Wednesday, July 12, 2006

The Mumbai Train Attacks - How Important is Terminology?

When I heard about the Mumbai blasts I immediately started searching for information on what had happened.

The summary is essentially that eight bombs exploded in the first-class cars of Mumbai’s commuter trains yesterday evening, July 11th. Thus far, the reports say that 190 people have been killed and hundreds were wounded. The reports also say that this was yet another well-coordinated terror attack.

However, what got my attention was a post on a blog titled Shadow Warrior - A Hindu Nationalist Perspective. The post I found was simple as all it says is “no, they are not terrorists. 'terrorist' is reserved for mohammedans who kill white people.” I don’t know anything about what a “Hindu nationalist perspective” might entail, but I can empathize because as an African-American there is news coverage that many times addresses our situations and shows us differently when we’re in similar situations with whites.

One immediate example is during Hurricane Katrina when a picture of two white people wading in the floodwater was captioned “finding”, yet in a picture where you see a young black child wading in the floodwater with soft drinks was captioned “looting” as was another photo of a black man pictured with beer. I don’t want to get in a big fight over this as the photographer explained that he saw the couple take bread that was floating in the water, but still in a situation as tragic as that unless you’re wading out of the store with a bunch of iPods I think everyone with food, soda, and even beer should be “finding”.

That got me thinking. Why is it that even though this attack has all the markings of Al-Qaeda's terrorism and cities from New York to Seoul have increased security was this attack not described as yet another well-planned terrorist attack? In an AP article I read on Yahoo! News the attackers were described as Kashmiri militants. It might very well be that that’s exactly what they are, but in the mainstream news when attacks like this happen they don’t really bother to say “Saudi dissident”, Osama bin Laden is from Saudi Arabia, or “Jordanian rebel”, as Abu Musab al-Zarqawi was from Jordan. They sometimes use those terms, but most of the time both of these men are simply termed “terrorists” or “Islamic terrorists” in Western news stories. But when a train packed with Indians in Mumbai is attacked it’s not “terrorists” it’s someone else. Or, more accurately, it’s written in a way to not immediately associate it with other similar attacks that have happened in New York, Madrid and London.

It's probably completely innocent, but, prima facie, it really strikes me as shameful.

No matter what you call the people who did this, it's just sad to have yet another terrorist attack which targets innocent people. It doesn't matter if it's in India, the States, or Indonesia; it's a tragedy.

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  1. NRI (NotReallyIndian)July 12, 2006 at 6:38:00 AM EDT

    I have noticed this bias whilst reading the Guardian newspaper in the UK.

    It is as if the writers wish to maintain the fiction that Islamic Jihad only targets the West. All other Islamic terrorism may be justified.

    Those who bother to study the true history of the Indian Sub-continent should be aware that the jihadis (mujaheedin in Arabic) who were trained, armed and financed by the US via their Pakistani agents were jobless after the Soviet army left Afghanistan. Osama Bin Laden got his start in his career as a jihadi here. These jihadis were mainly Arabs.

    Pakistan used these jihadis to start covert warfare with India in 1989 which remains ongoing since then with displacement of around 400,000 non-muslims from the Kashmir Valley (part of the Jammu and Kashmir State) as well numerous attacks on both Indian peacekeeping forces and civilians.

    US has never sanctioned the Pakistanis for this since it wishes to sell expensive and useless US fighter planes and other arms to both these countries!

    Nor has any Pakistani been made to answer the charges of genocide in "East Pakistan" as it was, in 1971, in any war crimes tribunal.

  2. I agree with you. Being so analytical about what to term a 'terrorist' (I personally think that these people are not humans at all, and animals will be ashamed if we name the terrorists after them), is diluting the whole effect. Such people should simply be named 'terrorists' or 'villains' or 'brutes' and strict actions taken, period.

  3. Yes, terrorists who bomb any place other than US and UK are "freedom fighters" and "rebels" and not "terrorists". The Human Rights people would be up in arms if one of the perpetrators were shot down on the street by the law enforcement. But those people should be made to come and look at the "survivors" of the blast, those who are "surviving" without limbs, without eardrums...

  4. Considering the replies thus far, the answer is "yes". Terminology definitely matters.


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