Bullets, bombs and prayer shawls

mumbai skylineI have been struggling to catch up with the coverage of the Mumbai coverage, since I was tucked away in a remote corner of the North Carolina mountains with my family when the story broke. Ever since, I have been torn up -- to be blunt about it -- about a journalistic dilemma that is at the heart of this shocking story. As various GetReligion writers have noted, everyone is struggling to fill the "who" and the "why" slots in the classic who, what, when, where, why and how formula for hard news coverage.

How serious is this issue, when nuclear weapons are available on both sides of the always tense border between India and Pakistan? Beyond deadly. It's crucial that India officials exhibit extreme caution. There's a difference between Pakistani terrorists and terrorists who are from Pakistan.

Finally, in all of my rushed readings, I hit these two passages in a Washington Times story by Nasir Khan and Sara A. Carter. I am not saying that this is the best coverage out there on this question. I am just starting to get caught up. If you have seen better writing and information on this issue, please share the URLs with other readers here in the comments pages.

The first reference is a troubling second-hand quote, but it is clearly the stance of officials in India:

In Bombay, Joint Police Commissioner Rakesh Maria said the only known surviving gunman, Ajmal Qasab, told police that he was trained at a Lashkar-e-Taiba camp in Pakistan, the Associated Press reported.

"Lashkar-e-Taiba is behind the terrorist acts in the city," the commissioner said.

But what does that mean? The politics of this region are truly Byzantine and it is almost impossible to know who is who. Then I hit this passage, which I will quote at length.

At some point, as in all journalism, you have to quote people and then start checking the accuracy of those statements.

A group calling itself the Deccan Mujahedeen claimed responsibility for the carnage there and at least nine other sites. The previously unknown group used a name suggesting it was based in India.

For days, however, reports blaming the Pakistani group Lashkar-e-Taiba have dominated the Indian press. The group, originally based in Pakistan-controlled Kashmir, is purportedly a creation of Pakistani intelligence. Under pressure from the United States and Britain, Pakistan banned the group in 2002.

Did you want to see attribution on that sentence about ties between Lashkar-e-Taiba and the labyrinthine world of Pakistani intelligence? I did. Who is making that claim? Or is that simply established fact?

Lashkar-e-Taiba was founded in Afghanistan in 1989, by Haifiz Mohammad Saeed, an academic who recruited fighters from the war against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan, which was then ending. The name means "army of the pious." Its initial goal was to challenge Indian rule in Kashmir, but U.S. officials say the group thought it was waging war against non-Muslim rule throughout South Asia.

It later established ties with al Qaeda, with which it shares the goal of establishing an Islamic caliphate throughout the region and beyond. U.S. officials think it cooperates with al Qaeda in Pakistan's tribal regions along the Afghan border, where it provides aid and shelter to al Qaeda members.

Lashkar was blamed for at least two assassination attempts against Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf in 2004, an attack on the Indian Parliament in 2001, an attack on a Hindu temple in India in 2002 and other attacks in India-controlled Kashmir. In addition, it was blamed for a 2003 suicide bombing in Bombay that killed 52, and an October 2005 suicide attack in New Delhi during a festival, in which more than 60 people died. In 2006, the group was accused of a bombing attack in Bombay, in which 209 people died.

Once again, who committed these hellish acts? How specific can journalists be during a time when there is information on the public record, but the quality of that information is unknown?

Then there is the other loaded question: Why? Why did the hit squads do what they did? Why did they kill the people that they chose to kill?

There's so much that can be written about the deaths at the Chabad House and the people who -- worldwide -- choose to live in Chabad Houses. Some might ask: Did these victims, in some way, ask to be singled out? The New York Times noted:

The number of Chabad Houses has mushroomed in the last decade, and now more than 4,000 husband-and-wife couples run them in 73 countries. ...

Chabad leaders are quick to stress that the emissaries, called shluchim in Hebrew, are not missionaries. They do not try to convert non-Jews to Judaism. Instead, their mandate is to act as "lamplighters" by reaching out to secular Jews, often stopping people on city sidewalks and asking, "Are you Jewish?," and trying to persuade them to deepen their faith.

religion3 01The Los Angeles Times has worked hard to cover the Chabad story, as well, focusing on another human drama inside the larger picture. And it is both emotionally moving and terrible, at the same time, to read accounts about the deaths of Rabbi Gavriel Noach Holtzberg and his wife, Rivkah, as well as what is ahead for their 2-year-old son, Moshe, who will now move to Israel to live with grandparents and the nanny who saved him.

Again, why did the killers chose to kill the people that they killed?

Read this and wait for the final detail:

Sandra Samuel, the nanny who saved Moshe, has told reporters that she hid for 12 hours at one pointlast week when terrorists took over Mumbai's Chabad-Lubavitch Jewish center, which was run by Holtzberg, 29, and his wife, 28. ...

Samuel, a resident of India, said she heard Moshe crying and found him standing next to his parents. His clothes were partly covered with blood. Samuel said Moshe's parents were lying on the floor and appeared to be unconscious. She scooped up the child and fled the building along with the center's caretaker.

"She basically dared the terrorists to shoot at her while carrying a baby," said Robert Katz, the orphanage spokesman.

And the condition of those bodies?

The Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported that nine Jews, mostly Israelis, were killed in the terrorist attack on the Chabad house, which is in a tourist district. ... (The) bodies of those slain at the Chabad house were wrapped in prayer shawls; it was unclear who wrapped them. Katz of Migdal Ohr said he was told that the terrorists rigged the bodies of the dead with hand-grenade booby traps.

There are no words, at that point.

As I stressed earlier, I am just getting started digging into the coverage -- although it is hard to find extra time for extra reading at the end of a busy semester.

But Americans are going to have to dig deeper if we want to understand the challenges that officials face in India during tense times in which religious violence of all kinds appears to be on the rise. Things are not going well in this allegedly "secular" democracy.

With that in mind, let me point you toward this Los Angeles Times op-ed page essay by Asra Q. Nomani on the status of the poorest of the poor in India, the new "untouchables" in that culture -- Muslims. Here is truly frightening material from a government report there:

According to the report, produced by a committee led by a former Indian chief justice, Rajender Sachar, Muslims were now worse off than the Dalit caste, or those called untouchables. Some 52% of Muslim men were unemployed, compared with 47% of Dalit men. Among Muslim women, 91% were unemployed, compared with 77% of Dalit women. Almost half of Muslims over the age of 46 couldn't read or write. While making up 11% of the population, Muslims accounted for 40% of India's prison population. Meanwhile, they held less than 5% of government jobs. ...

Since reading the report, I have feared that Islamic militancy would be born out of such despair. Even if last week's terrorist plot was hatched outside India, a cycle of sectarian violence could break out in the country and push some disenfranchised Muslim youth to join militant groups using hot-button issues like Israel and Kashmir as inspiration.

Keep reading. There is much that we need to know.

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