Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Mumbai Jihad: Overwhelming Force or Judicious Prudence

As the debates rages on in the Indian sub-continent about an appropriate response to the Mumbai Jihad, thinkers and policy makers in India lurch between an all-out war espousing the annihilation of Pakistan to understanding terrorism as a symptomatic response to past injustices...

Speech by Arun Shourie to the Rajya Sabha. His basic premise being 'Not an eye for an eye, but for an eye, both eyes'.
Please realize -- this is a point for the liberals also -- whenever we are pushed into such a situation we say that NO, force should not be used. Only minimal force should be used. But no war is won with minimal force. It is won by overwhelming the enemy. As it has happened in Mumbai now. You can't do it with minimal force. You try and kill six people in China and see what happens. Here you can kill 60,000 people and nothing happens to the killers!. Not an eye-for-an-eye, not a tooth-for-a-tooth. That is completely wrong. For an eye, both eyes! For a tooth, the whole jaw! Unless India has that determination and that clarity, we will continue to bleed like this all the time.

Arundhati Roy seeks rationality in the actions of the terrorists and reminds us of the historical background behind the current conflict.

There is a fierce, unforgiving fault line that runs through the contemporary discourse on terrorism. On one side (let's call it Side A) are those who see terrorism, especially 'Islamist' terrorism, as a hateful, insane scourge that spins on its own axis, in its own orbit and has nothing to do with the world around it, nothing to do with history, geography or economics. Therefore, Side A says, to try and place it in a political context, or even try to understand it, amounts to justifying it and is a crime in itself. Side B believes that though nothing can ever excuse or justify terrorism, it exists in a particular time, place and political context, and to refuse to see that will only aggravate the problem and put more and more people in harm's way.
So, on balance, if I had to choose between Side A and Side B, I'd pick Side B. We need context. Always.
In this nuclear subcontinent, that context is Partition. The Radcliffe Line which separated India and Pakistan and tore through states, districts, villages, fields, communities, water systems, homes and families, was drawn virtually overnight. It was Britain's final, parting kick to us. Partition triggered the massacre of more than a million people and the largest migration of a human population in contemporary history. Eight million people—Hindus fleeing the new Pakistan, Muslims fleeing the new kind of India—left their homes with nothing but the clothes on their backs. Each of those people carries and passes down a story of unimaginable pain, hate, horror, but yearning too. That wound, those torn but still un-severed muscles, that blood and those splintered bones still lock us together in a close embrace of hatred, terrifying familiarity but also love. It has left Kashmir trapped in a nightmare from which it can't seem to emerge, a nightmare that has claimed more than 60,000 lives. Pakistan, the Land of the Pure, became an Islamic republic, and then, very quickly a corrupt, violent military state, openly intolerant of other faiths. India on the other hand declared herself an inclusive, secular democracy. It was a magnificent undertaking, but Babu Bajrangi's predecessors had been hard at work since the 1920s, dripping poison into India's bloodstream, undermining that idea of India even before it was born. By 1990, they were ready to make a bid for power. In 1992, Hindu mobs exhorted by L.K. Advani stormed the Babri Masjid and demolished it. By 1998, the BJP was in power at the Centre. The US War on Terror put the wind in their sails. It allowed them to do exactly as they pleased, even to commit genocide and then present their fascism as a legitimate form of chaotic democracy. This happened at a time when India had opened its huge market to international finance, and it was in the interests of international corporations and the media houses they owned to project it as a country that could do no wrong. That gave Hindu Nationalists all the impetus and the impunity they needed. This, then, is the larger historical context of terrorism in the subcontinent, and of the Mumbai attacks.
Interestingly, in many of the conflicts around the world, there is always the ever-present ghost of colonialist policies practiced by the British. Africa, the Middle East and the Indian sub-continent were the prime theaters used to by the British to satiate their appetite for unlimited access to raw materials, free or borderline cheap labor and access to regional riches. I see their guilty hand in almost every conflict; of course, many of these conflicts have now been conveniently wallpapered over and relabeled as regional uprisings, religious zealotry or intra cultural discords endemic to a regions peoples and attendant cultures. Delve a little deeper and one finds the pernicious effects of British rule lurking under the covers… Someday I hope to write more on the enduring effects and the daily horrors that one has to put up just because the English decided that it was in the best interests of their people to invade countries around the world.
The site of the terrorist attacks at the World Trade Center seven years after the towers went down. I remember taking this picture walking past it a couple of months back...

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