we can respectfully agree to disagree and live together in unity despite our differences. However, the democracy we live in has now arrived at a critical juncture where we need to have a national conversation on our ability to accept and respect our differences.
The Easter Sunday terror attacks took the lives of many innocent, peace-loving people. It has injured and forever changed the lives of many others. They were our family, our friends and our guests; we all grieve with them and share a collective wound that constantly hurts and angers us. As a representative of this government, I share a sense of immense regret and embarrassment about the government’s inability to prevent this tragedy, even after having received prior warnings.
The recent developments around the country make it clear that there are groups who are taking advantage of people’s anger and pain in this moment of vulnerability to promote hate and incite violence. If we give into these manipulations and get caught up in a divisive, racial conflict, the economy which we have been managing and reviving with great difficulty will hit a setback that generations to come will struggle to recover from.
The impact of these attacks on the tourism sector as well as local economic activity as a whole has been immeasurable. However, as an economist, I can assure you that with the right strategy, the Sri Lankan economy can recover and come back stronger the same way the other nations who were victim to ISIS attacks on their soil have recovered. For this, I see to key things we must do as a society. First, we need to start seeing Easter Sunday attacks for what it is: a terror attack and not an attack by Muslims. And two, we must lend our full cooperation to law enforcement to do their job. I urge my fellow citizens not to fall prey to those who are looking to manipulate you to incite hate and violence towards our own people. I make this request from you out of great concern for the economic ramifications we and generations to come will face if we do not handle this critical moment in our history. As your representative, a citizen, and a father I believe it is my duty to make this request.
If this terror attack on our soil transforms to a racial conflict the only winners that will emerge from it will be the terrorists themselves. It will hurt all of us, Sinhalese, Tamils, Muslims, and Burghers equally. Such an unfortunate situation will make economic recovery impossible. Investor confidence and FDI will plummet, our industries will lose demand and be downsized, unemployment will rise, the wealth gap will widen, and more hardworking citizens will be pushed into poverty. For generations to come, we’ll be a state sunken in debt; Sri Lanka as we know it will cease to be.
I urge authorities to strengthen the state security mechanism to prevent this situation from escalating at all cost and to punish those who manipulate citizens to spread hate. The challenge ahead of us is to eradicate all extremist ideologies including but not limited to Islamic extremism from Sri Lanka and to create spaces where moderate Sinhalese, Tamils, Muslims and Burghers can thrive in peace.