Saturday, Dec 10, 2022

'Brutality, Incompetence And Cynical Duplicity'

'Brutality, Incompetence And Cynical Duplicity'

'Arundhati Roy wrote: You have a very simple choice: Justice or civil war... I want to really take issue with this. I do not believe that the project of the terrorists has anything to do with justice.'

The following remarks by Mr Salman Rushdie have been excerpted and transcribed from the audio recording of the panel discussion -- "Understanding the Mumbai Attacks" -- in which he participated along with authors Mira Kamdar and Suketu Mehta. It was organised jointly by the Asia Society, the South Asian Journalist Association (SAJA) and the Indo-American Arts Council. The discussion was moderated by Rome Hartman, executive producer for BBC World News America. The full audio, as well as the video of the conversation is available on the website of the Asia Society


[Opening Remarks]

Well, first of all, I think, it is very difficult, as you said in the beginning, to articulate exactly how deeply we were affected by what we saw. I think there were many days when it was almost impossible to think, let alone to speak about what was happening, specially I think to those of us who grew up on those streets. And by the way, I think we have all agreed before hand that we are going to call the city by its proper name, which is Bombay. It is Bombay that was attacked and not Mumbai. And, by the way, I cannot say, and this is the only time I will say it, the words "Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus". This railway station is and always will be VT. And so, because these are the names of love, the others are the artificial names imposed by the politicians. But these are the names of the city that we love.

I think it was something like a perfect storm that happened in Bombay, that you put together the incredible brutality of the killers, fuelled as we now know by industrial quantities of cocaine and other drugs that were found in their bodies and in their possessions. Combine that with, what I think is generally seen as a collapse of the Indian response, the Indian security response really was negligible. Three hours to get a fire engine to the Taj, a hotel that stands right next to the water. Twelve hours before the commandos were able to go in because they didn't have a plane to get to Bombay. Etc Etc. So that's the second part of it.

But I think the third part of it that has become increasingly clear is perhaps the dominant element and that is the absolute duplicity and hypocrisy of the Pakistani state. So much so that even today, the President of Pakistan, interviewed by the BBC said there is no evidence that Pakistan was involved in this. Even when the father of the surviving terrorist has identified his son as being a Pakistani, the President of Pakistan says that is not evidence.

So here you have these three forces coming together: Brutality, incompetence and cynical duplicity and what that did was to create this horror.

I wanted to read just a brief passage about -- since we are talking about our beloved place, so let's talk about that. This is a passage I wrote in my novel, The Moor's Last Sigh and it was written actually after another series of atrocities in 1993 explosions in Bombay which themselves were in the aftermath of the destruction of Babri Masjid and so it's in that context. But I think it applies, and it certainly applies to what I think about, about the city...

"Bombay was central, had been so from the moment of its creation: the bastard child of a Portuguese-English wedding, and yet the most Indian of Indian cities. In Bombay all Indias met and merged. In Bombay, too, all-India met what-was-not-India, what came across the black water to flow into our veins. Everything north of Bombay was North India, everything south of it was the South. To the east lay India's East, and to the west, the world's West. Bombay was central; all rivers flowed into its human sea.

It was an ocean of stories; we were all its narrators, and everybody talked at once. What magic was stirred into that insaan-soup, what harmony emerged from that cacophony! "In Punjab, Assam, Kashmir, Meerut--in Delhi, in Calcutta--from time to time they slit their neighbours' throats and took warm showers, or red bubble-baths, in all that spuming blood. They killed you for being circumcised and they killed you because your foreskins had been left on. Long hair got you murdered and haircuts too; light skin flayed dark skin and if you spoke the wrong language you could lose your twisted tongue. In Bombay, such things never happened. --Never, you say? -- OK: Never is too absolute a word. Bombay was not inoculated against the rest of the country, and what happened elsewhere, the language business for example, also spread into its streets. But on the way to Bombay the rivers of blood were usually diluted, other rivers poured into them, so that by the time they reached the city's streets the disfigurations were relatively slight. -- Am I sentimentalising? Now that I have left it all behind, have I, among my many losses, also lost clear sight? -- It may be said I have; but still I stand by my words. O Beautifiers of the City, did you not see that what was beautiful in Bombay was that it belonged to nobody, and to all? Did you not see the everyday live-and-let-live miracles thronging its overcrowded streets?

Bombay was central. In Bombay, as the old founding myth of the nation faded, the new god-and-mammon India was being born. The wealth of the country flowed through its exchanges, its ports. Those who hated India, those who sought to ruin it, would need to ruin Bombay..."


[On Pakistan's Dysfunctional Power Elite]

We need to say something about where they came from. And about the enormous resentment that the Pakistani power elite has felt about the success of India. There is this you know this thriving... I mean, I think of course we can all, you know, elucidate the many things that are wrong with India. That would be an interesting discussion but... another one. We don't have time.

