Terror and Tragedy in Mumbai

Lo Hwei Yen was gunned down in Mumbai a few days ago. She flew there from Singapore for a one day visit, and walked innocently into a death trap that was set in motion probably months ago. My heart goes out her family members. I can understand their pain because of my own recent personal bereavement, although nobody can probably understand their sense of unfairness of it all. As we bury our loved ones and mourn the fallen heroes, we have to ask ourselves, what is the right response to terrorism?

My ideas, as usual, are a bit off the beaten track. And on this emotional topic, I may get a bit of flak for them. But if we are to wipe out the scourge of terrorism, we have to defend ourselves, not only with fast guns and superior fire power, but also with knowledge. Why would anybody want to kill us so badly that they are willing to die trying?

Terrorism is one of those strange debacles where all our responses are wrong. A naive response this attack would be one of revenge. If they bring down our skyscrapers, we bomb them back to stone ages; if they kill one of ours, we kill ten of theirs and so on. But that response is exactly what the terrorist wants. One of the strategic objectives of terrorism is to polarize the population so much that they have a steady supply of new recruits. Does that mean that doing nothing would be the right response? I don’t think so. If there is a middle ground here, I just cannot see it.

Another approach to wage an information war, aided by torture and terror from our side. Remember Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay? And extraordinary rendition? Clearly not the right way to go, any decent human being would agree. Every terrorist tortured is a hundred reborn. Every innocent tortured is potentially a thousand new terrorists. But what is the alternative? Ask a few gentlemanly questions and appeal to the terrorist’s better nature? Again, is there a balanced middle ground here?

Gandhiji would have said, “Let them come, let them kill as many as they want. We won’t resist. When they get tired of killing, we would have beaten them.” The old man is my hero, but is it the right response? It may be. If any and every move I make is only going to make my enemy stronger, I’d better stay put. But if I were to stand still like a sitting duck, my enemy doesn’t have to be strong at all.

When the terrorists seek their own death and reprisals on their kins, when they seek to sabotage peace processes, do we act dumb and play right into their hands by doing exactly what they want us to? Viewed in this light, the reactions to this attack from India and Pakistan disappoint me.

War on terror is not a war on its foot soldiers, who are merely stupid saps who got brainwashed or blackmailed into committing horrific meyhem. It is not even a war on its generals or figureheads, when chopping off one head only engenders another one in some other unknown place. This war is a war of ideologies. And it can be won only with a superior ideology. Do we have one?


5 thoughts on “Terror and Tragedy in Mumbai”

  1. I got two email comments on this post. (The blog comments were closed — accidentally).

    Since I think the comments are insightful, I will post them here. Anonymously though.

  2. Email Comment 1:

    To fully understand the issue, I feel you have to have a deep appreciation of the history of Islam and of Islam itself. Islam is not like any other religion, there are almost intractable links between religion and politics which makes it impossible to talk about personal beliefs and ideologies without implicating the political nature of Islam. I grew up among Muslim friends and communities; without living amongst them for many years, I think it is difficult for anyone to understand their world view.

    Islam has such complete and total dominance over its believers that it will be next to impossible for one to break out of its mental controls. It is not just a religion, it is a lifestyle, a political ideology, a collective belief system and the essence of a nation’s social fabric, all rolled into one.

    Is there a more humane, reasonable and fair way to rid ourselves of these vicious cycles of violence and revenge? Besides Gandhi’s proposal of passivity, I think probably not.

  3. Comment 2:

    I agreed with a lot of the stuff in your post about what won’t work, etc. – but I do differ about the ideology comment… Yes it is an ideological issue, but there’s no question about whether or not a better ideology exists –

    These young kids have been brainwashed into believing the alternate ideology… Possibly in the name of religion and salvation…

    My post on this (mainly about the lack of preparation)


  4. I may have used the word ideology with a different meaning in mind.

    We shouldn’t forget that terrorism has been used by other movements as well, Tamil tigers, Punjab movement, IRA, Basque separatists and even US and Japanese home grown variety. As they say, one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter. So what I was trying to say in the blog is that we have to beat the ideology that makes terrorism look like a freedom movement. I don’t know how to do it. I’m sure it is not so simple — otherwise they would have found it by now, right? May be it is education, may be it is a more fair and equitable access to the world’s opportunities and progress. What looks fairly obvious to me is that it is not through bombs and bullets.

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