Peace and Conflict, Politics and Governance

The Spectre of Terrorism and Cricketing Fears

Michael Roberts
Dept of Anthropology, University of Adelaide

Guided by existing evidence from the past two decades, in composing an article on 26 November 2008 I contended that “there [was] no evidence of any generalised targeting of Westerners” in the Indian sub-continent. The atrocities perpetrated by a band of Islamist militants in Mumbai, beginning from the night of 26 November, have shattered that conclusion.

But to what degree, I ask? My answer is firm: the chances of Westerners and/or cricketers (of any colour) being in the wrong place at the wrong time are minute. This assertion I plant in the face of Greg Baum as one step in an address to a general audience.

Challenging the Australian Media
In a lead article in Melbourne’s Age newspaper, Baum contextualised his summary of my essay thus: “the first cricket world’s apprehensive attitude towards terrorism in the third world was a racist construction of the east as a place teeming with frenzied zealots, that the west used terrorism as a pretext to go or stay as it pleased, and that that the likelihood of a cricketer being hurt in a random attack was infinitesimal.” He then quoted my contention and opened his challenge with the note: “What a difference a day makes.”     

Baum thereafter presents his rebuttal: “All roads still lead to India, and they all are still paved with gold, but suddenly do not seem so glittering. I do not accept Roberts’ contention about how remote is the chance of a cricketer falling victim because it takes only one exception for the whole rule to become invalid. Someone who dies in a one-in-a-million chance is no less dead than someone who is assassinated.”

This is specious reasoning. On such grounds few in Australia would proceed in their cars because there are road deaths every day. Such arguments can only survive on the basis of generalisations about lands and peoples with whom one has no familiarity or affinity.

Laskar-e-Taiba and the Goals behind the Mumbai Raid
The rush to conclusions has been promoted by the hysterical media presentations of this event, not least by Indian media channels. This is what the assailants counted upon. We know now that the militants were from Lashkar-e-Taiba, or Pure Land Army, perhaps aided by rogue factions of the ISI, the Pakistan intelligence agency that is a state within the state. LET personnel, I stress, are mostly composed of Punjabi or Kashmiri speakers and have few Pashtu-speakers.

The raiders required a grand theatre to showcase their Kashmiri grievances and their commitment to the Islamist cause as they, in their warped fashion, understand it. Their performative mode was enhanced by the use of mobile phones and a capacity to answer telephone calls calmly at the height of their hostage-cum-killing work. With the commodity-hungry tele-channels as their stage hands, LET provided the world with a tele-drama.

In brief, the incorporation of Westerners in their attacks was an instrumental move designed to widen the impact of their atrocities. But, in conjectural manner, I assert that this facet of their raid was secondary to their battery of primary goals.    

It was, I conjecture, even less significant within their minds than another secondary target: Nariman House, the centre of a Jewish evangelical enterprise. By attacking this building in an obscure corner of Mumbai they were telling radical Muslim brethren in all parts of the world that they were at one with the global Salafi militants confronting both the “near enemy” (the Muslim regimes of the Middle East) and the “far enemy” (Western powers). Through this act, they were also working within their mindset and ensuring – in their own thinking — that their deaths were acts of shahada (martyrdom). Parenthetically, let me note that Indian Muslim voices have vociferously condemned their outrages and the Indian mullahs have dealt truly shafted the martyrdom ambitions of these murderers by refusing to provide Islamic funeral rites or any space in any of their burial sites.

Such goals must be set within their main objectives. These were multiple and interlaced with each other. In point form, they sought

  1. To undermine if not destroy the developing rapprochement between Pakistan and India.
  2. To de-stabilise India and its economy and to influence the outcome of the impending general elections as well as regional elections
  3. To de-stabilise the present Pakistani political configuration.
  4. To spark Hindu extremist groups, such as Shiv Sena and BJP, to extremist rhetoric and counter-violence; and thus to stimulate a spiral tit-for-tat violence over the long term that would strengthen the militant causes in Pakistan as well as India.

