Mumbai Terror: Reply to Comments

To all (or almost all) who wrote about my CNN appearance and my last blog entry, I thank you.

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.

6 thoughts on “Mumbai Terror: Reply to Comments

  1. sir,
    i have started reading ur blog after watching your interview on CNN.
    i appreciate your effort in re-explaining your previous post.
    but i guess many of us dont understand the true meaning of unity in diversity.

    ~sleepless in bangalore~

  2. I like your phrase "unity in diversity." It occurs to me that it applies to Hinduism as a religion (one God with many forms), to India at its best as a pluralistic nation, and to a world that must increasingly learn to work together through our differences if we are to survive.

  3. I appreciate the time you have taken to explain your views and the patience you have taken in replying to a lot of the queries and concerns.

    I would still like to differ on viewing India’s tolerance on other religion only based on how Hindus, due to their majority. This thought process itself would sow seeds of hatred in the minds of  Hindu extremists who will claim India as their own and a land of the Hindus. This will cause more divide if not blood shed.

    It would be also inappropriate to associate any religion with terrorism. No religion teaches people should kill others or intolerance to another religion for that reason. But a few within all or most religions have extremist views, who may have a skewed and/or misinterpreted version of what is written in their respective religious books, which they take to their advantage to show their violent behavior. So rather than classifying them on religion, they can be classified under one group, which is Religious extremists.

  4. Hmmm,

    "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."

    These same hundreds of millions of Hindus view these God’s Forms as the same God. Please learn about Hindu philosophy. In Hinduism God has infinite Forms and takes infinite Forms. Have you heard of Monism ? There are other certain Hindu sects which follow Monism, certain which think of various Gods as creations of the only Supreme independent God or Brahman. Hinduism is anything but polytheism.

  5. Thank you sir to you and "Hoping Education Will Create More Moderates” who took time to respond to my comments. I’m the "erudite" Anonymous of Sunday at 12:09 am you said who can’t see the forest for the trees.

    It is important to have a perspective of history. But it is important to not be stuck to history. In almost any religion with extreme fundamentalist agendas, the trouble is with being stuck with history. (Examples of issues: Jerusalem Temple Mount/Al Asqa Mosque issue. Ayodhya Ram Mandir/Babri Masjid issue in India. Fundamentalist Koran thumpers who insist that the Koran states all Jews are evil at birth by following an extreme interpretation of Koran. They claim Muhammad somehow said this after defeating Jews during conquest of Medina and battles elsewhere in Arabia. And so on and so on, the list goes on with history of Christianity included.)

    I’m not in any way advocating to be "stuck" to history like most fundamentalists, but to be aware of it and have proper perspective which is lacking in all world conflicts today. Because there is a problem with other segments of society who have no perspective of history at all.

    You’re misinterpreting me when you said that all Jewish Americans need to be like Einstein. I didn’t say that. What I’m saying is that unfortunately, most moderate voices in Jewish American society today have been drowned out by small number of loud-mouths with extreme hedonistic or Zionist agendas. (You could extrapolate American to Western society to include other trashy Jews e.g. Amy Winehouse in Britain as well.) I’m not claiming that the Jewish American community has its monopoly of bad apples anywhere in world. There are plenty of examples in India or elsewhere as well. What I’m saying is that Indian Americans don’t need the loud Jewish Americans who are dominating mainstream culture and media of today to emulate. Instead of lots of constructive Jewish individuals in all walks of life like science, technology, arts/music, mainstream culture is drowned out by other kind of "loud" Jewish stereotype.

    Let me give you more examples in foreign policy. It is no secret that the loudest mouth of Jewish foreign policy interests in USA is dominated by AIPAC, and they are responsible for the war mongering which has waged in middle-east for the longest of times. I was very disappointed by Barack Obama standing at the AIPAC platform in what seemed to be a concessionary stance and continuation of same old Zionist foreign policies which have brought us miseries. Few people are even aware of a more moderate movement called founded by Israeli born Jews, which supports a two-state solution for Palestine issue, and asserting Israel’s right to exist peacefully (as they should). We need more Jewish people like you who acknowledge need for two-state solution. Why don’t we hear more about JStreet in mainstream media which are so domniated by AIPAC driven agendas?

