India’s 9/11

The latest confirmed figure of deaths in Mumbai (that I have seen) is 195. According to an article in the UK Telegraph, however, that number is likely to rise to 300.

Amid the ocean of ink being spilled on the Mumbai atrocity, a few underplayed angles have emerged that deserve mention:

Learning from experience (or not). Glenn Greenwald examines the Mumbai attacks in the light of the mass media’s habit of lecturing the Bush administration about mistakes made without holding itself responsible for the ways in which it enabled and supported those mistakes. Pointing to an editorial in Friday’s New York Times that advises President-elect Obama on how to improve relations between the U.S. and Latin America while ignoring the paper’s own role in cheerleading the policies it now decries, Glenn notes that the same kind of clueless revisionism can be seen in the media’s coverage of 9/11 and the “war on terror,” immediately after 9/11 and now. The press has an opportunity for critical analysis of the horrendous violence in Mumbai that investigates and questions rather than simply parroting and accepting government spin. Will it rise to the challenge? Early indications are not good:

Any decent, civilized person watching scenes in Mumbai of extremists shooting indiscriminate machine gun fire and launching grenades into civilian crowds — deliberately slaughtering innocent people by the dozens — is going to feel disgust, fury, and a desire for vengeance against the perpetrators, regardless of what precipitated it.  The temptation is great even among the most rational to empower authority to do anything and everything — without limits — to punish those responsible and prevent repeat occurrences.  That’s a natural, even understandable, response.  And it’s the response that the attackers hope to provoke.

It’s that temptation to which most Americans — and our leading media institutions — succumbed in the wake of 9/11, and it’s exactly the reaction that’s most self-destructive.  As documented by this superb Washington Post Op-Ed today from Dileep Padgaonkar, former editor of the Times of India, the Indian Government — in response to prior terrorist attacks — has been employing tactics all-too-familiar to Americans:  “terrorism suspects have been picked up at random and denied legal rights”; “allegations of torture by police are routine”; “suspects have been held for years as their court cases have dragged on. Convictions have been few and far between”; Muslims and Hindus are subjected to vastly disparate treatment; and much of the most consequential actions take place in secrecy, shielded from public view, debate or accountability.

As Padgaonkar details, many of these measures, particularly in the wake of new terrorist attacks, are emotionally satisfying, yet they do little other than exacerbate the problem, spawn further extremism and resentment, and massively increase the likelihood of further and more reckless attacks — thereby fueling this cycle endlessly — all while degrading the very institutions and values that are ostensibly being defended.  The greater one’s physical or emotional proximity to the attacks, the greater is the danger that one will seek excessively to empower and submit to government authority and cheer for destructive counter-measures which allow few, if any, limits.

What happened in the U.S. over the last eight years is about much, much more than what “the Bush administration” did.  It begins there, but responsibility in the post 9/11-era is much more diffuse and collective than that.  Shoveling it all off on the administration that is leaving, while exonerating our culpable media and political institutions that remain, isn’t merely historically inaccurate and unfair, though it is that.  Allowing that revisionism also ensures that the critical lessons that ought to be learned will instead be easily and quickly forgotten when similar episodes occur here in the future.

The rich are different… They get the interviews. Corrente has an extraordinary story about the courage and professionalism of hotel staff in protecting and in some cases saving the lives of wealthy patrons, at obvious risk to their own safety. What’s truly mind-boggling, though, is how consistently and reliably major media outlets are reporting this heroism: without interviewing any of the employees — when they write about them at all.

All links via Memeorandum.

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