Dear Friends and New Visitors,
Many thousands of people have contacted me since I posted my immediate response, in the form of a Q&A, to the November attacks on Bombay. Because this Q&A struck such a chord with so many people, and because I can’t possibly reply personally to thousands of new emails – on top of the hundreds I receive every month from readers of my novel, Shantaram – I’ve updated and expanded the Q&A to include some new questions raised by visitors to my site.
Please feel free to copy, print, and distribute any or all of the information given in the Q&A – as indeed with anything on my website. I believe that knowledge is a collective thing, owned and shared by all of us equally, and I’m always happy for others to use my work if and when they find it appropriate.
Bombay still suffers, as I write this on the 8th of December, 2008, even though the security situation in the Island City has improved, and a sense of order has been restored. Fortunately, and happily, none of the hundreds among my own friends and loved ones has been injured, but the death toll has risen to 171 people, and the injured number more than 300, some of them very seriously wounded. And while my friends at Leopold’s, Colaba Market, The Taj, and The Oberoi are all safe and well, many of their colleagues have been killed or injured, and their businesses have been seriously damaged. Two waiters at Leopold’s were killed, and others there were wounded. Eric, one of the managers, bears a wound on the side of his head where a bullet grazed his skull. He is now living what he calls his “second life”, and while he is happy to be alive, he shows the strain of the last weeks on his handsome face.
I’ll talk about what’s happening in Bombay in the next few lines, but first, before you read any further, I want to ask you, I want to plead with you, to keep the faith with India and the city I love, Bombay. If we continue to visit the country and meet the people, if we spend our time in the beautiful chaos and chaotic beauty, if we spend our money in the bazaars and hotels, if we buy the books by great Indian writers, listen to the music by brilliant Indian composers and musicians, marvel at the splendour of Indian dancers, watch the captivating movies, wonder at the art galleries – in other words, if we go on opening our hearts to the best that India teaches us, the people who did this violence can never win.
Okay, end of speech. Now, for your consideration, I offer you my analysis of the attacks on Bombay, in the form of a Q&A of the Top Ten Questions.
GENERAL INTRODUCTION TO THE Q&A
I’m often asked how it is that I didn’t give up in the past, when I was tortured in prisons, put into solitary confinement for 2 years, or found myself starving, homeless, exiled, and abandoned. I’m often asked how I keep my optimism now, in the face of terrible atrocities such as the recent attacks on Bombay.
What I want to say to you is that I don’t have the right to give up.
My many friends in Israel, who’ve suffered suicide bombings and other atrocities, have never given up their struggle for a just and lasting peace with the Palestinian people. Even against the criticism of their neighbours, who sometimes fail to see their love of all humanity as a virtue, they insist that there is no peace for Israel without a just and fair peace for the Palestinian people.
My many friends in Palestine, who’ve suffered violence from the State of Israel and their own neighbours, have never given up their struggle to open a peaceful and productive dialogue with Israel, and to live together with Israelis as friends and partners in the Middle East.
My many friends in Pakistan, who’ve endured arrests, beatings in detention, and discrimination in work and university study, have never given up their struggle for a free, democratic Pakistan that lives in peace and harmony with its neighbours.
My many friends in India, who’ve suffered personal attacks and active prejudice, have never given up their struggle against the fanatic forces of Hindu and Muslim extremism and toward an open, free, fair Indian society that brings enemies into a communication space where they can begin the understanding that leads those who once hated one another toward peace and friendship.
My friends in the USA, who’ve been attacked and vilified in the most degrading ways by the fanatic press and other vested interests, have never given up their struggle to preserve their freedoms, defend constitutional and mandated rights, and insist that all those accused of criminal acts – even those who launch Jihadist attacks against the USA – be tried in open, fair and just courts of law, with the rights of all charged persons applying equally and inviolably, even to them.
If these people, who struggle in much worse situations that I do, and suffer much more, do not give up their struggle for freedom, peace, and a life of creative, positive dignity for all people everywhere, then I don’t have a right to give up. It’s their inspiration that drives me on, gives me courage, and makes me determined never to betray their sacrifice or lose my faith in the beauty that lies at the heart of our human nature.
