The madness of rage

(This column was published in DNA edition dated December 10, 2008, barely a fortnight after the terrorist attack on Mumbai in November 2008.)

Venky Vembu

Even a fortnight after the terrorist attacks in Mumbai, people across India are seething with rage. That’s a perfectly legitimate emotional response, given the monstrous nature of the attacks, the mounting evidence of the complicity of Pakistan’s intelligence agency in planning and executing them, and the numbing realisation that Mumbai was rendered vulnerable by a colossal failure of our own state intelligence and political leadership. If we’re still obsessively replaying those traumatic scenes in the picture tubes of our minds, it’s because we’re only human, and the wounds are still a trifle too raw.

But this mood of bilious rage and momentary madness will surely pass. Barely weeks from now, I’ll wager, Mumbaikars will be back to their Obsessions of Normal Times: the Sensex, Sachin, Shah Rukh and Shiv Sena bickerings. That too is as it should be. 

For, while rage is a useful emotion to summon up in times of extraordinary crises to dislodge ourselves from the comfort zones of our latte-laced lives, it doesn’t make for a reasoned frame of mind when the nation contemplates an appropriate response to the latest terrorist attacks.

In recent days, chatterati commentators on television talk-shows have spoken glowingly about George W. Bush’s response to the 9/11 attacks in the US, and have offered his doctrine of pre-emptive strikes against terrorists and their patrons as worthy of emulation by Indian leaders. The crux of their argument is that by taking the war into the “enemy’s turf”, Bush has “protected America” and pre-empted another terrorist attack on US soil.

This is more than a little disingenuous and betrays an inadequate understanding of history. It’s true that there have been no more spectacular 9/11-style attacks on US soil. Yet, anyone who believes that America has not paid just as high a price (in terms of human lives and economy-draining military expenditure) for Bush’s adrenaline-driven response to 9/11 is arithmetically challenged and blind to the interplay of geopolitics and economics.

When Al-Qaeda ploughed airplanes into skyscrapers on 9/11, it wasn’t plotting an armed takeover of the US administration or the establishment of a Caliphate of America. Its intention was to poke the US in the eye with a brazen strike, stoke its military madness, draw it into an “asymmetric warfare” on unfamiliar, hostile terrain, and bleed it to death. That strategy has proved enormously successful: seven years after 9/11, the US is bogged down in two unwinnable wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. It has lost nearly 5,000 military lives in these wars, about 2,000 more than the number of civilians killed in 9/11. And while its military spending haemorrhaged its economy, the wars themselves distracted policymakers and politicians from averting a financial meltdown, which in turn has proved ruinous for millions worldwide. The wars also helped jihadists around the world enlist millions more brainwashed minds to their ‘cause’, such as it is.

Do your maths and you’ll figure out that 9/11 was a ‘successful’ terrorist operation precisely because of the rage-inspired response it drew.

Virtually nowhere else has terrorism ever ‘won’, civilizationally speaking. In India, we’ve lost three Gandhis to assassins; other random acts of terrorist violence over the decades have claimed several national and state-level leaders, hundreds of thousands of civilians and service personnel and crores of rupees in assets. Yet, the only time when terrorists – be they jihadi, Hindutva, Maoist or Tiger – have ‘won’ momentarily is when they succeeded in stoking communal passions or pushed us to the brink of unwinnable wars.

All this is not to say that we should be apathetic when terrorists strike. We should build the defences against terror, hold our leaders accountable for their lapses, and bring the full force of “coercive diplomacy” to bear on Pakistan. But our responses should always be reasoned, not rage-driven. Only that will ensure that however grievous the immediate loss, we can quickly get back to worrying about how low the Sensex will go and whether Michael Matthew Hayden was right to call India a ‘Third World country’.


About Venky

Journalist, blogger, amused observer of worldly goings-on... More about me here.
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5 Responses to The madness of rage

  1. Pingback: Light a Diwali diya, Obama! | It's only words…

  2. Pingback: Needed: an Islamic Reformation | It's only words…

  3. Hariharan says:

    Going by the popular but wrong definition of the term, India has characteristics of the first, second, and third world. Indeed, India is a country of contradictions.

