Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Apportioning Blame in the Mumbai Attacks

The dust has settled. The dead are being put to rest, and collectively, we mourn. As people start to move on, we can name our heroes, our villains, and everything in between.

The Heroes.

1. The victims.

They did no wrong, didn't ask to be heroes, and given the choice, I think they'd choose to continue with their dinners. Yet here we are. These innocent souls now join the many hundreds of thousands of victims throughout India and the world, now, and in history, who were guilty only of being at the wrong place at the wrong time.

And though the victims may have found peace in their eternal slumber, the emptiness they leave behind with their loved ones must be unimaginable.

I am truly sorry for their enormous loss.

2. The policemen.

They were ill-equipped, and under-trained. The gunmen had night-vision goggles, and they didn't. The gunmen had better guns, and had actually trained with their weapons, but the police didn't. They were late in getting to the scene, and they wasted the critical moments when lives could have been saved. They didn't know what to do, they didn't know the layout of the hotel, and nobody bothered to teach them or tell them.

But they went in anyway. When they were needed the most, they were there. And many of them died.

"When they lay us down to rest,
Tell our moms we done our best."

That they didn't know what to do wasn't their fault. They are, unequivocally, heroes.

3. The commandos.

The famed Indian Black Cats. They were trained, and equipped, but they were all the way in New Delhi and couldn't catch a plane because there wasn't any, and couldn't catch the ones that were available because the bureaucracy didn't account for that. But they eventually got the job done, after 60-something hours. Could it have been done sooner? Perhaps. But Indian commandos cleaned up an Indian mess, and that's something to be proud of. The Israelis, apparently, offered help, but India said they had it covered.

Arguably, they didn't have it covered. But it's good to take responsibility.

4. The people of Mumbai. They have suffered many wrongs, and yet they prod on. Like the people of Islamabad, Baghdad, Kabul, and Grozny. What else can one do. You pick up the pieces, and you move on. Common folk are incredibly resilient.

The Villains

In most cases, the hero-villain dichotomy is a false one. But these crimes were so horrific, that the perpetrators of this crime really are villains.

But what devilry is this? Suicide bombing, though I do not condone, I understand. It is the terrorist equivalent of blind rage. A lack of control in your life can lead to suicidal tendencies; it is one of the things you actually can control.

But what is it that these people have suffered that would push them to this controlled burst of terror? The gut reaction is to dismiss them as evil, and perhaps to a certain extent that's true. But most of the deeply messed up things in the world make sense to a level. This doesn't make much sense yet.

No statement was made as to what they wanted, a no-name organization was put forward, the Deccan Mujahideen, and goodness knows why they targeted Americans, Britons and Israelis if they were indeed homegrown terrorists, which the consensus is starting to suggest. What was their goal?

There's more thinking and soul-searching to be done. Questions. Questions that need answers.

These are the only two categories that (approximately) fall into the category of white and black. Right and wrong. Good and evil.

Now come the shades of grey.


India is no stranger to terrorism. They've been wrangling with it since independence, arguably before. If the Indian civil service traces its roots to the British civil service, that represents a long line of bureaucrats, administrators, and politicians that have dealt with criminal malcontents, rebels, terrorists, anarchists and freedom fighters (from an administrator's perspective, these all fall into the same basket).

And yet look at the pitiable excuse for a response. Their policemen were carrying obsolete weaponry they had previously never used before. Mumbai, a city of 13 million people, doesn't have its own commandos or national guard on stand-by. This, after a truck filled with almost a tonne of explosives laced with aluminium, blew up in the front yard of their neighbour's capital in Islamabad. You think they would have gotten the hint?

The helicopter dropping the commandos off in Nariman House circled overhead three times before dropping them off. So much for the element of surprise! It was almost a perverse comedy, like a Bollywood movie, where the hero takes down a dozen chicken-legged policemen in shorts.

