Archive for September 9th, 2011

The bomb in New Delhi

September 9, 2011 in Uncategorized | Comments (0)



No matter whether it is dropped by an airborne drone or planted by a man on a bicycle, a bomb’s effects are felt not only by those who are unfortunate enough to be in the vicinity at the time of the explosion, but also, to some degree, by everyone who has ever passed that way.

Having lived many years in Delhi I have often passed the spot where the bomb of September 7 was detonated; many of my friends in the city still regularly pass that way. The news of the bomb thus had the effect of transporting me not just in space, but also time, to the Delhi of the 1980s when bomb blasts, terror attacks, and riots were almost weekly events. In those days few of us had phones, so we would line up at STD/ISD booths to call our friends to make sure they were safe. Now we send e-mails – and I sent many on September 7.

The replies I received were reassuring in their stoicism. I would not have expected otherwise. Most of my Delhi friends are old enough to remember that earlier incarnation of the city; they are not easily panicked.

Decades ago, at about the same time as Delhi, London and Madrid were also coping with terror attacks. Their response was one of exemplary civic fortitude and patience. They showed the world that the best way to cope with terror is through increased vigilance, careful police work, political flexibility, and a refusal to be driven to extreme responses.

Ten years ago George Bush led the US into a response of an entirely different kind: in the eyes of some this was also an exemplary response in that it appears to have prevented another attack on American soil. To me, this is of a piece with the kind of creative accounting that was endemic to the Bush years (a procedure that played no small part in precipitating the financial crisis of 2008): it is as if the debit column had been erased from the ledger leaving only a credit column. For the debits, were they included, would have to include (to start with) tens of thousands of American casualties in the ensuing wars; hundreds of thousands of deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan; a catastrophic decline in American political standing around the world; and a hemorrhaging of money that has helped push the US into a downward economic spiral.

This is why  it is astonishing to see commentators in India talking, once again, about ‘running out of patience’ and citing the US response to 9/11 as though it were a model to be followed. It is as though nothing at all had been learnt from the multiple calamities that have befallen the US, and the world, as a consequence of its reaction to the attacks of 9/11.

No doubt some commentators will also soon begin to point fingers at Pakistan – and it may well prove to be the case (although we do not know this yet) that the attack was indeed plotted by some group based in that country. But the reality is that Pakistan is now more at war with itself than with any external enemy.

It is worth recalling that on September 7 there were two things that New Delhi shared with Quetta: a place on a continuous geological fault line (Quetta suffered a devastating earthquake in 1935) and a murderous bomb blast. Both are reminders of the pointlessness of looking at events in the subcontinent in purely ‘national’ terms. The terrorists’ real enemy is neither India nor Pakistan but, pace Al-Sayyid Qutb and other jihadi theorists, the very institution of the nation-state. In this sense they are at war with institutions of governance (such as they are) in both countries and thus with the idea of citizenship itself.

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