Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Doom and Gloom

The information age is hyper-real. Bloody images and 24/7 television coverage on all major international news channels, banner headlines across the world, web video uploads, blogs, everything else. The amount of media "content" generated by the Bombay attacks is staggering.

And therein lies the motive. To borrow a phrase, our terrorists mean to "shock and awe." It's working.

This is the first time since 9/11 that we have witnessed an attack on not just one country, but the entire world. Global commerce was the target here, as was the case on 9/11. The intervening attacks in Bali, Madrid, Istanbul, Islamabad, London, Beslan (and many more, as the list becomes numbingly long) can be and often are construed as attacks on specific nations. But the deliberate emphasis on westerners and (troublingly) Jews as terror victims (down to the targeting of Leopold's, Bombay's most public secret) makes this a case where the victim is not one nation alone. There is significance too in the landmark and symbolic (not to mention posh) nature of the targeted buildings, where captains of industry give away their resplendently bejewelled daughters in lavish weddings. Prosperous India, the emerging India, the country on a cliche-ridden growth spurt was exposed as having deep vulnerabilities. Tourists and tycoons beware; no longer will enemies of civilization target the commuter lines and train stations populated by the (also cliched) teeming masses of India. The jihad has set its sights on those islands of comfort and glitz where the rich and the foreign go to escape from the harsh sensory overload that is modern urban India. Do you have the dollars required to shelter yourself from large scale suffering? Not anymore.

Of course, we knew this could happen. Everyone knows and openly talks of the fact that bombings in Indian cities are an almost monthly occurence. In any given year, the chance of having a bomb blast in your city appears to be higher than hosting an international cricket match. And just in case you aren't tired of cliches, here's another one: the key failure here is a lack of leadership. It's unclear if independent India has ever had the leadership required to keep its citizens safe. Sure, the military seems able to hold on to some snowy mountaintops, but that seems to be the extent of it. Mass murder, a thumping defeat at the hands of the Chinese, riots once a decade (occurring with a frequency you can set your watch to), serial bomb blasts, stampedes, assassinations, ethnic cleansing, plagues, train crashes, BMWs converted into sidewalk murder weapons, wife burning, acid attacks, mafia warfare, infanticide, mob violence, bar shootouts - the list of law and order failures in the last sixty years is endless. The police and the courts have been unable, or unwilling, to address any of these activities in any serious way. And now an irregular army has carried off an amphibious assault on Bombay with complete impunity. It is clear for all the world to see that, just like the emperor missing his duds, India has no law and order. And frankly, it never did.

Most disturbing of all, India's leaders seem to like this fact. At the expense of citizen safety, India's political, administrative and judicial classes have undermined the rule of law for decades. To expect this same group to respond in any meaningful way to the latest atrocity is a pipe dream. The only thing to do, it seems, is to shrug our shoulders, mumble something about India's resilience and continue to live life in the cross-hairs of barbarism. India's passivity and weakness is falsely recast as the strength of an indomitable spirit. Mere talk of enough being enough is enough. And so the global jihad claims another immense strategic and symbolic victory.

The defeat of this bloody monster requires an honest reckoning with the mess that is Pakistan. That this will not happen is demonstrated by the events of the past seven years. American leadership on this issue has been unimpressive. Without the assistance of the world's democracies (as well as the autocracies of Russia and China), India will not be able to address the issue of Pakistani terrorism. Yet, when it comes to tackling thorny global issues that require messy and indelicate action, the so-called international community has behaved like a parliament of eunuchs - full of sound and fury, usually directed at the forces fighting terrorism. Perhaps the world's muslims could be implored to lance the deadly cancer afflicting their religion? If you believe so, then you haven't been paying attention.

