The Mumbai terror attacks are horrendous and to be roundly and loudly condemned. But, as with all events of this nature (particularly those which involve attacks on Westerners), inevitably there’s been a rush to inscribe their significance within a political frame – the prime candidate being the war on terror. Andrew Bolt can stand as representative here:
THE slaughter in Mumbai was a barbaric attack not just on India, but on us. On the West.
Now, I don’t think that the reflex response to the desire to prematurely ascribe blame to Al-Qaeda before the facts are known should be to rush off in the opposite direction. But it did interest me that many of the television reports a few nights ago sought commentary from experts in terror studies, rather than sourcing those who have a deep knowledge of Indian and subcontinental politics and history per se. This in itself ties in with the desire to write one single narrative of international terrorism, as the terrorism experts in question are usually best informed about Middle Eastern and South East Asian affairs. This in turn both ascribes more unity to international terror networks than actually exists, and turns them into an immediate and default suspected cause, no matter what the specificities of the political and social environment in which attacks actually occur.
Anyone with anything more than a passing acquaintance with Indian politics, society and history, though, would know that it’s quite possible, even probable, that the attacks’ causes lie in factors such as the increasingly weak Indian central government’s inability to control its territory and monopolise the use of violence, and the inability of either the justice system or the state (even after the Congress-led coalition defeated the BJP) to prevent inter-communal violence and massacres such as those in Gujarat in 2002 or hold anyone to account for them. Political violence in India recently, it’s also worthy of note, has often been directed as much against Christians as Muslims, and what we may be seeing is the emergence of what are basically pogroms on a much bigger and more organised scale. The role of the Shiv Sena Party in the governance of Mumbai itself, a party which has called for the formation of Hindutva suicide squads and an ethno-religious sectarian neighbourhood cleansing program in the city, may additionally be a factor.
One shouldn’t rush to judgement. And one shouldn’t do that also for reasons of preserving an awareness of the horror of the deaths and injuries that have been inflicted in Mumbai and some more respect and dignity for the victims than instantly transforming them into political footballs. But if causes are to be sought, and they should be, both the Pakistani connections to violence and the emergence of terrorist movements pushing back against the nationalist pogroms may well be found in time – after the facts are in – to have been at work in these tragic events.
Update: Shakira Hussein in Crikey.