Friday, December 05, 2008


I can’t stress enough that we need to give more weightage to the special Friday prayers held in parts of the country to show mourn the terrorist attacks in Bombay. We’ve been saying for a long time that we wish the moderate faction of Islam would be more vocal and visible – and now we need to highlight this trend – so that other Muslims who have not yet voiced their disapproval will. I don’t think need doubt any ones intelligence and bother to spell out why.

The tide has to change. After the attacks, the gut reaction of many was that they were scared the fallout would be communal violence. Indians have shown great sense in distinguishing an attack on India by foreign terrorists and attacks between Hindu/Muslim factions within the country. This is vital, because it allows us to examine the situation at hand without further endangering the country by having to deal with communal violence as well.

We visited a village outside Bombay. It seemed people there had watched the attacks on TV, but most of them did not really understand the significance of what had happened. A few of them understood from the news that Pakistan is implicated and still seemed far removed from any urgent emotions. The rest seemed unaffected by what they had seen.

What struck me though, was that while the villagers may not have been able to understand the enormity of what had happened, they had all seen it live on TV. In fact, as I peeped into the many colorful houses, I could see TVs and fridges in almost all of them. In fact, our search for a village had been a challenge, because many farmers have sold their lands and concrete structures are replacing them. There is enough construction work in the area to bring home the fact that little India is rapidly urbanizing. And that means that the distance they have from events in the big city is slowly going to shrink. What this means is that the largely urban anger we are seeing will slowly penetrate to the hinterland. As yet, it is a work in progress, but television will be a huge catalyst in attitudes changing as much as the landscape changes.

But as news channels feed more Indians, what message do they wake up to? It is not just the news anchors I am referring to, because we all know that politicians use the media for their ends too – good or bad.

During our visit to Ahmedabad, Simon asked Narendra Modi his reaction to the news item that Modi’s frenzied speeches were used in the training camps to charge up these young boys. Deadpanned, Modi told him that he had no idea about any of it. Later, he turned to me and asked me if I’d forgotten about Godhra as yet or not.

Modi also categorically stated that he was ready to help the government in its fight against terror. “At a time of war, there is consensus,” he said.

But was there something he was not telling us? In highlighting security in his campaign speeches (will he undoubtedly well) will he be tempted to cut this “India problem” into little pieces of Hindu, Muslim, Sikh and Christian.

What could allow this division is another factor – as yet a non-entity – which Shashi Tharoor brought up this morning when we spoke to him: if any proof emerges that there were Indians complicit in planning the attacks – and those happen to be Muslims whose sympathies lie with extremist factions – then the danger of using that knowledge to play politics will lead to a very volatile and most certainly violent situation. So I have to ask, do we have it in us to further distinguish extremist elements from the majority of Indian Muslims as we have distinguished between international extremist Muslims and the general Muslim population back home. Quite a mouthful, I know, but a question to ponder.

But you see, the moment you ask this question out loud – “will politicians use the Bombay attacks to incite communal violence” – you expose the hypocrisy of such a electoral strategy.

We talked to people along the way, quite literally. Stuffing ourselves in a local train, we journey to a small village outside Bombay. While on the train we found people eyeing our camera equipment, and then quickly offering their analysis of the situation. I was heartened to find that within the confines of that box, many diverse voices came out. A young man, studying for his MBA, told me that he did not link these attacks to religion at all. It’s all about economics, he told me, and these young boys who fall prey to terrorist dogma only do so because they are poor and this is a quick way to earn money for their family. It’s quite true – if reports are to be believed then the captured terrorist told the authorities that his family was promised Rs 1.5 lakhs (a little under $3000) for his services. That is the extent of this deep poverty that breeds discontent, he told me. This is not the first time, it won't be the last.

But we might just come out of this stronger.


IR said...

As much as I am against killing and riots and so on , we cannot turn a blind eye towards local support for these terrorists , there must be a tiny fraction of locals who support but we cannot simply deny their existence , we dont have the political will to deal with them ( while geelani being acquited by the supreme court is a fair judicial decesion , afzal guru's death sentence trial was not fair ! )

Pick up any magazie or read the letter to the editor of any of the leading dailies , and you will find the so called " hindu middle class" protesting against the skewed secularism which is practised in india.

