Thursday, November 27, 2008

mumbai terror attacks

As the name of this blog suggests, I have been to Mumbai and indeed to many of the exact sites (the Taj Hotel, the train station, etc.) targeted in yesterday's attacks. The attacks were vicious even by South Asian standards and it isn't over yet, with dozens killed and several more being held as hostages. Confusing things further were the fact that the group claiming responsibility (the Deccan Mujahedeen) does not appear to exist: most experts think it was home-grown terrorists although the Indian Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh, has talked of external links.

Nothing is ever simple in India, and it may be that both theories--home-grown violence with some external support--have some truth to them. Although there is no official discrimination, it is hard to be a Muslim in India, and grievances (religious, social, economic) are not difficult to find. There have been several episodes of large-scale anti-Muslim violence, most notoriously in Gujarat (ironically, Gandhi's home province), and a fair amount of repression in Kashmir which does not normally receive much attention in the West.

But it is also the case that Pakistan, or individual Pakistanis, have done a great deal to encourage or foment violence, to a degree that we would probably have difficulty tolerating in the U.S. Should there be even circumstantial evidence of such a link, it may be difficult for India to avoid reacting in some form. What was already the most dangerous place on the planet just got a little more so.

NOTE: Haaretz newspaper reported today that eight people were being held hostage at the Chabad (Lubavitch) House in Mumbai and "between 20 and 30" Israelis were among the hostages at the Oberoi Hotel--a disproportionate number, it would seem, suggesting they may have been intentionally selected. When I was at another hotel in Mumbai I heard a man talking Hebrew loudly into his cellphone who, when I started a conversation, denied he was an Israeli. I understand that a little bit better now.


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