Tragedy and trauma magnify a nation's awareness or lack thereof. The events surrounding the Mumbai carnage have revealed certain aspects of India's collective psyche that provide food for thought and perhaps a lesson to learn. Christmas is a good time for reflection, self-examination and new resolutions.
The country had already suffered a wave of mindless bombings and targeted attacks on Muslim and Christian minorities recently. That the killings in Mumbai by Muslim gunmen, whose victims included dozens of fellow Muslims, did not lead to further retribution was an achievement. So weary was the country of the possibility of another disastrous turn of events. On Indian television channels, though, there was plenty of heat and theater in debates. Voices of reason appeared to drown in high-pitched rhetoric from a handful of guests – socialites and self-styled commentators. They were in competition for space with politicians, academics and journalists of the more established ranks. Ex-model, now socialite and author, Shobha De, described as India's answer to Jackie Collins, known for her erotic novels, lambasted politicians for 'failures' that led to the bloodbath. "Enough is enough," she screamed. India's leading English news channel, NDTV, responded by naming an entire episode 'Enough is Enough'. Participants had a field day attacking the government and politicians in general. Those who begged that the fiery rhetoric be toned down had little chance of succeeding until the heat was exhausted.
There were loud calls to teach Pakistan a lesson. The Mumbai attack was described as 'India's 9/11'. Participants demanded that India launch military raids inside Pakistan to destroy militant bases – rather like America using pilotless aircraft that regularly kill many more innocent civilians than militants. Simi Garewal, a movie actress in the 1960s and 1970s, later to host her own talk show, was not going to be left behind. Look at how America retaliated after September 11, 2001, she argued, and no one has dared to harm it since. Even more grotesque was praise for Israel's behavior from a guest.
A recent discussion program on 'Hindu terror' turned to the possibility of Hindu fundamentalism affecting some in the Indian armed forces. The issue was how the military can remain unaffected by a phenomenon that exists in the wider society. When a US-educated academic of Indian descent tried to speak, he was abruptly told by a participant that there would not be a word said against the army. As I have said before, these comments came from a small group of India's neoliberal elite – smart, well-spoken and aggressive. These neoliberals undoubtedly love their country. But their worldview is as misinformed as their remedies are perilous. They boast of India's military might, but fail to understand that Pakistan, like India, also has nuclear weapons. Before both countries became nuclear powers, India's bigger armed forces meant the balance of power was in its favor. However, with nuclear deterrence, Pakistan is now equal to India. A basic knowledge of the doctrine of 'Mutually Assured Destruction' would be enough to counter the foolish proposition of war on Pakistan.
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Equally careless and dangerous were claims about the American retaliation against Afghanistan and the illegal invasion of Iraq, which, it was said, had prevented further attacks on the United States. Such claims are little more than regurgitated rhetoric of George W Bush to begin with. The facts tell a very different story. Terrorist attacks on US mainland are neither frequent, nor have they always originated from outside. Before September 11, 2001, the previous attack by external forces on American mainland was the car bombing of the World Trade Center in 1993. Two years later, a homegrown American bomber, Timothy McVeigh, devastated a large government building in Oklahoma City, killing about 170 people and wounding more than 850 others.
The 9/11 attacks came six years after the Oklahoma City bombing by McVeigh and one hopes nothing like it happens again. Meanwhile, five thousand American soldiers have died and tens of thousands have been injured and traumatized in Afghanistan and Iraq. Hundreds of thousands of Afghans and Iraqis have perished. Millions have been made homeless and displaced. Many have been abducted, tortured and thrown into notorious prisons like Guantanamo. The hatred for the Bush administration is widespread. From the Palestinian Territories through Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Afghanistan to Pakistan, India and elsewhere – the overall balance sheet of George W Bush is deeply in the red, even without considering the world economic slump.
Heaping praise on Israel's conduct from the television studios of Bombay and Delhi has no relation with realities in the Middle East. Despite its huge military superiority and brutal tactics, Israel has failed to tame the Palestinian rebellion. One-and-a-half million Palestinians in Gaza, two-thirds of them registered with the United Nations as refugees, live in desperate conditions, under an Israeli blockade. A growing number of Israelis are alarmed at their government's tactics and the deteriorating situation all around their country.
Israel's military superiority is maintained by more than three billion dollars of American money every year. The nuclear weapons which Israel first developed in the late 1960s may have deterred its Arab enemies in the 1973 war and afterwards. Today, Israel faces a different threat. It comes from the mass of alienated humanity encircling Israel that nuclear weapons cannot counter. A country of Israel's size, in the midst of Arab neighbors, cannot use weapons of mass destruction without grave consequences for itself.
All of which tells us that members of the relatively small westernized, but ill-informed, neoliberal elite of India would benefit from the reserve of morality and wisdom the country has accumulated over its long history. The lesson to learn is that thoughtless talk, without consideration for the consequences, is dangerous.
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