We look for reasons when there are bomba blasts perpetuated by minorities ( guj riots, babari masjid etc ) but when there are blasts suppose to have carried out by majority community , it is just plain goondaism

The problem we have at hand can only be dealt with if we do away with this hypocrisy , all of us indians should strive for this change and not try and convince ourselves that a problem does not exist.

abt your last point , the fact is pakistan is largely a poor country and hence is a breeding ground for thousands of terrorists waiting to happpen .

we must have strong political leadership if we want to be able to brace ourselves aginst terrorist , we have a very volatile neighbourhood ....

Jason Blank said...

"We’ve been saying for a long time that we wish the moderate faction of Islam would be more vocal and visible – and now we need to highlight this trend – so that other Muslims who have not yet voiced their disapproval will. I don’t think need doubt any ones intelligence and bother to spell out why."

I would ask you to doubt my intelligence and spell out why. Will public condemnations of this violence by moderates lead to it's cesation?
I know a number of people who are moderate Muslims, they explain to me that this violence is not Islam, that Islam is a religion of peace. They are vocal and publically so, the violence continues and increases. The extremists don't listen.

I genuinely would welcome and value your opinion.

mahima said...

Well Jason, its like this. There is certainly a huge, widespread extremist wing of Islam that has been terrorizing the world. This wing, we have found out over the years, has roots in many countries, and therefore, chances are every country with Muslims have some sympathisers.

Now, when attacks are made, and panic takes hold, suspicion naturally falls on any Muslim. Quite unfairly, those who have nothing to do with terror also get sucked into this debate about how "all terrorists are Muslim."

What we need is for moderate Muslim factions to be more vocal because they need to firmly establish -- not necessarily to only the non-Muslim world -- that not all Muslims condone terror. This message needs to permeate down the ladder, to perhaps the Muslim who has been approached by an extremist group and is confused about whether he should join them or not. New recruits need to stop. Old ones need to be very highly concious of the fact that they are no longer representing Islam, but something else entirely.

We need to get this conversation back on track. In India, when factions of the Sikh population were indulging in extremist, violence, at one point the local Sikhs just simply put their foot down and rejected those factions quite vehemently. This allowed for Sikh extremism to end because it had no where to grow.

Karan Mehta said...

not just that ! I believe that India, and perhaps the world needs a Muslim white-knight... the anti-thesis of Osama bin Laden if you like. Not to sound too "dreamy-eyed", but Islam is in crying need of someone to reinvent its relevance, and pave the way for young Muslims of the 21st Century - keeping the essence and beauty of the original faith and discarding away the anochronsims, that form the basis of extremism.

But it shouldnt stop there either. I believe the true solution will come only when we (non-muslims), make a conscious effort to fight past the separative forces, to reach out and touch the lives of our muslim friends and acquaintaces - to stand with them in solidarity, rather than drive them away with milliant rhetoric. To recognize that fire cannot be fought with fire, and that its not a blame game ! The ultimate solution, as with most of mankind's problems, is in Love.

That, I believe, should be the new face of the War on terror !

Miss Muttoo said...

I remember we studied about the Moderates and the Extremists (during the freedom struggle).
I think that a re-invention of relevance or a new "face" is not essential for Islam only, I think it is for Hinduism because it needs one too.

Varun Rana said...

Mahima, Jason, Karan, and Ambika,

Even though I understand the idea of this note, I have a few a few thoughts to share:

Jason: Your point, though straightforward, is a tad limited. Extremists operate in the lowest educated strata of Muslim population. As the note says later, militant services are hired for a meager sum. It's close to a couple of EMIs on Ambika's new car. Our vocal friends who come from a peaceful aspect of the Muslin society cannot hope to have much of an effect on the extremists. Their locus, as well as their operation, is totally separate.

Mahima: Well explained, for sure. But, how is the message to permeate deeper our country? Through education, we'd say. How? Just like any faith extant, Islam and its policies are directed by a larger need of the religion to propagate itself. The Hindu faith is not free of this guilt, either. In light of this, the idea of a possible terror recruit from the poorest of families living in some far flung area realising (through knowledge and information) the wrong-ness of his choice are pretty slim.

