Thursday, December 4, 2008

Mumbai Terrorism - It's A Small World

The Mumbai terrorist attacks have caused worldwide outrage that hopefully extends to Islamic countries and societies. Much of Anita's extended family lives in Mumbai. It's a city of 20 million, so despite the large number of victims including 163 killed we hoped that no one we knew was affected.

While people within our innermost circle are safe, we are hearing tragic stories about those very close to our extended family and good friends. Through a dribble of chance conversations we so far know of eight such people killed as well as some harrowing escapes. More connections will almost certainly emerge once we're in Mumbai where we're headed shortly.

For instance two days back I happened to call Anita's cousin Indru whom I've also mentioned in my previous post, about an unrelated matter. She sounded somber, and I learned that two victims whose stories were also carried in The New York Times and other media were a couple who are Indru's and her husband Gul's best friends. They were Ashok Kapur, chairman of Yes Bank and his wife Madhu who hung out with Gul and Indru almost daily and they used to vacation together worldwide. Ashok and Madhu were in an Oberoi Hotel restaurant when they were attacked and pursued by the terrorists. They fled and were separated. Madhu managed to escape after hiding out for several hours, but Ashok was killed - something Madhu and the authorities learned about much later. Now Indru, Gul and other friends and relatives are trying to support the shattered Madhu as much as they can.

Anita's cousin Rita (also mentioned in my last post) had gone from Mumbai to Pune to look up and stay with my in-laws. She left by train from the historic VT train (now called Shivaji Station) just three hours before it was stormed by the terrorists and 54 people killed there. Not wanting to take chances, her husband Dilip sent their car and driver to fetch her back to Mumbai three days later.

Any incidents touching us personally are a microcosm of the general coverage and commentary in the media. A couple of instances I'd like to highlight relate to reactions in Pakistan.

The first is this link to a Pak TV broadcast that my cousin Poppy received and passed on - many similar ones are posted on YouTube. It reflects the state of denial among Pakistanis who refuse to acknowledge or condemn the role played by the terrorists based in Pakistan. The TV show's anchor and two guests talk of how Indians brought this problem upon themselves and are now falsely linking this to some activities in peaceloving Pakistan. This mindset is of course not limited to Pakistanis or Islamists. It's remarkable how people's prejudices and perceptions can distort reality. But I also came across this (hopefully not too rare) clip showing a much more objective assessment on Pak TV by a Dr. Pervez Hoodbhoy. He is courageous in contradicting some other participants and acknowledging that some rogue elements within Pakistan are responsible and should be firmly curtailed. If there are enough of such people on both sides then there's hope for our countries coming together.

The other item is a (as usual?) beautiful Dec. 2 Op-Ed of Tom Friedman in The New York Times. He calls on Pakistanis to take to the streets and declare, "as a collective, that those who carry out such murders are shameful unbelievers who will not dance with virgins in heaven but burn in hell. And they (should at least) do it with the same vehemence with which they denounce Danish cartoons (of the Prophet Muhammed)."

It is heartening to see no backlash (so far) against India's Muslim community, which would have played right into the hands of the terrorists. We should continue doing more to reassure Indian Muslims, and credit goes to political and community leaders who have involved them in condemning these attacks. There are likely home grown elements that have substantially participated in these attacks, but a crazy fringe should never tarnish the broader community. A fifth of the Mumbai casualties are Muslims, and so is the Mumbai police chief. Whatever comes of it there's symbolism in this reported move by some Indian Muslims to deny the slain terrorists burial in Muslim cemetries.


Anonymous said...

There is only one solution to Islamic extremism. The answer is internal revolution. All the troops in Iraq and Afghanistan can only cure the symptoms but not the disease.

The Christians may have been in the same shoes centuries ago. But then, there was the council of Nicea who interpreted every word of the Bible. Then Martin Luther had the Reformation eliminating corruption of the clergy.

The council of Nicea made major changes to the structure of the religion by solidifying the theology and interpretation. Today, Muslims have so many interpretations of the word "Jihad". For some, it's kill all non believers. To others, it's just a war against evil. There's a reluctance, in addition, to embrace modernity. The Koran hasn't been rewritten since it's inception.

King James of England rewrote the Bible into his current language. Today, the KJV is obsolete and several new versions such as the New American Standard have appeared. Imagine us reading the KJV in Shakesperian English today?

The reform for Islam has to be internal. After all who stopped the Irish Rep. Army in the 1970's? It wasn't the Brits. It was the Irish themselves. The Irish were branded as terrorist and couldn't get jobs or apartments. So they told their own to stop the mayhem.

Likewise, the biggest victims of Islamic terror are Muslims. But they have to stand up and reform. They have to create their own Council of Nicea and Reformation. If not, history has shown the conflict will continue until one side is eliminated. Just as the US and its allies fought to change Imperial Japan's and Nazi Germany's "religion" during WW II, likewise it must do the same to the current situation. But the current struggle is without boundries and difficult to put it's finger on. There is no "Berlin" to capture, so the reform must be internal amongst the Islamic religion itself.

Do you see a new Indo/Pak war?

Sandip Madan said...

Such movements and terrorist organizations do not operate in a vacuum. Their internal growth, survival and destruction is shaped by the acts of the communities and nations around them. So we can do a lot that determines their size, recruitment and fate.

For example the Sikh militancy of the 1980s and early 1990s was crushed by a combination of loss of support by a weary populace and a sustained campaign of elimination led by the police chief and a fellow Sikh, K.P.S. Gill.

I certainly hope Islamic radicals don't take over Pakistan. So long as that doesn't happen an Indo-Pak war is highly unlikely given the balance of terror between two nuclear armed countries. I'm hoping there aren't even major border skirmishes, and that moderates on both sides don't get waylaid by opportunistic partisans and actually manage to improve relations.

Varun said...

It is no doubt very good to see the Hindus and Muslims of Mumbai united in their outcry against terrorism. This is a sign of the progres and maturity of the city from the old days when such a thing would invoke a knee-jerk reaction of communal riots and killing innocent Musilms.

However, there is a lot of pent up anger amongst the people of the city. This anger and bitterness is more than ever before. With the attacks happening in the heart of South Mumbai, some rich, influential businessmen have been directly affected. There will be repurcussions. The democratic government is under tremendous pressure to act; to do something; anything.

A outright attack on Pakistan is not of the question it seems. But I hope it doesn't happen. Such extreme rage is not healthy. People will never find peace if they fill their minds with hatred. Instead they should replace it with comapassion and reach out to help someone.

Sandip Madan said...

Beautiful thoughts, Varun. You represent the kind of (ex)Mumbai folks who remain serene and constructive in the face of extreme malice. On this subject the NY times has come up on Dec. 8with another good op-ed titled "They Hate Us - and India is Us."

Pakistan has just arrested the alleged mastermind of the Mumbai attacks and Zardari has made some encouraging comments. Let's hope these steps are a precursor of joint action against terrorism.