Comments have come from all over the world, from Hindus, Jews, Muslims, Protestants, and Catholics (at least), and almost all were positive, expressing condolences, reaching across religious and national boundaries with messages of hope and peace. I extend the same message of hope and peace across those boundaries back to you.
Let me try to make some general points and then try to answer some of the questions and criticisms you raised.
Most of you realized that because I know something about the history of the Jews and because this website is called “Jews and Others,” it was appropriate for me to focus my remarks on the Jewish victims, and that was of course why CNN called me. However, my heart aches for all the victims and their families, and I know that the Jewish ones, although directly targeted, made up only a small fraction of the total.
Many of the victims were Hindus, many Christians, and probably some were Muslims, Buddhists, and Sikhs. We have a saying in Judaism that if you save one life it is as if you saved the whole world. By chance I was driven to and from CNN by Ahmed, a Muslim-American from Somalia; we had a good conversation, comparing notes about our children and our religions. He told me of a Muslim saying, that if you kill one person it is as if you have killed the whole world. So from both Muslim and Jewish viewpoints we lost at least 170 worlds in the Mumbai terror attacks, and we are grieving.
Most of you also realized that in a four-minute television segment I had to compress and simplify some complex ideas. I was also nervous; I don’t do this every day. If you forgive me for oversimplifying, I’ll forgive some of you for not listening carefully.
For example, I said, “The United States has strengthened its ties with India, Israel has strengthened it’s ties with India, there’s an attempt to bring Pakistan into this alliance, and the extremists, the terrorists, the Islamist radicals hate all that. They hate the prospect of peace among these nations and the possibility of progress and getting away from this violence.”
Despite the obvious time pressure, I indicated in four different ways that I was not talking about Muslims or Islam in general; first, by saying that Pakistan could be part of the alliance, then by calling the perpetrators “extremists,” “terrorists,” and “Islamist radicals.” I never say “Islamic” when I mean “Islamist,” which generally refers to an aggressive, politically motivated minority within Islam, but just to make sure there would be no confusion, I added “radicals.”
Let me make myself clear here: This is not about Islam versus the West, or Hindus, or Jews, or anyone else. As “Maggie Jarry,” “Your average Catholic in the Midwest, USA,” wrote in her message of peace, the Jews had a Golden Age in Muslim Spain. This clash is not between different civilizations but between all civilization, including Islamic civilization, and a ruthless fringe group of violent radicals.
In my blog entry “Terror in India,” on my other website, I talk about the anthropology of terrorism and I mention Jewish, Christian, and Hindu terrorists, comparing them all to primitive headhunters and even to violent chimpanzees. Islam has no monopoly on terrorism and only a tiny minority of Muslims engage in it. “Alex S.” is like the Muslims I know and love and is the kind of Muslim I consider typical; he writes, “I really don’t think God sees us as Muslims, Jews, Hindus or any other religion, he sees us as his children and we should see each other as brothers and sisters.”
I do know that India is a secular country, as some of you emphasize, but the great majority of Indians are Hindu, and it was the Hindus (“Vedics,” according to one comment) who had the closest relationship to the Jews in India throughout history. India is mainly Hindu just as the United States is mainly Christian; but India has a long history of tolerance of not only Jews but Muslims, Buddhists, Sikhs, and Christians. However, this is not a spotless history of tolerance, and Christians (see the videos posted by “Indian Christian”) and Muslims have had serious trouble in recent years.
I did not say that Hindus brought polytheism to the world (it is worldwide and far older than the Vedic texts), but I did say that Hindus are polytheists. I accept the point two of you made that the various gods and goddesses can be viewed as different manifestations or attributes of one God—a point of similarity with Jewish mysticism, which personifies some aspects of God—but in fact we know that hundreds of millions of ordinary Hindus in India take the gods and goddesses literally, and in the Temples I have visited incense is burned and sacrifices made to statues of each god or goddess. There is nothing wrong with polytheism, and in fact it may be related to the tolerance showed by Hindus—what’s the problem with somebody else’s god if you already have a number of them yourself?
“Proud Indian” says “I wonder if you have any sympathy for Palestinian people? I can see your hatred towards Muslims.” Where is this hatred? I have re-read my last blog and listened to my CNN interview repeatedly but I can’t find it. Certainly almost none of the other comments point to any such thing, quite the opposite—almost all saw my message as one of peace and hope.
As for the Palestinians, I strongly favor a two-state solution and peace and independence for Palestine as soon as possible. I wrote articles in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, a major regional newspaper in the U.S., promoting the peace process in 2001, 2002, and 2007, and I wrote a blog last March—one of the first things I posted on this website—called “Israel Must Do More for the West Bank Now.” Unfortunately, the same night I posted that there was a terrorist attack in which a Palestinian murdered 11 students in a Jerusalem religious school. This is the problem. My blog the next day was called “Grieve, Respond with Measured Force, and Continue to Work Toward Peace.”
“Anonymous” of Sunday at 12:09 am says that the rest of us “are bunch of one-dimensional clueless simpletons, with no perspective of history.” A reply from “Hoping Education Will Create More Moderates” made sense to me. This “Anonymous” seems to be extremely erudite and knowledgeable about recent diplomatic history, but doesn’t see the forest for the trees. This is a time of crisis and grief in which most of us want the big perspective, which I gave, and which is one of hope.
This same “Anonymous” thinks it’s naïve for Indian-Americans to try to emulate the success of Jewish-Americans because we are not all like Einstein. I would be very happy indeed to see Indian-Americans do as well as the best Jewish-Americans and avoid the mistakes we made and the bad apples in our very good barrel. My Indian-American students have greatly improved my life as a professor for the past ten or fifteen years, and some have gone on to do great things in medicine, science, law, and other fields.
But one of my very favorite students was a religious Muslim girl from Libya via Alabama. She always wears hijab, is now president of her law school class, and is destined for a career defending women in some countries where their rights are very limited. When a national magazine named her one of the top ten college women of the year, she named me as her most inspiring professor. It’s one of the things I will think about on my deathbed. I couldn’t be more proud.
By the way, pride is good. Muslim pride, Hindu pride, Jewish pride, Christian pride, American and Indian pride, all good—as long as the pride doesn’t come through denigrating others. Contrary to a recent book, you may sometimes have to be wrong for me to be right, and vice versa; but you don’t have to be humiliated for me to be proud. And you certainly don’t have to be murdered in order for me to find justice.