Monday 1 December 2008

Black Friday in Mumbai

Whilst most Americans were fighting their way through crowds to get the best shopping bargains in the post-Thanksgiving rush, events were unfolding half a world away which many of them were not even aware of. In my opinion, these events are of the same magnitude, and will have a similar impact on the world order as those that took place in America's back yard on that fateful September 11, 2001.

The attacks that took place in the Indian port city of Mumbai did not have nearly the same number of casualties that the USA suffered on 9/11. The level of prior planning, careful selection of targets, accumulation of weapons and execution of the attack, however, all show serious intent to do major damage and to sow further fear and insecurity. If the world suffered from security nervousness prior to 2001, the 9/11 attacks justified the fact that this feeling of insecurity was not without cause. They also propelled inland security to the number 1 spot on the agendas of most western governments. Subsequent attacks in Madrid, London and continuing violence in the Middle East and on the Indian subcontinent, whilst not resulting in the same loss of life that occurred in New York, serve to reinforce the ongoing risk that we live with. I view the Mumbai attacks as being on the same scale as 9/11.

India is a country with a population of more than 1.1 billion inhabitants. Although Muslims comprise a minority of less than 15% of the population, there are nevertheless more than 150 million Muslims in India giving it the third highest number of Muslim citizens in any country in the world following Indonesia and Pakistan. It seems, therefore, quite strange for India to be the target of an attack of this sort at the hands of Muslim extremists. It may be explained by the feeling that Muslims, as a minority in India, are trying to assert greater strength and influence in that country commensurate with the third largest community in the world. It seems to me, however, that it is a combination of two other factors. The first is the ongoing conflict between India and Pakistan which has resulted in numerous deaths in the Kashmir region, and ongoing instability in the subcontinent. The second is the perception (now confirmed) that India is something of a soft touch from a security perspective.

It is reported that the terrorists were of Pakistani origin. The irony, when taken in the context of the Pakistan-India conflict, is that the terrorists stalked out targets which are not specifically Indian. Instead, the targets were seemingly British, American and Israeli/Jewish. So, although there was clearly an attempt to take advantage of India's seemingly lapse security arrangements and possibly reduce India's international standing as a result, the terrorists clearly focused on international targets. Nothing can better demonstrate this than the attack on Nariman House, the Lubavitch headquarters in Mumbai.

There can be no doubt that the attack at this address was not coincidental. Mark Sofer, Israel's ambassador to India made the obvious statement that there are so many buildings in Mumbai that there can be no uncertainty that the attack on Nariman House was specifically aimed at Israeli and Jewish targets. And what sort of a target was sought out in this blatantly anti-Semitic act of terrorism? To say that it was a soft target would be an understatement of enormous proportions. No matter what one's view of the Lubavitch movement is, their efforts in "kiruv" - reaching out to unaffiliated Jews and those far from home - stands out as a selfless and admirable activity. I have had personal reference to their wonderful activities from my business partner travels frequently and sometimes finds himself in far-flung places over Shabbat. Chabad House is always a place that can be relied upon to provide a warm Jewish experience when this is needed.

This is also the way in which Rabbi Gavriel Holtzberg and his wife Rivka are described. Warm, loving Jews who went to far-away Mumbai to set up an outpost for unaffiliated Jews in this remote location, and to provide a refuge for the many thousands of Israelis and other Jews who travel to this city each year. How they, along with some of their selfless helpers, could have been singled out by the terrorists escapes my imagine. Today, we mourn these brave people, and our hearts go out to a two year-old boy who has been orphaned together with the other families of the victims.

But while our hearts are sore and pained by the needless loss of life, let us not be weakened in our resolve to fight this battle with every strength of our being. Unlike 70 years ago when the worst anti-Semitic events of all time took place, today we have a Jewish army. Our Jewish army is there to ensure that any attempts to persecute us for our religion and for our beliefs will be futile.

But is the world sufficiently resolved and coordinated to fight these attacks on the innocent in their countries? Despite being more prepared than 7 years ago, I still perceive too many gaps in this resolve to be able to significantly deter those that are intent on sowing fear and hatred around the world. It is my fear that Mumbai will be just one more event in an ever-growing list of terrorist activities that the world will experience.

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