Subhabrata’s Weblog

December 5, 2008

Mumbai Attacks: A Rejoinder

Filed under: Current Affairs, News, Opinion, Politics, Rant — genomewarrior @ 4:13 pm

Knee jerk reactions are always counterproductive in the long run. Reactions based on an incomplete understanding of the all aspects of an issue are worse. Knee jerk reactions based on an incomplete understanding of all aspects of an issue are positively devastating. Why am I ranting about knee-jerks? Well, because there is a high chance that the public’s reaction to the Mumbai attacks will force the administration to take measures that might be counterproductive in the long run and at the same time be impossible to remedy once the damage is done.

Incidents like the Mumbai attacks are tragic. By their very nature, they shock people out of their comfort zones and force them t face possibilities that they never really thought about. When people are in a state of shock they take steps that are not necessarily the best steps to take, in hindsight. It is almost automatic for the people of this country, and especially the people of Mumbai to feel outraged and angry. But angry at what? The terrorists? The Government? Pakistan? We seem to be angry at all of those. The terrorists, who are nameless and faceless individuals for us, terrifying in their very anonymity are the first to be blamed. Who made them that way? We don’t want to know. Who created conditions for these people to act the way they did? We have no idea. How can we tackle terrorism unless we know who we’re really fighting and why are they our enemies in the first place? The Government’s failure in intelligence is evident, but that is not directly the failure of this particular Government or party. This systemic failure is the result of a long process of piecemeal policy – solving the immediate problem without taking a systems perspective, in other words a “reductionist approach” to problem solving. The failure to realize that terrorism is a global phenomenon and this country with its inherent fractures in terms of  regional, cultural and most importantly, economic disparities is an excellent candidate for breeding internal strife. We have an older and far more damaging history of terrorism than the US. I have already discussed Pakistan’s situation in an earlier post (here). In short, from a purely commonsensical viewpoint, one can easily rule out the involvement of the Pakistani Government in these attacks without ruling out the possibility of the terrorists having trained in that country. We can all safely agree that their Government has an uphill task in taking control of the country.

Why am I trying to absolve all those perceived by the public as culprits in the Mumbai attacks? I am not. All I am trying to say is that these people and Institutions are actually helpless in preventing a situation like this from occurring due to a set of circumstances whose origins predates them. Demanding from them “some action” with the kind of urgency that is evident in the media and the public is likely to force them into taking shallow decisions just to ease the immediate tension in the public. What are these immediate action demands?

Tougher anti-terror laws

We already had a draconian anti-terror law – POTA. Post 9/11 the US government and most governments in the west had draconian anti-terror laws. Did that help to reduce terrorism? No, it just made the terrorists hate the Americans more! Their reaction to the 9/11 attacks has resulted in the financial mess that they are in now. All because a group of overzealous right-wingers decided to act tough on the “enemy”. So they created the horrors of Guantanamo and Abu Gharib, made a mockery of civil liberties that made America the destination of choice for free thinking men and women from all over the world, destroyed habeus corpus and basically gave the Government powers that would put a banana republic to shame! Tougher laws don’t prevent terror attacks. Plain, rustic commonsense will tell you that people who are willing to die for a cause will be expected to care two hoots for anti-terror laws. And at what price? Are we willing to sacrifice what ever small liberties we have in this country for the sake of a false sese of safety? All this while it is clearly evident that one cannot legislate terrorism out of the country? We all have to ask ourselves this question before we press the Government for “action”.

Tough stance with respect to Pakistan

We have to realize, we’re not the US. We can’t bomb the hell out of a sovereign nation on flimsy pretexts. It would completely undo the years of economic and social progress that this country has worked so hard for. A display of maturity from both the Government as well as the public is in order in this most tensed of situations. Finger pointing at each other at the slightest pretext is a national habit we both have to over come if we are to solve our mutual, as well as our specific problems.

Down with politicians!

Again, after the fact, there is a tendency to try and find scapegoats. Politicians make excellent scapegoats in situations like these. We all love to hate our politicians, forgetting that we are responsible for putting them where they are in the first place. A democracy does not have the moral right to damn its political class not only because it is the public’s vote that brings the politicians to power, but also a politician’s conduct is a mirror of the prevailing mores of a society. If the political class is rotten, it basically means that the society itself is rotten. So instead of criticizing the politician, let us all take time out of our busy schedules for some soul-searching. There should be more scrutiny of the political class by the media and the public. We should make the politicians more accountable, not by criticizing them when something bad happens, but by taking a more active part in the political process of the country, by educating ourselves on a daily basis, about the policies and activities of the government. The people’s active participation in the political process is the only way the rot can be stemmed. We stand to loose this country if we don’t clean up our collective acts!

The way ahead?

The immediate reaction of the public to the Mumbai attacks should be to recognize that the immediate reaction is not really the best reaction to the incident. Instead of succumbing to mass hysteria and forcing the Government to make the same kind of mistakes it, and others in its position elsewhere have made, is not going to help anyone. The public should put pressure on the Government to have an broad based anti-terror policy that is well thoughtout and publicly debated. The Government should NOT be allowed to enact draconian anti-terror laws that can (and have been in the past) be misused by vested interests. We should, under no circumstances, compromise on our rights and freedoms. Only a sustained participation of the polity in the collective scrutiny and control of the elected Government will hep us get ot the the seemingly helpless morass we are now in. I hope we don’t end up repeating the same old mistakes we have always made this time. Or very soon, we might not have a country to fight for.

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