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Tom Friedman wrote an editorial in the Times on Wednesday titled, “Calling All Pakistanis.” His plea was for the average citizen in Pakistan to step forward and denounce this extremism—not just for India’s sake, but for Pakistan’s sake as well:

Why? Because it takes a village. The best defense against this kind of murderous violence is to limit the pool of recruits, and the only way to do that is for the home society to isolate, condemn and denounce publicly and repeatedly the murderers — and not amplify, ignore, glorify, justify or “explain” their activities.

Friedman’s message is very similar to a blog posting that came to my attention a few days ago by way of my good friend Laurence. Paul Marek, a second-generation Canadian whose grandparents fled Czechoslovakia just prior to the Nazi takeover, posted the following piece in February of 2006. Both these articles speak to the concerns I am carrying daily about the devastation in Mumbai and what must happen to avoid another episode of violence. (BTW, Marek’s blog, Celestial Junk, is a very unlikely place for me to find a point of view that speaks to my sensibilities, so all the more reason to enjoy a confluence of thought on this topic.)

Why The Peaceful Majority Is Irrelevant
By Paul E. Marek

She misses the point: Her job is to prevent the fanatics from hijacking her faith

I used to know a man whose family were German aristocracy prior to World War Two. They owned a number of large industries and estates. I asked him how many German people were true Nazis, and the answer he gave has stuck with me and guided my attitude toward fanaticism ever since.

“Very few people were true Nazis” he said, “but, many enjoyed the return of German pride, and many more were too busy to care. I was one of those who just thought the Nazis were a bunch of fools. So, the majority just sat back and let it all happen. Then, before we knew it, they owned us, and we had lost control, and the end of the world had come. My family lost everything. I ended up in a concentration camp and the Allies destroyed my factories.”

We are told again and again by “experts” and “talking heads” that Islam is the religion of peace, and that the vast majority of Muslims just want to live in peace. Although this unquantified assertion may be true, it is entirely irrelevant. It is meaningless fluff, meant to make us feel better, and meant to somehow diminish the specter of fanatics rampaging across the globe in the name of Islam. The fact is, that the fanatics rule Islam at this moment in history. It is the fanatics who march. It is the fanatics who wage any one of 50 shooting wars world wide. It is the fanatics who systematically slaughter Christian or tribal groups throughout Africa and are gradually taking over the entire continent in an Islamic wave. It is the fanatics who bomb, behead, murder, or honor kill. It is the fanatics who take over mosque after mosque. It is the fanatics who zealously spread the stoning and hanging of rape victims and homosexuals. The hard quantifiable fact is, that the “peaceful majority” is the “silent majority” and it is cowed and extraneous.

Communist Russia was comprised of Russians who just wanted to live in peace, yet the Russian Communists were responsible for the murder of about 20 million people. The peaceful majority were irrelevant. China’s huge population was peaceful as well, but Chinese Communists managed to kill a staggering 70 million people. The Average Japanese individual prior to World War 2 was not a war mongering sadist. Yet, Japan murdered and slaughtered its way across South East Asia in an orgy of Killing that included the systematic killing of 12 million Chinese civilians; most killed by sword, shovel, and bayonet. And, who can forget Rwanda, which collapsed into butchery. Could it not be said that the majority of Rwandans were “peace loving”.

History lessons are often incredibly simple and blunt, yet for all our powers of reason we often miss the most basic and uncomplicated of points. Peace-loving Muslims have been made irrelevant by the fanatics. Peace-loving Muslims have been made irrelevant by their silence. Peace-loving Muslims will become our enemy if they don’t speak up, because like my friend from Germany, they will awake one day and find that the fanatics own them, and the end of their world will have begun. Peace-loving Germans, Japanese, Chinese, Russians, Rwandans, Bosnians, Afghans, Iraqis, Palestinians, Somalis, Nigerians, Algerians, and many others, have died because the peaceful majority did not speak up until it was too late. As for us who watch it all unfold, we must pay attention to the only group that counts; the fanatics who threaten our way of life.

