Friday, November 28, 2008

What do the Mumbai Attacks Mean for India?

Shown on the left a picture of one of the Mumbai gunmenn, as he walks at the Chatrapathi Sivaji Terminal railway station.
Photo by Sebastian D'Souza / AP / Mumbai Mirror

The attacks that started Wednesday night took everyone by surprise. It became apparent soon enough that this attack was different from the previous ones that had occured in Mumbai on other occasions. There appeared to be coordination between the gunmen as they fanned out to specific locations, shooting at anyone in their paths. To compound the situation, the gunmen attempted (and were successful) in taking hostages.

The situation (today is Friday) continues to unfold as I write this. Check out Vinu's Flickr for photos of the blast and navy activity.

The identity of the gunmen remains a big question, but already ideas are floating around. First, the gunmen were reported to have asked for Western passport holders (namely American and British) at the two hotels they had stormed. Second, the gunmen were reported to have asked for the release of Islamic muhajideen held in Indian jails. And one of the locations a group of the gunmen had stormed was a Jewish cafe and synagogue run by an American Jewish man and an Israeli woman (husband and wife). And a group called the Deccan Mujahideen had claimed responsibility for the attacks. It follows that Islamic radicals are responsible for the attacks.

The Indian government has also stated that "foreign" elements had been involved in the attacks, in a thinly veiled accusation at Pakistan. Indian police are investigating a mechanised fishing boat that had gone missing along with five of its crew from near the Pakistan maritime border 13 days ago.

All things considered, people are pointing the finger at Islamists.

Fareed Zakaria from the Newsweek suggested that these could be outsiders (with some home-grown recruits):

Any insight into where the terrorists might come from, then?
An Indian businessman who says he heard the attackers said he didn't understand the language that the young men were speaking. That means that it wasn't Hindi or Urdu… most Indians would recognize the major languages even if they couldn't speak one of them. But most Indians would be unfamiliar with what's spoken in parts of the Kashmir. That's a source of much of the terrorism. My guess is that ultimately this will turn out to be some outside jihadi groups who might also recruit among disaffected Muslims locally.

But there has been many other reports that indicated that the gunmen spoke in a language that was understood by the Indians - and many said they were speaking Hindi.

Before people rush to conclusions, we should keep in mind that there is much uncertain about the identity of the attackers.

Even if the gunmen were outsiders, they could not have operated as efficiently as they have without some local support. The question would

The attacks were horrifying, but not surprising at all.

India has a record of discrimination towards its Muslim minorities(which btw has the second largest Muslim population the world after Indonesia). Discrimination is putting it lightly, and it is probably an inadequate word - for instance, it does not convey the 2002 Gujarat massacres, which should more appropriately be called a genocide. It has been shown that the Gujarat government, with Narendra Modi, was complicit in the Gujarat masscares.

Funny thing is, Indians recently voted Modi back into office! He was elected again for a third term on December 23, 2007 with an emphatic win in the state elections, which he had cast as a "referendum on his rule". So much for the Gujarati sense of justice.

After a series of bombings in western India in July 2008, emails were sent out by the alleged perpetrators, which claimed that the attacks were "the revenge of Gujarat".

Simply put, Indian Muslims are disenfranchised citizens. It will not be surprising that if it does turn out that the gunmen were Indian citizens.

Again Fareed Zakaria, himself an Indian Muslim from Mumbai, now in the US as a political commentator):

Muslim militants have been responsible for much of the violence that has plagued Mumbai in recent years. But these attacks seem to be of a different magnitude.
One of the untold stories of India is that the Muslim population has not shared in the boom the country has enjoyed over the last ten years. There is still a lot of institutional discrimination, and many remain persecuted. There's enough alienation out there that there are locals who can be drawn in to plots. That tends to be a pattern, from Madrid to Casablanca to Bali — some hard-core jihadis who indoctrinate alienated locals they can seduce.

Too many people are quick to shout out that absolutely nothing justifies violence. But such an attitude will never rid the world of violence. It is human nature to lash out against injustice - certain individuals are more apt to be susceptible to violence to correct injustices. Case in point, South Africa's fight against apartheid, Palestine's struggle against Israeli occupation. The weak and the oppressed fight to make a show of defiance - who would want to remain under the foot of another?

If you want to rid the world of violence, remove the underlying factors that provoke it.

It is not an impossible task - and it only becomes so, if you believe it so.

Hopefully, the world (or at least India) heeds the call.

But the chances of that happening are minimal.

