Friday, November 28, 2008

Circle of Life OR Vicious Circle of Revenge

Interesting to see that almost everyone on my blogroll has been moved to post on this incident. No other incident in the past has brought such a spontaneous reaction from almost everyone. Like one report said, this is India's 9/11. I agree that the tragedy is similar in its scale and loss of innocence. What bothers me is we should not bungle up the aftermath like the macho Americans did.

I am an extremely cynical and angry person myself. Yet, I notice that the anger seething through the pages of these blogs and comments far exceeds what I feel. I am sure the emotions in the offline world are even more fiery. It worries me a lot that our instinct is to look at this from a religious fundamentalist angle. Despite all our education and civility, we are unable to decouple these attackers from their rhetoric. Just by doing that we are playing into the hands of people who WANT us to treat this as a religious divide.

This is no more than a law and order breakdown. Period. I wish we would tackle it as such.

The facts are that a group of 26 odd men decided to bully unarmed civilians with automatic weapons, making no demands and issuing no threats. They merely killed who they could, held a small number of hostages and did not go after those who fled. As a modus operandi, it is no different than the everyday psychopath school shooting in the US. Only difference is, there are 26 psychopaths involved instead of just one. We don't go attacking Korea just because one of the psycho students was a Korean, do we?

The way to tackle psychopath killers is to surround them, disarm them and arrest or shoot them. The Bombay police is doing exactly that. I salute them for their efficient and detached handling of this crisis. For them, this isn't about hindu or muslim cops, Indian or foreign victims, jehadi or looney shooters. For them, it is merely a mission to save everyone and "sanitize" the captured areas, as the NSG chief keeps saying.

Unfortunately, the rest of the country is more interested in a different kind of "sanitizing". We are ready to blame an entire community for the savage acts of 25 people from that community. Those who are not ready will be accused of "being soft on terror". In a worse case, it could promote gun culture in India. There will be talks of another partition, a more complete one this time. There could be another such siege, operated by the 'victim' community this time-- and it may well be supported silently by most of us.

The US has been on a revenge hunt for the past 8 years. They have shown the vaporous terrorists how strong they are. The result?

Anarchy in Iraq. More deaths than we even care to count. More deaths than any terror outfit could inflict.
Breakdown in Afghanistan.
More attacks in UK, India and other "allies".
Increased fear while traveling in planes, while calling friends in Karachi, while falling in love with Sakina Bano

Their hard response to terror had the exact opposite impact. The world today is worse off than when we started "sanitizing". This is not a critique of Bush or America or their politics. It is merely an observation of human fragility and our self-destructive thirst for revenge. I know it is hard to forgive. I probably would not if one of mine was trapped at the hotels.

Yet I believe we can only fight terror if we rise above religion and politics. We must not let rhetoric dictate our sensibilities and our humanity. We must not let the masterminds sit back and relish the fracas. We must allow our children to blossom in a magic circle of LIFE.

How we deal with the aftermath would really define the tragedy of 26/11.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Die Hard with a Sizzler

Another night, another nightmare.

Mumbai seems to be a favorite hunting ground for all sorts of 2-bit criminals. Starting from the Madh-Island smugglers back in the 70s, through the D-company in the 90s and now the Hindu-Islamic Fanatics. We were jolted by an sms at 4AM this morning asking us if our families were well after the terror attacks in Bombay. I sleepily thought the sender must be hallucinating; there was no news till 9PM and who do terrorists attack at midnight anyway? The answer, of course, was once again straight out of JK Rowling's imagination.

Just like the Death Eaters who attack anyone anywhere, this time we were subjected to random shootings at crowded public places. Foreign and Indian guests having dinner at two of India's best hotels were interrupted with grenade and machine-gun fire. Images show blood and abandoned luggage at railway stations, gunmen firing inside hospitals and hostage situations in India's top hotels that would make McClane cringe. TV grabs show kids no more than 16-19 year old, wielding automatic weapons and a glazed expression. Clueless about ideology their only mission is to kill. Like any good supari killer in Bombay, they did not fail. This attack seems to have less to do with religion and more to do with law-and-order. The body count is 100 and counting, while the siege in hotels continues as I write this...

I completely admire the Bombay police and believe that only they have the strategy and gumption to control a situation as grave as this. I salute the brave Hemant Karkare and Vijay Salaskar, who were the Dark Knights of Bombay's streets. For them to be killed at point-blank range by cowardly assassins is truly tragic. I pray the commandos fighting to save the 40-50 guests still trapped in the Taj and Oberoi hotels succeed without grave casualties.

At the same time, it makes me wonder about our so-called security. A story that got overshadowed by the Bombay firing was the siege at Bangkok airport. Although this was non-violent (so far), protesters managed to go all the way up to control tower at Suvarnabhumi airport and bring the operations to a complete halt.

I have been subjected to increasingly moronic security measures like removing my belt for scanning, getting my keys beeped separately and having the coin section of my wallet examined. Whether airports, hotels or malls, we bear long and hot queues while squeezing through uncomfortably narrow metal detectors and open all bags for inspection. In most cases, the people being subjected to these checks have no evil intentions in mind. The times that someone really wants to screw the system, they seem to have no trouble barging in. These measures then seem as effective as holding up a blade of grass to thwart a rape attempt. Begs the question, are these security measures no more than eyewash? A comforting illusion, like the 75 year old watchman guarding my building gate?

The detectors at Taj and Oberoi could not stop armed gunmen from entering. The security at Bangkok airport couldn't prevent the airport itself from being attacked. How did they plan to ever secure the skies? I am not an advocate of guns for the masses (like in US) or giving up on security measures. However, considering the amount of money and time we spend "cooperating" with security agencies, don't you agree the recent attacks call their bluff? Their mantra of "more inconvenience = more security" proves to be no good when it comes to REAL defense. Why then should we waste public money on fancy impotent gizmos and offer ourselves for scrutiny?

In the aftermath of this attack, they will "step up" security in Bangalore and Delhi. In other words, they will frisk you more on the way to a movie. Will that help if I am planning to riddle you with my AK-47? Will I really be standing in a queue waiting to get beeped?

It is time the security industry wakes up to become more accountable, to come up with genuine strategies instead of paranoia to make their buck. It is also, perhaps, time that we began to think of terror and suspicion in a larger context. Unlike what Bush says, terror is not war and you cannot fight it the same way. The only way to manage terror is by addressing the real, social issues that breed malcontent youth. The way to end terror is by not launching another attack in retaliation, by not using torture on captured youth (whether hindu or muslim) and by allowing justice rather than mob-rule to prevail.

It is time, indeed, that we started to trust and love our neighbor-- even at the risk of betrayal-- rather than create a world of suspicion and paranoia for our children.

Meanwhile, I hope and pray the affected people at Bombay and Bangkok emerge safe and sound from this madness, quickly.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Some one to walk over me

The elections have become a game of manipulating the media in the US. The better candidate better manipulates. The even better candidate accuses the other of manipulation, in a graceful manipulative swipe. The public buys it all. In this election, McCain and his moll may actually benefit from a sympathy vote after all the media-bashing. Loved this comment someone left on the NYT article.