Terrorism – 1: How Do We Respond to Mumbai?

Mumbai is big but not as big as New York.
11/26 is huge but not as huge as 9/11.
India is powerful but not as powerful as America.

What does this set of propositions tell us about how we should respond to 11/26 in Mumbai?

Think it over. There are two choices. We can root out terrorists or we can root out terrorism. They are not the same.

Powerful America responded to 9/11 in New York by vowing to root out terrorists. Pledging to get Osama bin Laden, dead or alive, it launched the War on Terror. Seven years later, there are more terrorists than ever before, more Americans have died than in 9/11, the number of innocent victims has been lost count of, the entire world is in turmoil, and the economic and financial systems have broken down.

So, when one hears Dr. Manmohan Singh state that he would get the perpetrators of 11/26 and Barack Obama repeat that he will root out terrorists, it gives one pause.

It is not difficult to understand the anger and the frustration, the visceral desire to tear the terrorists from limb to limb, to rip their livers from their abdomens and feed them to the vultures. But ask, the morning after, if this would root out terrorism.

It is quite natural to play a tragedy of this order for political gains, to not look beyond its implications for the next elections. But would that root out terrorism?

Would an Indian campaign to root out terrorists meet with more success than America’s War on Terror? Despite all the rhetoric surrounding every incident, has terrorism been on the rise or on the decline? Would a vengeful response buy security for India or a future filled with uncertainty and fear?

Does India see anything in the mirror of Israel?

Think over the two choices. Ask yourself if rooting out terrorists is the best way to root out terrorism. If not, channel your anger into a strategy that stands a better chance. Put yourself in the shoes of an uninvolved outsider and ask how you would begin to root out the curse of terrorism.

When we stop playing into the hands of terrorists, we would take the first step towards a secure future. It is a tough choice, but it may be the only choice.

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  • Anil Kala
    Posted at 05:26h, 30 November Reply

    You have not explained the big difference between terrorists and the terrorism. And how do you suggest fight terrorism?

  • SouthAsian
    Posted at 17:42h, 01 December Reply

    I realize I was too cryptic. I have tried to explain it better in the subsequent post.

    If the terrorists belong to a group without much underlying support (like the European urban terrorists of the 1970s) they can be rooted out by use of force. But if the base of terrorism is such that it would generate more terrorists, at a rate greater than that at which they are being rooted out, the problem would only become worse. This seems to be the case with the American War on Terror.

    A helpful analogy is to think of a disease affecting the human body. Sometimes, if you catch it early enough, you can excise it with a well aimed surgical operation. If it has spread, there is no alternative but more patient treatment. A surgical operation could well kill the patient.

    What I am urging is intelligent treatment of this disease of terrorism in South Asia. The last thing we want is to make it worse than it is.

  • Ludwig
    Posted at 08:39h, 02 December Reply

    This is the most reasonable thing I’ve heard said about this whole business over the last few days. Congratulations.

  • Anil Kala
    Posted at 13:03h, 02 December Reply

    I can’t read your subsequent piece “Beyond Mumbai” I get “error 404”

    But from tone of your article it appears that you are suggesting that instead of going full blast against the terrorists we should analyze the reason why there are terrorists and unless that reason is removed new ones will replace the dead ones. There is a problem here! Their reason for terrorism is not genuine; based on a false sense of victim-hood. The problem is that Islam (the practiced religion) is fast becoming something like the Christianity of middle age; senseless, intolerant and insecure therefore hyper sensitive to external stimulant. To understand the proportion of unreasonableness Islamic followers display you have to contrast it against two similar provocations. An example would be the malicious drawing of cartoons of Prophet Mohammed and the kind of hysteria it generated amongst the faithfuls and the mute reaction against a lot more insensitive and offensive destruction of Bamyan Buddha. How do we tackle irrationality, falsely perceived enormous (enormous since the world is not fair anyway and most are wronged in some ways) sense of wrong?

  • SouthAsian
    Posted at 02:04h, 03 December Reply


    I hope you get to read the post. You will see that the above is not what I am arguing. I am saying that whether you like it or not or whether you feel the reason is genuine or not, there are some situations where you cannot root out terrorists by force without doing immense harm to yourself. I have given some examples to make the point.

    However you might want to think of Islam and Muslims, the point remains valid. The IRA in Ireland, the Basques in Spain, the Tamils in Sri Lanka, the Buddhists in Tibet all represent these kinds of situations where a negotiated settlement is the only alternative. None of these groups are Islamic.

    India itself has situations like this on its Northeast borders where it has been struggling to root out terrorists without success for 60 years.

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