The administration in Washington, D.C., has been crowing that ISIS has been thrown out of its supposed caliphate by the mighty U.S. military. On Easter, the deadliest mass terrorist attack since 9/11 announced that maybe ISIS metastasized instead.
Americans are likely to overlook the importance of the bombings. We shouldn’t.
Sri Lanka, a small island nation off the coast of India formerly called Ceylon, had a long history of state and nonstate conflicts in the last century. It had achieved relative peace since 2009, though the president and prime minister remained locked in a bitter political battle over control.
The bombings were different in scope, complexity and targets than the internecine battles of the past. In a nation where Buddhists are the majority, three Christian churches and three hotels were targeted in a coordinated attack. Later the same day, two other smaller explosions went off in a housing complex and a guest house.
Of course, we Americans who learned about the bombings are sympathetic about the carnage and the suffering. However, that sympathy evaporates quickly as world events move on. It’s hard to understand why average Americans should care about incidents in a tiny nation that barely registers on the geopolitical radars of world powers. Plus, even the most geographically challenged among us knows Sri Lanka is far away from our shores.
Americans should care because this attack was meant to terrorize. In other words, and verified days after the bombings by public admissions, this was the work of the reportedly defanged Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, ISIS.
Military superiority made the recapture of territory in Iraq and Syria controlled by ISIS a near certainty. ISIS was clearly overmatched.
The people forced to live under the authoritarian and often-cruel governance of ISIS were freed by the military power of America, Russia and their allies. Even so, their mighty military power could not change the fundamentalist ideology of the ISIS leadership.
In some ways, losing territory may actually have freed ISIS to concentrate on using radical preachers in far-flung places to spread its convictions and its chaos.
Ideologies cannot be defeated solely by military power. As with metastasizing cancers, the best defense for small countries and world powers is strong immune systems built with education and economic development that make it unlikely that extremist ideologies will grow.
For this, the world needs leaders who can inspire enough empathy and hope to forestall the need for military solutions.