Agony in Sri Lanka

Agony in Sri Lanka

On Sunday, suicide bombers struck churches and hotels across Sri Lanka. The carefully coordinated attack on eight targets in three cities killed 290 people as of Monday. It's the deadliest terror attack in South Asia in decades, and the death toll could continue to climb in coming days.

Here's what we know so far:


  • This was a well-organized attacked aimed specifically at Christians and foreigners: The bombings took place in three different cities and were timed to coincide with Easter, in places where both church-goers and tourists were bound to gather. Even during the country's multi-decade civil war, which left tens of thousands dead before it ended in 2009, no one intentionally targeted tourists or the country's 1.5 million-strong Christian population on this scale.
  • The government has blamed domestic Muslim extremists but thinks they had overseas help: Officials blamed a little-known group, National Thowheed Jama'ath (NTJ), whose previous activities were limited to vandalizing Buddhist temples (Buddhists make up about 70 percent of Sri Lanka's population of 22 million.) NTJ has yet to claim responsibility for Sunday's carnage. Given the coordination involved, speculation is swirling that the perpetrators received assistance from a foreign terror group.
  • This was an intelligence failure: The country's security service received a warning at least 10 days before the bombings, but the information was either ignored or didn't make it to the right people. A bad relationship between Sri Lanka's president and prime minister may be partly to blame, according to the country's health minister.
  • The government is worried that ethnic and religious violence could spread: It quickly blacked out social media sites including Facebook and WhatsApp to halt the spread of incendiary news and rumors. The government has also imposed a curfew to keep people off the streets at night.

There are still more questions than answers. The government's failure to stop the bombings is likely to dominate the news in coming days, but the attacks also highlight some broader political trends:

Terrorism after the Islamic State: ISIS has claimed responsibility for the bombings. Investigators believe the attackers were acting in response to the Christchurch mosque shooting in New Zealand in which 50 people, including many Muslims, were killed earlier this year. We've written before about the worry that thousands of hardened ISIS fighters fleeing a collapsing Islamic State in Iraq and Syria might plot attacks elsewhere and promote their ideology via cyberspace. This attack confirms those fears are justified.

Identity politics in Asia: Religious fault-lines are opening across South and Southeast Asia. The ethnic cleansing committed by Myanmar's Buddhist generals against the country's Muslim Rohingya minority, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi's resurgent Hindu nationalism, and governments in Bangladesh and Indonesia partnering with conservative Muslim groups to maintain their grip on power are all part of a regional lurch away from secularism.

Want more? 3 things to know about Sri Lanka

* This article has been updated to reflect ISIS' claim of responsibility in connection to the attacks.

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The European Union is, for better or worse, the most ambitious experiment in human history in institutionalized multinational cooperation. Its success depends on the willingness of its members to abide by its rules.

In recent years, the populist-nationalist governments of former Communist bloc members Hungary and Poland have flouted some of those rules in order to boost their own popularity with citizens suspicious of the EU's liberal values on issues like immigration and minority rights. In response, the EU has scolded these "illiberal" governments and threatened forceful action – so far without much effect.

The fight between EU institutions and Poland and Hungary has escalated.

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Ian Bremmer is joined on GZERO World by artificial intelligence scientists Kai-fu Lee, who recently wrote about how AI will change the world over the next two decades, precisely to talk about AI's future. After this week's Facebook debacle, how can we align interest to regulate AI-driven algorithms? Will AI steal all our jobs? And what should we do to learn from AI to improve our lives before it gets smarter than us?

Watch this episode of GZERO World with Ian Bremmer: Is a robot coming for your job? Kai-fu Lee explains AI

US elections officials have always persuaded losing candidates that they've, ahem, lost. Now it's worse because there's a new paradigm, according to former DHS and Election Assistance Commission official Matt Masterson, policy fellow with the Stanford Internet Observatory. Candidates that won't accept defeat regardless of the margin or evidence of fraud, he says, are undermining trust in the system — and election officials are ill-equipped to deal with this problem.