Tree shrine in Mumbai, August 2008

As a follow up to my earlier posting about Mumbai, I am including a very moving op-ed piece that appeared in the New York Times over the weekend. For those of you who are long time or newly converted Indiaphiles (I’m in the latter category) I think this piece will move you.

My bleeding city. My poor great bleeding heart of a city. Why do they go after Mumbai? There’s something about this island-state that appalls religious extremists, Hindus and Muslims alike. Perhaps because Mumbai stands for lucre, profane dreams and an indiscriminate openness.

Mumbai is all about dhandha, or transaction. From the street food vendor squatting on a sidewalk, fiercely guarding his little business, to the tycoons and their dreams of acquiring Hollywood, this city understands money and has no guilt about the getting and spending of it. I once asked a Muslim man living in a shack without indoor plumbing what kept him in the city. “Mumbai is a golden songbird,” he said. It flies quick and sly, and you’ll have to work hard to catch it, but if you do, a fabulous fortune will open up for you. The executives who congregated in the Taj Mahal hotel were chasing this golden songbird. The terrorists want to kill the songbird.

Just as cinema is a mass dream of the audience, Mumbai is a mass dream of the peoples of South Asia. Bollywood movies are the most popular form of entertainment across the subcontinent. Through them, every Pakistani and Bangladeshi is familiar with the wedding-cake architecture of the Taj and the arc of the Gateway of India, symbols of the city that gives the industry its name. It is no wonder that one of the first things the Taliban did upon entering Kabul was to shut down the Bollywood video rental stores. The Taliban also banned, wouldn’t you know it, the keeping of songbirds.

Bollywood dream-makers are shaken. “I am ashamed to say this,” Amitabh Bachchan, superstar of a hundred action movies, wrote on his blog. “As the events of the terror attack unfolded in front of me, I did something for the first time and one that I had hoped never ever to be in a situation to do. Before retiring for the night, I pulled out my licensed .32 revolver, loaded it and put it under my pillow.”

Mumbai is a “soft target,” the terrorism analysts say. Anybody can walk into the hotels, the hospitals, the train stations, and start spraying with a machine gun. Where are the metal detectors, the random bag checks? In Mumbai, it’s impossible to control the crowd. In other cities, if there’s an explosion, people run away from it. In Mumbai, people run toward it — to help. Greater Mumbai takes in a million new residents a year. This is the problem, say the nativists. The city is just too hospitable. You let them in, and they break your heart.

In the Bombay I grew up in, your religion was a personal eccentricity, like a hairstyle. In my school, you were denominated by which cricketer or Bollywood star you worshiped, not which prophet. In today’s Mumbai, things have changed. Hindu and Muslim demagogues want the mobs to come out again in the streets, and slaughter one another in the name of God. They want India and Pakistan to go to war. They want Indian Muslims to be expelled. They want India to get out of Kashmir. They want mosques torn down. They want temples bombed.

And now it looks as if the latest terrorists were our neighbors, young men dressed not in Afghan tunics but in blue jeans and designer T-shirts. Being South Asian, they would have grown up watching the painted lady that is Mumbai in the movies: a city of flashy cars and flashier women. A pleasure-loving city, a sensual city. Everything that preachers of every religion thunder against. It is, as a monk of the pacifist Jain religion explained to me, “paap-ni-bhoomi”: the sinful land.

In 1993, Hindu mobs burned people alive in the streets — for the crime of being Muslim in Mumbai. Now these young Muslim men murdered people in front of their families — for the crime of visiting Mumbai. They attacked the luxury businessmen’s hotels. They attacked the open-air Cafe Leopold, where backpackers of the world refresh themselves with cheap beer out of three-foot-high towers before heading out into India. Their drunken revelry, their shameless flirting, must have offended the righteous believers in the jihad. They attacked the train station everyone calls V.T., the terminus for runaways and dreamers from all across India. And in the attack on the Chabad house, for the first time ever, it became dangerous to be Jewish in India.

The terrorists’ message was clear: Stay away from Mumbai or you will get killed. Cricket matches with visiting English and Australian teams have been shelved. Japanese and Western companies have closed their Mumbai offices and prohibited their employees from visiting the city. Tour groups are canceling long-planned trips.