As for the old ones, they truly believe that their version of Islam is the true faith. The daily realities of their lives are far removed from what we experience in cosmopolitan cities. I feel that the only thing that would change it would be a grass-root reform in the Muslims are perceived in a country where they are a minority - Moderate or not.

That people like us learn to distinguish between them is no great relief for them. In effect, we're narrowing our own view of a religion that is peaceful by trimming away sections that make up a whole - Terrorist or not, together. But that does not mean we treat them the same. A criminal is a criminal irrespective of his religion.

Karan: I respect the hope in your view, but find it a tad unrealistic for the present times. We have no one person who would fill the role you've envisioned. But I will join my prayers to yours.

Ambika: For long I've been of the same mind.

Jason Blank said...

Varun, Mahima,
My goal was to remove nuance in order to get as full a response as possible.
I was certainly not aware of the history with the Sikh story, which I can not argue with and will add into my repretoire (do u have some additional readings on the topic), what I will say is that from my personal (relatively extensive) experience of extremists, as a general statement they could never feel that they are wrong as this IS the will of G-d (according to them). Anyone who says otherwise is a heretic... Hence my concern that moderate voices aren't going to do much (or simply get THEM killed as well). As far as the hiring goes, it's interesting new information.
In practice, Varun it sounds like we mostly agree.
I don't think it is the responsability of the, for lack of a better term, victims of violence, to reach out to the people who are either actors or do not speak up against it. I think it's their move, not ours.
This is deffinately one of the most interesting conversaitons I've had for a long time!

mahima said...

Guys, its 4am, so I will try and make sense right now!

Varun, I totally get what you are saying, but at the same time, things will only seem as dire as we let them be. Go anywhere -- and trust me, I've ended up in quite a few slums the entire year -- and signs of progress are there. We need to tap that. Its part of something I studied -- development communication -- education might seem like an idealistic plan for change but its really not. And the media is like the spark notes of school/college, so its about time that is used to be constructive. I'll elaborate later. But like you said "the wrongness" won't permeate -- seriously, I don't believe that. People make desperate choices when they have none. The ideologues might have political ends in mind, not just religious, but there can be a strategy put into place to contain their influence.

Mehta, you are right. Its the positive role models that make the difference, and they need one that appeals to all.

Muttley, you are right, but remember that as yet, the extremist side of Hinduism is contained. Doesn't mean we don't act now. Over the past two months I've come to understand Hindutva properly, and the concept is alright, its just not needed IMO, and when executed, is done so with the wrong stress (anti Muslim).

Jason, and all in fact: lets frame the Muslim extremist in another light altogether if we want to deal with the problem. We tell ourselves they believe in their God and in Jihad and there is no getting away from that.. What are other factors that contribute? Long term and short term? Economics is most definately one of them. We need to identify those, and fix those. You cannot deny a man his faith, but we have seen that its possible to have faith and not let it consume you. That's what we have to solve. And we need to be scientific about it.

Apologies if the extreme exhaustion has rendered me incoherent.

Jason Blank said...

U weren't incoherent, but no need to rush we could all wait till the AM.
What can or should we do to bring Pakistan out of poverty, brain wash them in a different way (AKA non-religious/intolerant education) and prove to the extremists that we are people too and just look at things in a different light.
I think some solutions are possible if we act - for the next generation, but I maintain that it is not that we tell ourselves that extremists will not change but rather that their worldview is concrete, and not based on reason but rather faith.

Karan Mehta said...

Mahima - you're absolutely right... Economics is at the heart of the problem. But I feel that its a barometer of welfare, rather than its cause. I recently traveled to Kashmir, and the human rights violations one witnesses up-close can be really disturbing. If you really care, and want to learn more about the grassroots issues, I strongly urge you to visit the valley.

