The coordinated attacks on the Taj-Mahal Hotel and nine other sites in Mumbai (formerly Bombay) have claimed about 190 innocent lives, with hundreds more injured. Distressed Indians and concerned people all over the world are looking for answers.
Quick preconceived answers demand immediate retaliation. To mollify the public, authorities arrest and torture a few easy targets and extract confessions. Over the years there have been dozens of well documented incidences of police summarily executing helpless people in what are euphemistically called encounters (fake gun battles). It only validates the terrorist propaganda.
Comprehensive answers take time. I hope the government of India will diligently take up the slow and painful task of investigation and prosecution of those involved, within India and with international help, those hiding in other countries.
With the globalization of commerce, unfortunately terrorism has also become globalized. The terrorist networks have become an international scourge. In the 1960s and 70s the Baader Meinhof Gang and the Red Army collaborated with disparate terrorists, such as the Irish Republican Army, the Shining Path Guerillas in Latin America and the Abu Nidal in the Middle-east. With greater sophistication and richer resources, Al Qaida is even more effective, mostly, but not exclusively in Muslim countries.
Initial reports based on the interrogation of the only surviving Mumbai attacker indicate that at least some of the terrorists were from Pakistan. Pakistan and India have a sad history of wars and animosity. But no nation has suffered the ravages of Islamist extremist terrorism more than Pakistan. Bombings in major cities of Pakistan are pervasive. The Marriott Hotel in Islamabad was bombed only a few months ago. From the statements of the President Zardari, it seems that the newly elected fledgling government of Pakistan realizes that the extremist ideology sown by the Zia regime in the1980s has come back as an evil whirl-wind to destroy the country.
There are segments of society in India and Pakistan with legitimate grievances.
Extremists exploit these grievances through carnage to achieve a greater polarization. Unfortunately many governments have done the same through their intelligence agencies to destabilize weaker countries. It behooves Pakistan and India to unshackle themselves from the sordid history of hatred and join forces to eradicate this scourge for mutual benefit.
After every major carnage, organizations, leaders and pretend leaders in India and around the world customarily condemn the outrage, and then go about their business as usual. Equating this carnage to 9/11 is spurious. Such outrages have been happening in India, Pakistan and many other countries with the regularity of tides. Unfortunately the Mumbai carnage is greater only in magnitude and daring, therefore more newsworthy. Such reprehensible carnage is lamentably not surprising. A series of bomb blasts tore through the busy markets in Delhi on the 13th of September, preceded by more than a dozen gory blasts in major cities in the last three years, including an earlier blast in Delhi and a train bombing in Mumbai in July 2006, claiming hundreds of lives. Today, merely four days after the Mumbai carnage, three people were killed in Assam (Eastern India) in yet another train bombing.
In the past few decades, thousands of innocent lives have been lost in sectarian violence all over India. Kashmir, where more than 80,000 people, mostly civilians have died in the last twenty years. It is a major source of recent terrorism. Preliminary reports indicate that the Mumbai terrorists were connected to the Lashkar Taiba movement that was spawned in Kashmir with the help of the Zia regime in 1980s.
Imagine; one of our loved ones among the dead, and the tragedy hits home. Many loved ones regularly fall to endemic terrorism. In a wider sense they were us, mindless tits for the multiple tats and on it goes. Governments with impunity suppress and even kill weaker minorities to mollify the majority population, in the name of nationalism, in blatant violation of humane laws.
Some, otherwise ordinary people after years of victimization, blinded by anger take refuge and find justification in terrorism. Unable to penetrate the bastion of oppression, they attack easy defenseless targets. Terrorists become so callous in their anger multiplied by hate-filled ideologies that they lose all sense of decency, distinction and humanity, visiting carnage in distant lands on innocent people.
Growing up in India, only a few of my friends were Muslims, most were Hindus. We celebrate our friendship on my visits to India. Some of these friends are quite involved in helping down-trodden and forgotten masses. They hold no animosity towards Muslims. But the virulence of decades of violence and propaganda has polarized a few of them, especially their children. With polarization, fewer Hindus and Muslims know each other personally. They tend to stereotype each-other as caricatures based on propaganda.
With each episode of sectarian riot the divide grows. The attack and demolition of a 16th century Mosque and ensuing loss of thousands of lives in December 1992, and the pogrom in Gujarat in February 2002, where 2,000 Muslims were killed and more than hundred thousand driven from their homes, have created a deep fissure. More recently the bomb blasts in markets, trains and now the Mumbai carnage are part of the downward spiral. The chasm is widening in spite of tireless work being done by enlightened and thoughtful people from all communities, especially Hindus. Unfortunately the sectarian propaganda is more powerful than thoughtful analysis.
A few weeks ago an educated Brahmin Gujarati friend wrote to me that he is supporting Mr. Modi’s Hindu (fascistic) party in the upcoming elections in Gujarat, because he wants a strong government that supports economic development. The sad part is that at least tacitly he had condemned the pogrom against Muslims by Mr. Modi in 2002, the worst crime a government can commit against its citizens. I reminded him, but he did not address my question.
People, honest in personal dealings; good neighbors, who would help the needy and feed the hungry, are taken in by the propaganda, driven by the partisans from the opposing sides, turning lies into truth and making enemies out of friends. Good people end up supporting horrible policies and even pray for the success of their leaders who spread misery in their name.
We will be at least morally culpable, if it happened in our neighborhoods and we closed our eyes. In this globalised information age, there is no place too far. Ignoring the plight of people we only see on television screens, is tacitly supporting the oppressor. It becomes our collective guilt.
An instructive example is Mr. Bush’s statement in the wake of 9/11, "Now they will taste the American justice". The whole world supported our sentiment. Sadly, what they got was blind vengeance and indiscriminate incarceration of about 700 people at Guantanamo Bay, including many 12 to 14 year old minors, without trial for more than six years in violation of the Geneva Convention. It brought shame to America. In spite of strenuous objections of the Bush administration, some Americans petitioned the courts. Slowly the courts intervened. How we wish, it was the American justice that they faced.
Terrorism is a scourge. It should be eradicated through the implementation of humane civil laws. The vocabulary of war, such as "war on terrorism" sounds good but denigrates the civil society to lawlessness of war. It predisposes us to forsake our humanity and fall for the militaristic propaganda, where trigger happy excesses, bombings, and civilian deaths are justified as "collateral damage", as if a neighbor’s wall was damaged by mistake, and will be made whole.
The first reaction to terrorism is to suppress it by brute force, such as in case of the Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka. Brute force spirals into tit for tat. The situation only worsens. There are ways to defeat it, as in Northern Ireland in the1970s and 80s. The brute British force only exacerbated it, until the British government reached an equitable political settlement.
It is time for universal cooperation. The United Nations was created to be the instrument of the collective will of the world. It has worked very well in helping the poor and feeding the hungry. It has failed in implementation of the international law to protect the rights of the down-trodden minorities from the state terrorism in sovereign countries, and keeping stronger nations from attacking weaker nations. But the five permanent members of the Security Council have hindered its purpose.
The only effective way to remove the cancer of terrorism is to leave the hubris of the 20th century behind, ushering a new peaceful and just millennium by adhering to the International Charter of Human Rights and strengthening the United Nations. This requires the modification of the Security Council so that no country, irrespective of its size, wealth or power is above the international law.