On American television news programs, experts said the Mumbai attacks stemmed from the dispute over Kashmir. Except for the torture and murders carried out at the Jewish community center — those were said to be linked to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Americans, Canadians, Europeans, and Japanese were presumably shot dead in response to a variety of other grievances.
But it is instructive that the terrorists in Mumbai did not take hostages as bargaining chips. Their mission was mass murder, not a new round of negotiations. The goal of militant jihadis is not dialogue; it’s the defeat of their enemies, including Hindus, Jews, Christians and any Muslims who disobey them or get in the way. In other words: This war is not, at base, about grievances, plentiful as those may be in the Muslim world. And addressing grievances will not end the war.
But, one might argue, if such issues as Kashmir and Palestine could be resolved, surely that would remove fuel from the fire. Then, Lashkar-e-Taiba (the group apparently behind the carnage in Mumbai) and al-Qaeda and the Taliban and Hezbollah and Hamas and Iran’s mullahs would find fewer angry young Muslim men susceptible to being radicalized and recruited for terrorist missions.
Maybe. But if terrorist acts prompt Indians, Israelis, Americans and others to move such issues to the top of the pile — above, say, the genocide of Black Muslims (by Arab Muslims) in Darfur — and to make significant concessions to resolve them, that will lead to the conclusion that terrorism succeeds. And successful movements never have difficulty attracting adherents.
What’s more, there still would be millions of impoverished and frustrated young Muslim men from Casablanca to Cairo to Gaza to Karachi who would be susceptible to an ideology that tells them they deserve to rule, and that whatever they lack has been taken from them by infidels whom they are permitted — indeed encouraged — to kill.
It is relevant to ask why Mumbai was a target, and why now? Mumbai, also known as Bombay, is India’s financial capital, its most multi-religious city, and home to “Bollywood” — which produces movies featuring beautiful women, exuberant singing, and often provocative dancing. All of the above infuriate Islamists.
Further, the U.S. has been putting pressure on Pakistan’s new president, Asif Ali Zardari, to move aggressively against al-Qaeda and Taliban sanctuaries in Pakistan’s lawless northwest provinces. Inciting tension between Pakistan and India makes it more difficult for Zadari to move troops from the border with India to the border with Afghanistan.
One hopes that President-Elect Obama is acutely aware that Islamist terrorists around the world are working on ways to do in America what was done in India. Hoping they don’t manage it is not a policy. Planning to prosecute the perpetrators after the fact is a policy — a ludicrously ineffective one when dealing with terrorists embarking on suicide missions.
British Prime Minister Gordon Brown said that the assault on Mumbai raises “huge questions about how the world addresses violent extremism.” Actually, it answers those questions. It should be more obvious than ever that Islamist terrorists — or even just “violent extremists”— must be fought. That requires such ungentlemanly tactics as aggressive surveillance and rigorous interrogations. We either take the fight to the terrorists or we wait for the terrorists to bring the fight to us — as they did in Mumbai. There’s no third option.
The Times of India editorial I quoted above was titled “It’s War.” Yes, it is — a global war, one that began long before September 11, 2001, and whose end is nowhere in sight. What’s puzzling is how that can still come as news to so many people in India, Europe, and America. National Review
— Clifford D. May, a former New York Times foreign correspondent, is president of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a policy institute focusing on terrorism.