Thursday, December 4, 2008

Obama, India, and Terrorism

I'm back. Cabo San Lucas was relaxing, and I will write more on that later. For now, I just wanted to share an interesting article on Obama and make some comments about the senseless massacre in India.

1. The LA Times (Nov 30, 2008) thinks Obama should be sworn in as President using his full name, including his middle name:

I like their gusto, but I don't think it's going to happen.

[Update on December 10, 2008: I was wrong--see Barack Hussein Obama]

2. The tragic killings in India have resulted in many commentators blaming Pakistan. One specific, recurring comment has been that "ordinary Pakistanis" need to be marching in the street, condemning the violence. Meanwhile, the Indian government is on record saying that they will get information from one of the captured killers and make him "sing like a canary." One Indian official, according to the WSJ, talked about having certain methods that would make the captured killer talk.

First, India does itself no favors by implying it uses or condones torture as an interrogation tactic. Even hinting that torture is acceptable raises the stakes tremendously, because it implies that India does not comply with U.N. rules or does not take them seriously. This failure to adhere to generally accepted international standards of conduct should concern the world when both countries involved have nuclear weapons. In addition, if India does use torture or provokes an unnecessary war against Pakistanis, even the ghosts of Gandhi and British imperialism will not prevent the damaging hit to India's image as a respectable emerging superpower.

Second, many commentators--both Indian and American--have lambasted Pakistanis for not protesting the violence publicly and in large numbers. This complaint is similar to the one lodged against Muslims post-9/11--that by not openly condemning 9/11, they were somehow implicitly supporting it or not doing enough to show their true colors.

This argument has some emotional appeal, but fails due to its unsound assumption that silence automatically means support. This theory of "speak-or-forever-be-suspected" applies primarily to face-to-face encounters on a specific topic--such as when a person refuses to answer a question of, "Did you take that document that had trade secrets to your home?" or "Does this make me look fat?" Such questions fail to elicit any relevance when they are applied to actions or thoughts made by strangers who happen to share a similar characteristic as some other group. For example, Timothy McVeigh had white skin. When he committed his act of terrorism, did the failure of massive numbers of white persons marching in the streets of Canada imply white Canadian support for his acts? Of course not. When an unarmed black man (Amadou Diallo) in New York is shot 19 times by Christian police officers, does the failure of Christians across the United States condemning the NYPD mean they condone senseless killings? Of course not. Such examples can be made ad infinitum, and it should be fairly obvious that an absence of mass protests or vocal opposition has no relevance as an indicator of general support or non-support.

The reasons for silence among most "ordinary Pakistanis" are simple. Muslims in Pakistan don't know the killers in India and don't feel any connection to them. To the 99.9% Pakistanis who live their lives peacefully, there is no connection to the killers in India and therefore no reason to say anything publicly about their heinous acts. I hate to be dogmatic, but anyone who says differently is a demagogue seeking to incite ethnic and religious violence. Such ignorance is dangerous and may lead to retaliatory killings of innocent Muslims in India. In addition, 40 of the 170+ victims were Muslim, showing that terrorism knows no ethnicity or religion.

Personally, I feel tremendous sadness for all the victims of the attacks. The story of Moshe Holtzberg is particularly heart-breaking.

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