Aside from the wanton and indiscriminate destruction of life and property, last week's shocking Mumbai terrorist attacks were sickening in their random senselessness. Media and governments still scramble to categorize the attacks into boxes: al-Qaeda? Indian-Pakistani hatred? Anti-Western hatred? Or, as Paul Cornish (http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/south_asia/7755684.stm) suggests, "celebrity terrorism" without a real cause?
Like square pegs into round holes, however, these attacks do not fit the boxes. No pattern or purpose has yet emerged. The cowards perpetrating these attacks targeted hotels and a Jewish center, but they also targeted a hospital for women and children, as well as a railroad station full of local people.
As an Indian-American, I feel kinship to India. I condemn such barbaric acts, which have no place in civilized society. As an American Muslim, I am disgusted that these terrorists appear to have been Muslim. And I am angered that they connected their activities to my religion. Not in my name.
Although the "Deccan Mujahideen" have claimed responsibility, no one has heard of them. "Deccan" refers to the Deccan Plateau in India (indicating their origins?); but "Mujahideen" is a term to which this group has absolutely no right.
"Mujahideen" means "those who engage in jihad." The Mumbai attacks were not jihad; they were murder. And they violated the rules of Islam.
"Jihad" is a term that's been overused to the point of absurdity, but it does not mean "holy war." It means "struggle." The greater jihad is the internal struggle to make oneself a better person. The lesser jihad is the external struggle to eliminate injustice. This lesser jihad can be of several types: jihad by the word, which is the use of verbal persuasion to eliminate injustice; jihad by the hands, which is the undertaking of good works to eliminate injustice; and jihad by the sword, which is the use of arms to eliminate an injustice.
It's the last subset of the definition of jihad that is used as justification for violence. But the mainstream (i.e., not extremist) definition of jihad is the use of arms in self-defense against an immediate threat or to overthrow an oppressor (a term strictly construed). There was no self-defense here. This was not jihad.
Moreover, Islamic law has always been very severe on terrorism. Islam prohibits harming noncombatants, including elderly people, women, children, and those taking refuge in convents. Cheating or treachery in warfare is prohibited. The clandestine use of force is prohibited. Suicide is prohibited. Even property may not be arbitrarily destroyed.
I defend Islam. I do not defend all Muslims. I absolutely do not defend the Muslims who committed these crimes. They clearly violated the tenets of Islam.
The difficult thing to remember here is that the Mumbai attacks were not symptomatic of Islam, but symptomatic of the kind of violence that is common throughout the developing world. The Islamic world is part of the developing world, and it's plagued by problems common to the rest of the developing world: poverty, high illiteracy rates, hunger, recent independence from European colonizers, and oppressive governments. Before the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, the overwhelming majority of anti-U.S. terrorist attacks took place in Latin America -according to a State Department report. The most suicide attacks in the world take place in Sri Lanka, at the hands of the Tamil Tigers, a Hindu group.
The difference is that the Latin American terrorist attacks, though they take place in Christian countries, do not cause stereotyping of Christians - whereas crimes committed by Muslims are held up as further examples of an enemy religion. But the crimes are not condoned by Islam.
I hope the Mumbai attacks, horrifying though they were, will not be the excuse for further violence, further religious hatred, or the derailment of the Indian-Pakistani peace process. That may very well be what the attackers wanted; we must not reward them for their crimes. Enough innocent people have suffered already.