Saturday, November 29, 2008

Mumbai Timeline

Reuters has stitched together a partial sequence of events of the guerilla attacks on Mumbai, designed both to kill randomly and receive massive Western media coverage for doing it.

They change nothing about the underlying logic now controlling world events. The logic is sustained by the way leaders sustain conflicts for decades at a time to stay in power, and the grotesque inequality, suffering, and brutality that go with it. The attacks and the carnage simply express that logic.

The carnage is of course completely disgusting and unjustifiable. I feel not only for the victims but for everyone who loves Mumbai in part because it seems like the open and hospitable crossroads of India. And there is almost nothing I abhor more than highly armed religious idiots ushering in the kingdom of heaven by drenching the earth in blood.

But that doesn't mean we have to be stupid ourselves, and regress to the infamous Friedman culture war between the "Lexus" and the "olive tree." A NYT op-ed set it up this way - a Mumbai native defines Mumbai as the center of Lexus culture in India, as gloriously free commerce joining the peoples of the world. He continues like this:
the best answer to the terrorists is to dream bigger, make even more money, and visit Mumbai more than ever. Dream of making a good home for all Mumbaikars, not just the denizens of $500-a-night hotel rooms. Dream not just of Bollywood stars like Aishwarya Rai or Shah Rukh Khan, but of clean running water, humane mass transit, better toilets, a responsive government. Make a killing not in God’s name but in the stock market, and then turn up the forbidden music and dance; work hard and party harder.
This comment confuses wealth and investment-banker partying with social development for all. It then swallows "dreaming" by this morass. If we don't see religion, even the murderous kind, as about a form of dreaming that is neither about mountains of money nor the good society, then we understand exactly zero about religion.

That's one problem. The other is that Mumbai and India in general - and the United States - are monuments to the nightmarish gap between accumulating wealth and creating the good society. The gap today is vastly greater than that which produced the cycles of violence one can read in the Old Testament.

Thus it's really dumb for the NYT columnist to define Mumbai as a temple of progress and not as also at the same time a swamp of unspeakable squalor that drowns the lives of untold millions. I've written before about how the historical Jesus understood the community of the world that could arise in the absence of tyrants and moneylenders - the heaven-on-earth I associate with the all-welcoming Jesus of the tympanum at Vezelay rather than with the weigher-of-souls at Autun. There's no excuse for our not being at least this intelligent, and seeing nightclub globalization as an atrocity visited on tens of millions of people whom we do ignore completely until they fire their guns.

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