But here you have this country that is, broadly speaking, democratic and, broadly speaking, economically successful and, broadly speaking, free. On the other hand you have this basket case, you know, where the Punjabis hate the Sindhis and everybody hates the North West Frontier and Balochistan is trying to get away.


And half the country already got away, you know. So you have this decreasingly functioning society which has no institutions on which a free society could be built, in which the army is increasingly Islamicised, the army leadership is increasingly Islamicised, the ISI -- the Inter Services Intelligence, the Pakistani intelligence agency -- is totally out of control and the civilian politicians are not that much better. President Zardari, I remember, when, as Benazir Bhutto's husband, he was known as Mr 10 Per cent because of the amount of government money he had siphoned off. And then in Pakistan they decided that it was unfair, unjust to call him Mr Ten Per Cent. So they changed his nickname to Mr Twenty Per Cent which was a clearer reflection of his actual skills.

Here you have a country in the face of the world's agreement about what happened, just blindly refusing to accept it: "No, we don't know. What is the evidence? Where is the evidence? Show us the evidence. And we will fearlessly prosecute them..."


[Interjecting when a reference to root causes and justice came up]

Speaking of the roots, I think one of the, I think one of the most worrying developments in the aftermath of the attacks, has been the willingness of a number of commentators, particularly on the left, to place the question of roots in the concept of justice.

People have said that the the reason for these attack was that there is injustice, that Indian Muslims are economically disadvantaged in India, that they have much lower educational qualifications, they have much higher unemployment rates and then of course there is the great injustice of Kashmir. As the argument be that while those injustices exist that is the thing from which these actions spring.

And as our colleague Arundhati Roy wrote the other night, as she ended her article, she said: You have a very simple choice: Justice or civil war -- and you choose. As Suketu said, that is the entire spectrum of possibility from A to B.

[Suketu Mehta on his part agreed with what Rushdie had to say and pointed out that the attack on Parliament in 2001 for example predated the Gujarat pogroms]


I want to really take issue with this. Because I mean, I think, anyone who knows what I have written in my life knows that I am quite seriously concerned with the condition of Kashmir. And I think that Indian authorities are culpable in the way in which they have treated the ordinary people of Kashmir but so are Jaish-e-Mohammad and Lashkar-e-Toiba.

And you have the people of Kashmir caught between a rock and a hard place. You know, you have a kind of fanatic Islam arriving from Pakistan which is not in keeping with the sufistic Islam that is traditional in Kashmir. So you have this Arabised Islam being forced upon people on the one hand, at the point of a gun, and on the other hand you have Indian security forces treating all Kashmiris as if they are terrorists, and often very brutally. So that's there.

But the point I want to make is that I do not believe that the terrorists such as these -- I do not believe that their project has anything to do with justice.

Ask yourself the question that if the Kashmir problem were resolve tomorrow, if Israel-Palestine reached a lasting peace, do we believe that al-Qaeda would disband? Do we believe that Lashkar-e-Toiba and Jaish-e-Mohammad would put their guns down and beat them into plough-shears and say we would now be farmers because our job is done.

I mean the point about is that is laughable, right? And the point about that is that that is not their project. Their project is power. This is a power grab by the most obscurantist, revanchist, old-fashioned, medievalist idea of modern culture that attempts to drag the world back into the middle ages at the point of modern weaponry ...

[The moderator: "You mentioned Arundhati Roy. This leads me to a question that came from the audience and I want to make sure that we get to as many of these as we can. This question mentions another point that was made in this article, in which the phrase was "the Taj is not our icon" and a criticism that ... and I know you have written lovingly about the Taj...  Address that criticism,that it may be somebody's icon but is not ours" [Arundhati Roy in her article had actually written: "We're told one of these hotels is an icon of the city of Mumbai. That's absolutely true. It's an icon of the easy, obscene injustice that ordinary Indians endure every day."--Ed ]

I thought that particular remark in her piece was disgusting. The idea that the deaths of the rich don't matter because they are rich is disgusting. The idea that the 12 members of the Taj staff, who heroically gave their lives to save many of the guests, are to be discounted because they were presumably the lackeys of the rich -- this is nauseating. This is amoral. And she should be ashamed of herself.

[On the ineptitude of the response -- why the private sector is dynamic, efficient and responsive while the public sector is not]

Because of the venality and cynicism of so much of the political class in India, which I think now people in India feel an enormous amount of scorn and contempt for. You saw what happened after the attacks, that the father of one of the police officers who was killed, was was visited by the chief minister of a state, he threw him out. He didn't want to have anything to do with you. And that's a pretty general attitude towards politicians in India. I mean, look at the scale of how bad the response was.

