Friday, November 27, 2009

Do not forget the horror - A nice, albeit incomplete, piece by Aditya Sinha

Aditya Sinha of the New Indian Express wrote a very good piece on the anniversary of 26/11. It is reproduced below, the original appeared here.

There are several eye-openers in the documentary film Terror in Mumbai, a 48-minute documentary on 26/11 made by Dan Reed for Britain’s Channel 4. One is the entire narrative itself; despite non-stop television coverage of the siege of Mumbai by the Lashkar-e-Toiba, you will not find a more taut, suspenseful, poignant and frightening document of the worst terrorist attack on India. It pains me to have to say that the best film on the subject is not by an Indian, but there you have it (by the way, Dan Reed was commissioned to do this documentary by Eamonn Matthews, who had seen Reed’s 2003 award-winning documentary Terror in Moscow about the siege by Chechen terrorists of a Moscow theatre). The film is being shown in the West (HBO is telecasting it in the USA) but, ironically, it is not being shown on Indian television (though you can see it on the internet: _1246490858).

Perhaps many of you will yawn, for after all there has been a mind-numbing amount of writing in observance of the anniversary of 26/11, and most of it is so paint-by-numbers that it does disservice to the gravity of the event and the innocents who lost their lives. Indeed, that is the second eye-opener of Dan Reed’s documentary: how awful the Indian media is. True, we are not as bad as the Americans: their media processed the pack of lies that George W Bush’s administration fed its people, and is to blame for misleading the American public into that ruinous war on Iraq, the consequences of which include President Barack Obama’s struggle on the direction to take in Afghanistan (this is especially important for India, since leaving Afghanistan to the Taliban means empowering the ISI, as Steve Coll’s excellent 2004 book Ghost Wars repeatedly shows; and that means more terrorist attacks on India). Yet whereas the US media is complicit in screwing the planet, the Indian media is complicit in keeping us a zombie nation. The Indian media shrieks but does not inform us, which is why even those of us whose job is to eat, breathe and live the news, would be taken aback by the Channel 4 documentary.

Dan Reed uses the interrogation of Ajmal Kasab — the only LeT attacker caught alive — and conversations of the terrorists at the Taj Mahal hotel and Chabad House with their handlers in Pakistan to help structure the narrative. He also uses testimonies by some victims, which is more effective because it does not rely on cheap maudlin effects like the weepy music you will hear on whichever TV channel you turn to today; tellingly, most of the testimony used was from the poor victims at the VT railway station where Kasab and Ismail randomly shot dead dozens of victims (in an interview to MOB magazine, Dan Reed says the wealthier of the hostages or victims did not want to be interviewed, perhaps due to their nausea at the way the Indian media treated the event, but to the detriment of maintaining a fuller record). In this documentary, however, the fact that you hear the terrorists clearly, and their conversations used in the script intelligently, makes these parts the third eye-opener.

Frankly, we all knew that our intelligence agencies had recorded the conversations between the terrorists and their LeT handlers, but I think very few of us had heard them, and even so, the snippets that did appear in TV or in print were without context. In Terror in Mumbai the fact that the handlers sound like Punjabi shopkeepers makes it even more terrifying. The LeT, according to Pakistani journalist Ahmed Rashid’s Descent in Chaos, is a creation of the ISI solely for Indian operations. The ISI has long been a totally ruthless organisation; for instance, during the 1990s, when current Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s father tried to speak out against the Taliban, he was shot dead coming out of a Quetta mosque, according to Coll’s book. According to Rashid’s book, when the UN imposed arms sanctions on the Taliban regime after the 2000 attack on the USS Cole, the ISI made it clear it would kill any UN monitors posted on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border to stop the arms and fuel flow. The ISI takes no prisoners.

To fully grasp the enormity of this, listen to the handlers’ voices in these conversations, congratulating the terrorists while watching them on TV; ordering them to take hostages when they learn that Kasab has been captured, because the handlers don’t want anyone taken alive (for reasons made obvious by Kasab’s confessional statements); ordering them to overcome their hesitation and kill the Holtzberg husband-wife duo at Chabad House (to the extent of ordering the terrorists to keep the phone line open so that they could listen as the execution takes place); and at the end of the film, chillingly ordering the terrorists to tell the government that 26/11 is only a “trailer”; that the rest of the picture is yet to come.

That the rest of the picture will come is in no doubt. A year after the attacks, the same people who were asleep on the job when Kasab and associates floated onto our shores are still asleep on the job. If you watch the documentary then it becomes apparent: the lower-level policemen admit that their brains “froze” when the attack happened, that they did not know what to do. Telling them what to do is the job of higher officials. Listen to Rakesh Maria in this film, and you will realise that our babudom is too self-important and self-serving to ever learn their lessons. They need to train our forces, again and again, in reacting, and in simply shooting on target. Unfortunately, 26/11 has just become an occasion to spend money on new weaponry, and you all know what happens when government servants are given money to spend. Then there are our intelligence agencies and the political management. As the Express showed last week, the less said the better.

Of course, this column does not advocate going out and bombing ISI headquarters in Islamabad (the Pakistani Taliban are already on the job), but if you watch Dan Reed’s documentary, you may feel like going out and doing the deed yourself. Which is why, despite the usual even-temper and level-headedness of this column, I urge you all to watch this film, and make your children watch Dan Reed’s documentary. In all the clamour and clutter that will mark today, this is the one testament to the horror no Indian should be allowed to forget.

Though reminding us that we must not foget 26/11, Mr. Sinha does not suggest what we must understand from 26/11. He does give his pointers: Our establishment is still asleep, media was abysmal, and so on. The mediocrity of our media was pointed out by this author recently. But I am not the first. Countless Indians have been feeling this for long now.

Administrative efficiency, media performance, etc., do need improvement. But is that enough? I feel Mr. Sinha fails in his endeavour by not pointing out that Islam is seriously, certainly, and intimately related to terror, and 26/11 was a blatant and bloody reminder of that. And unless we realize that the premise we are being fed everyday, namely Islam is a religion of peace, is a false premise, we would be far from waking up.

It is just not that the establishment, administration, and the media is sleeping,. It is also that they are also putting all of us, the Indians who finally have to suffer the consequences, to sleep by fostering propaganda of false premises.

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