To Sri Lanka and Sri Lankans terrorism is not a new experience. The country suffered a 30 year scourge where the intent of the perpetrators was achieving a specific political and demographic outcome. The country is now facing a type of terrorism driven by an entirely different global agenda – one of ideology and hate of a way of life that is alien to the warped beliefs of a particular minority group. How Sri Lanka became fertile ground for such ideology is a topic for another day. The immediate need is for a strategy to curb and eliminate the cancerous spread of this malice not just in Sri Lanka but wherever it may take root. It must also be recognised that an ideology cannot be confined to geographical or spatial boundaries. Its tentacles can permeate across physical borders – much like crypto currencies in the world of fintech. Major global terrorism incidents have been choreographed and managed via the dark web and often from locations far removed from the actual incidents. Welcome to the age of disruptive terrorism.
It is in this context that it was very fitting for the Sri Lanka Consulate in Sydney to organise a gathering of Sri Lankan diaspora to meet with NSW Police to understand some of the complexities and inter-relationships between the incidents back in Sri Lanka and the Sri Lankan community in New South Wales – just as it would be relevant to Sri Lankan diaspora anywhere in the world. Officers from various quarters of NSW Police as well as the Community engagement Manager of Multicultural New South Wales, addressed the 100-strong gathering representing different Sri Lankan community groups at the Redfern Town Hall last Wednesday.
NSW Police Bias Crime Coordinator Mark Dance and Liason Officer Jade Istanbouli set the tone for the rest of the evening. Their key message was that in order to tackle bias crime aka ‘hate crime’, engagement and intervention was the key. The multi-cultural liaison coordinator advised the audience that multi-cultural community liaison officers were spread across a number of local area Police Commands and could be communicated with in confidence should there be any cause for concern among the community in the context of suspicious activity. A detective inspector explained the processes adopted by the Police to pre-empt criminal activity. He even said that the Easter Sunday bombings in Sri Lanka had triggered processes where the Sri Lankan community at this end came under observation to prevent any fallout. He urged the community to be vigilant and observant. To a question from the floor regarding the context of vigilance he replied that anything unusual needed to be brought to the attention of the Police, no matter how trivial.
How should therefore the Sri Lankan community in Australia contribute to preventing hate crime at this end, in Sri Lanka or even further afield? While the fight against all forms of crime has kept abreast of technological evolution it now depends extensively on analytics and insight to prevent incidents. The data required to monitor and track such crime must be harvested from a number of sources. Crime agencies anywhere have significant access to publicly available data as well as specific data captured by various government agencies, financial institutions and the like. However, of significant importance in the current context of hate related terrorism is visual and sentiment data. Sentiments are at the heart of bias/ hate crime. Such data cannot easily be captured by sensors or devices. Humans are the best oracles for capturing such data. Do we observe suspicious behaviour? Do we notice objects that are out of place in particular surrounds? Do we notice a shift in attitude and mindset of persons? Are dress and personal appearances of individuals changing? Do we observe out-of-character comments made by individuals? Such data needs to be brought to the attention of the authorities. In this digital age anyone can contribute to prevention of biased crime. How often are radical comments or views on social media ignored? Can social media patterns be observed? Such observations are invaluable sources of sentiment data and in this day and age every concerned citizen must play their part in harvesting this data. This is a major role that the wider community can play in the current context.
In bringing the evening to a close, Consul General Mr. Lal Wickrematunge made some pertinent comments to the audience that perhaps sheds some light on how and why Sri Lanka finds itself in its present predicament and how the country and its people can rise above the setbacks. The major observation is that we must recognise that we are ‘one’ Sri Lanka. For far too long we have let language, religious and ethnic/ racial biases influence our collective thinking. This weakness has allowed fault lines to emerge and misdemeanours within groups go unchecked. If as a collective Sri Lankan diaspora in Australia we are to be the eyes and ears for preventing hate related incidents back home – irrespective of the perpetrator groups, then we have to be united as ‘one’ Sri Lankan diaspora shedding ethnic and religious differences and instead confronting good versus evil.