One reader comment from an Indian woman named Neha was calling for an Indian Bush to attack Pakistan so as to prevent further attacks on India.

Rational heads should prevail, but sadly, the Indian government is only too keen to play the blame game than make a move towards real positive changes that uplift their disenfranchised Muslim citizens.

Worryingly though, once this is over, the rabid backlash can be quick and vicious - and the oppressed Indian Muslims will be more vulnerable than ever....

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Viva La Vida | Live the Life

Another weekend has passed. And tomorrow the work week begins - five more days of absolute mind-numbing drudgery.

The odd thing is, all of this occurs in an "intellectual" environment. Thr process of generating intellectual ideas and thoughts, though can be tedious,and at times (lately, more often than not), creatively stifling.

This is a problem for free-spirited individuals like myself. If I were given a choice, I would spend my days dreaming up of stories, and then writing them down. Sadly, I have not done that in years.

I have to work to earn a living - and I cannot afford to stay home and write, in the off chance that I might actually earn a living out of it.

My compromise has been to sneak a few hours off my "intellectual" work during the work week, to work on my creative stuff.

Believe me, it is not an easy process. There are days when it is impossible to switch roles. I find myself staring at the computer unable to put down in words my thoughts.

Then I say I'll do it later. The usual cop-out.

But later never comes, so I never do get around to it.

Before I know it, days have passed, then weeks and months.

How much longer will I keep telling myself, later?

I feel a deep sense of restlessness.

I ardently wish I could just take off to a remote island, where I can focus on myself and my dreams.

It is difficult to do that with people and responsibilities milling around you.

But this life is the only one I have got. I will not be able to retrieve the time I have let go so carelessly. I just have to live life the way I want to live life.

I have to stop thinking about the how, the why and the way. Just live.

Now. Today. This very minute.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

The Obama Administration

The euphoria over Barack Hussein Obama's election to the United States of America's highest political office has more or less settled down. People are now back to worrying about the economy, and the recent dives in the stock market has not helped stem the overall gloomy mood. The new President will have his work cut out for him when he takes the office in January.

I hope things turn around, and that his administration will not be ineffectual. Some of his recent moves have given me pause. Only days after his win, he rebuffed Iran's attempt at opening a dialogue between the two countries. It was disappointing.

He had ran his campaign under the slogan of 'change', and people voted him in thinking that his victory will bring about a new approach to US foreign policy; to have the world regard the US government favorably again. And the reason why so many foreigners welcomed his election was that they too envisioned a leader that would be open to resolving problems through dialogue and positive influence (soft power) rather than hard power (force).

The question is, will there really be change, or has he been just talk?

To see him, spout the same old line as the previous administration AFTER Iran made the first positive move is inexcusable. Did he even accept the congratulations from the Iranian President? I didn't see any report that indicated so.

Despite the whole hoo-ha made over Obama's "link" to the Muslim world, him having lived in Indonesia for sometime, I believe that an Obama administration's dealings in that part of the world would be no different than any other previous Democratic administration. Do not expect any miracles in the Palestine-Israeli issue. Still, better than a Bush administration though, most would agree.

I am aghast that he is actually considering Senator Hillary Clinton for the secretary of state position.

Tom Friedman of the NYT wrote this that sums up exactly why this would be a bad idea:

“It takes America’s friends and adversaries about five minutes to figure out who really speaks for the White House and who doesn’t,” wrote Aaron D. Miller, a former State Department Middle East adviser and the author of “The Much Too Promised Land.” “If a secretary of state falls into the latter category, he or she will have little chance of doing effective diplomacy on a big issue. More likely, they’ll be played like a finely tuned violin or simply taken for granted.”

When the U.S. secretary of state walks into the room, Miller added in a recent essay in The Los Angeles Times, “his or her interlocutors need to be on the edge of their seats, not comfortably situated in their chairs wondering how best to manipulate the secretary. If anything, they should be worried about being manipulated themselves.”

My question is whether a President Obama and a Secretary of State Clinton, given all that has gone down between them and their staffs, can have that kind of relationship, particularly with Mrs. Clinton always thinking four to eight years ahead, and the possibility that she may run again for the presidency. I just don’t know.

I don't know how well an Obama administration would fare. I would wish it does well enough for him to be re-elected for a second term. But that depends on a multitude of factors - the economy, Iraq, Iran, terrorism, minimising polarisation between Republicans and Democrats etc......

He won people's hearts - let's just hope he keeps it, and surrounds himself with good advisors and capable people.