Jason - I know its jarring, and possibly unthinkable for anyone whose been a victim of terrorism to reach out. Believe me, I know. My sister was in the direct line of a terror attack, and escaped very narrowly. But we must remember that the suffering has been on both sides, with the price being innocent lives: someone's family member killed in bomb blast in Bombay, Kashmir, or Islamabad, brings the same grief. And that's why we must NOT let the terrorists succeed in their aim of spreading this hate and dividing us all !

To all:
I really hope that this conversation brings about a practical change in the lives of everyone who's involved.

Miss Muttoo said...

4am conversations are the best :)

You quite rightly said that so far Hindutva is contained. My real worry is how long it'll stay contained. It takes one or two episodes of violence re: Bombay for things to spiral out of control.

And re: Karan. Rightfully said.
There are so many arguments to make here, about how to end this extremely damaging circle of economic compulsion. I pray we will act too.

egg style said...

Economics can explain some of the world today, but surely not all of it. Neither can ideas from one academic field be transposed to another so easily. For example, there is something called "strategic irresponsibility" in economics, advised under extreme fears of deflation to convince enough people that with so much cash being thrown around freely, prices cannot really tumble (resulting in poor profits in micro terms and a liquidity trap in macro terms). Similar irresponsibility in other theatres may achieve similar ends in the short-term (look, we're crazy enough to escalate this...) but have risks that are unacceptably high.

On to the issue you directly address. There is probably a market for mercenaries in active existence. But several studies have shown a weak correlation between economic deprivation and adoption of violence at the ground level at least. So proximate poverty does not seem to be a condition, even if it needs to be addressed as an independent objective of humane living. Equality (of opportunity rather than outcome) is considered a nontrivial aspect of justice, failing which the idyll of man-under-man is thought to exert itself. Anyhow, the point is that the arbit redirection of cash flows is unlikely to make for a solution. Further monetary/fiscal irresponsibility is not called for either.

At the planning level, correlation studies (which in any case are not causation studies) have not been possible, and are unlikely to be.

American intelligence, reportedly (and if it's not tautological), has under its scanner a series of modern ideologies derived from religion or claiming legitimacy on its basis (such as this obscure book mentioned in IE by Masood Azhar of Kandahar-hijack-deal fame, and even suppossedly Savarkar's Hindutva though few have bothered reading it), but the findings are secret, so the correlations and causations here are unavailable to aam aadmi. On the whole, let's hope for an intellectual approach. Else, we lose.

Anonymous said...

Like Jason, i do not understand why it is stupid not to understand your point, Mahima. Think over it for a time and you will find it speaks badly of a society that demands an extralegal code of conduct or speech of its minority populations under threat of retribution.

Anonymous said...

Good M, bad M, eh?

Dantedownunder said...

I have to clarify a few things here. Firstly there is no such thing as "strategic irresponsibility" in the field of economics. If you do not believe me, go to Google scholar, search for the same and check if any of the links (not too many) are remotely related to any economic journal. Having said that I must admit it is a catchy phrase. Economic development is not the same thing as "arbit redirection of cash flows". The latter is not even a good description of fiscal or monetary policy; though it is reminiscent of income accounting. The former may involve providing a set of incentives to the citizens of a country through public(government) initiatives (i.e. fiscal policy) and providing the least level of resistance to private industries. Economic development, I believe, plays a pivotal role in reducing militancy/terrorism. As for correlations, there are plenty. Studies at RAND, Journal of Political Economy and many others show the same. If you're interested check up on Gary Becker, who, may I add, carries out a fairly detailed causal analysis too. Our ability to make better choices for ourselves and society is often subject to constraints. The more severe the latter the worse the subsequent choices. Few would disagree with the notion that poverty is a pivotal constraint.

mahima said...

ha ha. was i calling jason stupid? we have a long history of loud fights, so i apologize... you guys i know i keep throwing in my thoughts here and love reading what everyone else thinks... good M, bad M... i have my moments!

egg style said...

Okay, conceded, strategic irresponsibility is not a textbook term, but Nobel winner Paul Krugman is among those who’ve been tempted to use it lately.

