Thisuri Wanniarachchi’s Speech at the Lecture and Q&A on Media and Terrorism following the Boston bombings of April 2013. (Hampshire College, Amherst 02 May 2013)

 

I want to start off by thanking the Professors and students of Amherst College, Hampshire College, University of Massachusetts, Mount Holyoke College and Smith College, for giving me this opportunity and your time to share my thoughts on racial profiling and media following the Boston bombings of April 2013.

I believe that two tragedies happened on April 15th. One happened in Boston. And the other happened on social media.
I want to talk to you mostly about the social media’s reaction to the Boston bombings and I will share some stories about media and terrorism I have experienced growing up in Sri Lanka during the Sri Lankan civil war.
A Terrorist, to me, is an attention seeking criminal. Although we may not realize it, by giving terrorist the wrong kind of attention they need, we may be, even without our knowledge, contributing to terrorism.

Now with Facebook and Twitter everyone has an opinion on everything. The social media has given birth to a community of people, who wait for something huge to happen, just to give out their opinion. And by doing this, suddenly they are “activists” changing the world one tweet and one Facebook post at a time. The Kony 2012 scandal is a great example of how gullible and desperate for activism consumers of social media can be.

The hottest topic among American college students these days is Palastine.  Palestine is fresh and hip. Talking about Palastine makes you look so smart and politically engaged. The morning after the Boston bombings my classmate who sat next to me at breakfast complained “I don’t understand why people are so  shocked by what happened in Boston when they ignore all that is happening in Palastine”  I replied saying “If you can show me where Palastine is on the world map, I will listen to what you have to say” He said he doesn’t take geography classes so he’s not so sure where exactly it is.

I’m all for freedom of speech and free media but what is sad is that there are so many instances when it is used for all the wrong reasons. Whenever a tragedy strikes, it has become so common and so easy for people to produce false news and just feed it to the internet and make it available to the public, and that isn’t fair for the real victims of these tragedies.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned from growing up in Sri Lanka during the civil war, it is that: if you haven’t been there, if you haven’t seen it yourself, don’t talk about it, like you have.

I remember the massive amounts of false news that the international media and the internet was producing about Sri Lanka during the war. It was ridiculous.

And the most unfortunate part of it was that there were large crowds of people who didn’t live in Sri Lanka, who didn’t have access to the real, non-exaggerated situation, who believed all what the international media had to say.

I was born in 1993, half way through the Sri Lankan civil war. The war began in the early 1980′s when a group of terrorists claiming to represent a minority race began attacking civilians, politicians, and armed forces of the majority race. This led to a 30 year long civil war that terrorized the lives of Sri Lankans of all races and classes.  When the war ended in 2009 I was 16 years old. My entire childhood was constructed on this war.

For almost everyone, who lived in war zones, in a physically, geographically and mentally terrorized frame, the end of the war was a relief.  But at the same time it was a huge transition. You see, my generation grew up with a war. Whether it’s good or bad, change is hard. Because for thirty years the war had been such a huge part of our lives that when it ended, most of us, especially those from the generation just before mine, didn’t know how to handle this transition. However with time we all adjusted to this new life without war.

Yet there were many Sri Lankans, living abroad, who were never directly affected by the war, not willing to let go of it. They were like “So you’re telling me that we let this war terrorize our country for thirty years and now it’s over and done and we should just, move on?” The correct answer to that was: Yes, move on, rebuild, get adjusted to this new Sri Lanka, this new life, without war. This was hardest on the supporters of the terrorists, the diaspora, and certain groups of international media. There were so many international journalists who had built their carriers around the war, the war made great stories, stories that sell.

The international media took advantage of this situation. To drag the heat of the war longer, to create false accusations and “war crime allegations” against Sri Lanka. No matter how many policies you put on paper, in reality, there are no rights and wrongs in war. War itself is a crime. War cannot be justified.

There are so many instances like this when the media takes advantage of the ignorance of the rest of the world during  crises, and that’s exactly what happened with the Boston Bombings case. It happened. it shook the entire world, and now that they’ve caught the suspects and are bringing them to justice, the world and the media are still not willing to let go of this case. And they continue to base ridiculous stories on this tragedy.

A post by an occupy page on Facebook,  recently said this whole tragedy was all “played out” and that the government hired “tragedy actors” to be on site of the explosions. That, to me, was definitely one of the most ridiculous of responses to April 15th.

I want to share one last story with you about my experience of April 15th. My initial reaction to this tragedy was so childish.  When I first heard about the Boston Bombings, I was on my way to the library, but i turned around and rushed back to my room. My heart was rising and I was so afraid. I was so confused, why would I be so terrified by this? Boston is three hours away from Amherst and nobody would attack Amherst. I mean Liberal arts majors are not the most fun people, but, I’m sure there are no terrorist organizations formed against us.

And then I realized what it was. I was a child again. That feeling I used to get when I hear about a bomb blast back home, the goosebumps, the school evacuation drills, the breaking news footage, and most of all, that fear I used to feel, it all came back to me. That made me realized that, whether it happens in the US, or Palastine, or Afghanistan or Sri Lanka, Terrorism is Terrorism. That reaction a human being has when they hear about an act of terrorism on their soil, that fear: it ‘s a Universal feeling.

Thank you.

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2 thoughts on “Thisuri Wanniarachchi’s Speech at the Lecture and Q&A on Media and Terrorism following the Boston bombings of April 2013. (Hampshire College, Amherst 02 May 2013)

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