Thursday, November 27, 2008

Mumbai Massacre: Parsis, Jews, Hindus and the Rise of Warfare for the Masses

People complain about the religious intolerance of the West. And in particular they point to the rising Islamophobia of Western culture. And they are right to worry about such mindlessness in the development of cultural attitudes and the conduct of overt and covert political activity. And lamentably, to some degree, that might be so.

Sadly, the West does not have a monopoly on the cultural and political mechanics of religious hatred. Certain Muslim state governments and Islamic divines have been enthusiastic contributors to cultures of hatred grounded in an abhorrance of the religions of the Jews, the Parsis and the Ba'hai. It appears that the machinery of mindless hatred of Jews and Parsis has again been successfully tapped within the global Muslim community. When mixed with the traditional mutual mistrust between Hindus and Muslims in South Asia, it was neither a surprize that an explosion wa sinevitable or that the target would be a city with a long history of openness and pluralism. And thus my small contribution to what will be an endless discussion of the most successful recent atatcks on the global order in Mumbai November 26-27. Thus, while the media and commentators concentrate on the great issues of the attacks, I focus, if only briefly, on its sad underbelly--the religous hatred that focused attacks on small targets hidden behind the more spectacular targettings and killings of foreigners and Hindus.

It is important to remember that the attackers, whose military planning was well coordinated and highly effective, were quite careful to target, in addition to the places populated by foreigners, the transport and hospital centers, great and small symbols of two small minority communities in Mumbai. These targets, one great, the other insignificant, served as the symbolic expression of two religious communities abhorrent to certain elements of established Muslims communities--Zoroastrians (Parsis) and Jews.
Zoroastrian Iranians came to India 12 centuries ago to avoid Islamic persecution. They settled in the western state of Gujarat. Today the majority of the 69,000-strong community lives in Mumbai in the neighbouring state of Maharashtra. Zoroastrian Iranians came to India 12 centuries ago to avoid Islamic persecution. They settled in the western state of Gujarat. Today the majority of the 69,000-strong community lives in Mumbai in the neighbouring state of Maharashtra. Zubair Ahmed, Zoroastrians Look for the Roots, BBC News Online, July 19, 2005.
More importantly, Prasis have been important contributors to the success of India in developing its economy and contribute stroingly to the democratic institutions of the state. In its native Iran, the religion remains suspect.
Officially, Zoroastrians - along with Jews and Armenian and Assyrian Christians - are a constitutionally protected religious minority with guaranteed parliamentary representation. In practice, complaints of discrimination are widespread. Access to high-level posts in the government and armed forces is blocked. Some Zoroastrians say they are pressured to change their religion. A law awarding Zoroastrians who convert to Islam their entire families' inheritance at the expense of non-converted relatives has caused misery and bitter resentment. Despite legislation decreeing that all religions are entitled to equal blood money (compensation) awards, Zoroastrians say that, in reality, they still receive only half the sums given to Muslims. Zoroastrianism, Ancient Religions Clash in Iran, CAIS News, Oct. 4, 2006.

Though Parsis festivals are tolerated they remain problemmatic for clerics. "Since the Islamic revolution, the clergy has remained opposed to the popular festival, which it sees as superstitious and anti-Islamic. But the ancient ritual has survived many generations and governments." Iranians Celebrate Festival of Fire, BBC News Online, March 14, 2001. Among some Muslime, Parsis are viewed as najis "ritually impure" and thus below the hierarchy of tolerance even beneath Jews and Christians. Despite this, the Iranians have sought to cultivate relations with the Mumbai community--if only to enhance the possibility of profitable relaitons. Thus, the Vice President of the Islamic Republic of Iran and the Chairman of the Iranian Cultural Heritage, Handicrafts and Tourism Organization paid a visit to Mumbai on 2nd May 2008 seeking to enhance efforts to increase tourist pilgrammages to Iran. Iran Vice President in Mumbai, Official Portal of the Islamic Republic of Iran. Yet under Iranian family law they appear to be kaafar and unable to inherit under certain circumstances. And thus the incentive to convert--the ability to acquire all family wealth as against non Muslim relatives. "" And "Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati, head of the Guardian Council, recently described nonMuslims as 'sinful animals' and 'corrupt'. After criticising him, the only Zoroastrian member of parliament (there are 22,000 Zoroastrians in Iran) was charged with the 'dissemination of false information, slander and insult'." Alister Heath, No Wonder the Neo Nazis Salute Iran's President, The Spectator, June 3, 2006.

