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)