Sixteen years ago, yesterday, a 440 pound bomb tore through downtown Colombo. It killed 91 people, injured 1,400 and left at least 100 people blind. It also made the city recoil from itself, leaving the city center largely abandoned, only to slowly emerge today. It also made tourism drop by 40%, a figure that is also only now recovering, post war. More than anything, however, it just left people stumbling, bloody and reeling, onto the shattered streets of Colombo.
The other event that wrecked Colombo, of course, was the anti-Tamil riots of 1983, also a deep shame. The cycles of violence that had been building for years really hit home in 1996. From that point Colombo was a battlefield, the site of numerous terrorist attacks, I think the most upon any one city until, perhaps, Baghdad. The LTTE, lest anyone doubt, was at its core a terrorist organization and this was what it did – killing Sinhalese, Tamils, Muslims and foreigners alike.
I really don’t want to get into tit for tat here. Both were unjustifiable acts of violence and neither justified the other. Let’s just say that we mourn the Central Bank Bombing now, Black July in July and both, in their own way, every day.
The tragic irony is that Colombo is a majority Tamil speaking city (including Muslims) and, more than anywhere, is where people coexist. This was tragic in that the 83 riots played out here, and in that the LTTE continually targeted the city. Colombo is also a city that gives the lie to the idea of racial separation being a solution. Then what of all the minorities in Colombo or, more accurately, what of the majority in Colombo?
Until this year, really, you could still feel the shock waves of the Central Bank Bombing. As recently as April 2010 I wrote “Downtown Colombo is a strange post-apocalyptic scene – full of troops, barricades and crumbling, shuttered buildings”. Only now are we seeing redevelopment – the Dutch Hospital Shopping Complex, the Colombo Night Races – and this is only because the war ended and terrorism stopped. Now people can live, work and play in the city without worrying about a portal to hell suddenly emerging on the street. Thank God that’s over, and peace upon those who have and who were lost.