Lessons From Mumbai : Harvard News
Date: 03 Dec 2008
Lessons From Mumbai : Harvard News
LUCY M. CALDWELL , Dec. 3
We’ve underestimated the threat of radical Islam
Thanksgiving was rocked by the news from Mumbai, India: A small gang of terrorists had wreaked havoc on the region. Allegedly trained at a camp in neighboring Pakistan, the group was well prepared. They came with guns, grenades, satellite phones, and foodstuffs.
They came with knowledge of local maps, floor plans, and specific targets. India’s most cosmopolitan city was crippled by the attacks, which lasted three nights and claimed the lives of hundreds. Even more were badly injured.
In Cambridge yesterday, the Harvard-area Chabad House held a candlelight vigil for Rabbi Gavriel and Rivka Holtzberg, the American-Israeli couple that ran the Nariman House, Chabad’s Mumbai outpost. The young couple had moved to Mumbai to help spread the Chabad movement, which encourages young Jews to become more religiously observant.
According to news reports, despite being a focal point of Jewish life in Mumbai, Nariman House is in a hard-to-find neighborhood, which many of its own guests have trouble locating. Yet the terrorists who arrived at the Nariman House did not stumble upon the location by chance. They knew exactly where it was and came to kill.
The Holtzbergs and their companions were slain because they were Jewish, and these terrorists hated Jews. Yet Jews were not the attacks’ only victim. These extremists also hated India—for its majority Hindu population, for its stance on Kashmir, and for the strength of democracy. These terrorists despised everything Western.
That is why they killed the American tourist and his 13-year-old daughter who ate supper in a local café. It’s why they killed as many guests as they could as they rushed the swanky Taj and Oberoi hotels, frequented by foreign tourists and India’s own elite. It is the reason these terrorists killed average Indian citizens as they sped through the city. India is the world’s largest democracy, and these extremists hated democracy.
Though most Harvard students have not been directly touched by the tragedy in Mumbai, how our community reacts to the events remains critically important. In so doing, let us not be afraid to acknowledge what these attacks represent: Modern Islam has a problem, and it is that shockingly large numbers of today’s Muslims favor a domination of those who espouse Western principles.
Whenever terrorist attacks such as these are carried out (such generalizations can be made because they occur so frequently), pundits predictably exclaim that we must not allow hatred for Islam to fester, but rather, we must remind ourselves that terrorists represent a fringe movement and that tolerance should be extended to the rest of the Muslim world.
A witch-hunt may not be in order, but there is no question that the attacks in Mumbai were fueled by the Muslim fanaticism that has grown so prevalent.
The Wall Street Journal reported that as two gunmen poised to fire at a dozen people in Mumbai’s Oberoi Hotel, two hostages screamed out that they were Turkish Muslims. Hearing this, the gunmen spared their lives and killed everyone else.
Islam is not a wholly extremist religion, nor is any religion free of extremists who commit atrocities in the name of faith. American Klan members committed crimes against blacks in the supposed name of Christianity. Harvard is filled with Muslim students with mainstream politics. Yet outside of well-educated communities like ours, this is not the case. Islam has come to possess more extremist members than any other modern religion.
This is not a problem exclusive to less modernized countries. It rages across the United Kingdom and Europe.
A 2006 survey of a cross-section of British Muslims found that half favor being governed by Sharia Law, the extremely antiquated and intolerant Islamic code.
Nor is it a problem exclusive to countries fighting the War on Terror: The Netherlands is increasingly terrorized by Muslim extremists.
In 2004, filmmaker Theo Van Gogh was brutally murdered after producing the documentary “Submission,” which detailed the culture of subjugation of Muslim women. After shooting Van Gogh repeatedly, his killer, a young Muslim, stabbed a letter through the filmmaker’s throat “in the name of Allah.” The letter called for the murder of Van Gogh’s co-producer, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a Dutch Parliamentarian and former refugee.
Hirsi Ali was forced to spend the next several years in hiding until she moved to the U.S., where she still requires a great deal of security because of continued threats on her life.
Even at Harvard, a supposed champion of intellectual honesty, most are afraid to acknowledge the problem that exists within Islam. In 2006, when Muslim students protested the Harvard Foundation’s sponsorship of a talk by Hirsi Ali, the Foundation pulled its sponsorship of the event. When Hirsi Ali came anyway, a coalition of Harvard Muslim students stood up and screamed at her, rattling off her supposed crimes against Islam and declaring that it was she who was responsible for Van Gogh’s death.
This is only one example of the culture that is arising at Harvard and nearly everywhere in which Islam—even aspects of mainstream Islam—gives us reason to be fearful.
If there existed any doubts that radical Islam poses one of the biggest threats to our time, let the horrifying news from Mumbai erase those. This is a threat far greater than the damage wrought by a dissatisfactory Bush administration or by domestic disagreements. It exists neither far ahead in the future, nor is it geographically far-flung.
Last week’s attacks may have only struck Mumbai physically, but they were attacks on all of us. If ever there were a time to shed our preoccupation with political correctness, this is it.
Lucy M. Caldwell ’09, a Crimson editorial writer, lives in Adams House. Her column appears on alternate Wednesdays.
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