As the Parsi community has declined in Iran, it has prospered in India. Perhaps overmuch. Among the most consistentloy successful and well known Parsis families in Mumbai are the Tatas. One of the great symbols of both Parsi success within India and of a small voctory over intolerance has been the Taj Mahal hotel. "Legend has it that its creator, a Parsi industrialist called Jamsetji Nusserwanji Tata, commissioned the building after being refused entry to the now-defunct Apollo Hotel, which had a strict Europeans-only policy." Peter Foster, Bombay Terror Attacks: Why the Taj Mahal Hotel Was Chosen, The Telegraph, Nov. 27, 2008. A blow to the Taj Mahal thus struct not only at foreigners, who happened to continue to enjoy its amentities and its symbol of globalized wealth and success, but also struck at the Parsi community as well. The blow was religious as well as economic. Thus the English reporter got it half right when he suggested, somewhat over lyrically
To have pictures of burning Taj Hotel broadcast around the world will have a deeper impact than even perhaps the terrorists intended, striking a blow against a symbol of Indian wealth and progress and sending shivers down the spine of some of the richest and most powerful people on the planet. Peter Foster, Bombay Terror Attacks: Why the Taj Mahal Hotel Was Chosen, supra.
The pictures also remind one that the religious element in warfare is neither tied to the West or Israel, but also exhibits a positive hatred of other religions as well. This is to be lamented, but can hardly be unexpected.

And then there are the Jews. . . . Though busy striking at the heart of foreign presence in India and the symbol of Parsi wealth in Mumbai, as well as the many Hindus caught in the fire, the attackers took the time to target what appears an odd and insignificant site--a Jewish Community Center in Mumbai. Graham Bowley, Status of Jewish Community Center Still Unclear, The Lede, The New York Times, Nov. 27, 2008. "The Chabad-Lubavitch center, the local outpost of a global group that promotes Judaism, is located in Nariman House, one of the buildings that has been attacked in Mumbai. The whereabouts of Rabbi Gavriel, who runs the center, and his wife, Rivka, remain “unknown,” according to the group." Id. Recent press reports suggested that the "centre is the base for the Jewish outreach group Chabad Lubavitch. The Reuters news agency says that four gunmen remain in the building. There have been reports of gunfire. The house, which acts as a centre for prayer and study, attracts many Jewish and Israeli visitors every year." Jewish Center Seized in Mumbai, BBC News Online, Nov. 27, 2008. "Rabbi Shmotkin told the Associated Press: 'It seems that the terrorists commandeered a police vehicle which allowed them easy access to the area of Chabad House and threw a grenade at a gas pump nearby.'" Id.

But, of course, the rationale is easy enough to discern. Religion. And particularly the religion of the Jews. Like the Pasi community, the Jewish community of India is small, ancient, and much of it centers in Mumbai. History of the Jews in India. Like the Parsi community, also, the Jewish community in India was swelled by refugees from the dar al Islam, in the case of the Jews from Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan and Yeman. And symbolically, for certain strains of Islamic thinking, they stand in for Zionism, the current faddish cover for anti Jewish activity. Striking at any Jew any where is a blow against Israel. And so the importance of the Jewish Community Center, a small step from a justification of the murder of Jews in Israel to the justification of all in contact with them. Consider the fatwas of Yusuf al-Qaradawi the Norwegian Muslim cleric Basim Ghozlan,
Qaradawi has issued several Fatwas which define all adult Jews living in Palestine as “occupants” and “combatants”, and therefore legitimate targets of war. . . .The rationale for considering all adult Jews in Palestine as combatants is the fact that adult Israelis, men and women, are registered in the Israeli Defense Force as reservists, even in their civilian life. With reference to Jewish children, Qaradawi makes clear that even if these cannot be killed as combatants, it is acceptable that some Jewish children be killed in vengeance for Arab children having been killed by Jews. At this point one must add that Qaradawi condemns the killing or persecution of Jews which are not participating in the “occupation of Palestine”. Concerning the meaning of his saying that Jews ”occupy Palestine”, this must be understood on the rationale of Islamic Law, not that of the United Nations. Firstly, Qaradawi is referring to the geographical Palestine, i.e., today’s Jordan, the West Bank, Israel, and Gaza. So not only settlements or land seized in 1967 war and since held by Israel, is considered occupied, but also the State of Israel herself. According to a standard interpretation of Islamic law, Israeli territory counts as occupied land for the simple reason that it has been under Islamic jurisprudence previously, something which makes it waqf, that is, eternal Islamic property. The situation is thus somewhat analogue to what we would have seen if Christian leaders were organizing suicide operations in Turkey in order to liberate Istanbul, which fell from Christianity in 1453. Jens Tomas Anfindsen, Theology of Terror in The Islamic Federation (“Det islamske forbundet”), Norwegian daily Vårt Land 2005.01.17.
al Qaradawi has emphasized both that his support of strikes against civilian populations of Jews is restricted to any lands once within the dar al Islam in which the Jews assert political control (though he might have little concern with Jews as a subject minority) and that his views are widely shared at all levels of the Muslim community. "Recently he told Al-Jazeera that he was not alone in believing that suicide bombings in Palestinian territories were a legitimate form of self defence for people who have no aircraft or tanks. He said hundreds of other Islamic scholars are of the same opinion. In this respect, he is very much in tune with what the vast majority of people in the Arab world believe." Magdi Abdelhadi, Controversial Preacher With ‘Star Status,’ BBC News Online, July 7, 2004.

