Today it is one month since the Mumbai attacks. I am attaching a paper of mine which has been published in the London internet journal Living Faith (livingfaith.org) on December 9. With best wishes
Dr Walter Fernandes Director, North Eastern Social Research Centre 110 Kharghuli Road (1st floor) Guwahati 781004 Assam, India
Bombay Terror Attacks, Religion and Class
The 183 persons including 25 foreigners who died in the terrorist attacks on Mumbai belonged to different religions, Hindu, Muslim, Christian, Jewish and possibly also others. But an important section of the Indian media and political establishment give it a purely anti-Muslim religious colour. It also has a class character.
The Class Colour and Mumbai
Four weeks before the Mumbai terrorist attacks, Assam in North Eastern India suffered equally well-organised bomb blasts. Thirteen bombs exploded in five districts in a matter of forty minutes. These attacks that were planned with precision became national news for a day or two and were ignored after it. The Mumbai attacks, on the contrary, continue to take most time of the television networks more than a week later. That is not surprising because Mumbai is the commercial capital of India. So the attacks on the city can be interpreted as attacks on India's economy.
But the Mumbai reporting also has a strong class bias. The terrorist attacks began with the killing of 57 persons at the Chatrapati Shivaji Terminus (CST), formerly Victoria Terminus of the city railway network. However, in all the reporting this station came to be remembered only as the place where the only surviving terrorist was captured alive. The 57 dead persons became a footnote. Attention shifted to the five-star Hotel Taj Mahal built a hundred years ago. It is a landmark no doubt but not as important as CST which is used by hundreds of thousands of commuters everyday. But Taj Mahal is the "second home" of the upper class, the elite. The city was obviously attacked precisely because of its commercial importance. That fact also brought out the class difference. CST was forgotten and focus was on the Taj Mahal which was presented as the icon of Mumbai. The CST the icon of the common person was all but ignored.
The Role of Religion
More than class, focus today is on religion. In all probability the extremists were trained on Pakistani soil. They were probably Muslims though some doubt it. Nothing more is known about them or about those who planned the attack. The fact that the terrorists tried to isolate American and British occupants of the five-star hotel and Israelis in a neighbouring residential building indicates that the attack is probably linked to the war in Afghanistan and Iraq and to the failure to solve the Palestine issue. However, these causes are all but ignored in the effort to focus only on the religion of those who carried out the attacks. They are presented as Islamic terrorists, thus blaming a whole religious community for the misdeeds of a few members who might even have been doing someone else's bidding. From the near certainty that they were trained on Pakistani soil, a case is being made out that the Pakistani government is involved in this attack. There are, therefore, demands to attack Pakistan.
It is not different from what happened after 9/11 in New York.This attack was used to create an anti-Muslim religious hysteria the world over and to present Islam as a religion of terror. That justified the attack on Afghanistan and it was used indirectly also to justify the war on Iraq. The same has happened in India. Bombay witnessed serial blasts in March 1993 in reaction to the demolition of a mosque Babri Masjid in North India on the unproved assumption that it was built on the foundation of a temple that was presumably the birthplace of the Hindu god and hero Rama. When a train caught fire in Gujarat in February 2002, it was concluded that Muslims had burnt it. Thousands of Muslims were killed in that state for a month after it. Other bomb blasts too have been attributed to Muslims.
In all these cases the media as well as political leaders try to implicate Pakistan as the source of terror and declare Muslims its perpetrators. After the Mumbai attacks there are demands that India bomb the terrorist camps in Pakistan. Very few ask whether the Pakistani government has control over the groups carrying out the attacks. Ignored is the fact that Pakistan is as much a victim of their attacks as India. Besides, the Pakistani foreign minister was in India when Mumbai was attacked. One would not expect a country to stage such attacks during the visit of a dignitary. However, a war hysteria and anti-Muslim emotional outbursts are engineered, exactly as was done after 9/11.
Because of the similarities some commentators even ask whether the attacks were an US-Israeli conspiracy to provide a pretext for India to bomb Northwest Pakistan on the Afghan border where most attacks on NATO troops in Afghanistan are said to be originating. This is speculation and one cannot continue it. In fact, there are indications that Condoleeza Rice threw cold water on the demands for a war. At this stage one can only say that the attacks go beyond Indo-Pak relations and belong to a bigger canvas. Whether Al-Qaeda was involved or not, the links of the Mumbai event with what Muslim fundamentalists consider attacks on their identity and self-respect are clear. At the international level they include the Iraq and Afghan wars and the Palestinian issue. They also feel, rightly or wrongly, that by signing a nuclear treaty with the USA at this juncture, India has taken sides against Muslim countries particularly Iran with which an agreement on an oil pipeline is being negotiated but the USA is opposing it.