What needs to happen is straightforward enough: people engaged in jihad should be found and killed. We could start with the terrorist camps within Pakistan; wikipedia provides a helpful list. This last fact alone should be enough to cause dismay to the enemies of the terrorists. That seven years after the most devastating terrorist attack in human history known terrorists are cavorting in publicly known camps within the borders of a so called ally in the war against terrorists should be proof enough that the free world is not serious in its fight against the jihad. Even if the powerful nations of the world impress upon the Pakistani authorities (whose singular characteristic is a complete lack of authority) the need for eradicating terror making institutions, there is little evidence that the Pakistani leadership will (or even wants to) do any such thing.

Which leads us to the inexorable (and devastating) conclusion that someone needs to do it for them. One would assume that the nation targeted in this assault would carry this out, with the support and approval of all enemies of terrorism. However, since lacking a spine appears to be the primary qualification of the world's mandarins, don't expect any such action. That arms from the Pakistani nuclear arsenal will end up in the hands of jihadis is only a question of time. Certainly, it will happen within my lifetime. And when it does, the gleeful murderers of the jihad will not have to look very far to find the softest of soft targets. Yes, you're reading this correctly - the next city destroyed by an atomic device will be an Indian one.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

A little politics, perhaps?

Firstly, I’m thrilled that John McCain has won the Republican nomination. I volunteered for his campaign in New Hampshire in 2000, and really believe he’ll make an incredible President (he has to win).

Now, to the more interesting Dems (they’re interesting the way a multi-car pile-up is interesting). It looks like Obama will win the nomination, but only na├»ve fools will count the Clintons out. I think of Hillary Clinton as the Lady Macbeth figure of American politics, and the “vaulting ambition” of the Clinton couple shows no signs of slowing down.

I also think the Obama guys are out of touch. The Democrats are a party of silos. Groups that don't identify by ideology, but by identity are voting completely independently of each other.So what do you get? Young people, white people, college kids and rich urban liberals voting for Obama; middle-class whites, women, union folks and rural people voting for Hillary. Supporters of each group completely pass each other, like ships in the night, without any knowledge of who they are. This is a problem for the Dems regardless of who wins the primary.

It's actually a two-fold problem. Firstly, it means that there is extremely little substance here, and that all the arguments are superficial and identity related. Secondly, identity fights are much more visceral than ideological fights, so there's much more animosity.

The dems have screwed this up really badly. And this isn't new. Since the 1970s, the dems as a party have been a coalition of identity groups (blacks, unions, gays etc.) while the republicans have been a coalition of ideological groups (social cons, libertarians, free traders, neocons). Sure, there are contradictions in the latter arrangement, but the former is certainly a house of cards. Upset the identity equation just a little bit, and you have all kinds of visceral hatred that results. Upset the policy equation, and you end up with people who have to marginally compromise their beliefs. It's easier to compromise beliefs than identity, which is why you're seeing the republicans coalesce around the McCain campaign in a way you will not see around an Obama campaign if he wins the nomination. If it's Hillary, the situation will likely be much worse.

So, there you have it.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Back in Black

Ok, not quite black, but I haven't blogged in a while so I figured I'd write about something controversial. I've been thinking about this since I recently watched "Jodhaa Akbar" (a great movie with great music by the way), so here goes.

What are A. R. Rahman's top five movie soundtracks?

Obviously this is an impossible question to answer, but I'll attempt it anyway. So, here are Rahman's top five (in no particular order):

1. Roja - The original, the one that started it all.

2. Bombay - Roja perfected. With Humma Humma and that amazing theme tune.

3. Dil Se - Chaiyya Chaiyya. Need one say anything else?

4. Rang De Basanti - Wow. Just wow. Nobody thought Rahman could sound like this. And Roobaroo. Song of the century man.

5. Kandukondein Kandukondein - This one's for the Tamil fans. And for anyone who has heard Kannamoochi.

Honorable mention: Lagaan. Another great one, and it would have made the top five if the song "O Re Chori" didn't have that ridiculous English interlude.

So there you have it. Rahman's top 5. Let the arguments begin!