India


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AS an open, diverse and at times chaotic democracy, India has long been a target for terrorism. From the assassination of Mohandas Gandhi in 1948 to the recent attacks in Mumbai, it has faced attempts to change its national character by force. None has yet succeeded. Despite its manifest social failings, India remains the developing world’s most successful experiment in free, plural, large-scale political collaboration.
The Mumbai attacks were transformative, because in them, unlike previous outrages in India, the rich were caught: not only Western visitors in the nation’s magnificent financial capital but also Indian bankers, business owners and socialites. This had symbolic power, as the terrorists knew it would.
However, I recently saw a televised forum in which members of the public vented their fury against India’s politicians for their failure to act, and it soon became apparent the victims were poor as well as rich. One survivor, Shameem Khan — instantly identifiable by his name and his embroidered cap as a Muslim — told how six members of his extended family had been shot dead. Still in shock, he said: “A calamity has fallen on my house. What shall I do?” His neighbors had helped pay for the funeral. Like most of India’s 150 million Muslims, Mr. Khan is staunchly patriotic. The city’s Muslim Council refused to let the terrorists be buried in its graveyards.
When these well-planned attacks unfolded, it was clear to anyone with experience of India that they were not homegrown, and almost certainly originated from Pakistan. Yet the reaction of the world’s news media was to rely on the outmoded idea of Pakistan-India hyphenation — as if a thriving and prosperous democracy of over a billion people must be compared only to an imploded state that is having to be bailed out by the I.M.F. Was Pakistan to blame, asked many pundits, or was India at fault because of its treatment of minority groups?
The terrorists themselves offered little explanation, and made no clear demands. Yet even as the siege continued, commentators were making chilling deductions on their behalf: their actions were because of American foreign policy, or Afghanistan, or the harassment of Indian Muslims. Personal moral responsibility was removed from the players in the atrocity. When officials said that the killers came from the Pakistani terrorist group Lashkar-e-Taiba, it was taken as proof that India’s misdeeds in the Kashmir Valley were the cause.
These misdeeds are real, as are India’s other social and political failings (I recently met a Kashmiri man whose father and sister had died at the hands of the Indian security forces). But there is no sane reason to think Lashkar-e-Taiba would shut down if the situation in Kashmir improved. Its literature is much concerned with establishing a caliphate in Central Asia, and murdering those who insult the Prophet. Its leader, Hafiz Saeed, who lives on a large estate outside Lahore bought with Saudi Money, goes about his business with minimal interference from the Pakistani government.
Lashkar-e-Taiba is part of the International Islamic Front for Jihad Against Jews and Crusaders (the Qaeda franchise). Mr. Saeed’s hatreds are catholic — his bugbears include Hindus, Shiites and women who wear bikinis. He regards democracy as “a Jewish and Christian import from Europe,” and considers suicide attacks to be in accordance with Islam. He has a wider strategy: “At this time our contest is Kashmir. Let’s see when the time comes. Our struggle with the Jews is always there.” As he told his followers in Karachi at a rally in 2000: “There can’t be any peace while India remains intact. Cut them, cut them — cut them so much that they kneel before you and ask for mercy.” In short, he has an explicit political desire to create a state of war between the religious communities in India and beyond, and bring on the endgame.
Like other exponents of Islamist extremism, he has a view of the world that does not tolerate doubt or ambiguity: his opponents are guilty, and must be killed. I have met other radicals like Mr. Saeed, men who live in a dimension of absolute certainty and have contempt for the moral relativism of those who seek to excuse them. To achieve their ends, it is necessary to indoctrinate boys in the hatred of Hindus, Americans and Jews, and dispatch them on suicide missions. It is unlikely that any of the militants who were sent from Karachi to Mumbai — young men from poor rural backgrounds whose families were paid for their sacrifice — had ever met a Jew before they tortured and killed Rabbi Gavriel Holtzberg and his wife, Rivka, who was several months pregnant, at the Mumbai Jewish center.
America’s so-called war on terror has been, in many respects, a catastrophe. In Pakistan, it has been chronically mishandled, leading to the radicalization of areas in the north that were previously peaceful. Yet links between the military, the intelligence services and the jihadis have remained intact: Lashkar-e-Taiba is merely one of a number of extremist organizations that continues to function.
The prime solution to the present crisis is to force the closing of terrorist training outfits in Pakistan, and apply the law to those who organize and finance operations like the Mumbai massacres. Hafiz Saeed and other suspects should be sent to India to stand trial. The remark by Pakistan’s president, Asif Ali Zardari (a man whose history of shady business dealing makes him demonstrably unfit for high, or even low, office), that he did not think the terrorists came from Pakistan would be funny if it were not tragic.
The United States gives around $1 billion a year in military aid to Islamabad; that is leverage. It does the people of Pakistan no favors for Washington to allow their leaders to continue with the strategy of perpetual diversion, asking India to be patient while denying the true nature of the immediate terrorist threat. I received this e-mail message recently from a friend in Karachi: “Nowhere can get more depressing than Pakistan these days — barring some African failed states and Afghanistan.”