At the national level the issue is growing fundamentalism which is in fact Fascism. The destruction of the Babri Masjid on 6th December 1992 by Hindu fundamentalists is a turning point in Hindu-Muslim relations. Ever since then the minorities in general and Muslims in particular have felt threatened. The Mumbai serial blasts of March 1993 that killed more than 300 persons were its direct result. After it there have been attacks by Hindu fundamentalists on Christians in Gujarat in western India in 1998, Orissa in Eastern India and in Karnataka in south India in 2008 and others elsewhere. All of them are states ruled by the Hindu fundamentalist party either by itself or in coalition with others.
Besides, it was assumed till now that all the bomb blasts mentioned above and many more were the handiwork of Muslim extremists. That was used for the propaganda against this religious group. However, even in the past there was a strong suspicion among some analysts that at least some of the blasts were by Hindu extremists. The arrest of some Hindu extremists in recent months adds to this suspicion. However, all three senior police officers inquiring into these blasts by the Hindu extremists died during the Mumbai encounters. That may slow down these inquiries. That has also added to the rumours and conspiracy theories of the involvement of the Hindu extremists in the Mumbai blasts. The Hindu extremist party supports a US-Israel-India coalition under the Huntington theory of Clash of Civilisations and the need for the "Christian-Zionist-Hindu" civilisations to join hands against the "Islamic civilisation".
Thus, rumours abound on the perpetrators of this crime. Of greater importance is the link being created with one or the other religion. One hears people speaking about "Islamic", "Hindu" and other "religious" terrorists. The extremists do not represent their community but their crimes are attributed to the whole religious group. All its members are declared criminals by association. That approach is intrinsic to religious fundamentalism that divides the country on a religious basis.
Clouds of War
Thus religion has become central to politics in India particularly during this year of elections that are being held in five states in November-December. Elections to the national parliament have to be held not later than April 2009. The Hindu religion based fundamentalist opposition party is exploiting the Mumbai attacks with the hope of making electoral gains and it is bound to gain from it by taking an anti-Muslim and anti-Pakistani stand. Religion is thus being used both in internal and external politics. Pakistan is being presented as a Muslim terrorist state. The printed and electronic media in both the countries have gone overboard in attacking each other though the two governments have taken a moderate stance.
Despite their moderation one cannot rule out a war between India and Pakistan both of which are nuclear states. So it is not going to be a simple war. But demands keep growing from the right to attack the other country. The voices of peace have become weak at this moment of emotional outburst against terrorism. That will also mean intervention of foreign powers in the region. At this stage, the USA on the Indian side and China with Pakistan have become direct partners in their foreign policy formulation. That interference is bad for the sub-continent because every country interferes in the affairs of another country for its own good.
Moderate Voices Stifled
Also secularism is bound to suffer in both the countries. After two decades of a religion-based fundamentalist upsurge, many voices supporting secularism and peace were coming together. A people-to-people coalition called Pakistan-India Federation for Peace and Democracy formed in 1995 with only around 100 persons from each side, was gaining in strength. Many others like groups of teachers, workers and retired defence officers have been formed on its model during the last decade. The conservative forces used to ridicule them and other supporters of peace as the "socialist-secular combine" and call them anti-national.
These voices of moderation are bound to suffer so will the cultural exchanges between these countries that were functioning as one more people-to-people link. For example, a Pakistani classical singer who used to give concerts in India every year was to tour eight cities in December. He has been asked to cancel his tour. The peace talks with the Pakistani foreign minister who was in Delhi when the attacks began were interrupted.
That is the challenge for India and Pakistan today. Whether there is war or not, at a time when Fascism is growing, the Mumbai attacks have added to the strength of the fundamentalist forces. They have been trying to build their strength on the "Shining India" slogan of India's identity being linked to its military and economic strength. This "Shining India" is presented as Hindu India that will save the people. The effort of those who were working for peace were both on the side of justice to the poor (as such against globalisation) and for secularism. The recent economic crisis was adding to their efforts. The Mumbai attacks will strengthen the Fascist forces that depend on religion.
For peace to return, that trend towards extremism has to be reversed both at the national and international levels. At the international level the myths that have been created since 9/11 in particular, of "Islamic terrorism" have to be done away with. At the national level the fight has to be against terrorism as such and not against "Islamic" "Hindu" or any other religion-based terrorism. Those who indulge in these acts have to be dealt with firmly but serious attempts have to be made to solve the problems that push the youth towards it.
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