Okay, so here are the Q’s and the A’s.
QUESTION 01: Who did this – who made this attack on Bombay?
ANSWER 01: We don’t know that yet, incontrovertibly. But it seems reasonable to conclude, based on what we do know so far, that the people who did this were/are Jihadists.
QUESTION 02: Who or what are Jihadists?
ANSWER 02: Jihadist is a collective term for militant Islamists who have two main aims: a) to draw attention to, redress, and seek revenge for injustices suffered by Muslims; and b) to drive Muslim countries to declare themselves to be Islamic republics, to require them to adopt Sharia law as the national legal code, and to unite these Islamic republics in a pan-Islamic world order.
In my formulation, I use the term Jihadists, rather than the purely Arabic term Jihadi, which is used in Arabic news media and in other Arab forums, because I think it is important that we – meaning all those who want Jihadist attacks to stop, as much as we want the injustices done to Muslims that provoke the attacks to stop – do not provide the attackers with intellectual or emotional support. By using their own term for themselves, we reinforce their sense of their own justice and power. By using the term “terrorist”, we reinforce our own sense of their power over us. For me, the term Jihadist describes their collective goal, while not allowing them to glory in the violence that they do.
QUESTION 03: What did they hope to achieve with this attack on Bombay?
ANSWER 03: There are three main objectives for the sort of violent attacks that are usually called “terrorist” attacks: a) to draw attention to, redress, and seek revenge for injustices suffered by Muslims; b) to incite radical or potentially radical Muslims to join their ranks, or to act independently; and c) to force national governments – particularly democracies – to reveal what the Jihadists perceive to be their true, repressive, undemocratic nature, by responding to the attacks with repressive measures, and making aggressive actions against neighbouring countries.
QUESTION 04: What makes them think this will work?
ANSWER 04: Throughout history, radicalised groups have used violent acts to achieve their aims. And the fact is, sometimes, in the short term, they actually do achieve some of their aims. The attacks against Arab civilians made by the Irgun and the Lehi in Palestine, prior to the establishment of the State of Israel, for example, were accurately described in the press of the time as terrorism, but the fact on the ground is that those attacks succeeded in driving Arabs from their homes. Nelson Mandela’s activities in the African National Congress were described by many governments as terrorism, but the attacks played a part in removing the Apartheid regime in South Africa. The repressive, undemocratic measures introduced by the Bush2 regime in the United States of America in response to the 911 attacks, as another example, were exactly the kind of actions that the Jihadists were trying to provoke. The invasion of Iraq, similarly, was exactly the kind of reaction that the Jihadists wanted. If you study publications and programs being circulated publicly in countries with large Muslim majorities, you find a multitude of voices that acknowledge the 911 attacks as both revenge for injustices suffered by Muslims, and also a significant expression of Muslim power – which then tends to radicalise a small percentage of young Muslims.
This is an extremely important point for the people of nations that suffer Jihadist attacks to understand. Many times, individuals and even nations – through their elected representatives – argue that Jihadists will not achieve their aims through these acts of violence. But this response comes from a failure to understand the Jihadists. The fact is, if one of their 3 main objectives is to avenge the injustices done to Muslims around the world, then they don’t expect to survive their attacks, and they don’t make claims or demands. The violence is an end in itself, because the violence done is an act of revenge. If we don’t acknowledge this, and respond to it rationally, we can never stop the mindset that inspires such attacks.
Furthermore, if we don’t acknowledge the fact that sometimes, against the best wishes of people of good will, the terror attacks actually provoke the results intended by those who use terror, we’ll never develop a comprehensive, rational, and effective response that eventually stops the attacks. We have to acknowledge that sometimes terror works, because we allow it to work, through our responses. If we are consistent in our responses, and never reward terror with the results that those who use terror want, then we will, in the long run, reduce terror attacks.
QUESTION 05: Are we in a hopeless situation? Will this go on forever?