But the best answer to the terrorists is to dream bigger, make even more money, and visit Mumbai more than ever. Dream of making a good home for all Mumbaikars, not just the denizens of $500-a-night hotel rooms. Dream not just of Bollywood stars like Aishwarya Rai or Shah Rukh Khan, but of clean running water, humane mass transit, better toilets, a responsive government. Make a killing not in God’s name but in the stock market, and then turn up the forbidden music and dance; work hard and party harder.

If the rest of the world wants to help, it should run toward the explosion. It should fly to Mumbai, and spend money. Where else are you going to be safe? New York? London? Madrid?

So I’m booking flights to Mumbai. I’m going to go get a beer at the Leopold, stroll over to the Taj for samosas at the Sea Lounge, and watch a Bollywood movie at the Metro. Stimulus doesn’t have to be just economic.

Suketa Mehta
New York Times

Suketu Mehta, a professor of journalism at New York University, is the author of Maximum City: Bombay Lost and Found.




Taj Hotel in Mumbai, August 2008

The last several days my thoughts have been focused on the tragedy in Mumbai. I have only been to Mumbai once, and I have no family blood ties to that or any other part of India. But sometimes a place or a culture captures you inexplicably, and that is what happened to me last August.

India is an enchantress for a certain kind of person (me), and Mumbai was exceptionally sprawling, chaotic and beguiling. The legendary Taj Hotel where we sat sipping tea and soaking in all that 19th century soigné charm is now under siege, the wide boulevards of Apollo Bunder cordoned off. I have only just begun to dig into the layered complexity of the Indian culture, but in that beginner’s mind sort of way I am still longing to go back and uncover more of its secrets. But this is so unsettling.

This posting from Amardeep Singh‘s blog is from 2006 and was in response to a previous terrorist attack in Mumbai. It is hauntingly appropriate in 2008 so I am sharing it here.

Sea Breeze, Bombay

Partition’s people stitched
Shrouds from a flag, gentlemen scissored Sind.
An opened people, fraying across the cut
country reknotted themselves on this island.

Surrogate city of banks,
Brokering and bays, refugees’ harbour and port,
Gatherer of ends whose brick beginnings work
Loose like a skin, spotting the coast,

Restore us to fire. New refugees,
Wearing blood-red wool in the worst heat,
come from Tibet, scanning the sea from the north,
Dazed, holes in their cracked feet.

Restore us to fire. Still,
Communities tear and re-form; and still, a breeze,
Cooling our garrulous evenings, investigates nothing,
Ruffles no tempers, uncovers no root,

And settles no one adrift of the mainland’s histories.

–Adil Jussawalla

This poem is really a response to the Partition of 1947, but I think it has bearing on the questions people are asking a day after a particularly horrifying terrorist attack.

Jussawalla describes a rootless island city that is in some sense cut off from the “mainland’s histories” — that is on its own. But that sense of detachment has its limits, as Bombay has also been the destination point for waves of migrants and refugees from the subcontinent’s recurring troubles. These immigrant Bombayites (or now, Mumbaikars) bring new life and energy to the city (“restore us to fire”), and also tie the city tightly to the mainland’s darker episodes (the other meaning of “restore us to fire”). Some elite Bombayites have historically been ambivalent about their connection to the mainland, and even today, there are people who talk about instituting a kind of Hong Kong-esque autonomy to Mumbai, to prevent its being held back by the mainland’s elephant slowness.

The idea of Bombay paying for traumas occurring elsewhere was probably true in the case of bombing and riots of 1993, which were triggered by the razing of the Babri Masjid at Ayodhya, though it’s undeniable that local Muslim-led gangs and homegrown Shiv Sena thugs exploited that event for their own purposes. Something similar may be afoot now, if we assume that the bombers in yesterday’s Western Line attacks were associated with Kashmiri separatist militants.

And yet, through it all, though the trauma of the tearing and re-forming of communities, and the chaos of life in Bombay (even without terrorism), there is, as Jussawalla says, the reassuring constancy of a cooling sea-breeze, which “uncovers no root,/ And settles no one adrift of the mainland’s histories.” Rootless, and yet yet never detached — that’s Bombay.