But Islam has no pope. And those who mean to engage in great battles for control of Muslim thought are well aware of this.
Most Muslims would like such a central authority, to avoid constant debate over contradictory and extremist scholarly opinions. But we don't have a pope; we have the Ulama, the association of scholars. To protect the unity of Islam, we urgently need to reach a consensus on the great questions of our time: terror, occupation, and resistance. We took a first step in July 2004, with the foundation of a world union of Muslim legal scholars. I was elected chairman, and my deputies are a Sunni, a Shiite, and an Ibadit (a branch of Islam found mainly in Oman). We thank God for this success. Interview with Al Jazeera Host YUSUF AL-QARADAWI, World Around Us, September 27, 2005.
But for all the attempted control, this cat, once out of the bag, is fair theological play for anyone with sufficient influence to command respect--and the arms to bend others to that influence. In the hands of others, the theological permission to kill, even under narrow circumstances (as abhorrent as those might be to the West (see Larry Catá Backer, Benedict XVI, Faith, Reason and the University: Memories and Reflections, Law at the End of the Day, September 12, 2006.)) are logically available also as the opening to a broader application. A strike at a physical manifestation of global Judaism is thus a strike in the great battle to reclaim (and expand) the dar al Islam. While no doubt large elements of the Muslim Community would disagree, no one is surprised either at the potential for expansion of such doctrines, nor their implementation int he hands of "fanatics" whose actions can be disavowed. . .after the fact, and without affecting the religious foundations that animated the activity.

Yet these are not pleasant thoughts. Indeed, they may be uncomfortable for a political and media elite that have already neatly packaged religious and political strife in neat baskets that permit settlement without upsetting the underlying belief structures that keep religious hatred nicely brewing. We continue to believe in "the deal" and the possibility of settlement with groups whose all or nothing ideologies are also coddled. That sort of economic thinking is ideal for rational merchants, but lead in altogether different directions when the "merchants" making "deals" are neither rational nor part of the internaitonal community of political merchants on which the current global order relies for its functioning. See Larry Catá Backer, Jerry Adams in Barcelona: On the Politics of Self-Determination in Constitutiuonal Systems Law at the End of the Day, June 8, 2006. As such, the attackers, whoever they are, reminded us that religious hatred can easily conflate economics, religion, and all of the plural values on which economic globalization rests. And religious minorities tend to flourish only in societies that are open and tolerant. For states that would turn a blind eye to belief, and its toleration, the attacks remind us that there may well be limiting cases.

In the Mumbai attacks we see both faces of modern warfare. It is both irregular and informal. This is well known. We have surpassed the age of formalist warfare with sets of rules adhered to by a community of states with a substantial monopoly of power. At the same time it is ancient--war no longer is motivated strictly by the territorial or political ambition of princes, but by the lusts of the populace unleashed (and foolishly believed to be controlled) by religious, political, media, social and other elites. In this age of mass democracy, mass politics, mass social movemenst, we have also ushered in an age of mass war. But mass war grounded in ancient enmities.

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