    You also seem to be a big fan of ADL and Abe Foxman. Could you explain the following: This organization conveniently gets to wave cards like "Anti-semite!!!" and "holocaust!!" like wildcards whenever they wish, yet they provided early opposition in congress to have the genocide of Armenians at the hands of Turkey recognized during First World War. The fact that Abe Foxman relented later in face of intense criticism is besides the point. But do you not personally find it shameful for the sufferings of Armenian Christians in Turkey to be diminished in importance in this manner? Could this have something to do with the fact that Ottoman empire provided most liberal policies for its Jewish populations (as opposed to Roman, Russian or other empires), and some of the wealthiest Jews were in fact financiers of Ottoman regimes? Or could it be that the word "holocaust" would lose its strong connotations with Jewish population and the (deserved) sympathy it gets? Shouldn’t such double standard from ADL be held accountable? What does ADL have to say about the unfortunate events affecting Palestine population in places like Jenin, Ramallah?

    You did talk about some personal connections in your life and that is helpful to know. Let me provide some from mine. As an Indian born Hindu who immigrated to USA over 22 years ago, almost all of my professional and personal life has been intertwined with Jewish people. I’ve worked for over 14 years of my professional career in big companies owned by Jewish CEOs (are there any other kind? ;-). A stint in one of these companies provided me wealth beyond my wildest expectations such that I could’ve retired at a very early age (I didn’t). I had a second generation (Brooklyn born) Jewish Russian American as my thesis advisor for a Master’s degree, who has an incredibly brilliant mathematical mind and is a great human being. I have a bunch of patents on which the co-inventors were Jewish, one American born, the other born in Ukraine. One of these was in fact my direct manager for a while who I thought I had good working relationship with, only for some of his personal neuroses to show up and him backstabbing me in the end, which puzzled me forever. I won’t stoop low to blame his being Jewish for this. During my younger years I had a strong conviction to want to marry an American born Jewish girl who I had become "infatuated" with (I thought I was in love with her at the time) and could move mountains to be with her (well, actually fly from American West Coast to remote corner on East Coast to meet her on moment’s notice). But I soon realized this young woman had her own personal neuroses and demons, which made a long period of my most productive years miserable. I did not blame it on "her Jewishness" stereotype and I’m glad I eventually moved on, and have been married to a fantastic Indian born Hindu woman for over 13 years in one of the happiest, productive marriages, with 2 incredible children.

    I didn’t necessarily want to bore you with my personal story, but simply wished to provide that I don’t have any hidden anti-Semitic agenda of any sort. (Nor am I suggesting anyone accused me of having one.) I like to see a spade being called a spade. I wish most of the Jewish Americans could do the same about Israel government policies, and people of India about things happening in India. And of course moderate Muslims towards few fanatics hijacking their religion with an extreme interpretation of Koran incompatible with 21st century and modern progress.

  6. I come from a staunch Muslim family in Pakistan. In my youth, Jihad was my motto and hatred for Hindus, Jews & Christians was unmatched. I still remember chasing away a christian in the streets of Rawalpindi for selling Bible. Since I moved to South Africa and first time interacted with Jews, Christians & Hindus, my perception completely changed. Besides the religious politics I found Jews most trustworthy in business; Christians most ignorant about world affairs and Hindus most dedicated towards discovering means of gaining maximum wealth (rightfully, without causing any harm to others). Though I still subscribe to the idealogy of Jihad but I feel it is not against religion, people or any one specific. It is simply against unjust; a suicide bomber who calls himself Muslim, Zionist who crushes the hope of life in oppressed ones, Christian who wants to be glorified as crusaders or Hindu who dreams of Ashoka empire and being rasict. Everyone regardless of race, religion, belief have the right to live equally. Though what worries me the most is nobody is sincere in dealing with this issue (of unjust) and always following his own agenda/greater interest. There is no give or take. It is a vicious cycle.

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