Most of a life ago, my colleagues and I arrived in Sri Lanka as young and curious Canadian World Youth volunteers. This was a period thick with the separatist sentiment in Quebec, and a Sri Lanka with simmering north-south tensions. We were too young, naïve or perhaps self-absorbed in our own struggles to foresee that what we saw and felt in Sri Lanka would eventually become a brutal 30-year civil war. Initially, most of us were struck by the abject poverty and the cacophony of the cities, especially Colombo. Imagine in this pre-internet era leaving late 70’s quiet and boring Ottawa for this out of the way adventure. We soon came to see and fall in love with a different Sri Lanka; one of spectacular beauty of the coastlines and mountains, and of the hard work and entrepreneurial spirit of its people. I was so enamored with this experience that I was able to convince one of my best friends to follow in these footsteps and volunteer in Sri Lanka a few years later. This was not a holiday tour. We stayed in very difficult conditions, many of the group got quite ill, and we worked very hard to try in our modest way to have a positive impact.
Leap forward to the horrific acts of this Easter Sunday. Twisted individuals, presumably with outside help, decided to attack vulnerable civilians in places of worship or while on holiday. Many of the names of the towns were familiar places that we visited so long ago. Nearly 300 dead and a thousand wounded to a casualty count that will surely go up.
Today, I am working with my team here on a very important project to document global terrorist incidents so that we not only have an accurate register, but more importantly a better understanding of what drives these groups, the weapons they use, the tactics they employ, and the funding mechanisms that support their abhorrent activities.
New Zealand and Sri Lanka are stark reminders that the terrorist threat has not disappeared nor is it confined to a few countries or a particular region. This is a transnational issue that requires an international solution.