As for the poverty link, while Arundhati Roy weighs in with a bifurcation allegedly confronting India that’s best debated in the rarefied realms of the thoughtful (away from “duty contests”:-), the Becker-Posner blog has interesting reference matter for the poverty-link powwow. Becker says that economic growth tends to go together with relative non-violence, and offers a theoretical model of sorts to show how the marginal utility of violence, say (non-judgmentally speaking), ought to vary by financial well-being. Simply put, the haves have much to lose, while the have-nots are trapped anyway (okay, severely choice-constrained). The professor is aware, though, that real-world data on violence fails to support this thesis. And that’s my point.

The dominant discourse on causation is characterised by several infirmities, and this is not just an epistemological issue. Blogger Becker also mentions the Krueger/Abadie studies that flag ‘liberty’ (US style presumably) or lack thereof as a statistically significant indicator, and he hasn’t had shoes flung at him for it. Do note, however, that he leaves open the possibility of a reverse causation – that it is peace that grants liberty rather than the other way round (“The fear of terror tilts the balance between security and liberty away from liberty”). Meanwhile, the blog’s comments are interesting too. There are feminists, for example, who argue that domestic violence (and presumably much else) should be called “terror” as well.

About “arbit redirection of cash”, well, that’s often what we get under the guise of hi-falutin policy packages. For a sound understanding of the world’s financial mess, let’s begin by looking at the world’s most importance price, the price of money, and ask how objectively it is arrived at – in practice rather than theory. Here, we have to escape the “beauty contests”, and the risk-tagged asset hierarchy implied therein, before we can have an intelligent debate. Again, in rarefied realms. Apologia if all this has turned over-eggish.

Anonymous said...

Blogs like this are better than TV, papers etc. This debate has better not turn infernally ignorant, as is seen in public spaces like TV etc. Who is "disseminators of scandal and schism"? Civility is good. Communalism is not good. In history, Indian literature never fell to depths of Italian compsitions of "poets". Our comedy is good mostly. Reason is tolerance in India, for good moments, bad moments all, Mahima. Nice blogging. Keep going.

egg style said...

Another bounce back (phew!!). Minor clarification: "beauty contest" in the economic context refers to the weird manner in which a market often values assets. As with any such manual process, the exalted "winner" assumes an authority above questioning. This effectively rank-orders the rest of the contestants (and female bodyforms in the wider population) along a hierarchical scale by virtue/misfortune of their designated distance from the enshrined ideal. It's rank stupidity, of course, but getting people to see through it is not easy.

Dantedownunder said...

1. If a Nobel laureate uses a phrase that hasn't made it to the textbooks it may be "cutting edge"; If it hasn't made it to the journals it is merely dinner talk (perhaps even drunken). It may be a good idea to avoid using such phrases especially since so few (or so it seems) are privy to the meaning of the same.
2. Arundhati Roy?????
3. As a reminder, the original post by Mahima suggests economic reasons as possibly one of the most important, for terrorism; as opposed to the only.
4. "The professor is aware, though, that real-world data on violence fails to support this thesis.And that’s my point." I think you're speaking of violence in general as opposed to violence due to terrorism. Do check his blog if you must. I would suggest his papers instead.
5. "Another bounce back (phew!!). Minor clarification: "beauty contest" in the economic context refers to the weird manner in which a market often values assets." The fact that you call it weird suggests that you do not entirely understand how markets work. 'The Theory of Value:...' by Gerard Debreu may be of help.
I can understand people preferring more state control to less, but calling the way the market ranks assets "rank stupidity" does say a lot; but unfortunately not about the market.

egg style said...

To its credit, the original blogpost does not make any claim to having identified or isolated a single explanation for the violence under study. Also, asking for the poverty hypothesis to be put to a tougher test before reaching conclusions does not amount to a rejection of the case made. What the world needs is objective thinking, backed by indepth studies.

Also, having textbooks thrown at one is just another hazard of adopting plainspeak vis-a-vis the market (in actual practice, that is, which is what counts). But this particular bloginstance represents a risk appraisal failure on my part, clearly. Adequate qualification, presumably, to become an active financial market participant. Or better still, a supplier of price-altering labels (of the masses), even if demand ought to be scarce nowadays (since their own 'equi-lubrium' price can so easily be made to depend on the demand and supply of something else altogether).