The Meaning of Mumbai
The Mumbai massacre comes at a time when the U.S. is about to switch battlefields in its avowedly “generational” war on terrorism, from the Middle East to South Asia. As we move our forces eastward into Afghanistan and, inevitably, Pakistan, the events in Mumbai light up the geopolitical landscape like lightning at midnight, prefiguring a new and even bigger quagmire than the one we’re supposedly leaving behind in Iraq. Forget the differences between Sunnis and Shi’ites. That’s so yesterday. What we’re dealing with now, in the Pakistani-Indian rivalry, is a true war of civilizations, pitting Muslims against Hindus.
India’s 9/11: that’s what they’re calling it, and the pattern fits in certain ways, particularly when it comes to forewarnings. In the aftermath of the biggest terrorist attack in U.S. history, it came out that the U.S. government had received intelligence that might have led it to be more vigilant or take certain preventive measures. In the case of Mumbai, however, the warnings were quite specific: the Indians were apparently informed that an attack from water-based terrorists on Mumbai hotels including the Taj Hotel, where much of the action took place was imminent. The most telling detail is no doubt the fact that the Indian police simply ran for cover, although what this tells us is hard to believe. Can it really be true that so specific a warning could have been ignored?
The analogy to 9/11 hopefully does not include a reenactment of our own response to the biggest terrorist attack in our history the launching of a war without end, one that has drawn us into the wilds of Waziristan and, now, the unfathomable depths of the Muslim-Hindu divide.
More parallels with 9/11 if you’ll remember the immediate reaction of the War Party was to link the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon with Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. Today, the reflexive response of the same avowed “experts” is to point the finger at Pakistan. One would imagine the debunking of the Saddam-Osama connection would give them some pause, but no. A rationale for war is being constructed with stunning swiftness.
According to the Indian account, the terrorists left behind a satellite phone on the boat they hijacked. Five individuals have been identified as having placed calls, at least three of them associated with Lashkar-e-Taiba, a Muslim fundamentalist group that seeks to “liberate” Kashmir from Indian rule. However, the Indians have a much longer list of suspects, 20 in all. The Wall Street Journal reports:
“India also has told Pakistan that the attacks were approved by Hafiz Mohammed Saeed, the head of Jamaat ud Dawa, the parent organization of Lashkar-e-Taiba. Mr. Saeed denied the allegation that his group was involved. ‘India has always accused me without any evidence,’ Mr. Saeed said in an interview with GEO News, a private Pakistan television channel.”
In assigning responsibility for the Mumbai horror, we enter a world of murky ambivalence. Lashkar-e-Taiba is said to be affiliated, in some vague way, with “rogue” elements of Pakistani intelligence, which is, in turn, connected to the Taliban, the protector and ally of al-Qaeda. The War Party has its terrorist genealogy down to an exact science, but its precision comes into serious doubt when we look a little closer at this alleged “parent organization” of Lashkar-e-Taiba which apparently wasn’t a terrorist organization when they were working alongside American soldiers and relief workers in aiding victims of the devastating 2005 Pakistan-India earthquake.
The neat little narratives pumped out by war propagandists to rationalize acts of mass murder are an important part of any campaign to spark a conflict, so they have to be minimally convincing, or at least credible. Yet the story coming out of the Indian government is frankly incredible. The terrorists left a satellite phone conveniently placed next to the body of their ship’s captain, whose throat they had slit, with the numbers of their handlers stored in memory. Very convenient. Even less convincing, however, is the assertion that even after Ajmal Kasab, the lone survivor of the terror squad, had been captured, he continued to get messages from his handlers. That little embellishment, I believe, gives the show away. Add to this the oddly unprepared indeed, criminally negligent role of the Indian security apparatus, and the whole thing reeks to high heaven. "Fishy" is putting it mildly.
The effect of the Mumbai massacre on Indian politics is another likely analogy to 9/11, which gave the neocons power and catapulted the worst warmongers to the very top of the national security bureaucracy. In the case of India, where voters will soon go to the polls, we are apt to see an electoral victory for the most militantly nationalistic and chauvinistic political movement in the country, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
The BJP is the political expression of the Hindutva movement, a fundamentalist version of traditional Hinduism that traces the genealogy of the Indian “race” back to the old Aryan incursion from the north. According to the ideologues of Hindutva, their race originated at the North Pole and was originally in its “pure” form a tribe of blue-eyed, blonde Aryans. Accordingly, the leader of their central organization, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), must be a blue-eyed, blonde-haired Saraswat Brahmin. The movement’s goal, like the goals of all fascist movements everywhere, is to recapture the lost glory of a semi-mythical past, in this case the restoration of the ancient Hindu empire.
The Indian government’s great problem has been the country’s lack of cohesion. The failure of the Congress Party to unite the nation around a secularist-federalist model and the persistence of localist separatism paved the way for the BJP to unify the country on a different basis: extreme nationalism fueled by religious fanaticism, i.e., Hindu fundamentalism.
The BJP rose to prominence on the strength of street riots initiated by party-led gangs, which led to the destruction of a local mosque. The BJP municipal government tore down the ruined building and built a Hindu temple on the site, thought to have been the birthplace of the Hindu god Ram. Those civil disturbances killed 1,200, mostly Muslims, a pattern of communal violence that is sure to reassert itself in the aftermath of Mumbai. The BJP will also reassert itself, I’m afraid: after being driven from office four years ago, the Hindutva crackpots will more than likely goose-step back into power, perhaps this time with a decisive majority. In the last government they participated in, the defense minister, George Fernandes, openly bragged India would “win” a nuclear exchange with Pakistan, declaring:
“We could take a strike, survive, and then hit back. Pakistan would be finished. I do not really fear that the nuclear issue would figure in a conflict.”
The government of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is scrambling to explain its passivity in the face of what seems like an attack from outside forces. Singh is a mild and introspective technocrat, whose forte has been untangling the smothering web of his country’s mammoth bureaucracy and revving up the country’s economic engine. In the face of this crisis, however, he faces increasing pressure from India’s growing right-wing nationalist movement. The smoke had barely cleared in Mumbai before BJP politicians were on the scene.
The pressure to cement an Indo-American alliance has been growing for quite some time and is slated to accelerate. India’s special relationship with Israel, for one thing, is second only to our own. For another, President-elect Obama’s promise to escalate the war in Afghanistan and even spread it into Pakistan is congruent with the plans of India’s War Party, which is waiting in the wings to take the reins and confront Islamabad.
The argument that we must end the war in Iraq so that we can concentrate on the “real” enemy, the amorphous and exaggerated al-Qaeda, which is supposedly hiding in the wilds of Pakistan’s tribal areas, is leading to an even wider, more open-ended conflict, one so combustible that it could spark a nuclear exchange between Pakistan and India.
As bad as George W. Bush was, he never messed up that badly. One can almost hear the collective sigh of relief now that we are approaching the day when an easily-manipulated ignoramus is no longer in charge of American foreign policy. What may be even more dangerous, however, is a very smart president who thinks he and his advisers know more than they actually do.
The strategic shift in the balance of U.S. military forces in the region, away from Iraq and eastward to Afghanistan and Pakistan, seems almost to have been conceived in order to confirm the complaints of the anti-American forces in the region that the U.S. and its allies have launched a crusade to eliminate Islam from the map. From this perspective the pattern is clear enough: having exhausted their efforts in Iraq, now the West strikes from a different direction, in alliance with India. At the geographic center of it all, you’ll note, sits Iran, which can look forward to being surrounded on both sides.
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