Chaos and Intimacy in Mumbai
Today's guest blogger is Zeenat Rahman, a Senior Program Coordinator at the Interfaith Youth Core. She recently completed a tour of six countries in Western Europe, where she explored religious pluralism in the region.
I have heard the phrase "this was India's 9/11" countless times since the Mumbai attacks began a week ago. As I stared at the blurry image of the lone surviving attacker, wearing a t-shirt and cargo pants, with a knapsack slung over his shoulder, I was reminded of another tragic act of violence in America's history--the Columbine massacres. Young men, blank stares; the unflinching, methodical execution of the acts they carried out.
As a child of Bengali immigrants, I have traveled to India many times in my life. I was in Mumbai in the mid '90's, visiting my mother's old college classmate. The city was both chaotic and intimate. On the streets, cars, people, animals, busses, trams and rickshaws invaded my personal space; not an inch of the city was untouched. People from every different background, caste, color, class wove together in the second most populous city in the world.
Mumbai is the embodiment of pluralism; this is what its attackers were seeking to destroy.
Watching the Mumbai attacks on the television, I imagined the young men who masterminded these attacks sitting in dark rooms with city plans and hotel blueprints laid out before them. As Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold fantasized in Littleton, the Mumbai attackers likely thought, "We will be somebody. We will go down in history."
These attacks were not about Islam; they were about individuals seeking to glorify themselves. When a person commits an abhorrent act of violence against innocent people, he renounces his association with that faith tradition.
In addition to seeking individual glory, what the Mumbai attackers also may have hoped for is that the collateral damage from their acts would have reverberations throughout the world; that in targeting Westerners and Jews (and everyone in between), their acts would be linked to the global jihad, and not be seen as a regional struggle, that tension between Pakistan and India would increase, the Pakistani government would be seen as inept, and most importantly, suspicion would be cast upon India's 130 million strong Muslim minority, as well as the centuries upon centuries of social peace that has existed in India.
As Amartya Sen, the Harvard Economist and Indian-born Nobel Laureate wrote in a recent New York Times piece, "It is extremely important to understand that the criminal activities of a minuscule group, even if it turns out to have home-grown elements, say nothing about Indian Muslims in general, who are an integral part of the country's social fabric."
So what remains to be seen is what the world's response will be to these attacks.
Will we use this opportunity to deepen the narrative of the clash of civilizations, to further mark division based on faith, ethnic, and national lines? Essentially, will we give the attackers what they want?
Or will we use these atrocities as an opportunity to show solidarity with the people of Mumbai, to defuse the agenda the terrorists seek to advance?
If we choose the latter, we must do so by respecting, affirming, and upholding one another's identities. We must work together toward advancing the common good. We must promote religious pluralism.
The content of this blog reflects the views of its author and does not necessarily reflect the views of either Eboo Patel or the Interfaith Youth Core.
December 3, 2008; 3:55 PM ET
Religion & Politics
The Faith Divide
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