They were young and cleanshaven, wearing Western T-shirts and carrying rucksacks. They could have fit in easily with the cosmopolitan and robustly growing “New India.” If that weren’t exactly the India they had come to destroy.
India has long been a terrorist target. Only Iraq has lost more people in attacks during the past four years. But the days-long assault on the financial capital of Mumbai was an escalation, as well-trained “fidayeen” shock troops methodically murdered their way through the city’s symbols of wealth and openness to the world.
Mumbai had been bit in 1993, in car bombs placed at public landmarks (the toll: 257 dead), and in 2006, in bombs targeting the city’s commuter trains (183 dead). In the main, these acts of terror victimized ordinary Indians. Using armed attackers in a tactic associated with Pakistani militants in the disputed territory of Kashmir, the latest assault more precisely targeted Westerners and India’s affluent.
They shot up the Leopold Cafe, a restaurant where foreigners enjoy the cheap beer and food, and held hostages at two luxury hotels, the Taj Mahal and the Oberoi. They searched out Americans and Brits in particular. Together with their attack on a Jewish community center, this meant that they had taken aim at each element of the jihadist’s unholy trinity of Americans, Brits, and Jews — symbols to them of unapologetic Western power and its Zionist spawn.
The most memorable image of the “spectacular” was the iconic Italianate dome of the Taj, licked by flames as Indian security services battled the terrorists holed up inside. Once a bastion of Westerners, the Taj is now within reach of India’s growing elite, a venue for wedding receptions and business meetings. The terrorists want to trash that progress, to keep out Westerners and cut India off from globalization.
Coming just weeks after Barack Obama’s election, the massacre explodes the Left’s most reductive explanation of Islamic terrorism: that President George W. Bush and his provocations, including the Iraq War, dangerously inflamed Muslims and fueled terror. With a security agreement setting a goal of a U.S. exit from Iraq by 2012 and Bush leaving office, jihadists are still at their monstrous handiwork. They have an ideological goal larger than any one conflict or any American president.
And the absolute malice of the Mumbai terrorists is a reminder of a piece of supposed Bush/Cheney alarmism: that should these as-yet low-tech killers — armed with guns and grenades — ever acquire weapons of mass destruction, they will use them without hesitation.
Already there is debate over whether the Mumbai attack had an international or home-grown origin. This can be a false distinction.
The global jihadist movement is larger and more diffuse than al-Qaeda, even if it is inspired by it. Combining careful organization and training with intimate knowledge of the city, the Mumbai operation probably involved the work of both outsiders and locals.
The Indian government will point a finger at Pakistan. The Pakistani security service, the ISI, has long fostered anti-India terror groups, but it’s hard to believe that the Pakistani government — warming up to India of late — had a direct, official role in the attacks. ISI alone can’t be blamed for India’s terrorism problem. Side by side with the New India of Bollywood and a lunar probe is an India of Hindu-Muslim communal violence and anti-Muslim discrimination. Young Muslims now score more poorly on literacy tests than the Hindu “untouchables.” A disaffected Muslim population of 150 million in India is an inevitable breeding ground for militancy.
The war on terror is fundamentally a global counterinsurgency that depends on implementing stern security measures — of the sort the current Indian government has eschewed — and on reaching out to Muslim communities to keep their fringes from extremism. The Indian government will have to do both, while carefully managing tense relations with its fellow nuclear power, Pakistan. The fate of the New India hangs in the balance.
— Rich Lowry is the editor of National Review.
© 2008 by King Features Syndicate