Thus, within their framework of thinking the showcasing of Kashmir grievances, the encompassing of a Jewish institution and the targeting of Westerners were embellishments attached to more substantive goals. A Nicholson cartoon in The Australian highlighted Goal One – overdramatized yes, but pointing in the right direction. Indeed, the flexing of muscles by India is at the forefront now.

The definitive style of presentation on my part must be qualified: my reasoning is a bundle of conjectures. I do not consider myself a “security analyst” (though described as such by ABC Radio). I do have 40 years of experience in analysing ideological currents. This has been bolstered by a reading of a few works on the kamikaze and the jihadists to fill out my own researches into the suicide missions of the Tamil Tigers.

If my references to “Salafi ideology,” the “near enemy” and “far enemy” are just so much twaddle to journalists, they should take a good look at their own stock of knowledge. One can, of course, hardly expect the average reader to be familiar with such terminology. But I have flagged them because concerned citizens today need to come to terms with them if they wish to comprehend the present global order.

The Mumbai carnage must be placed alongside 9/11, the Bali bombings, the Madrid bombings, London 7/7, the abortive Strasbourg Christmas Market Plot of December 2000, and the abortive Singapore Bomb Plot of late 2001. Add to these atrocities the regional conflicts in Chechen, Sri Lanka, southern Philippines and, last but not least, that in the Levant between Israeli Jews and the Arabs around them. Put together, they point to a world dispensation that will be marked by intermittent eruptions of similar terrorizing strikes.

The Power of Polarity
My argument here is that during the next few decades we will be subject to the “power of polarity” – a force that has been with us for some time. By the concept “power of polarity” I refer to two forces at opposite ends of a political line who indulge in oppositional rhetoric and/or warfare. Over time, such hit-back feuding feeds the extremism within each pole. It also reduces the space for moderate political activity in the middle.

The power of polarity encouraged the partition of India in 1947 and has spasmodically promoted Hindu-Muslim struggles within India as well as state confrontations between Pakistan and India. From the 1950s it has exacerbated political rivalry between Sinhalese and Tamils in my country Sri Lanka. One could go on and on with examples, but the most pertinent illustration of such polar extremism is the so-called “clash of civilizations” and the “war on terror.”

If the “war on terror” was a response to Al Qaeda’s fearsome tactics, the Salafi thinking has many ideological roots. Among these currents, one goes back to the Islamic Brotherhood and the ideologue, Syed Qutb, in Egypt; while another, the most incendiary of all, has its roots firmly within the Palestinian question and Israeli state terrorism.

As Darryl D’Monte recently summed up matters in The Hindu (7 Dec. 2008): “while the West turns a blind eye to the blatant occupation of Palestine by Israel and, indeed, arms this rogue nuclear State, there is not an iota of hope of an end to terrorism and counter-terrorism throughout the world.” In conversation recently in Adelaide Brian Victoria of Antioch College USA endorsed this contention in ways that support my argument re the power of polarity. He stated that one cannot understand Islamist fanaticism without reference to Jewish fanaticism. These two poles feed off each other. The whole world has been caught in the resulting turbulence for some time.

The problems faced by cricketing programmes today must be set within this context. Compared to the gravity of the present political situation in the Indian sub-continent, England’s Test Tour is just bagatelle. But just as the Mumbai raid tells us something about Islamist martyrdom operations, the decisions taken by various cricketing establishments over recent years reveal the mindset prevailing in the Western and Caribbean worlds. That is a topic I shall address in other essays. But let me applaud the English cricketing establishment for their decision to play cricket in India. Given the peculiar mindset that dominates thinking in the West, this is a courageous act. However, in my view, such concerns are overdrawn. In measured spirit I insist that the chance of any cricketers being at the wrong place in the wrong time is as improbable as infinitesimal. India and Pakistan are large spaces. Terrorist eruptions are spasmodic. Some intelligent proportionality is called for, not knee-jerk reactions.