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Mainstream, Vol XLVII, No 9, February 14, 2009

In the Wake of the Mumbai Terror

Thursday 19 February 2009, by Arup Kumar Sen

The nerve-wracking hours of terror in Mumbai are over. Now it is the time of reckoning. Sensible observers remind us that our experience of terror attacks has a long history. The eminent Indian writer, Amitav Ghosh, observes in this connection that the assassination of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi in 1984 led to riots, which took the lives of some two thousand Sikhs. In her recent discourse on Azadi, Arundhati Roy reminded us “of years of repression in which tens of thousands have been killed, thousands have been ‘disappeared’, hundreds of thousands tortured, injured, raped and humiliated” in Kashmir. While condemning the terror in Mumbai, we should keep in mind the long story of state-sponsored terror in India.

The terror in Mumbai exemplifies the recent modalities of global terror. The noted anthro-pologist, Arjun Appadurai, recently argued that the greyer areas of the world of banking and finance are clearly complicit with the workings of the networks of international terror. He further observed that the suicide bomber captures some of the central fears surrounding global terror. The bomber thrives in the spaces of civilian life, thus producing a form of permanent emergency that also requires a new approach to the problem of civilians and civil life in the age of global terrorism. In the aftermath of the Mumbai terror, the Government of India is examining over 1000 suspicious transaction reports in the financial sector that could be linked to the funding of terrorist activities in the country.

Mumbai’s status as the financial hub of India is partly responsible for the city being the target of terrorism. Suketu Mehta argues that the Taj is to Bombay what the Empire State Building is to New York. People who are seeking position or money in Bombay often use this one hotel, this one citadel of empire, as a mark or measure of their progress upward through the strata of Bombay. The reason why the terrorists selected Bombay as their target and picked the top business hotel of this most commercial of cities to stage their spectacular operation, is because of its wealth, argues Mehta.

The careful eyes of Amitav Ghosh did not miss the fact that commentators in India and elsewhere have been repeatedly invoking the metaphor of 9/11 since the start of the terrorist invasion of Mumbai. He has rightly warned that 9/11 refers not just to the terrorist attacks in Manhattan on September 11, 2001, but also to its aftermath, in particular to an utterly misconceived military and judicial response, one that has had disastrous consequences around the world.

We hope that the Indian Government will not declare war against Islam and make the lives of its Muslim citizens more vulnerable. Our recent history suggests that there is little possibility of fulfilment of our hope. But, we should go beyond history in imagining a better world.

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