I have tried to concentrate on putting the finishing touches on my book manuscript to hand into the publisher. I was looking forward to the exquisitely quiet isolation of writing days when I got a phone call from a young person at Al Jazeera English here in DC on Wednesday. “We need you to talk about the violence in India tonight.” I thought that she meant the ongoing issues between Hindu militants and Christians and so I said, “Sure.” I was just on their station about that subject a few weeks ago. I had no idea. Then I got a call two minutes later, voice agitated, “We need you sooner, like in two hours.” I said, “Sure, send me what you have in the latest updates to my email.” Another phone call, “How fast can you get here?!” I started to smell the horror of something terrible.

I stayed at Al Jazeera English for three hours Wednesday night, sifting through the shocking revelations from Mumbai, trying to make sense of it all together with the fabulous anchors. I immediately sensed that this was like nothing else India had experienced, that it was a new stage of terrorism and that it was from beyond the borders of India. There was no way, as soon as I heard about the Jewish center, that native Muslims of India would have wanted to kill Jewish women and children. No way. Never an incident in centuries. But I also knew what Pakistani graduates of madrassas had taught me about rampant antisemitism that was being taught among the Sunni Jihadis. Then there were all the hallmarks of Al Qaeda-type targets, Westerners, financial centers, modern secular icons, train stations.  We had to be cautious, of course, with any claims. As usual, I tried to insert a voice of sanity into what could easily become a causus beli between India and Pakistan. I tried to emphasize the words of President Obama that a response requires collaboration and coordination between countries first and foremost. This is the most important response, the one that distinguishes between, on the one side, the rule of law, police actions, a search for global commitments, and, on the other, a ‘war on terror’, which has no meaning and is easily a tool for a war of civilizations. I am heartened today that the head of Pakistan’s horrible ISI intelligence service is on his way to India. Maybe he can see the handiwork of decades of playing around with extremists as instruments of foreign policy from Afghanistan to Kashmir. I do not excuse the problems of India itself with its treatment of Muslims, especially by the police and the courts. Major change is needed, as Dileep Padgaonka points out in detail. But Pakistan is on the verge of becoming a threat to all of its neighbors, in addition to descending into anarchy. Major attention is needed, and it must involve a maturation in the use of force and the rule of law by the whole Indian subcontinent. It is the home of the largest population of Muslims in the world, a population experiencing far too much poverty and deprivation. What better place for Al Qaeda to make another front of their global efforts. The more that India prospers the more they become a hated target. There is an Israeli playbook that India can follow, investing heavily in the the most sophisticated training in counter-terrorism, while allowing the hatreds of a minority to fester. It will be very tempting. But there is another way that includes self-defense to be sure, but also an embrace of their Muslim population as partners against this scourge. This is the true path of human security in this century. I hope they choose wisely.

Meanwhile, after the night had ended, I could not stop the emotional connection to what happened. I was in Mumbai in those places. And we all have our ethnic attachments, and I just can’t help thinking about the rabbi and his wife. Al Jazeera English had called me back the next night searching for information about a Chabad prayer vigil for the hostages in the Chabad house. I was honored to make the connection. But there was no time for a vigil. They were dead, along with scores of others, Christians, Hindus, and no doubt Muslims too. I have always thought about India as a microcosm of humanity in all of its colorful variety and beauty. Now it included, among its victims, a young pale Jewish rabbi and his wife. Bombings have a way of setting up stark choices about our humanity, who we are, how easily destroyed we are, and what is to be gained when we see each other as precious and irreplaceable.

Rabbi Holtzberg and his wife, of blessed memory, performing a wedding
Rabbi Holtzberg and his wife, of blessed memory, performing a wedding
© Marc Gopin