Death toll rises to 321 in Sri Lanka’s anti-Christian Easter attacks, but is this enough for lasting world sympathy?
Children who died for Christ
“How many of you are willing to die for Christ?” said the Sunday School teachers to the children of Zion Evangelical Church, Batticaloa, on Easter morning. Every child raised their hand. A few minutes later, the class was over. The children spilled out to play in the church grounds while the adult congregation gathered inside for the main Easter morning service. It was then that a suspicious-looking stranger was ushered out of the building by Ramesh, a concerned church member. The stranger was a suicide bomber and detonated himself, killing Ramesh, 15 other adults and twelve of the children who had just pledged their willingness to die for their Lord.
Targeting Christians on their holiest day
The wave of explosions in Sri Lanka on Easter morning was evidently targeting Sri Lankan Christians on the holiest day of the Christian year. Three were in churches, and three were in hotels where Christians would be likely to meet for Easter breakfast after a midnight service and vigil. Indeed, many congregations meet regularly in hotels in Sri Lanka.
Later in the afternoon two further explosions were reported at a smaller hotel in Dehiwala and a house in Dematagoda, both suburbs of the capital, Colombo, when the police raided the latter premises looking for suspects. Other unexploded bombs and bomb-making equipment were found elsewhere.
Islamic State claimed responsibility in a statement that makes clear their main intention was to target Christians, whom they often call “Crusaders”, with a secondary interest in “nationals of the coalition”.
“Death and injury of about 1000 crusaders in separate attacks in Sri Lanka Tuesday, 16 Shabaan 1440 AH [21 April 2019 AD]
After trusting in God, the Angmans brothers (Abu Ubaidah, Abu al-Mukhtar, Abu Khalil, Abu Hamza, Abu al-Baraa, Abu Muhammad and Abu Abdullah) - God accepted them - yesterday, went against a number of churches and hotels in which there are nationals from the coalition; where brother Abu Hamza attacked (Antony Church) in the city of Colombo and amidst the crowds of Christian fighters blew his jacket on them. Another brother went to the Zion church in the city of Batticaloa and detonated his explosive belt on them. The brothers Abu Ubaidah, Abu al-Baraa and Abu Mukhtar went against the gatherings of Crusaders in the Shangri La, Cinnamon and Kingsbury Hotels in the centre of Colombo. In the town of Dimatagoda, Brother Abu Abdullah clashed with the police and killed three of them. Praise be to Allah. This blessed invasion resulted in the deaths of about 350 Christians and injured 650 others, including citizens of the Crusader alliance countries, and thank God for his reconciliation.” 1
The death toll now stands at 321 – mostly Sri Lankan Christians but including 38 foreigners who were in the hotels. The attacks made headlines across the world, and religious and political leaders reacted with expressions of outrage and sympathy.
Is “Christian” now an unspeakable word?
But the violent deaths of about 300 Christians in Sri Lanka have had nothing like the impact of the violent deaths of about 50 Muslims in New Zealand last month. Many Western media have already moved their focus to the few dozen Westerners killed, losing interest in the hundreds of Sri Lankan Christians killed.
While the New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern donned an Islamic hijab to show her solidarity with New Zealand Muslims after the terrible shootings at two mosques in Christchurch, she did not even use the word “Christian” when she commented on events in Sri Lanka; she merely said that the attacks happened while people were “in churches and at hotels”.
American President Trump took the same line, mentioning the churches and hotels and offering condolences to “the great people of Sri Lanka”. His predecessor Barack Obama tweeted about “tourists and Easter worshippers” while Hillary Clinton wrote of “Easter worshippers and travellers” and a “holy weekend for many faiths”.
This mealy-mouthed sympathy adds insult to injury in the most literal sense of that phrase. Almost all those killed were targeted because they were Christians. It is this fact that will do most to comfort their grieving relatives. Yet it seems that for some politicians “Christian” has become an unspeakable word, and the reason for the victims’ sacrifice must be airbrushed out.
Thankfully there were others who had no difficulty in speaking of the Christian victims. The New Zealand leader of the opposition, Simon Bridges, wrote clearly of “Christian worshippers” who had been the target of the terrorist attacks.
While one Muslim organisation in Sri Lanka said it mourned the loss of innocent people, an organisation of Muslim clerics called All Ceylon Jamiyyathul Ulama was much more specific, stating that to target Christian places of worship cannot be accepted.
How many Christians does it take to equal one Muslim?
How many Christians equal the value of one Muslim? Islam’s answer is two. At least that is what sharia often specifies, for example regarding how much weight to place on the testimony of a witness in a law court or how much compensation to pay for an injury suffered. A Muslim’s word must be given twice the weight of a Christian’s word and a Muslim must receive twice the compensation that a Christian gets.
But another scale seems to be operating in the news media with regard to violent deaths. Fifty Muslim deaths in New Zealand in March, tragic and shocking, are rightly reported and condemned. But 300 Christian deaths in Northern Nigeria over a period of around two months, in February and March 2019, raised next to no interest in the rest of the world. Perhaps the 300 deaths have to happen all on the same day, like the 50 deaths in New Zealand, to get proper attention? No, for 300 Christians died in terrorist attacks in Sri Lanka two days ago and interest is already fading. No one is calling for a minute’s silence with everyone wearing a cross to show their solidarity with the Christian victims.
Are Christians, then, the invisible, unrecognised victims?
Join with Barnabas Fund to help Christian victims of the Sri Lanka attacks and Christian victims of violence and injustice around the world.
1 We reproduce here the statement as a translation of its original form.