Monday, December 01, 2008

Blaming America

Dorothy Rabinowitz has a devastating column about how Deepak Chopra popped up on CNN to blame America for the terrible Mumbai terrorist attacks.
What happened in Mumbai, he told the interviewer, was a product of the U.S. war on terrorism, that "our policies, our foreign policies" had alienated the Muslim population, that we had "gone after the wrong people" and inflamed moderates. And "that inflammation then gets organized and appears as this disaster in Bombay."

All this was a bit too much, evidently, for CNN interviewer Jonathan Mann, who interrupted to note that there were other things going on -- matters like the ongoing bitter Pakistan-India struggle over Kashmir -- which had caused so much terror and so much violence. "That's not Washington's fault," he pointed out.

Given an argument, the guest, ever a conciliator, agreed: The Mumbai catastrophe was not Washington's fault, it was everybody's fault. Which didn't prevent Dr. Chopra from returning soon to his central theme -- the grave offense posed to Muslims by the United States' war on terror, a point accompanied by consistent emphatic reminders that Muslims are the world's fastest growing population -- 25% of the globe's inhabitants -- and that the U.S. had better heed that fact. In Dr. Chopra's moral universe, numbers are apparently central. It's tempting to imagine his view of offenses against a much smaller sliver of the world's inhabitants -- not so offensive, perhaps?
It takes a seriously twisted world view to pivot immediately to finding a way to blame America for terrorists storming hotels and other soft targets to gun down people innocently going about their business. Rabinowitz ties this view to the handwringing over a report that the majority of people in the Middle East think that 9/11 was a put-up job done by the United States and Israel.
The noteworthy point here was the writer's conclusion that the U.S. itself was to blame for the power of these beliefs. "It is easy for Americans to dismiss such thinking as bizarre," Mr. Slackman allowed. But that would miss the point that the persistence of these ideas represents the "first failure in the fight against terrorism." A U.S. failure? Nowhere in the extended list of root causes here was there any mention of the fanaticism and sheer mindless gullibility that is the prerequisite for the holding of such beliefs.

Its very ordinariness speaks volumes about this report. A piece written with evident serenity, the perversity of its conclusions notwithstanding, it's one emblem among many of the adversarial view of the nation that is today entrenched in the culture. So unworthy is the U.S. -- an attitude solidly established in our media culture long before the war on terror -- that only it can be held responsible for the deranged fantasies cherished in large quarters of the Arab world. So natural does it feel, now, to hold such views that their expression has become second nature.
I'm with Mark Steyn who argues that the source of the terror is a radical Muslim ideology that seeks to impose itself on the world at the end of a machine gun. We're fooling ourselves if we ignore this and try to search for some other cause or, even worse, find ways to blame ourselves.
What's relevant about the Mumbai model is that it would work in just about any second-tier city in any democratic state: Seize multiple soft targets and overwhelm the municipal infrastructure to the point where any emergency plan will simply be swamped by the sheer scale of events. Try it in, say, New Orleans. All you need is the manpower.

Given the numbers of gunmen, clearly there was a significant local component. On the other hand, whether or not Pakistan's deeply sinister spy agency ISI had its fingerprints all over it, it would seem unlikely there was no external involvement. After all, if you look at every jihad front from the London Tube bombings to the Iraqi insurgency, you'll find local lads and wily outsiders: That's pretty much a given.

But we're in danger of missing the forest for the trees. The forest is the ideology. It's the ideology that determines whether you can find enough young hotshot guys in the neighborhood willing to strap on a suicide belt or (rather more promising as a long-term career) at least grab an AK and shoot up a hotel lobby. Or, if active terrorists are a bit thin on the ground, whether you can count at least on some degree of broader support on the ground.

You're sitting in some distant foreign capital but you're minded to pull off a Bombay-style operation in, say, Amsterdam or Manchester or Toronto. Where would you start? Easy. You know the radical mosques, and the other ideological front organizations. You've already made landfall.

It's missing the point to get into debates about whether this is the "Deccan Mujahideen" or the ISI or al Qaeda or Lashkar-e-Taiba. That's a reductive argument. It could be all or none of them.

The ideology has been so successfully seeded around the world that nobody needs a memo from corporate HQ to act: There are so many of these subgroups and individuals that they intersect across the planet in a million different ways. It's not the Cold War, with a small network of deep sleepers being directly controlled by Moscow. There are no membership cards, only an ideology.
Read the description of how the terror progressed in Mumbai and you realize how little prepared the city was for any sort of concerted attack.
The two gunmen moved along two separate paths toward the station's main entrance, firing as they walked. They met virtually no resistance, even though several dozen police officers are usually deployed at the station. "They were killing the public, and the police just ran away," says Ram Vir, a coffee vendor whose stand is near Platform 8.

B.S. Sidhu, head of the Railway Protection Force for the Mumbai region, says that while some officers tried to fight back, there was little his force could do. Most police officers at the station -- as they are throughout India -- were unarmed or carried only bamboo sticks known as lathis. More than 40 people, including three police officers, were killed in just a few minutes, authorities said. The wounded survivors screamed for help amid acrid smoke, piles of slumped, bloodied bodies and spilling suitcases.
Gee, you think arming policemen might be a good start?

It's a horrific story of how these terrorists went methodically from location to location shooting people.
On the 20th floor, the gunmen shoved the group out of the stairwell. They lined up the 13 men and three women and lifted their weapons. "Why are you doing this to us?" a man called out. "We haven't done anything to you."

"Remember Babri Masjid?" one of the gunmen shouted, referring to a 16th-century mosque built by India's first Mughal Muslim emperor and destroyed by Hindu radicals in 1992.

"Remember Godhra?" the second attacker asked, a reference to the town in the Indian state of Gujarat where religious rioting that evolved into an anti-Muslim pogrom began in 2002.

"We are Turkish. We are Muslim," someone in the group screamed. One of the gunmen motioned for two Turks in the group to step aside.

Then they pointed their weapons at the rest and squeezed the triggers.
These are not rational people who decided that they were just fed up with Bush or America. It makes no difference to them that America has elected a president who had a Muslim father.

India will have to wake up and think about arming its police and making sure that its military knows how to fight such terrorist attacks. And we'll all have to rededicate ourselves to fighting this radical ideology and the terrorists it inspires.