Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Mumbai attacks: Why calling it "India's 9/11" is problematic

Today's Indian Express features an op-ed by Darryl Li - who is part of the legal team that is defending the Guantanamo detainees - addressing the point raised in this post's heading. Li's analysis is interesting and thought-provoking, especially because he self-identifies as an American. Here are extracts from his piece:

" ... India does not need to invoke 9/11, either to summon the kind of solidarity and courage found on that day, or to justify the kind of repression that followed; it is amply capable of both on its own, or of charting a completely different path.

What having one’s “own 9/11” does mean, however, is to possess an Event that somehow transcends history or context, and therefore politics or justice. In reducing so much to that single point on the calendar, too many Americans elevated it above what came before and what followed. This insistence on saturating discussion and imagination with only our own suffering came at the precise moment when what was needed most was a capacious commitment to fostering common human security based on a foundation of justice.

The initial and oxymoronic codename for the invasion of Afghanistan, Operation “Infinite Justice”, captured this mentality perfectly: infinitude promises a be-all, end-all (yet never-been and never-ending) “solution.” It cannot coexist with any meaningful notion of justice, which requires the very finite concepts of balance, responsibility, and reconciliation.

Seen in proper perspective, the enduring significance of 9/11 was that a very small part of humanity was suddenly exposed to the kind of existential vulnerability that a significantly greater proportion lives with every day — and then largely refused to recognize that commonality. Yes, there are obvious analytical and normative distinctions between different kinds of political violence in the world. But one need not accept a “moral equivalence” between state and non-state violence to recognize that an honest conversation is not possible if only one side defines whose suffering counts and whose does not.

Invoking 9/11 has too often been a way to close one’s eyes to terrors experienced elsewhere in the world, including India. Which is why for Indians or anyone else to seek possession of their “own 9/11” is strange. Rather than selectively enlarging the exclusive club of those who can blithely dismiss the fears of others, it would seem that the task demanded by human solidarity is to dismantle that privilege altogether."

Li’s analysis should give pause to the pundits and media personalities who are throwing the term around quite loosely. (The original formatting of this post apparently gave rise to the impression that this included some of my own analysis - I've changed the format to make things clearer).

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