Such a long history of terrorism and insurgency movements, and India still doesn't have a central terrorism database. They don't have a singular authority that handles these kinds of issues, a country with more than a billion people, and numerous separatist and insurgent movements.

In all fairness, India alone doesn't suffer from this. All the sub-continent countries display this level of incompetence. When will they realize that their laziness costs lives?

But to give India's democracy some credit, there is a tradition of taking responsibility for gross negligence. The Home Minister resigned in the face of these attacks, and I remember a few years back, a terrible railway accident sparked the resignation of the Railway Minister.

Though these resignations, strictly speaking, don't serve an immediate purpose in improving the situation, the culture of taking responsibility, at least, is there. I say at least, because it is, literally, the least, that could be done.

The terrorists hijacked a boat, took a dinghy to the shore, verbally abused fishermen on the way who asked what they were doing, walked into Mumbai, spraying bullets in the train station along the way, entered the hotels, took the time to ask people their nationalities, searched the hotel, and then kept the authorities at bay for over 60 hours. If that isn't a systemic failure at every level of the intelligence and civil defence administration, I don't know what is.

In short: the government botched this one up really bad.


Pakistan is now getting blamed for it. The Indian foreign minister, before any of the dust even settled, pointed his finger to "elements" in Pakistan. Summary: meaningless.

It's like a night guard asleep at his post hears an explosion which wakes him up, and the first thing he does upon waking is accuse the guy next to him.

People died on their watch, and they're looking for scapegoats, so obviously the last thing on their minds is their sworn responsibility as civil servants.

That being said, is Pakistan blameless? Fareed Zakaria (I'm a fan) said it in a piece soon after the bombings: Pakistan needs to stop choosing between "good terrorists" and "bad terrorists." Terrorists that destabilize India and Afghanistan are the good kind, and those that destabilize Pakistan are the bad kind.

That there are sympathetic elements within the Pakistani ISI is without a doubt. The evidence continues to mount that the attacks were staged from Pakistan. If that is the case, then the Pakistani government shoulders a sizeable burden, comparable to that of the Indian government: why weren't the terrorists on their soil stopped? The Pakistani authorities are, at best, incompetent, and at worst, complicit.

An attack of this scale does not serve any Pakistani agenda. Undermining local interests that stay out of the news media are the kind that would serve a hostile Pakistan's agenda. As the saying goes "Do not attribute to malice that which can easily be explained by stupidity."

The terrorism problem within South Asia is localized and indigenous, and the South Asian countries need to combine forces on this.

I, however, remain sceptical the Pakistanis, Bangladeshis and Indians can work together on anything.


No doubt this will push those that hate Islam and Muslims to hate them even more.

I am not a subscriber to the thought that "you cannot judge a religion by the actions of its followers." No, you can, you should, and everyone does.

But Muslims died in these attacks. Muslims have died in almost every major terorrist attack by Muslim extremists, and pretty much all of the minor ones in Iraq and Afghanistan.

As the major perpetrators of terrorism (the Buddhists are a distant second in the religious extremism rankings), Muslims account for most of its victims by number. Mind you, this includes the "collateral damage" suffered by Muslims during coalition air raids.

If you count the casualties in the "War on Terror" (which for all intents and purposes basically means Afghanistan and Iraq), Muslim civilian and combatant casualties outnumber any other casualties in these conflicts, be they civilian, Indian, Israeli, American, or coalition forces. Be they casualties in the numerous suicide bombings in Tel Aviv, New York, Mumbai, or Madrid.

So we suffer as much if not more than anyone else does, it's just that when an Afghan or Iraqi civilian dies, or a Pakistani or an Arab, their government usually lacks the organization, infrastructure, news agencies, public relations apparatus, or diplomatic and political will to make an issue out of it.

In every one of the BBC articles on the Mumbai attacks, they've listed the dead. And at the very end, they take by name the single Briton that died. It's an honourable thing to do, to look out for your own.

