Mumbai, Paris and the fear of terror

Kanchan GuptaIt has been a terrible week of bloodshed. Well into the 21st Century when the world and humanity should be grappling with problems like climate change, food shortage, energy needs and disappearing water, problems that transcend borders, nations, regions and continents, we are confronted with the spectre of a war that will have neither victor nor vanquished, but victims and untold misery. We may not be quite hurtling towards apocalypse, at least not yet, but the drum-beat of the hooves of the Fifth Horseman’s steed continues to get louder.

United we stand: A sand artist at Juhu beach exhibits his message of peace and unity.  Pic/Satej Shinde
United we stand: A sand artist at Juhu beach exhibits his message of peace and unity. Pic/Satej Shinde

It would be facetious to suggest, even remotely, that nobody expected the hideous massacre in Paris last weekend. Memories of the Twin Towers being brought down by passenger planes hijacked by terrorists may have dulled with the passage of 14 years but the possibility of terrorists striking again in a similar manner was never ruled out. The gleaming new chrome and glass towers that have come up at Ground Zero both mock at the merchants of death and destruction as well as remind us of 9/11.

Three years later, in March 2004, terrorists struck with undiminished ferocity: 191 people were killed in the Madrid train bombings. In July 2005 suicide-bombers struck on London Underground trains and a bus, leaving 52 people dead. A year later, in July 2006, commuter trains were bombed in Mumbai in replay of Madrid, killing 209 people. Then came the grisly Mumbai attacks of November 26, 2008, a dark chapter of 21st Century terrorism, taking a toll of 266 lives. There were other attacks too, targeting Indian cities, in Ahmedabad, Jaipur, Delhi, Pune. Early this year, Charlie Hebdo’s offices were attacked in Paris.

The purpose in recalling these crimes is not to merely place the latest carnage in context but remind ourselves that we do not live in happy times. We need to constantly refresh our memory lest we forget. We need to remind ourselves of the Peshawar school attack and how terrorists killed 141 people, 132 of them children. We need to remind ourselves that a dark force has risen that calls itself the Islamic State with a ruthless army of barbarians who murder, rape and pillage in the name of a merciful god. We need to look, and look closely, at the Middle East where flames of hate are laying to waste land and lives. We cannot, indeed must not, ignore the rapacious Boko Haram in Nigeria.

The Paris attacks are scarily similar to the Mumbai attacks: the careful selection of targets, the simultaneous assault at multiple places, the high casualty (129 dead, 368 injured) and the tactics are virtually indistinguishable from what we witnessed in Mumbai this month seven years ago. And now comes news of jihadis storming a hotel in Mali and taking more than 100 guests and staff hostages. Meanwhile, Syria continues to crumble, Lebanon lives in fear of further terrorist strikes like the suicide-bombings near Beirut and investigators struggle to figure out what brought down a Russian passenger plane crammed with holidaymakers over Sinai.

France has declared the attacks on Paris as an “act of war”. The outrage in France and rest of Europe is understandable. More than an “act of war” it is an act of betrayal. The Left-liberal elite in Europe had clearly failed to see, and even if it had seen, failed to recognise, the evil face of Islamism. Instead, it chose to gloss over the radicalisation of young Muslims, children of immigrant parents, who grew up in liberal welfare states but chose to imbibe and internalise the ideology of hate. Bogus notions of multiculturalism drew a veil, both metaphorical and often literal, over their drift into violence. The moral vacuum of Christendom with the decline of the Church hastened the process.

There is no reason to believe we are immune or that the raging war is too far from our shores to worry about. France today, India tomorrow is not an impossibility. The best security apparatus can minimise the impact but will not deter mass murderers from having a go. We will have to carry the burden of fear and loss. As I said, we do not live in happy times. We live in fearful times, in times of depleting hope and diminishing human values. We live in a lacerated world with multiple fractures and festering wounds.

The writer is a senior journalist based in the National Capital Region. His Twitter handle is @KanchanGupta

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