The New Horizon

A new world explored with a rational view

Social Justice and Mumbai Attacks : Arundhati vs Rushdie

with 6 comments

Arundhati Roy, one of the best Human Rights activists in South Asia, has probably got it wrong this time. So far, she was right to some extent to connect Indian city bombings with the Social Justice. This time, it has gone far beyond the justice and it seems she didn’t wake up in time.

I agree to her that the Hindu fundamentalists are a threat to country. It has been proved repeatedly for last 20 years. I also agree that social injustice has fermented a lot of friction points inside India. But, I don’t attribute this particular attack to the same cause.

There are a list of factual and analytic errors in her article – “9 is not 11” published in The Guardian and The Outlook. It also has a lot of “contextual errors”. Let me go over a few of them.

The Mumbai attacks are only the most recent of a spate of terrorist attacks on Indian towns

It’s an absolute failure to identify the distinctive nature of the Mumbai attack. Unlike the others, it was carried out by a set of foreigners who came to India only to launch the attack. The preparation and training involved in the Mumbai attack was far greater than the “hit and run” bomb attacks on other Indian towns. If the other ones required only the knowledge of Mobile phones, SIM cards, detonators, RDX and co-ordination over the internet, then this one requires additional skills such as – handling of GPS, lobbing Grenades, use of AK-47s and intense training on fighting till death for 60 hours.

It’s (The Taj) an icon of the easy, obscene injustice that ordinary Indians endure every day.

This one hardly contextual in the ongoing Mumbai attacks.

On one side (let’s call it Side A) are those who see terrorism, especially ‘Islamist’ terrorism, as a hateful, insane scourge that spins on its own axis, in its own orbit and has nothing to do with the world around it, nothing to do with history, geography or economics. Therefore, Side A says, to try and place it in a political context, or even try to understand it, amounts to justifying it and is a crime in itself.

Side B believes that though nothing can ever excuse or justify terrorism, it exists in a particular time, place and political context, and to refuse to see that will only aggravate the problem and put more and more people in harm’s way. Which is a crime in itself.

The sayings of Hafiz Saeed, who founded the Lashkar-e-Toiba (Army of the Pure) in 1990 and who belongs to the hardline Salafi tradition of Islam, certainly bolster the case of Side A. Hafiz Saeed approves of suicide bombing, hates Jews, Shias and Democracy, and believes that jehad should be waged until Islam, his Islam, rules the world.

Among the things he has said are:

“There cannot be any peace while India remains intact. Cut them, cut them so much that they kneel before you and ask for mercy.”

This one is the most contextual in the ongoing Mumbai attacks. She admits that in some cases, terrorism doesn’t have any contexts. LeT and its mastermind belongs to that category.

Unfortunately, after this she compares Hafiz to Babu Bajrangi and tries to juxtapose the end results of these two persons. As per her article, Babu Bajrangi is set free despite his hate speech but Hafiz Saeed is “banned” by the UN.

Hafiz Saeed has lived the life of a respectable man in Lahore as the head of the Jamaat-ud-Dawa, which many believe is a front organisation for the Lashkar-e-Toiba. He continued to recruit young boys for his own bigoted jehad with his twisted, fiery sermons. On December 11, the UN imposed sanctions on the Jamaat-ud-Dawa and the Pakistani government succumbed to international pressure, putting Hafiz Saeed under house arrest. Babu Bajrangi, however, is out on bail and continues to live the life of a respectable man in Gujarat.

True, but how does it link Justice to the attacks. It’s rather proved that either of these two would have attacked their perceived opponents without any contextual reasons. For an update, Pakistan virtually did not take any action against Hafiz Saeed, neither can they take one.

Interestingly, with all these examples, she took up the the option B.

So, on balance, if I had to choose between Side A and Side B, I’d pick Side B. We need context. Always.

However, she did not include religion, illiteracy and blind-belief as context, which is unfair and creates an analytic error.

In this nuclear subcontinent, that context is Partition.

And what was the context of Partition? Isn’t that a mix of politics, religion and illiteracy? Why the history begins at partition and not from a thousand years of Caste system in India? Why doesn’t it include the rule of Aurangzeb? Why doesn’t it include the divide and rule policy of the British? History is eternal and so is the context. The history of justice and the absence of it is as long as the history of mankind.

air strikes to ‘take out’ terrorist camps may take out the camps, but certainly will not ‘take out’ the terrorists. And neither will war. …

A superpower never has allies. It only has agents.

Absolutely. I agree to this.

Terrorism is a heartless ideology, and like most ideologies that have their eye on the Big Picture, individuals don’t figure in its calculations except as collateral damage. It has always been a part of—and often even the aim of—terrorist strategy to exacerbate a bad situation in order to expose hidden fault lines. The blood of ‘martyrs’ irrigates terrorism. Hindu terrorists need dead Hindus, Communist terrorists need dead proletarians, Islamist terrorists need dead Muslims. The dead become the demonstration, the proof of victimhood, which is central to the project.

