Keeping Calm Over Mumbai

by Joshua Foust on 12/2/2008

The Columbia Journalism Review asked me to discuss the attacks in Mumbai. It’s a bit outside our purview, but there is an Afghanistan connect, eventually.

There is a curious double standard in the commentary about India, as well. Shortly after the September 11, 2001 attacks in the U.S., entire countries would be threatened with isolation or consumer boycotts for daring to suggest that the U.S.’s Middle East policy was even partially responsible for the attacks. During the Republican presidential primaries, Ron Paul was routinely mocked for saying the same thing, and derided as “supporting the terrorists.”

Yet that is exactly the kind of thinking that crops up when you hear, for example, [C. Christine] Fair remarking that India has a lot of “very, very angry Muslims.” You can detect a similar tone in Newsweek’s coverage, which seemed to blame the attacks on India’s possession of Kashmir and the “serious economic, religious, political and social causes of Muslim discontent.”

Talk about blaming the victim.

Via Steve LeVine, I also highly recommend Zahid Hussain’s account of the attack. Hussain is an old hand who worked the Pakistan/Afghanistan beat for many years, often with LeVine. His book, Frontline Pakistan is one of the clearest, and more importantly most concise, examinations of Pakistan’s history with Islamic extremism—a topic that very much plays into any discussion of why India has become a sponge for violence in recent months.

Regardless of how disgusting the attacks were, they were also highly sophisticated, and somewhat unprecedented: a rifle-born assault in India is rarely this successful from a terrorist perspective. Normally high casualty attacks involve bombs, and gun attacks make statements but rarely kill hundreds of people. Given that, I still don’t feel comfortable assigning blame to Lashkar-e Toiba, which, by some accounts, has refocused its attention on Afghanistan (there’s the rub). That doesn’t rule out a splinter group, or some rogue elements, or even a planned attack that just happened to have taken place after the organization moved on. But it is still frightfully early to immediately place blame on the Pakistani government for this atrocity—that is one of the only things for which one can be absolutely certain.


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This post was written by...

– author of 1848 posts on 17_PersonNotFound.

Joshua Foust is a Fellow at the American Security Project and the author of Afghanistan Journal: Selections from Registan.net. His research focuses primarily on Central and South Asia. Joshua is a correspondent for The Atlantic and a columnist for PBS Need to Know. Joshua appears regularly on the BBC World News, Aljazeera, and international public radio. Joshua's writing has appeared in the Columbia Journalism Review, Foreign Policy’s AfPak Channel, the New York Times, Reuters, and the Christian Science Monitor. Follow him on twitter: @joshuafoust

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