Issue 32: Mumbai in Context (12/15/2008)

We all shared the horror of the attacks on Mumbai. Some of us thought of family and friends there, the places we had visited, some of us immediately began thinking about what was in store for Pakistan. We all wondered whether the city would be the same again. That weekend, SAMAR published a response by Biju Mathew that circulated on mailing lists around the world. As the media continues to sift through the meaning of the blasts for India and Pakistan, we have been reminded that critical analyses of these events are essential in the face of the homogenized narratives blasting through the airwaves calling for war. From the past decade of post 9/11 mishaps and tragedies perpetuated in the name of fighting terrorism by the U.S., we have seen how the call for war leads to the targeting of communities, the passage of Draconian laws, the disintegration of civil liberties; in sum, terror is born out of counter-terrorism. Indeed, the ripple effects of the Mumbai attacks have already reached American soil. In Houston police officers terrorized a Sikh family reporting a burglary, clearly because they mistook the family for being Muslim, even going as far as questioning them about the events in Mumbai.

As our authors note, Mumbai is no stranger to terror. R.H. reminds us in "Who Killed Hemant Karkare?" that the biggest attack in Mumbai was the 1992 pogroms against Muslims after the Babri Masjid, which gave rise to powerful and militant Hindu vigilantes in the city. She asks important questions about the Indian government's involvement in foiling an important investigation by Hemant Karkare, chief of the Anti-Terrorist Squad, into the responsible Hindu extremist groups, and about Karkare's mysterious death. In "Soft Power of Mobilization," Nimmi Gowrinathan offers some rather beautiful lessons from communities in Sri Lanka and Kashmir who have moved beyond the counter-terrorist efforts that have devastated them. Then, in "Dear Thomas Friedman" Omer Shah takes the New York Times pundit to task for spouting his usual obtuse call for "progressive" Pakistani and "progressive" Muslim voices to speak out against atrocities that they can not possibly claim or own. Geeta Seshu's "The Harm of Hype" exposes the failures of journalism to respond to the events of November 26th with any sense of professionalism, thoughtfulness or inquisitiveness. Sapna Shahani reports from the day and from the ground in her sensory woman-on-the-street account, "Lest We Forget." Finally, we have "The View from Badhwar Park," a photoessay by Jaishri Abichandani capturing her birthplace of Mumbai at this seminal moment where the landscape is changing day by day and the real story continues to unfold like a paper accordion. Beneath its cosmopolitan exterior, India's city of dreams is a fragile web of tangled motivations that can no longer be ignored as merely politics as usual, fringe or corruption. The Indian and international media cannot afford to resort to the usual dichotomous story lines -- Pakistan vs. India, Islam vs. the West, and terrorism vs. counter-terrorism at such a moment. As we would hope the world has learned from America's bungles, we need nuance in our analysis and we need to fight fear by owning up to history. And finally, we need to start community-building on a global scale.

"

We all shared the horror of the attacks on Mumbai. Some of us thought of family and friends there, the places we had visited, some of us immediately began thinking about what was in store for Pakistan. We all wondered whether the city would be the same again. That weekend, SAMAR published a response by Biju Mathew that circulated on mailing lists around the world. As the media continues to sift through the meaning of the blasts for India and Pakistan, we have been reminded that critical analyses of these events are essential in the face of the homogenized narratives blasting through the airwaves calling for war. From the past decade of post 9/11 mishaps and tragedies perpetuated in the name of fighting terrorism by the U.S., we have seen how the call for war leads to the targeting of communities, the passage of Draconian laws, the disintegration of civil liberties; in sum, terror is born out of counter-terrorism. Indeed, the ripple effects of the Mumbai attacks have already reached American soil. In Houston police officers terrorized a Sikh family reporting a burglary, clearly because they mistook the family for being Muslim, even going as far as questioning them about the events in Mumbai.

As our authors note, Mumbai is no stranger to terror. R.H. reminds us in "Who Killed Hemant Karkare?" that the biggest attack in Mumbai was the 1992 pogroms against Muslims after the Babri Masjid, which gave rise to powerful and militant Hindu vigilantes in the city. She asks important questions about the Indian government's involvement in foiling an important investigation by Hemant Karkare, chief of the Anti-Terrorist Squad, into the responsible Hindu extremist groups, and about Karkare's mysterious death. In "Soft Power of Mobilization," Nimmi Gowrinathan offers some rather beautiful lessons from communities in Sri Lanka and Kashmir who have moved beyond the counter-terrorist efforts that have devastated them. Then, in "Dear Thomas Friedman" Omer Shah takes the New York Times pundit to task for spouting his usual obtuse call for "progressive" Pakistani and "progressive" Muslim voices to speak out against atrocities that they can not possibly claim or own. Geeta Seshu's "The Harm of Hype" exposes the failures of journalism to respond to the events of November 26th with any sense of professionalism, thoughtfulness or inquisitiveness. Sapna Shahani reports from the day and from the ground in her sensory woman-on-the-street account, "Lest We Forget." Finally, we have "The View from Badhwar Park," a photoessay by Jaishri Abichandani capturing her birthplace of Mumbai at this seminal moment where the landscape is changing day by day and the real story continues to unfold like a paper accordion. Beneath its cosmopolitan exterior, India's city of dreams is a fragile web of tangled motivations that can no longer be ignored as merely politics as usual, fringe or corruption. The Indian and international media cannot afford to resort to the usual dichotomous story lines -- Pakistan vs. India, Islam vs. the West, and terrorism vs. counter-terrorism at such a moment. As we would hope the world has learned from America's bungles, we need nuance in our analysis and we need to fight fear by owning up to history. And finally, we need to start community-building on a global scale.

Articles in this Issue

Many secular Mumbai residents were horrified by the ready rhetoric for war spread by the news channels. Sapna Shahani chronicles the efforts of two citizens of Mumbai to put out another perspective - of peace - one that proved to resonate with thousands of people.

Sapna Shahani

For the first time, the Indian state was conducting a thorough professional probe into a terror network involving Hindu extremist organisations. The implications of this investigation bring to question the death of the lead investigator of the Anti-Terrorism Squad, Chief Hemant Karkare, on the day of the Mumbai attacks.

R.H.

In the face of terror in South Asia, from Kashmir to Sri Lanka, counter-terrorism takes new and ever-changing shape. Nimmi Gowrinathan explores the possibilities of community mobilization to protect against the dehumanizing impacts of terror in rural South Asia.

Nimmi Gowrinathan

"Muslim bodies must once again be shamed, blamed, and asked to apologize in Thomas Friedman's "Calling All Pakistanis". Omer Shah calls out Friedman's decontextualizing of larger geopolitical strategies and relationships."

Omer Shah

The mainstream media's manipulation of the events of November 26 has set the tone for increased belligerence and hawkish strategies by the state. However the people of Mumbai find themselves in a more complex predicament as they try to make sense of what happened.

Geeta Seshu