Matt Masterson made these remarks during a live Global Stage event, Infodemic: defending democracy from disinformation. Watch the full event here: https://www.gzeromedia.com/global-stage/virtual-events/disinformation-is-a-big-problem-what-can-we-do-about-it

Who's most responsible for spreading misinformation online? For Ginny Badanes, senior director for Democracy Forward at Microsoft, the problem starts with those who create it, yet ultimately governments, companies and individuals all share the burden. And she's more interested in what we can do to respond.

Ginny Badanes spoke at a live Global Stage event, Infodemic: defending democracy from disinformation. Watch the full event here: https://www.gzeromedia.com/global-stage/virtual-events/disinformation-is-a-big-problem-what-can-we-do-about-it

Some of the worst sectarian clashes since Lebanon's 15-year civil war (1975-1990) broke out in Beirut this week between supporters of Hezbollah and Amal, both Shiite political parties, and Christian, far-right Lebanese Forces. Shiite protesters were rallying against the state probe into the Beirut port blast, which occurred last year. They say authorities were singling out Shiite politicians for questioning and blame. In this video, watch Ian Bremmer's conversation with Lebanese journalist and author Kim Ghattas on GZW talking about the future of Lebanese politics and sectarianism in the county after the after the blast. It was originally published on August 19, 2020.

In Lebanon, "a majority (are) united in wanting a different future, a future that is non-sectarian, that is non-corrupt, that provides prosperity, justice, dignity for people," journalist Kim Ghattas told Ian Bremmer on GZERO World.

In this interview, Ghattas discusses the opportunity that could arise from the tragedy of the Beirut explosion which killed 200 and injured thousands more. The Lebanese are "fed up" with the militant group Hezbollah, she tells Bremmer, and want to strive for a government that better resembles the diversity and cosmopolitan nature of its citizens.

Watch the GZERO World episode: Lebanon Post-Blast: Rage in the Streets of Beirut.

Some of the worst sectarian clashes since Lebanon's 15-year civil war (1975-1990) broke out in Beirut this week between supporters of Hezbollah and Amal, both Shiite political parties, and Christian, far-right Lebanese Forces. Shiite protesters were rallying against the state probe into the Beirut port blast, which occurred last year. They say authorities were singling out Shiite politicians for questioning and blame. Below is our original piece on the Beirut port explosions published on August 5, 2020.


The twin explosions at Beirut's port on Tuesday were so powerful that the aftershocks reverberated as far as the Eastern Mediterranean island of Cyprus, 150 miles away. The specter of fire and smoke was such that many suggested on social media that Beirut had experienced a nuclear blast.

In the days ahead, more details will come to light about why a deadly cache of materials was haphazardly stashed at a port warehouse, and why Lebanon's government failed to secure the site. So, what comes next for crisis-ridden Lebanon?

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Jon Lieber, head of Eurasia Group's coverage of political and policy developments in Washington, shares insights on US politics:

What does it actually mean to cut $1 trillion from the Democrats' $3.5 trillion social spending bill?

President Biden has proposed one of the most ambitious expansions of federal spending in recent memory. If he gets everything he wants, it would probably be the largest expansion of government since the Great Society, but he's not going to get everything he wants. Democrats have basically said they cannot do all $3.5 trillion in spending. They're probably going to end up around $2 trillion. So what gets cut? Well, we don't know yet. There's kind of two ways to go about this. They could either cut the number of programs that have been proposed, doing fewer things with more money on a permanent basis, or they could try to do more things, each program getting less money and potentially doing them on a temporary basis. So, a future Congress would have to extend it. What does this mean for you? Well, a lot of the money in here is designed to go directly to families, either in the form of cash payments, through the tax code, the Child Tax Credit and the Earned Income Tax Credit, or subsidies for things like child care, early childhood education, and community college. And if you cut these things back, it means less money is going to go out the door to the American people. It also means less tax increases to finance it. So the implications of what's being proposed could actually end up being a big deal for a lot of Americans who would qualify for benefits under these new programs.

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