Different Writers’ Views on Bombay

By Geoffrey Cook, MMNS

New York–The situation in Gaza, which I have covered for the better part of two months, has changed dramatically with the Israeli elections last week.  (They have not been fully determined as I write.)  I am going to temporarily turn my attention now, though, to the Indo-Pakistani emergency that has arisen over the Mumbai terror attacks.  The Pakistani Government has acknowledged that a group, Laskar-e-Taiba, who were fighting for the right of Indian Kashmiris to join Pakistani Kashmir and, consequently,  had been domiciled within the Islamic Republic, partially planned the dastardly raid.  The Pakistani Government under pressure from Washington and New Delhi has charged nine individuals with crimes associated with the Bombay (Mumbai) assault.  At the same time, Islamabad has complained about the lack of candor in sharing information from New Delhi.

Two months ago the Asia Society presented a discussion among three noted writers — Salman Rushdie, Mira Kamdar and Suketo Mehta who all had strong connections with Mumbai (Bombay) plus Rome Hartman as moderator on the late November (2008’s) terror attacks on that Indian city. 

I have decided, although many of my readers are critical of him, to concentrate on Mr. Rushdie since he is from an Indian Islamic family but mainly brought up in London.   Curiously, while I have been working on this piece, the British press has made much of the twentieth anniversary of the fatwa pronounced upon him by the Ayatollah Khomeini of Iran.  Salman Rushdie, although a Muslim born in Bombay, holds a knighthood as a British citizen.  What struck me — while not acknowledging any justification for the extremists’ exploits, as he should — was his inability to understand the motivation of the terrorists.  “The incredible cruelty of these killers!”  Very true but a much more simplistic exclamation than one would expect from an author so highly touted by the literati of London and New York.

Rushdie pointed out the cynicism of the politicians.  Indian and U.S. Intelligence warned the local authorities of a likely attack from the sea for the very night of its commencement, but the Indian Costal Defense forces could not locate the attackers.  There was “a pile of mistakes.”  The anti-terrorist troops of the Indian Army, who fought so heroically in Bombay itself, were permanently quartered centrally in the greater Delhi megalopolis, and it took several days to get them properly deployed on the coastline of Maharashtra around India’s commercial hub.  Rushdie stated that Indians should not be asking for new laws but reforms.  Bombay is “a city of pleasures,” and the radicals have “a real dislike of an open society,” and (so) “they attack[ed] it!”  Again, simplistic, and I am not sure of the accuracy of their motivations.  If at all it is far from a primary motive. 

Salman misses the point when he the writes off the aggression to cowardice.  Cowards they are not, but they do not have a way or the means to dialogue with another type of an aggressor bearing down upon them, and this is a thing of which Mr. Rushdie is a master – and that is Post-Modernity.  To counter such horrifying instances as that Bombay November, we must respect those who hold to an older mindset, and only counter their complaints with military means as a last resort.  At this time, it appears that the onslaught came in response to the Indian Government’s inability to address the United Nation (U.N,’s) Resolutions and the political aspirations of the Kashmiri people by holding a plebiscite to determine their will as to their future as the only Muslim majority State within the Federation.  Laskar-e-Taiba is an extreme fringe element in the struggle for Kashmir’s independence, autonomy or accession to Islamabad.  In a very real sense that fanatical group has done much harm to the legitimate resolution of the calamity within the Vale!

I could understand, the two Indian Hindus present’s Pakistan-bashing (although I think it is most dangerous within a close short-fused nuclear neighborhood), but Salman Rushdie’s knee jerk allegations against his fellow Subcontinental Muslims in Pakistan is as Nationalistic as the (fascist-like) Hindu Right (VHP, BJP, RSS, etc.).  Rushdie accuses Islamabad of accruing its power among the nations by its resentment of India!  For him, it is “a decreasingly functioning society” where their civilian politicians have been ineffective — especially the present-day Asif Zardari.

There has been a large debate over the excesses of the Fourth Estate during the Mumbai devastation by pumping the assailants’ notoriety to a national and international audience, and, thereby, making their feat an ephemeral “success,” but Rushdie did not judge the press to be the primary problem.  [Things were] “…pronounced, but …in fact…wasn’t… [because] it was changing so fast.”

Salman questions the proper policy towards Pakistan (I sense he means both India’s and the United States’), and he comes  up with the typical knee jerk reaction that one would expect of a lower middle class Indian (or even an American for that matter) instead of understanding the complexities of the political situation: “All roads of terrorism lead to Pakistan.”  He accuses the democratically elected Government of acting shamefully.  He, also, criticizes Washington for treating Pakistan with “velvet gloves” ignoring the fact that after Great Britain — possibly — Pakistan has been Washington’s most consistent ally since its birth.   To begin, the Central Government in Islamabad finds itself to be under severe threat by those very actors that have delivered this worst incidence of dread to the Republic of India.  (Islamabad has recently stated that their most reactionary constituents in Peshawar’s Provinces were a most grave hazard to the Islamic Republic itself!)  By the fighting and loses in the Northwest, it is apparent that Rawapindi does not have these players under their authority. It must be acknowledged, also, that most likely scattered renegade elements within the Islamic Government itself encourage these reactionary forces.  On Sunday (February 15th, 2009), it was reported that the Central Government caved into the demands of the Taliban to allow them to enforce strict Islamic Law Swat Valley – one of the rebels’ chief demands.

At least Rushdie concedes that “Islam had nothing to do with 1947.”  That is, Islam was not to blame for the horrors of the Partition of British India.  It is this historical incident that has divided peoples within an identical cultural zone in Southern Asia.

In conclusion, President Zardari’s acknowledged that a few of his fellow citizens were involved in the Mumbai attacks. Although accordingly those assaults were partially planned in his country, the ensuing violence was, also, plotted in Europe and the Gulf. The Pakistani State has charged nine of their nationals with direct participation or conspiracy in the crimes.  The Islamic Administration has asked for further documentation from the Indian regime to investigate the latter’s claim of further links to Pakistan.  So, far the dossier from New Delhi has not been expanded.  Added to this is the weakness of the current executive in Pakistan compared to the previous command.  This makes it harder for the Zardari coalition to control those very renegade elements that challenge not only him but Prime Minister Singh and all South Asia.  Dr. Manmohan Singh’s Centrist Congress Party has to face re-election soon. 

They have to confront a strong challenge from the anti-Islamic BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party), and part of the Laskar-e-Taiba’s timing was to force new Delhi to the right in expectation that oppression against Muslims would once again become policy in hopes they could gain back Islamic popular backing. These people are not stupid; just brutally dangerous.  That is why over simplifications such as Mr. Rushdie’s are just as perilous in countering these anti-social forces and for the purpose of coming towards resolution of long-standing disputes.


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