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By PATRICK FRENCH
London December 8, 2008
OP-ED CONTRIBUTOR
Patrick French is the author, most recently, of “The World Is What It Is: The Authorized Biography of V. S. Naipaul.”

MY bleeding city. My poor great bleeding heart of a city. Why do they go after Mumbai? There’s something about this island-state that appalls religious extremists, Hindus and Muslims alike. Perhaps because Mumbai stands for lucre, profane dreams and an indiscriminate openness.
Mumbai is all about dhandha, or transaction. From the street food vendor squatting on a sidewalk, fiercely guarding his little business, to the tycoons and their dreams of acquiring Hollywood, this city understands money and has no guilt about the getting and spending of it. I once asked a Muslim man living in a shack without indoor plumbing what kept him in the city. “Mumbai is a golden songbird,” he said. It flies quick and sly, and you’ll have to work hard to catch it, but if you do, a fabulous fortune will open up for you. The executives who congregated in the Taj Mahal hotel were chasing this golden songbird. The terrorists want to kill the songbird.
Just as cinema is a mass dream of the audience, Mumbai is a mass dream of the peoples of South Asia. Bollywood movies are the most popular form of entertainment across the subcontinent. Through them, every Pakistani and Bangladeshi is familiar with the wedding-cake architecture of the Taj and the arc of the Gateway of India, symbols of the city that gives the industry its name. It is no wonder that one of the first things the Taliban did upon entering Kabul was to shut down the Bollywood video rental stores. The Taliban also banned, wouldn’t you know it, the keeping of songbirds.
Bollywood dream-makers are shaken. “I am ashamed to say this,” Amitabh Bachchan, superstar of a hundred action movies, wrote on his blog. “As the events of the terror attack unfolded in front of me, I did something for the first time and one that I had hoped never ever to be in a situation to do. Before retiring for the night, I pulled out my licensed .32 revolver, loaded it and put it under my pillow.”
Mumbai is a “soft target,” the terrorism analysts say. Anybody can walk into the hotels, the hospitals, the train stations, and start spraying with a machine gun. Where are the metal detectors, the random bag checks? In Mumbai, it’s impossible to control the crowd. In other cities, if there’s an explosion, people run away from it. In Mumbai, people run toward it — to help. Greater Mumbai takes in a million new residents a year. This is the problem, say the nativists. The city is just too hospitable. You let them in, and they break your heart.
In the Bombay I grew up in, your religion was a personal eccentricity, like a hairstyle. In my school, you were denominated by which cricketer or Bollywood star you worshiped, not which prophet. In today’s Mumbai, things have changed. Hindu and Muslim demagogues want the mobs to come out again in the streets, and slaughter one another in the name of God. They want India and Pakistan to go to war. They want Indian Muslims to be expelled. They want India to get out of Kashmir. They want mosques torn down. They want temples bombed.
And now it looks as if the latest terrorists were our neighbors, young men dressed not in Afghan tunics but in blue jeans and designer T-shirts. Being South Asian, they would have grown up watching the painted lady that is Mumbai in the movies: a city of flashy cars and flashier women. A pleasure-loving city, a sensual city. Everything that preachers of every religion thunder against. It is, as a monk of the pacifist Jain religion explained to me, “paap-ni-bhoomi”: the sinful land.
In 1993, Hindu mobs burned people alive in the streets — for the crime of being Muslim in Mumbai. Now these young Muslim men murdered people in front of their families — for the crime of visiting Mumbai. They attacked the luxury businessmen’s hotels. They attacked the open-air Cafe Leopold, where backpackers of the world refresh themselves with cheap beer out of three-foot-high towers before heading out into India. Their drunken revelry, their shameless flirting, must have offended the righteous believers in the jihad. They attacked the train station everyone calls V.T., the terminus for runaways and dreamers from all across India. And in the attack on the Chabad house, for the first time ever, it became dangerous to be Jewish in India.
The terrorists’ message was clear: Stay away from Mumbai or you will get killed. Cricket matches with visiting English and Australian teams have been shelved. Japanese and Western companies have closed their Mumbai offices and prohibited their employees from visiting the city. Tour groups are canceling long-planned trips.
But the best answer to the terrorists is to dream bigger, make even more money, and visit Mumbai more than ever. Dream of making a good home for all Mumbaikars, not just the denizens of $500-a-night hotel rooms. Dream not just of Bollywood stars like Aishwarya Rai or Shah Rukh Khan, but of clean running water, humane mass transit, better toilets, a responsive government. Make a killing not in God’s name but in the stock market, and then turn up the forbidden music and dance; work hard and party harder.
If the rest of the world wants to help, it should run toward the explosion. It should fly to Mumbai, and spend money. Where else are you going to be safe? New York? London? Madrid?
So I’m booking flights to Mumbai. I’m going to go get a beer at the Leopold, stroll over to the Taj for samosas at the Sea Lounge, and watch a Bollywood movie at the Metro. Stimulus doesn’t have to be just economic.

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By SUKETU MEHTA November 29, 2008
OP-ED CONTRIBUTOR
Suketu Mehta, a professor of journalism at New York University, is the author of “Maximum City: Bombay Lost and Found.”