The radicalized terrorist

In a daily paper there was a lament by a distinguished retired principal that she could not believe what she was reading, that a former star pupil of hers arrested in Australia for terrorist charges, was radicalized.

That brought to mind the following thoughts of Euripides in Hippolytus written in 425 BC. "The mind of man, how far will it advance? Where will its daring impudence find limits? If human villainy and human life shall wax in due proportion, if the son shall always grow in wickedness past his father, the gods must add another world to this that all the sinners may have space enough".

I was a student at St Joseph's College, Colombo, at a time when the school was at its apogee. Students were entering the University of Ceylon in numbers some winning Scholarships and Exhibitions. The Headmaster was Rev Fr Peter Pillai, the jewel in the crown of headmasters that included such giants like Luke of St Benedict's, Long of St Patrick's, Saram of St Thomas', Lannerole of Wesley, Corea of Royal, Pulimood of Visakha, Fraser of Trinity, and Jayah of Zahira.

I was a boarder. When the behavior of most of the boarders was frivolous, the behavior of this particular boarder was exemplary, his demeanor serious, and while some spent their free time on the playing fields, others just hanging around, he was found in the chapel, praying. He was the main altar serving as an altar boy during the compulsory daily 5 AM Roman rite, celebrated by the Headmaster. On Sunday's the tie was compulsory for the High Mass where he used his tenor voice to praise the Lord, singing hymns in the choir loft, like the Miserere, Dies Irae, Ave Maria, Angus Dei accompanied by the pipe organ under the baton or Fr Ignatius Perera. After the rituals we would trek back to the study hall for a period of study, about an hour in length, until the bell rang summoning the boys to the refectory for breakfast. But he stayed back serving as an altar boy for priests celebrating the Roman rite on the side altars. His exemplary piety prompted many, including the Headmaster, to believe he will be a shining Saint in the Third Order of St Francis.

His friends found him pleasant. Not a word that would hurt their feelings ever dropped from his lips. In brief he had no enemies and was liked by all. I still remember the eve before that great furlong race lying in bed in the dorm, thinking of when and where the challenge will come from, when he quietly approached and volunteered to give me a rub down. His life as a student he spent serving others, and the road to sainthood we believed was unstoppable, despite any sledgehammers thrown by the Devil’s Advocate at the wheels of canonization.

As Father Time passed by, a minority entered Thurstan Road to read for engineering, medicine, maths, chemistry, physics and bio-science. The majority travelled to Peradeniya for Arts, to become teachers and administrators. What happened to saintly topsy to turn into a devilish turvy, nobody knew. Later, we heard after getting radicalized he had abandoned the faith of his forefathers and after an unedifying stint in this world retired in the words of Euripides, to another world.

It is impossible to understand the fickle nature of the mind, where the good, bad and ugly jostle for supremacy. Those who cried hosanna on Palm Sunday, cried crucify on Good Friday. To assert, that the young charming Sri Lankan student arrested in Australia many, many years later, as an adult, simply could not have got radicalized, is a bridge too far to cross. I am a copyist here. I am taking the title of the blockbuster book by Cornelius Ryan, to make a point.


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