Saturday, November 29, 2008

Indian attacks in Context

For those looking to really get a glance at the root causes behind the recent Mumbai attacks, and previous incidents, I would suggest this op-ed from the Globe and Mail.

It does an excellent job of putting the attacks in the broader context of Hindu-Muslim tensions - with dual flashpoints in Hindu nationalist extremism and Muslim instigators in Kashmir. However, it also adds the extra step reminding people that this is a pluralist, mostly peaceful democracy. Indeed, the pluralism is such that it is mind-boggling to most Americans.

One excellent quote, which provides the important context to keep in mind amidst the sensationalism of the media:

From this, you may believe that India has been overtaken by sectarian divisions and religious polarization. That also would be wrong.

This is, after all, a country whose people, 80 per cent of whom are Hindu, have overwhelmingly elected a government with a Prime Minister who is Sikh, a President who is Muslim and a governing party led by a Roman Catholic woman.

Most Hindus have no interest in the politics of religious nationalism. And most of India's 150 million Muslims have nothing to do with Islamic politics – they're the Muslims who rejected Pakistan, an Islamic state, during the Partition of 1947.

India has the honor of being, by far, the world's largest democracy - and has been a stable one for sixty years. This is not a country on the verge of collapse or instability from terrorist attacks. Indeed, relative to some of the disruptions from mass protests India has seen, this attack is a minor "flash in the pan." Small comfort to the victims, but true nonetheless. No government, no matter how stable and prosperous, can prevent all misfortune. India's stability, despite the persistent poverty of millions, is a testament to how (broadly) tolerant and accustomed to plurality its citizens are. Indeed, the best step we can take in preventing instability is to is to remove the poverty itself. After all, it is poverty that often breeds a bitter mindset and enables people to look for someone to blame.

Thus, I will end with another quote, this time from Suketu Mehta's recent op-ed in the NY Times:

But the best answer to the terrorists is to dream bigger, make even more money, and visit Mumbai more than ever. Dream of making a good home for all Mumbaikars, not just the denizens of $500-a-night hotel rooms. Dream not just of Bollywood stars like Aishwarya Rai or Shah Rukh Khan, but of clean running water, humane mass transit, better toilets, a responsive government. Make a killing not in God’s name but in the stock market, and then turn up the forbidden music and dance; work hard and party harder.