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Public awareness to combat terrorism

Back to back bomb explosions at Nittambuwa and Seenigama should be a good eye-opener to have greater public awareness. Whilst the security forces are making every endeavour to protect our country and its people, it's the duty of the citizens to be vigilant so that room for such explosions at public places would be minimal.

Though the number of check points along the main roads and in Colombo has been increased, full scale checking of buses engaged in public transport were done occasionally. That was mainly to reduce inconvenience to the public, especially during busy office hours.

But the merciless LTTE terrorists are making every endeavour to capitalise on these loopholes. Hence, the best way to combat such terrorist acts in populated urban areas is to have greater public awareness so that the terrorists would have less room to play around. If the public are vigilant and if the citizens keep a hawk eye on their neighbourhoods, we could then reduce such unfortunate incidents.

Immediately after a major explosion or disaster, we tend to be alert about our surroundings but as time elapses, we fail to maintain that vigilance. We must realise that the terrorists will have to be lucky only once to reach a goal whereas we, the public and the security forces, have to be vigilant round the clock to prevent such acts.

However, if there is an overwhelming pubic response and backing to prevent such acts in our own surroundings, then it will not be that easy for terrorists to smuggle explosives, suicide kits and arms into urban areas.

Should we sell our souls for money? The terrorists will offer extraordinary rents to secure safe houses in the city. In such cases, even the landlords will have to think twice as to why such tenants are offering such attractive deals above market prices. It is the same in the case of selling vehicles, especially three-wheelers. Though we have enough and more previous examples, we have still not learnt a lesson.

Terrorists have no mercy and would not hesitate even to target innocent schoolchildren. Hence, security arrangements in schools should also be tightened with the help of their past pupils and parents.

Simultaneously, we must not feel such security measures, including check points along major roads, a nuisance. The public must be aware that these arrangements are for our own safety, though at times we are inconvenienced. We must appreciate the role played by those brave security forces personnel on duty along hot and dusty road bocks. We must extend out fullest support to the security forces as their vigilance is to protect us.

The strategy of using terrorism as a political weapon has a long history. Terrorism is only a strategy to achieve certain goals and objectives. In other words even the most ruthless terrorist groups in the world see it only as a means to an end and not an end in itself.

Terrorism on its own is not a system of belief or an ideology. It is a process or act supported by different ideologies, religion being one of them. A strategy can have counter strategies and this is where the role of the state in counter terrorism becomes important. If we explore the ideologies that promote terror, we would have to look beyond the state centric efforts to deal with this problem. This is where the role of the civil society would feature significantly.

To look for creative solutions to terrorism there is a need to go beyond the traditional security paradigm which privileges states and their military power. In fact even 'combatting' and 'countering' terrorism as terms have military connotations and fall within the realm of the state. On the other hand civil society can be a powerful medium to respond to terrorism in the long term.

It is only the civil society that can rehabilitate these people and reverse the process of recruitment to terrorist groups. Civil society initiatives can also prevent disillusioned people from taking to arms.

Any meaningful discourse on terrorism and the responses to this problem must take into account the role of the civil society. Terrorism and poverty are not directly linked today considering that financial resources are available in abundance to terrorists.

The political economy of terror operating through drug trafficking and money laundering provides enough cash to groups like the LTTE and Al-Qaeda.

The biggest sources of terrorism in the world today are local conflicts that have had a spill over effect. These ongoing conflicts in different parts of the world generate a dangerous mixture of extreme ideologies, organised crime and humanitarian disaster.

Social and religious values are a part of the socialisation process and unless we promote tolerance and mutual respect, the battle against terrorism cannot be won. Civil society has been greatly successful in South Asia, especially in India in containing the tide of terrorism. We in Sri Lanka could follow likewise.

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Gamin Gamata - Presidential Community & Welfare Service
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