Friday, 28 November 2008

Mumbai and the theology of death

What on earth can one say about the horrific events in Mumbai? Reading accounts of this latest massacre of the innocents, I was struck above all by the nihilism and sheer inhumanity of the terrorists. Never has the Al-Qaeda boast, 'You love life and we love death', seemed so fitting. While British and American passport-holders appear to have been targeted in at least one location, and the assault on a Jewish centre can hardly be accidental, it's the indiscriminate nature of the attack that stays in the mind. Indians and foreigners, Hindus and Muslims, Christians and Jews - all were regarded as legitimate targets by these coldhearted  fanatics.

At the Leopold Cafe, 'five men wielding AK-47 rifles charged in and opened fire without asking anyone to identify themselves. They lobbed hand grenades at the horrified onlookers'. At a busy railway terminus, 'gunmen shot up the reservation counter of the station, randomly sprayed passengers, believed to be entirely composed of Indian travellers and commuters, and fled.' In the lobby of the Taj Mahal Palace hotel, according to Conservative MEP Sajjad Karim who was there, 'a gunman appeared in front of us, carrying machine-gun type weapons. And he just started firing at us'.

At lunchtime today, I listened to an insensitive, boneheaded Radio 4 presenter asking the Indian ambassador whether, given that the Mumbai attackers were probably Islamists, his government should now start attending seriously to the grievances of its Muslim population, as Britain had to do after 7/7.  It's enough to make you weep.  In something he wrote after 9/11, but which I can't find right now, Christopher Hitchens recalled asking some Chilean exile friends whether they were tempted to launch a similar attack on America, after the CIA-backed overthrow of Allende. They were horrified at the thought. Genuine radicals, those whose radicalism arises from a love of humanity and rage at inequality and injustice, don't tend to see the mass murder of innocent people as a legitimate tactic. The murderers of Mumbai, like the Baader-Meinhof killers that I wrote about the other day, were not reacting to 'grievances', unless they were grievances imagined in their twisted theology of victimhood, but acting out the logical dictates of a nihilistic and death-loving ideology. 

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