Easter attacks in Sri Lanka: when and why a massacre does NOT become NEWS

(To Gloria Piedinovi)

It is a fact that there is more news available than others. In an era in which widespread communications allow the diffusion in real time of anything that happens in (almost) every part of the planet, choosing which are the main facts to tell through the media is a necessary step: it is impossible to inform and be informed on the whole. A set of golden rules, the criteria of information, define the characteristics that must have a fact to become news ... characteristics that, evidently, do not belong to the massacre of the Easter attacks that took place in Sri Lanka on last April 21. I do not say this in a polemical tone, nor am I going to ride the rhetoric of "di those no one cares about deaths ". Simply, starting from the reconstruction of what happened in Sri Lanka, this article wants to be an invitation to reflect on some issues on which, in recent months, our country's media attention seems to have fallen: matrix terrorism jihadi, the activity of Daesh (which for simplicity and uniformity we will call ISIS) after the loss of the territorial element, the attention and the meaning attributed to the attacks against the faithful and the symbols of the Catholic religion.

In the early morning of 21 last April, while the Christian community celebrated Easter, a series of terrorist attacks hit two of the main Christian places of worship located around Colombo: the Sanctuary of Sant'Antonio and the Church of San Sebastiano. A third explosion hit the Evangelical Church of Sion in Batticaloa (Eastern Province). Shortly afterwards, around the 9, Colombo underwent another rapid attack in four luxury hotels; finally, the seventh and last bomber blew himself up around the 15: 20 at a residential complex in the suburbs of the city.

The total death toll was of 259 dead and more than injured 500.

From investigations by the Singhalese police it emerged that the attackers would belong to the group jihadi Sinhalese National Thowheet Jama'ath (National Monotheist Organization - NTJ). Subsequently, the 23 April, ISIS issued a statement confirming full support for the attacks.

However, it should be noted that some doubts have arisen in this regard. First of all, it immediately seemed unlikely that NTJ had acted independently, since it is a rather small formation, until then known more than anything for acts of vandalism against Buddhist symbols and statues. Therefore, limited resources are the modus operandi customary of NTJ seemed incompatible with the dynamics of the Easter attacks. Conducting more suicide attacks almost simultaneously in different locations requires a challenging and sophisticated planning process, as well as a certain level of tactical and operational effectiveness, and the availability of a large and well-coordinated terrorist team: all requirements that NTJ does not seemed to possess at that time.

At the same time, it is significant that the claim by ISIS came rather late (a good two days later) and different from the usual methods. The most striking element is the failure to present irrefutable evidence of involvement in the attacks. Only one photograph was released, of which, moreover, it was not possible to verify the authenticity, in which appears the one whom the ISIS has indicated as the head of the authors of the attack.

In this situation, which has not yet been clarified, it can still be considered plausible that there was indeed a collaboration between NJT and ISIS, which is convenient for both: the "Caliphate" gave the opportunity to the small Singhalese formation of spend their brand, probably providing some form of organizational and logistical support, without which NJT could not have carried out attacks of this magnitude. Furthermore, the claim had the aim of restoring visibility to ISIS, confirming its full vitality in a striking manner despite the fact that it was going through a phase of reorganization after the definitive loss of the territorial dimension in Syria and Iraq in March, and reaffirming the will and the ability to pursue its own extremist cause not only in the Middle Eastern regions, but even in theaters that were hitherto peripheral, like Sri Lanka.

After briefly reconstructing the facts and reasoning about who was responsible, we further expand our analysis by attempting to answer a question: why are these attacks not heard of almost for nothing? The question may seem provocative and peppered with a certain rhetoric (the one, as mentioned at the beginning, according to which “of those no one cares about deaths "). On the contrary, here the approach is much less passionate and much more cerebral: to reflect, in the most aseptic way possible, on two key elements that characterize the fact in question.

First: Sri Lanka is located at 15 thousand kilometers away. This data, once again, leads to a conclusion that may seem trivial and instead is not at all, namely that what happens far away from us interests us less or, in any case, affects much less our attention and our sensitivity. The same media know well how this mechanism works, so if we reasoned from a purely logical point of view it should not be surprising that such an event is not so much talked about.

Second: the victims of the Easter attacks are faithful Catholic Catholics, and at this moment in the agenda of the Western media the subject of persecution against Christians is certainly not in the first place1. On the contrary, there seems to be a general tendency to strip the symbols of the Catholic religion of their spiritual meaning, considering them more than other cultural "objects". Just think of the images of the fire of Notre Dame, and the condolences expressed by many against a cultural legacy that was literally in smoke. To the spiritual essence of Notre Dame, to his being first and foremost a Catholic, almost no one mentioned it. Likewise, during the numerous direct fires, the impression is that the media eye has considered this cathedral more like a precious and very rich museum, than as a symbol of the Catholic religion in the whole world.

In short, in this historical moment Catholicism is not fashionable even when it is a religious symbol that is practically in our house, in the heart of Europe, that is hit.

By putting these two elements in a system, we can perhaps answer the question as to why the massacre of the Easter attacks in Sri Lanka went quietly on the agenda of the Western media.

1 It should be noted that the Christians represent the 7% of the Sri Lankan population and Sri Lanka is at the 46 place in the ranking of 150 countries where the faithful of this religion suffer a high level of persecution (source: World Watch List 2019 of the NGO Open doors).

Images: CBS / web / frame GodefroyParis