Wonderful way of putting it. Now, where does the social justice fit here? Aren’t we going farther away from the arguments in favor of social justice and more towards another deadly cause – propaganda?

After this she went into media-apathy in covering other news and the “good” and “bad” classification by the media which ended up asking for a “Police state”. I believe, if dacoits would have attacked my house, I would have put more vigil at my home from the time being. Why is it wrong to have as an immediate reaction? Isn’t it expected?

Next she delves deep into the Parliament attack, Delhi encounter with Indian Mujaheedin and Malegaon blast. Those are no way related to Mumbai attack, at least the no links has yet emerged. After that she blames the Nation states – India and USA – for a lot of misdeeds. I don’t disagree with most of them, but of course fail to see a connection with Mumbai attacks.

If 10 men can hold off the NSG commandos and the police for three days, and if it takes half-a-million soldiers to hold down the Kashmir Valley, do the math. What kind of Homeland Security can secure India?

Then she raises one question which is valuable to me. However, she did not propose any solution to that. The hint of solution came at her ending lines :

The only way to contain (it would be naive to say end) terrorism is to look at the monster in the mirror. We’re standing at a fork in the road. One sign says ‘Justice’, the other ‘Civil War’. There’s no third sign and there’s no going back. Choose.

I know the best answer to this actually came from Salman Rushdie. I am adding the video entry for his comments.

Also quote

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 …

That’s what is fueling the Terrorism – as it did always in the past – the hunger for power. At this point, one might argue that its the social injustice that is generating that sense of deprivation and hunger for power. However, History doesn’t show us many such examples. Nor did it show the end of that hunger once the justice was “won”. One major example could be the Afghanistan Mujaheedins, who were nurtured by Pakistan and USA. They targeted the Soviet Army to expell them from Afghanistan to get their perceived justice. However, after the Soviet Army withdrew, they did not returned to the “Plough-shares” as mentioned by Rushdie. Rather, the majority of them, exported terror outside the territory – from Osama bin Laden in 9/11 to Bangla Bhai in Bangladesh. The case was simple for them – the sense of “injustice” changed once they achieved their bloody battle.What happens to the sense of injustice those are impractical – “Establishing a Ram rajya” or “Re-establishment of Caliphate in India”? Is it possible to arrange “Social Justice” to the victims of so-called context – the Partition.

Social justice, like everything else, has an equilibrium. Suppose there are two communities in a society – A and B. In a perfect democratic setup, A always wins since they are the majority. Now, B has a deep sense of injustice. Let me assume, as per Arundhati, that led to radicalization of the B community. The paradox is, if there are measures taken by the Government ran by A, to improve the status of B – that itself will create similar sense of injustice among A – may be less in percentage. However, the overall percentage of person, who are extremists because of injustice, remains the same, though, they are equally spread among the communities. So, the society doesn’t gain out of effort towards inclusiveness before we remove the community barrier. If both group A and B prioritize their Nation ahread of their Community, half the problem gets resolved. Now, the next question becomes – who creates the community barrier? I believe, there lies the answer … it could be race, color or religion.

The argument from injustice is a never ending one. The absolute justice is never possible. Because, the justice itself is a perception which, like all other inputs to human brain, can be manipulated or brainwashed. A deep sense of injustice can easily be injected into a person who has little to analyze. In our societies, where rational thoughts are always discouraged and elders are always true – no better can be expected.


6 Responses

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  1. Rushdie says it alright. But to this- 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 have to say that groups such as these will eventually disappear when there is justice. These groups survive on vulnerable youth to get radicalized and carry on their agenda- whether it is a quest for power or justice.


    December 26, 2008 at 11:52 pm

  2. I have to say that groups such as these will eventually disappear when there is justice.

    – What happened to the Afghan Mujaheedins once they got Azadi?

    These groups survive on vulnerable youth to get radicalized and carry on their agenda- whether it is a quest for power or justice.

    – There are no proof so far that a change in agenda reduces the rate of popularity.


