Monday, December 01, 2008

India's 9/11?

Eating dinner the other day at a local Indian-Pakistani restaurant, I caught a few minutes of coverage from an Indian news network of the terrorist attacks in Mumbai. This particular network -- and as I later found it, every other network and publication in the world -- repeatedly referred to the events as "India's 9/11", complete with a logo and everything.

Perhaps it was just the curry, but I found the phrase almost laughably vulgar and more than a little sad. With well over 150 people dead and guns continuing to fire, the media still couldn't stop itself from finding another terrorist attack to compare the tragedy to -- and as far as horrific acts of terrorism go, 9/11 is the gold standard from the perspective of a 24-hour news channel producer.

The comparison to September 11th, however, seems not only crass but unwittingly sad -- and I expect I would be more saddened by it if I were an Indian citizen. Why must a tragic event be branded, and the suffering it entails compared to an incident that occurred thousands of miles away? Can't the attacks be discussed in their own right without the comparisons to 9/11 looming over one's shoulder?

Also disturbed by the comparison is Vijay Prashad, a history professor at Trinity College, as he discussed on Democracy Now:
Anytime there is any attack they start to say this is our 9/11. You know whether it is the attack in London or the attack and Indonesia, everybody claims a terrorist attack now as their 9/11. There is something ominous about this. It means the state has to then follow the playbook laid out by the Bush Administration right after it experienced of course its 9/11. Which is to say you then go and start a war against an adversary that you claim did the attack and simultaneously, you begin to create a security apparatus inside your state to restrict the civil liberties of all people who live within that country.

So 9/11 or branding something as 9/11 has come to have these two aspects. One, go to war against somebody without any kind of full police investigation that is decisively shown us who has done the act. So one, a foreign war, secondly, what you might even consider to be a war against your own population. Where you start to restrict civil liberties far in excess of anything necessary. And of course, always fighting the last terrorist attack. So you build up this enormous apparatus of restrictions which is dealing with the previous attack against population and not trying to forecast the safety of the population into the near future. That is why the media started to talk about Mumbai’s 9/11.
The third reason is, the media had not really called any of the other attacks in Mumbai, and there have been many since 1992, 9/11, precisely because most of those attacks the have taken place in areas which afflicted the working poor, working-class, and middle-class people. This attack, for the first time, targeted places of the top elite. Very expensive hotels, leading restaurants, and this therefore, brought this kind of assault into the bedrooms, into the restaurant of the elite. And they found then that this is their 9/11. The other attacks were not called 9/11. There were the kind normal conditions of suffering borne by ordinary people in places like Bombay.
Others, however, like Indian opposition party member Arun Jaitley, inexplicably see the U.S. government's response to the 9/11 attacks (the response that has the U.S. army mired in two quagmires and, 7+ years later, Osama bin Laden still on the run) and think, let's emulate that:
We must follow the example of what United States did after 9/11. We are more vulnerable them and we must be a tough state and not a soft state. Out intelligence network, our security response, our legal framework all need an overhaul and all need a strengthening. When all of them see the political establishment is weak on terrorism, each one of them collapses. That’s where the basic change is required.
The constant, obsessive fear of being seen as "soft", "weak", or -- my personal favorite -- "impotent" in the face of terrorism or some adversary is commonly associated with U.S. neoconservatives (and males who feel the need to overcompensate for certain . . . deficiencies). Yet as we see with Mr. Jaitley, the need to assert one's masculinity by advocating militaristic policies is not one that the U.S. has any monopoly over, as evidenced by the bloody entirety of human history.

Contrary to his advice, though, if "India's 9/11" should teach one anything, it is that massive centralized security bureaucracies are incapable of defending against acts of terrorism, but are quite good at terrorizing civilian populations with their intrusive ineptitude and inevitable blowback. Each dollar that goes toward male enhancement -- er, toward the military and police -- is also one less dollar that can go to a more productive purpose. Too bad "increasing productivity" doesn't scream "manliness" as loud as cracking a few skulls or carpet bombing a country.


  1. Anonymous11:56 AM

    yeah the 'soft state' meme is spreading through elite discourse as fast as an adrenaline injection. and it is VERY ominous, since elections are around the corner and the right-wing-nationalist BJP may get into power.

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