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Piñata diplomacy: What Mumbai means to me

Victory at all costs, victory in spite of all terror, victory however long and hard the road may be; for without victory there is no survival.

– Winston Churchill

I think some part of me thought George W. Bush was just making them up. They didn’t really exist. And if they did exist, they were somehow W.’s fault.

I used to make excuses for those kinds of people, thinking they were somehow bringing America’s chickens home to roost. But now I realize they are wicked creatures that bastardize Islam, and these evil people need to be destroyed.

Some combination of factors last Wednesday led me to discard a large chunk of what I’ve believed since I was far too young to be wrestling with such thoughts.

I was born in New York City, though regrettably was raised the last 15 years in the soulless suburbs of northern New Jersey. I remember 9/11 with more clarity than I remember yesterday. That is not an exaggeration at all. I remember the early-morning feeling beforehand, queuing up in the first day of gym class to have my hair checked for lice. I remember walking to lunch, overhearing a classmate say they toppled into the river just. like. this. I remember the bomb threats and the crying mothers and my mother who wasn’t crying. And dad was in Maryland on business and I was worried. With a notable wave of hysteria, I remember being afraid to go to the bathroom by myself that night, because I thought a six-and-a-half-foot terrorist was lurking there waiting for me. He was in the backyard, too.

And then I recall my parents taking me into the City four or five days later – just for the experience, they said. I don’t even need to close my eyes to be there. The burned buildings. The foul smell that Holocaust survivors reportedly recognized immediately. The endless posters searching searching searching, but even at age 11 I knew they’d never find. The deformed signs. The bicycles covered in “dust” – the remains of human skin.

The Blimpie’s near my house was pierced with bullet-holes because it had the gall to be owned by Pakistanis, or Sikhs, or…whatever. The gunmen didn’t care.

And then as I grew older, I read the platitudinous pacifists and their hissings at the silly illiterate cowboy. I internalized the knee-jerk clichés; I learned to repeat the insipid arguments. I know the bombast that passes for thought in the relativistic community. I know these people: I was robotically one of them.

Until about last Wednesday, when the disturbed Mumbai night became irradiated with the unmistakable flames of the True Believers. But it was also the knowledge that people at this very University would try, with the blood not yet dry and the hostages not yet secured, to find some excuse for these murderers in the numerous crimes of the imperialist West.

A few hours earlier, new information revealed that al-Qaeda began planning in September a massive attack on the New York subway system during the impossibly congested holiday season. I thought of the London bus bombings and how inevitable it always was that yet another emblem of cosmopolitan modernity would be twisted into an infernal tinderbox of infidel flesh, my father, who was so eager to see the Thanksgiving Day parade for the umpteenth time, among the ritually incinerated. (I mentally contrasted this image with what has now become the default status of old New York subway cars when their services are no longer needed; they are dutifully sunk off the coast of New Jersey to serve as reefs for the grateful fish).

That morning I had read an article from The New York Times about ten Taliban militants who were arrested in Afghanistan for having thrown acid in the faces of teenage girls in retribution for the apostasy of attending high school. I printed out the article and hung it prominently over my desk.

There seems to be an alarmingly popular myth out there that the terrorists’ admittedly heinous means are somehow justified by noble ends, or at least can be explained as working toward such desirable ones. But such apologists don’t understand that the means are themselves the ends. Killing “infidels” is not a strategy; it is a goal.

Furthermore, if you find yourself unable to read a piece like this without obtusely raising the false spectre of Islamophobia, please be prepared for irrelevancy, and good riddance.

Let us not resort to the specious comfort of the effortless jeer. These people are evil. They do not represent anti-imperialism; in fact, they are its antithesis. Now: Are you ready to admit that these people have forfeited their right to existence and confront them accordingly, or are you not?

Bon hiver.

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