    December 27, 2008 at 6:18 am

  3. Thank you for an intelligent reply, which actually takes into consideration what Roy writes. As I have learned, that is a rare thing on the net.
    I’m not sure I quite agree with your assertions, but to me it seems that part of the problems is that no-one has really come out and said: ‘we have murdered a lot of people in Mumbai because of this reason’, except for the one terrorist, who did indeed state the atrocities committed against Muslims as the prime reason why he was doing it.
    This means that we are left without a context, and I think one must give Roy credit for trying to forge one – even if it is from events that have been tried and tested and found sufficient in other conflicts but perhaps not this one. I was in India in the aftermath of the attack, and I did detect a distinct lack of wanting to make the link between injustice in India and the actions of terrorists. There seemed to be an unwillingness to see it as an Indian problem at all.
    In what other people have called the ‘media bashing’ bits of Roy article, I think they miss the point, that that is what she is asking for as well.
    Taking into account that we have only one terrorist’s statement to go on, I do not think that we can leave inequality out of equation, even though Rushdie’s assertion that killers often keep on killing is true. As far as I remember it was actually also Roy’s point, in another article, where she stated that the citizens of Afghanistan has been fighting for so long, that is seems that it is all they are capable of.
    I think the general mistake commenters make is that they think that Roy is trying to excuse the terrorist. Because of your thoroughness, you do not make that mistake, but by that same token, should we not also acknowledge that we need a context. Perhaps a new one, but not only one that gives celebrates ‘the brave boys’ but one that might prevent that the brave be made to fight in the streets of Mumbai again?
    In this respect I fail to see the relevance of some of your assertions. It seems for instance strange to me that you think that these attacks are somehow unrelated to other attacks in the past, because of the kind of weapons used by terrorists, as well as their tactics. I fail to see why that is of material importance to the gauging of what terrorists want and how we deal with them – except if we actually face them on the battlefield. To a Dane writing travel books on India, it does seem that what set this attack apart from others was its location, rather than the fact that terrorists have gone from lunchbox bombs to ak47. Its location – and not the weapons and tactics – was what carried it to the Danish news waves, because the people that normally make news were suddenly being shot at. Go to Wikipedia, and the page will tell you what powerful people were in the hotel at the time of the attack. All of them. By name.
    Secondly, as an outsider, I still need someone to tell me that Roy in her serious allegations against the powerful of India is wrong. Not just irrelevant, because if people like Modi has not yet been convicted, even though he is responsible for acts of what could be termed state terrorism, I believe it would be fair to say that it provides an excuse for lunatics on the other side.
    Would you say that there are any serious doubt that the people who have committed serious crimes against whole Muslim communities have not been caught, and if so, is it only because we refuse to even set ourselves in the position of people that would retaliate against whole communities – which is what these acts of terrorism is, in my opinion – that we dismiss these crimes as irrelevant?
    I thank you for your sanity.
    Tore Mukherjee Holst

    Tore Holst

    February 11, 2009 at 4:29 pm

  4. You have raised a few points and I would try to cover my justification to what I wrote.

    It is true that we did not get any statements from the terrorists about why did they attack Mumbai but we do definitely know that they were posing as Indian Muslims which they were not. We also know the lone surviving gunman was from a poor Pakistani village and he was trained by some Pakistan based organization.

    The other point was about the high-tech equipments used in the attack. You raised a question how that could make Mumbai attack a different one from the existing ones.

    My point is, if the context were anything related to crimes against community, then we would have seen at least a few attackers from India. If I, being a Bengali and living in US, start killing people in Beijing to avenge the cultural discrimination against Tibetans in China, would that make a case for Tibetans? Or would that prove that it’s the deprivation of Tibetans in China being the root cause of the my attack? Would it not rather point that I am being indoctrinated against Chinese with whatever fault they have committed? Think about those.

    With that I land into my conclusion and the real context. I do agree that we need a context. The context in this case is illiteracy, religion and politics. The hunger for power comes with politics and propaganda comes with religion. I am happy to put these as contexts because they are deeply rooted in our society and you can explain all attacks including riots with these contexts. Partition and deprivation of Muslims in India are mere facts or results of these. So, it’s very easy to make someone indoctrinated to kill anyone else who differs from him in culture or religion.

    Now let me discuss the difference in terms of sophistication of the attack. One straight-away point that the back-end infrastructure supporting the terrorists were more strong than it was ever before. That is where it indicates a level of State support with this. There is deprivation in all societies, but the reaction to the deprivation magnifies once you have an infrastructure in place to hit back. That is why we see a disproportionate response from Muslim and Christian communities in India although both are being attacked ruthlessly in recent times.

    Given the State support the terrorists enjoyed, won’t it be more logical to put this attack at per with India-Pakistan war rather than attack from a few angry young men? Which one is closer to the nature of the attack – a commando operation launched by Pakistan inside India or a set of riot-torn Muslims discriminately firing in the street? I guess it’s the former one. If so, the the Modi-crimes does not come as a root cause to this attack. Because, even before we had Modi, we had wars with Paistan – in 1947, 1965, 1971 and 1999. I don’t want to discuss the reasons of each one of those, but certainly they were not related to crimes inside India.


    February 11, 2009 at 10:14 pm

  5. Who are considered as the most messed up Indians?

    I don’t believe this. Over 101 names and not one mention of this phony , hypocritical , pseudo-secular excuse for an Indian !!!!! Well here goes — meet Arundhati Roy…. The maverick and drama queen of the two decades …. ​ ​ ​ Claim to Fame : The…


    January 15, 2016 at 9:15 am

  6. Roy’s piece wasn’t to justify terrorism, but to point out the hypocrisy in the unjust treatment of terror afflicted on different victims by the establishment, which would include the Indian nationalists, the US empire, neoliberals (such as Rushdie), and the media that owned by these powers. She was very clear and Rushdie either deliberately distorted her argument or was too blinded by his own biases to understand what she was talking about.


    August 17, 2017 at 6:07 pm

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