Thursday, July 14, 2011

Mumbai terror attacks - an introspection

On July 13, 2011, terrorists hit Mumbai yet again.

As a former Mumbaikar, I, too, am tired of hearing about Mumbai's resilience. For me, it's yet another depressing episode, mixed with worry for my family and friends and relief that they are safe and wondering if I have to someday face what loved ones of those killed are going through now. I can only pray for those affected. Then there is the guilt that I am far away from India and unable to do anything much except write about it, discuss and argue and think about what I can possibly contribute to make the state of affairs better.

There are other related posts written by famous bloggers such as GreatBong.

Yes, we should have had more surveillance cameras installed. Yes, we should have done more in terms of intelligence gathering. The public should put more pressure on our politicians to actually start doing something and demand more accountability. However, it also gets to me when people start drawing comparisons with the United States.
The United States has immigrants from all over the world but generally, the ones who chose to emigrate do so to make a better life for themselves and their families. While the U.S. has historically had issues with race, it has not faced even 10% of India's problems regarding religion. Even today, the U.S. is a largely Christian Protestant and Jewish country (even the atheists and agnostics have been raised in a Judeo-Christian ethos).
There is one more important factor: there is little or negligible home grown terrorism as yet.
America's war on terror has predominantly been waged on foreign shores.

India, on the other hand, is still a developing nation with a historical record of religious strife such as riots between people of various faiths - Hindu, Muslim, Sikh to name the most common, a bloody partition in 1947 whose scars haunt us till date, Islamic extremism and separatism in Kashmir aided and abetted by Pakistan and tons of other issues. Even in the distant past before the British took over, India has been victim to Islamic persecution under Aurangzeb and the loot of our temples such as the glorious and wealthy Somnath temple by Mohammed of Ghazni. (Note: This does not negate any acts of persecution by ancient Hindu kings but some such as the above mentioned cases more recent and had a huge impact on our civilization because of their extent).

On the non-religious side, there is mayhem to be battled from Naxalites, criminals, political goons and massive corruption.

While we all hurl abuses at the incompetence of our politicians and the police and intelligence forces, at our secularists and extremists of all hues, the larger issue still remains untouched. Just what exactly are we doing about preventing terrorism and crime in general? No, intelligence gathering is only one facet of the exercise.

Do we spend enough and wisely enough on guarding ourselves to even 50% of the extent to which the United States does? Of course, all the money in our coffers may not see the light of day going instead to our corrupt leaders' vaults but that's another issue.

More than America, countries such as India and the United Kingdom need to approach the issue from different angles. In the recent blasts in Mumbai, the Indian Mujahideen is one of the suspects. Apart from the risk of homegrown terror, India still faces a potent threat from organizations that originated beyond its borders and then infiltrated India. In the past, Islamic terrorist outfits such as the Lashkar-e-Toiba have been found guilty of involvement in various incidents. Added to that, even if 1% of our misguided youth actually decide to put their violent ideas of religious domination above respect for human life and love of country, we have a huge problem.

We are a nation of a billion-plus people, overcrowded cities with overflowing trains and buses and thoroughfares and the risk that some crude bomb in some crevice or corner will go undetected is very high.

The war on terror is not merely a war of missiles and bombs. It is primarily a war of ideas.
While many terrorist acts are linked to specific ethnic conflicts, when they are powered by a religious ideology, they become monsters that are a danger to human life beyond their region.
How can India combat these forces at a grassroots level? I don't know the answers but we have to nip them in the bud.

Many of society's problems today are not adequately approached from the prevention perspective. Whether is is battling crime or human trafficking or terrorism or even cancer, prevention does not receive as much attention as war or cure. Prevention does not sound cool.

For one, India needs strong law enforcement with greater involvement from the citizens, demanding accountability. There should be more personnel and technology dedicated to anti-terrorism.

On another note, when I read this piece of news, I was shocked. Is public taxpayer money being used to provide special security to Bollywood stars and builders? True, they may be getting threats from the underworld but isn't every citizen at risk from terrorist acts? In fact, the average citizen who commutes by train or bus is probably at greater risk than a film star who has his/her own car and mostly takes a flight for out-of-town shoots. The state should treat all citizens as equal under the law regardless of their status in society. Is a doctor's life less important than Amitabh Bachchan's or Shah Rukh Khan's? High security is provided to the topmost people in public office such the President, Prime Minister and Chief Ministers and extended to a few others who hold high positions in government. In India, however, we have a skewed logic where public money is expended on unnecessary things but not essentials such as better equipment and training for our police forces.
Movie stars can afford to pay for their own security.

As a nation, we need to sit up and do something about our burning issues, not just rant and rail against the system, then go back to our world and throw up our hands in despair.

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