ANSWER 05: No. The power held by Jihadists – and all other violent radicals – is very small, up to now. It seems significant and powerful, because people die and suffer, because systems close down temporarily, and because it takes up a lot of time on the television and on the front pages of the world’s newspapers, but it’s really quite small: they have the power to kill some people, hurt a lot more people, and damage property, but they don’t have the power to change our political systems or our way of life. Only WE have the power to do that. And if we resist the provocation, hold fast to our collective belief in the power and inherent virtue of freedom, defend our constitutional and mandated rights, and insist that the perpetrators of such violent criminal acts be tried in open, fair and just courts of law – with the rights of all charged persons applying equally and inviolably to everyone, even to them – the violent radicals can never win. You can’t kill an idea with a bullet. You can only kill an idea with a better idea. And violence resulting in murder is not a better idea than peaceful, constructive dialogue. That’s why peaceful, constructive dialogue will win over violence in the long run.
QUESTION 06: These attacks on Bombay were well organized and well planned. Where did these people get their training?
ANSWER 06: This is not yet known with certainty. While some small Jihadist training cells exist in India, most of the people who’ve been captured after previous attacks against Indian cities in the last several years – even those who were born in India – have admitted to being trained in camps set up in Pakistan. It is reasonable to conclude, based on this fact and the little we do know at this time, that the people who carried out these attacks were also trained in Pakistan.
Another point to make here is that although the attacks were planned long in advance, they were not well co-ordinated or executed. If an equally small force of well-trained Indian or American or Israeli commandos, for example, had launched an attack against Bombay, they would have achieved much more destruction. The fact is that the special forces of Israel, say, or America or Britain are truly well-trained, and the Jihadist attackers only seem to be well-trained. Their communication with one another broke down almost immediately in Bombay after the attacks began. They failed to follow through on the exit-strategy that the surviving attacker has described, and their attacks were nowhere near as effective as they might have been, with superior training.
We shouldn’t over-estimate the training and efficiency of these Jihadist fighters. In many cases, they are found to be simple, poorly educated young men who have been given very basic training, and then sent into civilian zones as human bombs, to cause destruction in the most basic and unsophisticated ways. We should not fear them, or create an image of them as fearful fighters. We should fear the harm that they do, but not fear them.
QUESTION 07: Is the Pakistan government involved in these attacks?
ANSWER 07: It is unlikely that the government of Pakistan is involved. However, some retired politicians and perhaps some serving politicians, some mullahs, a segment of the Pakistan army, and a significant section of the Pakistan secret intelligence organisation, the ISI, have long supported a Jihadist agenda. There is no doubt that the Jihadist training camps in Pakistan could not function without significant support from significant elements of the army, ISI, and political echelons. The simple fact is that most of the Jihadists who have carried out attacks across the world, from London to Indonesia, have admitted that they received training at camps in Pakistan and Afghanistan. The Bali bombers, who were executed in recent weeks, admitted in their last interview that they were trained to carry out their attacks at camps in Pakistan and Afghanistan.
There is a very significant schism in Pakistan society at this time. The vast majority of Pakistanis, like the majority of people everywhere in the world, want to live in peace and work for their personal prosperity. A small but significant number want world Jihad, and even war with India, as an expression of that Jihad. These two forces are clashing now, and it is the single most important struggle going on in the world today. If we don’t support the moderate, democratic forces in Pakistan, we could find ourselves facing a Taliban-style regime in control of Pakistan, and therefore in control of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons.
This must not be allowed to happen. However, by failing to address the many injustices perpetrated against Muslim populations in Palestine and Chechnya, to give two examples, and by making illegal and inhumane bombing attacks against targets in Pakistan, as the USA has done in recent months, we are giving the Pakistani Jihadists their best weapon: ongoing injustices to point to, which inflame the hearts of young Muslims, and lead them to seek training in Jihadist camps, and then to launch attacks on civilian targets.
