Wednesday, November 26, 2008

The Mumbai, India attacks of November 26, 2008

Right now, the top story on the New York Times homepage is, of course, about the attacks, which are still happening as I'm typing this:

Dozens Reported Dead in India Attacks
Terrorists Aim at Sites in Mumbai
Some reports set the death toll as high as 80 in coordinated terror attacks aimed at luxury hotels, a train station, a movie theater and a hospital.
Just to make sure their evil couldn't be denied, they attacked a hospital.

From the Washington Post:

Witnesses said the gunmen initially asked for British and American nationals. About 10 Americans and Britons were believed to be trapped in the Taj Mahal hotel late Wednesday.

A previously unknown group calling itself the "Deccan Mujaheddin" sent e-mails to news organizations claiming responsibility for the strikes. Intelligence officials said they had no information about the group, and it was not immediately possible to assess the validity of the claim. The purported group's name apparently refers to the Deccan Plateau, an area that spans eight Indian states and covers much of the central and southern part of the country.

Since May, a wave of bombings has rocked several Indian cities, killing more than 200 people. Some of the bombings were claimed by a group calling itself the Indian Mujaheddin. The term "mujaheddin" refers to Islamic holy warriors. ...

A 34-year businessman, Ashish Jain, said in a cellphone interview that he was having dinner with friends at the Taj Mahal hotel's rooftop restaurant when the attack began.

"When I paid the bill and tried to leave, the hotel staff said there were terrorists in the lobby and that we could not leave," Jain said. "There were 150 of us on the rooftop, including some foreign nationals. . . . It was really alarming to be trapped there for over four hours. We could feel the building shake with the explosions. We could see the smoke and the fire. People were panicking and crying. And finally the army and the police came and secured the fire escape exit and we could get out."

Among those barricaded inside the Taj Mahal hotel were several European lawmakers who were visiting Mumbai ahead of a summit meeting of European Union and Indian leaders.

"I was in the lobby . . . when gunmen came in and people starting running," one of the lawmakers, Sajjad Karim, told Britain's Press Association news agency by telephone from the basement of the hotel. "A gunman just stood there spraying bullets around, right next to me. I managed to turn away, and I ran into the hotel kitchen."

I was struck by the group of "European lawmakers ... visiting Mumbai ahead of a summit meeting of European Union and Indian leaders." It could easily be a coincidence, of course, but I wonder if the terrorists knew they were going to be there. 

I previously blogged Peter Beinart's important commentary from the aftermath of the September 11 attacks-- that the terrorists' goal is not "the Palestinians' right to a state or the Iraqis' right to medicine," but "a Muslim's right not to live with a non-Muslim." In other words, they're not militant proxies for Western liberals fueled by some trenchant critique of American foreign policy; they're morally opposed to the very idea of an increasingly interconnected world where people from different cultures happily live and work together. So whether or not it was actually intended, the symbolism of the European leaders getting ready to meet with Indian leaders would be perfect for the terrorists.

A few more quick points:

1. Most Americans probably weren't aware of India's earlier mass murders from the last couple years. Yet walking down the street in America this evening, you can hear people talking about the latest attacks, even though more people died before than have reportedly died tonight. How are the people dying in these attacks any more important than the people who died before?

2. It's often said that "there hasn't been another terrorist attack" since September 11, 2001, which shows that "Bush has kept us safe." I've always hated this formulation since it implies that "we," the Americans, are the only ones who matter in the supposedly "global" war on terrorism. But even those who think Americans are the only ones who matter can no longer say "we haven't had another terrorist attack."

Oh, "but not on American soil." Well, it's nice that our domestic security seems to have been pretty effective since 2001. But I thought terrorism was supposed to be a broad, global problem, not a narrow, domestic one.

More importantly, I doubt the American tourists in Mumbai who have been killed or held hostage tonight will be consoled to know that it's happening on insignificant "soil."

[UPDATE: A day after the attacks started -- they're still going on two days later, though they're apparently "winding down" -- Victor Davis Hanson gave an example of this kind of obliviousness: "As for Bush’s legacy, it will be left to future historians to weigh his responsibility for keeping us safe from another 9/11-like attack for seven year..." Even without knowing who was responsible for the Mumbai attacks, I don't see how it's not "another 9/11-like attack," unless you conveniently define "9/11-like" just narrowly enough not to include any of the terrorist attacks that have happened since 9/11.]

3. Cliff May writes:
Terrorists like these would be thrilled to pull off a similar attack in the U.S. Aggressive surveillance and other tough policies will be necessary to prevent them.

Let's hope the incoming administration fully appreciates that.