Saturday, November 29, 2008

Bombay Attacks and After

Anger after the Bombay Attacks – Let's Learn from History

I can sense the anger now in some of the TV interviews, in messages from friends – and in myself. By now, we know and accept the fact there there are groups of murderous, indoctrinated people dedicated to terrorizing the world. But for many Indians, there is the added frustration of believing that many of these terrorists have received their indoctrination, training and financial backing in Pakistan. Whether from the government proper, or the intelligence service ISI, or from other sources. Whatever the precise source, it is generally believed in India that many terrorists have been trained on Pakistani soil and received supplies and money originating in that country.

I have no doubt the Indian authorities investigating the Bombay attacks have already gathered much useful information on the perpatrators and their backers. The Prime Minister and the Foreign Minister have clearly pointed to “elements in Pakistan.”

The real question now is what we as a people do with this information, and with our own very human feelings of anger and frustration. These feelings are not dissimilar to those felt by large numbers of Americans after 9/11. Initially, these feelings were channelled into taking legitimate action to protect Americans, and indeed the people of the world, from more terrorist attacks. The invasion of Afghanistan, however unfair in historical terms, served the specific purpose of smashing terrorist networks and transforming the society that had supported those networks.

But, apparently, the invasion of Afghanistan did not of itself mop up the anger and frustration in America. Instead of taking action to change the mood to something more positive, instead of channelling the energies into work that would make the world safer and better, the Bush administration lied and manipulated its own people to justify the invasion of Iraq.

It is now clear to all, as it was always clear to some, that there was no link between 9/11 and anything or anyone in Iraq. The world became not more peaceful, but less so. Young men and women from America, Iraq, Europe, Korea and many other countries continue to lose their lives in a conflict that still drags on and that has no clear purpose. No terrorist networks have been smashed and no weapons of mass destruction found as a result of the invasion. Iraq is much less stable than it was and the world even more divided than before.

The urge to lash out in anger and frustration is natural. But if we lash out indiscriminately, or if we lash out irrationally against a convenient “soft target,” we give in to the basest of human instincts. The instinct that led to the carnage that accompanied the partition of India and Pakistan. The same instinct that has led to Hindu-Muslim riots in India, Shia-Sunni conflict in Pakistan and Sinhala-Tamil strife in Sri Lanka.

The events of the past few days offer us, the Indian people, a clear choice: we can lash out indiscriminately and irrationally, rather like terrorists do. Or we can respond in our own best interests and the best interests of the world, with a clear sense of purpose. We have the right to respond to these attacks. But, this time, let us not allow our politicians to manipulate our anger to fill their own hunger for power; instead let’s push them to respond in India’s, and the world’s, best interests.

This will require taking action – possibly both military and diplomatic action. But let us not start with a knee-jerk action and then think of what it has or has not achieved. Let us instead set our objectives first and then find the actions most likely to help us achieve those objectives.

And let the objective not be more power for India’s various political personalities and parties. Let the objectives be greater peace, more security, a better chance for material and spiritual development for the Indian people.

I end with a famous quote from the Bhagavad Gita:
Karmanyevadhikaraste ma phaleshu kadachan.*

Let us be guided in these difficult days by what we believe to be right, rather than by any expectation of personal gain.

*The full verse (2 lines) is tranlated thus: You have the right to work [or action], but never to the fruit[s] of [your] work. You should never engage in action for the sake of reward, nor should you long for inaction.
(Chapter 2, Verse 47, as translated by Eknath Easwaran)

Thursday, November 27, 2008

A Sense of Separation in a Globalized World

We live in a tremendously globalized world. An economic crisis in one country spreads throughout the world in next to no time. A doctor in, say, Minneapolis may be reading out an MRI report written in Bombay. If you have a problem with your computer in London, you might end up talking to a call centre in Gurgaon, India, or Manila, Philippines. Etc.

And yet…

In this globalized world, people still feel so separate. Us vs. Them, a clash of civilizations, Muslims vs. “kafirs,” Hindus vs. Muslims, Shias vs. Sunnis, Sinhalas vs. Tamils, Maharashtrians vs. non-Maharashtrians. Wait, the list goes on. Senior executives in global countries and national politicians vs. the general public out there to be exploited for economic gain or political power.

In the age of globalization, the only widely shared values appear to be greed and self-interest. Both of which require a sense of separation from the rest of humanity.

The Bombay Attacks

I woke up to the horrifying news of the Bombay (Mumbai) attacks this morning. At 6:30 in the morning, my husband, a journalist, was preparing to go to India to help with the media coverage.
I turned on the TV. By 8 a.m. (5:30 a.m. in India), BBC had told us about 16 attacks, 78 people killed, 200 wounded and hundreds held hostage.

Good morning world.

This is the world we live in now. The news could be coming out of Bombay, or London, or Karachi, or anywhere else in the world. It is always bad, each attack adding some new horror, some new “efficiency” to the killing. In the 7 years since 9/11, we have seen attacks in Britain, India, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Spain, Turkey… More that I can’t even remember at the moment.… One would think the world is now firmly divided between those who terrorise and those who are under threat.

Yet, in Bombay this morning, a young woman interviewed on BBC spoke of another threat to peace: political exploitation of the attacks to narrow party political ends, which could very possibly end in communal rioting. All this while the fire still raged at the Taj hotel, an old Bombay landmark, and while hundreds of Indians and foreigners were still being held hostage at 3 locations in Bombay.

I don’t know which is the biggest tragedy. The deadly terrorist attacks that are so much a part of our lives now, the feeling that our politicians will stop at nothing to grab power – or the lack of faith in ourselves as a society, the feeling that we can be easily manipulated to kill more innnocent people rather than fighting the terrorists.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

A New High in Maya (a Sanskrit word loosely translated as "illusion")

The age of virtual reality is truly upon us. It has been coming on for a few decades, but now it is well and truly here.

I have a hard time understanding the wonderful world of high finance, but I gather the current global financial crisis has a lot to do with:
(i) trade in notional products and services;
(ii) trade in a speculative prediction of an asset’s future value; and
(iii) repeated use of a single asset (such as a house) as collateral for an infinite number of deals.

So, we are no longer buying and selling actual products and services, but the idea of such products and services. And sometimes, apparently, the idea turns out to be an illusion.

Now, to help us overcome the financial crisis, the US will pump $700 billion dollars into its economy. No doubt this rescue package is just the thing at this point in the crisis. But, once again, we are relying on pieces of paper that represent a notional value of – well, something. Let’s hope there is some more solid reality behind all these paper icons (icons as on your computer, that awfully solid link to a whole world of virtual reality).

What a tough world. So much gloom and doom all around us. Time to relax – how about getting together with a few good friends and engaging in a leisure time activity? I know, let’s play some Scrabble, that’s always fun. No, don’t bring out the actual board and bag of letters… Why would I play with a family member or a friend across a real table, when I can connect with 400 virtual friends on Facebook and play – virtually, of course – with any of them?

Family members are busy anyway – all connecting with friends on the Net, probably. The kids are creating sexy, exciting avatars (and how that word has changed in meaning…) or virtual personalities for themselves to use in the parallel universe they inhabit.

Well, at least this is real. I’m expressing my views clearly on the world of maya, or illusion – to virtual readers on the Net… :)