We now hear that Indian intelligence had informed the coast guard on that evening that they were expecting an attack -- a Lashkar-e-Toiba attack by sea. That evening. And the coast guard had been alerted to go and find the ship. They failed to find it. The Taj hotel had been repeatedly told about an attack by sea and to beef up their security which they did for about two months and then nothing happens and so they took it down, the security down again. And then the attack happened.

The police officers who were wearing bullet-proof vests were wearing clothing so old that it could not stop the high velocity rifles that were being used and so three senior police officers were killed within moments of the attack beginning because the bullets just went through their protective armour.

The commandos who eventually went in were actually based in Delhi and had no dedicated aircraft. So they couldn't get to Bombay. It took them 12 hours to enter the buildings. And as I say, the fire engines. In a city that sits by the sea, hotels that sit by the water were allowed to burn for three hours before water got to them.

Well, this... People could of course with some legitimacy say that the United States was caught unprepared as well you know, and the radios didn't work in the wall street zone...and you could of course make a similar catalogue of errors about what happened on that day on Sept 2001...But it was awful to watch as this pile of mistakes grow, while meanwhile the city was burning...The fact that there were - four terrorists in the Taj - who could hold on the Indian army for four days...when they were coked out of their heads, you know, snorting coke in one nostril, while executing people...I mean, the idea that they were allowed to go on...for four days is unthinkable...

So yes, I agree with Mira that to change the emphasis to these kind of draconian security laws is wrong because what you need to do is clearly to fix absence of a security machinery, you know...You need armoured vehicles, you need proper body protection, you need aircraft to bring people to the scene of the crime, you need a coastguard which can guard the coast, you know... I mean, India has a very long coastline. And y'know Karachi is only a hundred mile away from Bombay... So the idea that there can be an attack by sea is obvious, you know...And as I say, there were warnings...American intelligence says it told the Indian intelligence, many times. Indian intelligence itself says that it told the Bombay police, many times about it pand yet there is this colossal failure. The problem is there and to put it in the other place is to put it in the wrong place.

And I do mean to say, that when Suketu was talking about the quality of the city is what annoyed people. There is a wonderful remark by, I think, HL Mencken that "Puritanism is the haunting fear that someone somewhere might be happy"...And, and I do think that happiness is a part of the thing that really, along with Cocaine, gets up their nose. The idea that, as Suketu said, that this is a city of pleasure makes it, in the same way as the people who tried to bomb night clubs in England, y'know, said that it was legitimate because there were these slags in short skirts there, y'know, who deserved to die because of their sexuality, y'know, so there is in this whole area of the Islamic terrorist project a real dislike of open society, of the way people ordinarily live with each other. And they attack it. ....

[On the role of Media]

I think it is the wrong argument. I mean, what would you have the media do? To look away from the burning building? To look away from the slaughter in the railway station? Not to cover the siege of the Chabad House?

[Did the media end up aiding and informing the terrorists?]

Well there were one or two moments of clumsiness like that where it was reported on NDTV -- which I was, I was in London at that time and I was glued to 24 hours NDTV there... because you can get it on satellite ... and someone reported that they received a phone call from a room on such and such floor of the Taj .... which then informed the listening terrorists where people were...I mean that clearly was a blunder... and I think there were no doubt others, but I think on the whole it is the wrong argument. That's not where the problem was. I mean, you had the journalists doing their best, you know, and sometimes the best of journalism is not good enough...but that doesn't mean that that's where the problem was... the problem I think is elsewhere ...


There was a problem of the rolling news that an enormous amount of what was announced as news was almost immediately afterwards, we were told, was not correct... So one minute these killers were supposed to be British, y'know or some of them anyway, and five minutes later they weren't. And originally, there were 20 of them, then there 25, then it turned out that there were only 10 of them ... and maybe some got away... you know, They came by ship, No they didn't. The ship had been arrested by the coastguard which was supposed to have been the mothership. Oh, maybe there wasn't such a ship. They had a room in the Taj hotel. No they didn't. They were members of the hotel staff. No, they weren't. You know, so it was very difficult, I think, which is why I didn't know what to write at that time because the facts were changing so much.

[On the real issue: Pakistan]

These are not the causes of what happened. I mean, this is no doubt significant and We should debate how the media covers events, whichever country we are in. we can no doubt say, they got this wrong, they got that right, you know, but this is not the issue. The issue is -- and it is important as there is a new President due to take office in this country -- what should be the world's policy towards Pakistan? It is a very important matter right now. Because you have the British Prime Minister two days ago, Gordon Brown said that British intelligence, following up leads of various terrorists' activities, they informed him that 75 per cent of what they were studying led back to Pakistan. All the roads of world's terrorism lead to Pakistan


But it needs to be very very tough, that argument. It has to be made with enormous force. Who makes it? Let's start with the President of the United States. For the last years, since the 911 attacks, the American government policy towards Pakistan was to give them a lot of aid and to treat them as an ally in the war on terror.

So billions of dollar have been handed over first, mostly, to the Musharraf government and now its successor.