Copyrighted material


by Alexander Cockburn

MONITOR coverage
of Mumbai terror attack

In the wake of the terrorist attacks in Mumbai, out goes the top federal official, the minister for home affairs, Shivraj Patil. He says he should have done better. Popular indignation ratifies his judgment. Since Mumbai is in the state of Maharashtra, the chief minister, Vilasrao Deshmukh, has offered his resignation and his No. 2, R.R. Patil, has quit. Deshmukh says he "accepts moral responsibility." Remember that Maharashtra, at 100 million, has a third the population of the United States, so we're talking about very powerful officials.

Given the ratios of destruction, it's as though New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, Governor George Pataki, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice and heads of the CIA, NSA and FBI had all quit or at least tendered their resignations on Sept. 12, 2001, which of course none of them did. Like the tribe of Ephraim in the Book of Judges (12:5-6), who couldn't pronounce the word "shibboleth," the tongue and palate of an American politician or bureaucrat simply cannot handle the phrase "moral responsibility," at least as a condition applying to themselves. Remember that the tribe of Gilead made everyone trying to cross the Jordan after the battle say the word "shibboleth," and those who couldn't were put to the sword. The best the Ephraimites could do was "s-s-sibboleth." A good lesson here. Line up the high-ups, and make them say it. "I accept mowal wes ... wes ... wes ... " and down comes the ax.

It's the usual story. There were plenty of warnings. As papers such as the London Sunday Times detailed, in contrast to very poor real-time coverage here in the United States, months ago, the Mumbai police had information elicited from Fahim Ansari, a captive member of the Pakistani group Lashkar-e-Taiba, that a raid on the city was being planned and that he himself had reconnoitered the Taj and Oberoi hotels. The Indian authorities intercepted a telephone call made from the Arabian Sea less than two weeks before the attack in which a terrorist suspect on a boat in the Arabian Sea said "we're coming to Mumbai." The Indian coast guard was alerted.

The brain initially translates the unexpected as a minor aberration of normalcy. Look at what happened in February 2003 in Key West, on the actual day Attorney General John Ashcroft and Homeland Security czar Tom Ridge announced we're One Nation Under Orange Alert. Four uniformed fugitives from Cuba's navy patrol made landfall on the Homeland, passing undetected by Southern Florida's vast flotillas of Coast Guard and Navy vessels. Clad in their Cuban army fatigues (one had a Chinese-made handgun strapped to his hip), they wandered about, looking for a police station where they could turn themselves in. If of malign intent, the Cubans could have wiped out half the authors on The New York Times's bestseller list with a single salvo.

As the Mumbai carnage raged on, the press here slowly accepted the fact that this wasn't an attack on Westerners, that Indians weren't merely collateral damage. On Dec. 2, Somini Sengupta had a rather sickening story in the Times praising the "extraordinary grace" of some courageous Indians evoked by Sengupta in that ultimate imperial accolade, first-class service. "'The only thing was to protect the guests,' said the executive chef, Hemant Oberoi. 'I think my team did a wonderful job in doing that. We lost some lives in doing that.'" Greater love hath no waiter than to lay down his life for the guests. Victorian fiction writers like G.A. Henty had scores of selfless characters like Oberoi.

In the old days, the Western press had absolutely no comprehension of fatalities among Asians in numbers less than 50,000 -- the lower benchmark for newsworthy fatalities. Now it's the other way round. In Western news reports, Indians are individually categorized as among the 188 dead in the Mumbai attacks. These days, the larger the number of dead, the less visible they become. The nature of the catastrophe makes a big difference too. No Western journalist chose to bewail a huge human catastrophe when that same chief minister of Maharashtra, Deshmukh, supervised the destruction of 84,000 homes in Mumbai back in 2004-2005, nearly three times the number rendered homeless in Nagapattinam by the tsunami. "Many people will be inconvenienced and will have to make sacrifices if the city has to develop," Deshmukh said then. Once again, the lowly were making sacrifices in the interests of the mighty, many of them real estate gangsters in league with Deshmukh and the ruling Congress party.

There was no talk of "moral responsibility" and no hand-wringing in the Western press about the barbarism of making 84,000 families homeless. Nor did Deshmukh feel compelled to acknowledge moral responsibility when the 2006 figures issued by his own bureaucrats recorded 1,400 suicides (undoubtedly a huge underestimate) by Indian farmers in just six districts in the Vidarbha region of his state, driven to death by carefully planned "liberalization" of the farm economy, overseen by federal Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. This state terrorism was of Western origin, promoted by economists, World Bank officials and journalists like the Times's Thomas Friedman and Keith Bradsher, stepping onto Indian soil armed with Friedmanite recipes and with cell-phone contact to terror centers in Washington, Harvard and Chicago. Almost exactly a year ago, the Indian journalist P. Sainath reported that close to 150,000 Indian farmers committed suicide in the nine years from 1997 to 2005.

Have The New York Times and Washington Post and their leading journalists, salesfolk and apologists for this terrorism, ever accepted moral responsibility, or even admitted that their economic analysis of the past two decades and forecasts of a benign future has been lethally wrong and now at last has come home to roost? Say it! "Mo ... mo ... mowal ... "

© Creators Syndicate

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Albion Monitor   December 5, 2008   (

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