We can’t bomb Pakistanis into liking us, and working with us. They will like us if we respect the rule of law, hold fast to our collective belief in the power and inherent virtue of freedom, defend our constitutional and mandated rights and defend theirs as well, we will win the respect and friendship of the majority who want to live in peace and harmony with their neighbours.
QUESTION 08: Why doesn’t America do something, if it knows that these terrorists are being trained in Pakistan?
ANSWER 08: This is a big question, and it requires a fairly long answer. Political administrations in the USA during the last 50 years have seen Soviet Russia as their principal enemy, because Soviet Russia had many hundreds of nuclear-armed Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles, aimed at sites in the USA. No other country had the potential to inflict as much damage on the USA as Soviet Russia, so all the foreign policy decisions of the USA were shaped and determined by the fear of these great weapons. Any country or social or religious group that was against Soviet Russia was, in that fear-crazed mindset, a friend of the USA.
For that reason, the USA found itself supporting vicious military dictatorships in South America, for example, because the dictators were anti-communist. For that reason, President Nixon went to China and reached a rapprochement with Mao’s communist party, because Mao’s China hated and feared the Soviet Union almost as much as the Americans did. And for that reason, the USA made alliances with Muslim extremists in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia, because those extremists hated Soviet Russia for its repression of their religion.
Similarly, that mindset allowed the USA to support military dictators in Pakistan, because the dictators were against Soviet Russia. And because India insisted on being non-aligned – was in fact the founder of the Non-Aligned Movement of Nations – and spoke to Soviet Russia as often and openly as it spoke to the USA, India was judged to be an enemy nation. Thus, America turned away from the world’s largest democracy, and aligned itself with Pakistan, arming the army of the dictators with the most sophisticated weapons, and turning a blind eye to the extremism of the Jihadist training camps. When Pakistan asked for nuclear weapons, the USA agreed and secretly helped them to achieve a nuclear status, because they saw Pakistan as a base from which a nuclear attack against the Soviet Union could be launched, if necessary.
The problem for the USA, now, is that the new, fragile, democratically elected government of Pakistan – which has control of the nuclear weapons that America helped Pakistan to develop – has no real control over the Jihadist elements in Pakistan. And as the USA makes drone attacks against Jihadist bases and camps on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, in a desperate attempt to kill Usama bin Laden and to limit the strike potential of the Jihadists, they are weakening the power of the central government even further, and arousing even more resentment from the Jihadists.
This situation is tragic for many reasons – but not least because if you go to Pakistan, as I’ve done, and meet the people there in villages and cities, you’ll discover that they are wonderful people with a wonderfully affectionate and respectful way of being with you. What’s more, there are literally millions of people in Pakistan who despise the cowardly violence of Jihadists, and who have risked their lives to pull their country out of the hands of military dictators. It’s those voices – the voices of millions upon millions of moderate, peaceful Pakistanis – that America, and the rest of us, should be supporting.
QUESTION 09: What can we do about these terror attacks?
ANSWER 09: We can do 6 things:
1) Address the injustices that provoke these attacks. Jihadists do NOT make attacks because they are poor, as Barack Obama said during his campaign for the presidency, or because we are free, as Bush2 said after 911. They make the attacks because of the injustices suffered by Muslims in 5 main places. When Israel cuts off the water, food, electricity, medicines, and even sewage control from the Palestinians in Gaza – no matter what the provocation – they are giving the Jihadists their most potent weapon: injustice. Cutting off these essential supplies is a crime against humanity, and the Jihadists know it. Because the world allows this to happen, and doesn’t defend the lives of Palestinian women and children, the Jihadists have no trouble in convincing potentially radical young Muslims that there is no alternative but violence in reaction. If we want to reduce Jihadist attacks, we must seek just solutions to the suffering endured by Muslims in Palestine, Iraq, Afghanistan, Kashmir, and Chechnya as a matter of prime international priority. This is not just a means to achieve justice for its own sake – which it most certainly is – but also an essential step towards reducing violence across the world. If action on these sources of injustice is done, and seen to be done, the best weapon of the Jihadists will be removed, and new recruits to their ranks will be much harder to find.
2) Seek out and close down the Jihadist camps in Pakistan.
