Sri Lanka and the 2016 Global Terrorism Index: Too early to celebrate

A couple of weeks ago the Institute of Economics and Peace released the 2016 Global Terrorism Index. This report measured the direct and indirect impact of terrorism, in term of lives lost, injuries, property damage and physiological aftereffect of terrorism, in the year 2015 in 163 countries. The GTI score is calculated using four proxies, namely; total number of terrorist incidents, total number of fatalities, total number of injuries and measure of total property damage.

Global deaths from terrorism decreased by 10% compared to 2014, which was due to a reduction in deaths caused in Nigeria (Boko Haran) and Iraq (Daesh). Yet, the number of deaths in the rest of the world in fact increased because terrorist organisations like ISIS and Boko Haram were able to increase their activities beyond their countries of origin. That said, despite the reduction in death, the overall impact from terrorism grew across the world, and the global economic impact from terrorism was estimated at USD89.6 billion. All in all these activities have resulted in a 6% deterioration of the overall GTI score for 2015. The top five spots on the index were given to Iraq, Afghanistan, Nigeria, Pakistan and Syria, while 34 countries, all of which were ranked 130, were not affected at all by terrorism.

But the most important question to us would be as to where Sri Lanka stands on the index. Sri Lanka was placed 53rd after having gained an index score of 3.486 (with 10 being the worst possible score). Compared to the previous year, Sri Lanka was able to move up from 42nd place by improving its score by 0.591 points. This can be seen as a part of trend, where Sri Lanka has been able gradually improving its score/rank following the end of the Civil War in 2009, when it got a 6.810 and ranked the 8th most prone country to terrorism.

One may question as to why Sri Lanka fails to have a better GTI score 6 years down the line. The first reason is that, in order to calculate the aggregate score, the GTI uses a five-year weighted-average, where the scores of the preceding four years also impact the GTI score for the current year. This is done in order to accommodate the psychological trauma that lingers on from previous attacks.

The second reason on the other hand may come as a shock to some of you. When thinking of terrorism, the first images that come to a person’s mind are those of suicide bombings, beheadings, and men clad in black waving a Daesh flag. Well sadly, terrorism encompasses much more, and in fact around 50% of terrorist attacks do not result in casualties. The GTI defines terrorism as “the threatened or actual use of illegal force and violence by a non-state actor to attain a political, economic, religious, or social goal through fear, coercion, or intimidation”, with a terrorist incident being defined as “an intentional act of violence of threat of violence by a non-state actor”.

Following 2009, Sri Lanka has been plagued by the “post war Sinhala Buddhist” phenomenon, where groups like the Bodu Bala Sena propagated and incited violence against the minorities in the island. A well minded individual would naturally condemn acts such as the 2014 anti-Muslim riots. But ironically, they would not necessarily associate them with terrorist incidents as many Sri Lankans still equate terrorism to the LTTE. Any group (in Sri Lanka) besides the LTTE simply could not be a terrorist organisation. According, to the Institute of Economics and Peace Sri Lanka experienced 15 terrorist incidents in 2014, and 9 terrorist incidents in 2015. While this is nowhere near the all time high of 183 incidences (2006), we must not be indifferent to these incidents simply because the chances of being affected by such an attack is minimal. Sri Lankans, especially those from the Sinhalese-Buddhist majority who choose to be indifferent to certain incidents, must realise that racially motivated acts can be regarded as terrorism.

While Sri Lanka should be proud that it has been able to improve its score following the defeat of the LTTE, it should not get too comfortable. As economic woes increase, communal-“us vs. them” antagonism has made its way into the headlines with massive nationalists rallies in Jaffna sponsored by the Chief Minister, rallies in Colombo for and against the reforms to the Muslim Marriage Act, as well as racist acts instigated by the hardcore Muslim organization-the Sri Lanka Thawheed Jamath. Religious and communal leaders are resorting to hate speech and emotionally charged rhetoric to defend their perceived rights. Thus, Sri Lanka government must take drastic action to curtail all forms of terrorism regardless of who commits them.


Cover Image by Ishara S. Kodikara via vice.com

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