Since most Muslim countries are poor and under-developed, our dead don't have a public voice. We bury our numerous, uncounted, innocent dead in Chechnya, the Gaza Strip, and Somalia privately, and the Earth is soaked in our tears. And neither our own governments, nor other governments look to see our pain.

Why don't people realize that our suffering and our grievances is the world's suffering too? It's only when people get pushed to the very brink, when they lose their humanity and like a child, break the vase to get some attention, does the world look at us. With a frown of irritation on its face. Like it would be so much easier if we all just... disappeared.

If you prick us, do we not bleed?

Wait A Minute...

Muslims are not a single, monolithic entity. Muslims in America are different from Muslims in the UK, who are different from Muslims in India. That there may be some elements shared within common extremist ideologies does not mean that Muslims in general are a problem case.

The Muslim faith's enduring egalitarianism allows for a Muslim in the Philippines to feel for his brother in Palestine, but that does not mean we speak with one voice.

With the exception of a few high-profile cases, the United States is largely immune from the scourge of indigenous Muslim extremism. The Muslim diaspora in the United States (and North America) is among the most well-settled, integrated, and successful of all the Muslim diaspora in the world.

Muslims in Europe have their own grievances by way of Europe's collective social backwardness in integrating immigrant populations into the common fold. That has nothing to do with Islam, but the root problems are socio-economic.

Europe for all its progressiveness has never had an indigenous, enduring Muslim population from pre-modern times. All Muslims in Europe today are modern immigrants. In the Middle East, there are still native Jews and Christians, descendants from the time of the Prophets of yore. This is an indicator of Europe's history of integration.

In Palestine, large swathes of Muslims have been living in refugee camps for generations now, internally displaced, without an identity, continuously intimidated by the Israelis, neglected by the Arabs and the Palestinian Authority, and unwanted everywhere.

Everyone has their problems. Yes, religion may be a catalyst in the process of radicalizing people, once you've hammered into their brains that the gardens of paradise are worth whatever political agenda you may be preaching. But I'm a Muslim, and technically, I'm looking forward to the same gardens as many of the suicide bombers. But I'm not rushing to do anything untoward.

These people are hopeless, and uneducated, and many have lost their families, their dignity, and have nothing to live for. Hate the sin, not the sinner. We have to pull these people out of that rut. If for nothing else, than to save our own skins.

Every region which finds terrorism as an intractable problem is riddled with poverty, corruption, instability, lack of education, and general hopelessness. Palestine. Afghanistan. Sudan.

And let me be clear: As a Muslim, I have nothing to apologize for because the perpetrators were Muslim. I condemn their attacks along with the rest of the world. By saying "Muslims need to speak out more" that's indirectly casting some of the blame of these terrorists on me. I share none of the blame of any of these terrorists, and I never will be. I am not of them, and they are not of me.

But to have a clear conscience and to actually try to identify how to solve the problem, I have to note that the root problem of a lot of terrorism lies within political solutions to non-fictional grievances in Kashmir, Palestine, and Africa. I'm not condoning violence by highlighting the shades of grey, but I'm looking at the root cause as well as the symptoms. Shouldn't everyone be doing that?

By using a faith as a scapegoat, we're not addressing the problem. It is dismissive, and a disservice to the issue. The problem lies within people, and within people lies the solution.

To the Muslims: there's an African saying, "A fool at forty, is a fool for ever." Most post-colonial Muslim countries are nearing 40, it's about time they started to show some progress, because very soon, blaming the thieving white people of half a century ago just isn't going to cut it.

Good governance, education, healthcare, a good economy, free speech. And terrorism will become a much more manageable problem.

Ask a bum in New York (someone who is arguably good-for-nothing and reasonably hopeless) to blow himself up. You think he'll do it? No, because he knows he's not just a bum, but he's a bum in New York, man. He shares in that pride. Don't underestimate the poor and the hopeless. They're very aware of their surroundings.


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I write essays in my spare time on things that are important to me. The ones that I feel are any good, or make any sense, I put them up here. :)