3) Prevent Jihadist elements in Saudi Arabia from providing the money that is used to pay for Jihadist training and activity. Almost all the money that pays for Jihadist attacks comes from Saudi Arabia. This is a historical reality. When the British government created the nation of Saudi Arabia, and created a royal family to rule it, The House of Saud, the Bedouin Wahabbists – who follow an extreme form of Islam, that underpins Jihadism – were recruited to support the weak royal family. In exchange for the support of the warrior Wahabbis, the Saudi royal family agreed to support the Wahabbist Jihad agenda across the world. Almost every Koran carried by a Jihadist is printed in Saudi Arabia, and almost every dollar n their ockets comes from Saudi Arabia. If we want the attacks to reduce, and finally to sop, we have to choke off this supply of money from Saudi Arabia, and we have to support the moderate, democratic forces that could, eventually, bring these Wahabbist elements under control.
4) Preserve and defend our own democratic institutions and our constitutional and mandated rights. We must be the living example of what we believe, and never allow the Jihadists to determine what rights we have, or how free we are. In the long run, if our societies continue to be free and democratic, and vigorously defend the human rights of ALL human beings, that way of life will be the best answer to the repressive paradigm being promoted by the Jihadists. Every time we chip away at our own rights or freedoms, we prove the Jihadists right. Every time we stand up for human rights – even the human rights of the Jihadists who attack us – we prove them wrong.
5) Support moderate and democratic elements in all countries, everywhere – especially in countries with large Muslim majorities. When Bush2 named Iran as part of an “Axis of Evil”, he delivered a severe blow to the moderate and democratic elements in Iranian society, and created a weapon that the repressive regime could use against them. That reaction set the movement toward democracy back in Iran by a generation, with a single sentence. We have to believe what we preach, and never allow ourselves to be hypocrites. When the people of Palestine voted for a Hamas-led government in a free and fair election, the western countries that preach so long and hard about democracy refused to accept the result. That hypocrisy gave the Jihadists an extremely powerful weapon to use: they could point to the western governments and say: “See, they don’t really believe in democracy, and if you follow them, and vote for someone they don’t like, they will do everything to bring you down.”. We must believe sincerely, and support every moderate and democratic voice raised across the world, even when the results of that democratic election don’t give us results we like. In the long run of history, if we support democracy without wavering, even when the result isn’t something we like, people will always be more free, because they will always have the chance to choose a new government – perhaps one that we do like better.
6) We must not aggrandize the vicious acts of the Jihadists with the term “terror”. In the first place, the term “War on Terror” is an oxymoron: war IS terror, so the phrase means a “Terror on Terror”, and that’s exactly the wrong approach, if our objective is to end the violence and weaken the power of the Jihadists. What me must do is to insist that these crimes are just that – vicious and cowardly CRIMES – and that they will be prosecuted in criminal courts that are fair and open, and that preserve the rights of all – even of the Jihadists who appear in them. We must refer to the Jihadists as Jihadist criminals, rather than Jihadist terrorists, because every time we use the word terror in describing them and their acts, we give them more power and authority than their cowardly, craven crimes deserve.
QUESTION 10: What can we do to help India after these attacks?
ANSWER 10: Keep the faith. Let the flames die down, let the smoke clear, and then don’t abandon your plan to visit India for a holiday. Go there. See the people, and spend time with them. Buy Indian products, buy and listen to Indian music CDs, buy and watch Indian movies, and ask your company that does business with India to stay the course and keep the faith with the country. Donate to recognized charities that do good work in India. In your own country, go down to a local store or restaurant that is run by Indians in your city, and tell them that you care, and you feel sorry for what has happened in Bombay. Resist the attempts of politicians to reduce your rights and freedoms in the name of the “war on terror”. Be loving to one another, wherever you are. Talk about peace and freedom and music and art and literature. And remind yourself, and those you cherish, that in every city in the world there are millions of beautiful, positive, creative actions done every hour, for each act of violence done every month.
Love and best wishes, Gregory David Roberts.