    The term ‘Third World’ arose during the Cold War to define countries that remained non-aligned or not moving at all with either capitalism and NATO (which along with its allies represented the First World) or communism and the Soviet Union (which along with its allies represented the Second World). This definition provided a way of broadly categorizing the nations of the Earth into three groups based on social, political, and economic divisions. [Source: Wikipedia]

    A highly recommended book — The Second World: How Emerging Powers Are Redefining Global Competition in the Twenty-first Century:
    This should give a good perspective on what the term ’second world’ means today.

  4. Hariharan says:

    > We should build the defences against terror, hold our leaders accountable for their lapses, and bring the full force of “coercive diplomacy” to bear on Pakistan. But our responses should always be reasoned, not rage-driven.

    I suspect there’s a failure on being forthright in “coercive diplomacy” on both ends. Pakistan needs to be told in clear terms that India’s role in Afghanistan’s reconstruction efforts isn’t some scary evil ploy in their backyard. Also following an American withdrawal from Afghanistan, it makes perfect sense for India and Pakistan to jointly police Afghanistan to guard from external forces dabbling in to disturb regional peace and security. Pakistan’s Taliban strategy has proved to have backfired bigtime for Pakistan with drones striking into Pakistani territory everyday in a Taliban witch hunt. How has that helped Pakistan? Some have concluded that the price of conflict is exceeding that of peace but there are some out there who are still asking for a return of Taliban (in the name of whatever interests) and that’s just plain stupid. It’s like asking for even more unwanted trouble and for conflict escalation sooner or later. They have to make six trips to the US to get the $2 billion US aid package approved for the army. And then they foolishly talk about a security competition with India — isn’t that so silly? Why do they see Indian and Pakistani competition in Afghanistan as a new “Great Game”? Does anyone even understand what the “Great Game” is?

    China is “the factory of the world” and needs resources badly. It has full access to energy resources from Russia and Central Asia. However, China wants to first tap into dwindling energy resources of the Gulf region. Why? By devouring it all upfront, it will cut off or stall economic development in South Asia while also making the US starve for oil. The US wants to push back China. Does Pakistan have such a big wallet to compete with India or China? Pakistan needs to look at its interests and if they align with the US and India, why are they dancing like a stooge to China’s drumbeats? Makes no sense. As Kissinger wisely questions, “What is your national interest?” However, Ayesha Siddiqa has pointed out, that the ‘hate India’ mindset blinds Pakistanis so badly, that they can’t even see what’s good for them and us. All this has not been communicated well be the Indian establishment.

    Here’s an interesting read:

    Can Pakistan produce one Roy to speak truth?

    Pakistan needs to be convinced diplomatically that conflict avoidance is a wiser alternative to conflict resolution. This is something no one has talked about on both sides. Everyone needs to closely look at why are there so many peripheral disputes in addition to core disputes. As I look at history from an unbiased perspective, I’ve to state an observation that it was unnecessary bellicosity and unfettered aggression, not on part of India, but Pakistan. Why not Pakistanis just accept that to begin with? From a philosophical perspective, temperance is better than avarice. Good concepts and sound regional strategies are indeed not enough. What was missing before and even today is strong leadership, long-term vision, and futuristic planning for the region i.e. strategies have to be forward-looking and can’t be lagging after the fact. Mindless greed leading up to a catch-22 situation can be self-destructive for Pakistan, especially with a conflict that is unsustainable by any and all means possible, exceeding the harvests of peace by multiples. What’s worse is that in the bigger picture of the great game, conflict resolution that was supposed to reap dividends ends up as a liability and a strategic mistake for Pakistan. The 21st century undoubtedly begins with a clash between superpowers, the US and China. The outcome from that misplaced greed can and will be used to the advantage of others to play out stakes on the grand chessboard. The subcontinent will get trapped in perpetuity. This must be avoided through flexible collaborative efforts.

    I’d also like to point out that despite Mao’s extreme left posturing earlier, Deng Xiaoping made a bold move into capitalism in the early 80s. China is the second-largest economy in the world today and will displace the US from the top spot within a few years. As for Pakistan, pointlessly going in circles around the cul de sac of composite dialogs with India is going to be of no significance. What’s required is radical changes and bold leadership in Pakistan, and effective communication on part of Indian diplomats to bridge the trust deficit. I believe it can be done to lay the foundation for lasting regional peace, growth, and prosperity.

  5. Pingback: ‘Stronger action’ against Pak? Try a charm offensive instead | Firstpost

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