Sunday, December 07, 2008

Reactive, Or Proactive?

It was the 26th of November, and I had a day off work as I was flying out from Austin toward Newark to spend the Thanksgiving weekend with relatives from Mom's side. The news scene was calm when I left home. 6 hours later as I land in Newark shielded from the real world in the confines of my airplane, my sister calls up to tell me there has been a dramatic change, and looking at how the events unfolded since, it is clear not much will be the same again.

At the airport, people watched as CNN splashed pictures of a burning century old Taj hotel, by the side of which I have walked so many times, but never ventured in. Reports of a massive operation by infiltrators who breached the shores of India's financial capital, my home for over 17 years, using boats, poured in as I stared in shock. CST railway terminus, which was where we would get off to go watch a movie at Sterling or Regal, was splattered with bodies and bloody trails of cold-blooded murder. Of all the places attacked by the cowards, the brutal mindless slaughter at CST where 2 men with guns simply sprayed bullets and lobbed grenades into the 10PM crowd, hit me the hardest, although the Indian media begs to differ.

Global Exposure

Living in Strangeland at this time gives me a different perspective of the reaction to the attacks, one from the same country that faced its own attack on its financial hub on 9/11, and responded in kind, and more. The widespread coverage on CNN, all day long, over local US news really is unprecedented. It surprised me that they deemed it important enough to cover the story as it unfolds, given the apathy of Strangeland toward anything that does not concern themselves directly.

It was clear then that the terrorists had achieved their motives. Their blasts were loud enough to be heard all across the globe. They targeted foreigners to ensure the international media paid attention. Not many international businesspersons will see India as a secure place anymore, at least for a short time. Strangeland tried to find a link back to itself - the epicenter of global interest - as it always does. Theories tying the attacks to the change brought about by election of Obama were thrown around, but not for long. When the links to Pakistan were loud and clear, there was only one voice - Pakistan is a rogue state and at the crossroads of all terrorist activity in the world today.

Local Excesses

It is understandable that people are stunned, hurt and angry. I plead guilty of belonging to the same club myself for a while. People want action, immediate results and solutions, a boost to the confidence of walking freely again in their own streets. Television screens and newspapers and internet blogs are awash with nationalist fervour demanding instant karma, and booing the government for its inaction. The only problem is that there is no quick fix to this madness. It's hard to realise this when one is possessed by hatred, and emotions blur all sense of reason.

All it took for me, is my brother to ask a simple question - "So you think a war is the solution?". Going on a hunt to find and, to use Bush-speak, "smoke-out" the perpetrators of such violence will only make us exactly like these terrorists themselves. And who is to say this will have achieved anything, other than a false feeling of security? It can only breed more hatred against India, which most people in the world today see as a peaceful nation.

Lessons From The Recent Past

One only needs to look at Strangeland and their reaction after 9/11. Two heavily funded wars, thousands of soldiers lost, almost a trillion dollars burnt, economy in ruins, and what is the state of terror in the world today? Yes, the American shores haven't been breached since, but clearly, the war on America has moved elsewhere - Iraq. The deaths of thousands of innocent civilians in Iraq and Afghanistan do no good to the American image in the world - especially the Islamic population. How can Strangeland claim to be better today than the enemies it fights?

Einstein once said, although not related to this context, that "Problems cannot be solved at the same level of thinking that created them". How can we stoop down to the same violent tactics and mindless slaughter, in the quest to eliminate terror, that the terrorists themselves apply? Who is to say that since we claim to have better intentions and seek the greater good, we are more righteous in our actions? Is there a way to leave all the innocent people, who want nothing to do with these activities, out of this?

The Indian Way

There is only one way to tackle the problems India faces - the Indian Way. That is the way we fought for our freedom, and that is the attitude that ensures billions today still look up to India for its peaceful outlook. Just last week my cab driver from Ethiopia smiled back at the mention of my Homeland, because of his image of the country, and his interactions with his teachers who came all the way from India to teach in his schools.

The Indian Way does not mean we turn over the other cheek and wait for the next slap. Its essence lies in the statement - "Despise the action, not the doer". The problem of terrorism cannot be solved by finding and eliminating all the people involved. That is just too simplistic. One has to locate and weed out all the sentiments that lead to such inhuman acts and try to address them at the same time that we take steps to locate the actual actors involved.

Of course, if a war is forced upon us, we will fight like we have 4 times before, to protect our sovereignty. But, a war initiated as a remedy is not the solution, ever, to any problem. If anything, it sows the seeds of more problems for the future. With India's economy booming, and the world watching, do we want to bankroll a war and take ourselves back by 20 years? Won't a war really be a victory for those nasty terrorists who ploughed through Mumbai? The attack on the financial hub of India, will eventually have then led to its economic demise.

To sum it all up, here's a little incident. At a comedy club in New York, a few days after 26/11, the host found me, an Indian, in the audience and said "I can't understand why, when there are a billion of you guys, you don't just go over and kick Pakistan's ass". Everyone laughed. But we know the answer, right? Cos we are not Strangeland.