The Definition Shortchanges India
Guest post by DILIP D’SOUZA
Responding to Rahul Gandhi’s recent Wikileaked comment, Sadanand Dhume asks “What Terrorizes India?” (Wall Street Journal, December 20). It’s a good question that deserves an answer. Did Dhume answer it?
As is well known now, Gandhi said this to US Ambassador Tim Roemer last year: “The bigger threat [to India] may be the growth of radicalized Hindu groups, which create religious tensions and political confrontations with the Muslim community.” Dhume’s essay is a severe criticism of Gandhi’s comment, and in the end of the man himself. The criticism, I’m not particularly interested in: people have their varying opinions about Gandhi and that’s fine with me. But I wonder if Dhume has thought through the implication of his own title. Indeed, what does terrorize India, and Indians?
When homegrown mobs went after their fellow Indians in Delhi in November 1984 and slaughtered 3000 of them using knives and fire and the like, were those slaughtered Indians terrorized? I find it hard to imagine that, as they were being hunted down and murdered in trains, on roads, in fields, they did not feel terrorized. So in what sense, by what arcane definition, did this ghastly episode from our history not terrorize India?
In much the same way, mobs hunted down Indians in Mumbai in December 1992 and January 1993, killing about a thousand. In 2002, mobs slaughtered another thousand or more Indians in Gujarat. Ask again: did these now dead Indians not feel terrorized as they were being picked out and killed? Was India not terrorized by these massacres? Let me freely admit: I lived through that killing in Mumbai in 1992-93 and I felt an overwhelming terror for weeks. I can hardly have been the only one.
The flaw in Dhume’s logic is common to a lot of us: he starts off by defining terrorism in his mind as what maniacs driven by “radical Islam” do, and only what they do. What other maniacs driven by other sinister ideologies do is, therefore, not terrorism. Maybe it’s communal or sectarian violence, maybe. Or perhaps it’s just a “fanatical mob”, the caption on a photograph accompanying his essay. Whatever it is, it ain’t terrorism, because terrorism is what only the Muslims do — didn’t we define it that way?
I mean, it’s revealing that in a comment on his own essay, Dhume himself says “communal violence” does not belong in his op-ed, “which is focused specifically on terrorism.” It’s simple, you see: call it something other than terrorism and that’s it, by definition you can’t discuss it along with terrorism.
But what else is it but terrorism?
And this logical flaw leads Dhume to simply blank out too many inconvenient truths.
There’s the “question of scale”, he says, pointing out that “alleged Hindu terrorists are accused” — and oh, he reminds us, they are not convicted — of bomb attacks that killed 17 people. Compare to “the radical Islamic terrorist attacks since 26/11” — as Dhume tells us, those have killed more than 950. 17 vs 950: huge difference. Right?
But only months after 9/11, Gujarat was drenched in blood. By Dhume’s own admission in that same comment, over a thousand people were killed in that state in early 2002. Why then gloss over that figure in his essay? The only reason 17 looks small compared to 950 is that Dhume has defined the Gujarat thousand out of the comparison. Put them back in and suddenly the “question of scale” is not quite the question it was.
There’s there’s Dhume’s reliance on the South Asia Terrorism Portal for that 950 number. When I first read news reports a few years ago that quoted numbers from SATP, I went digging on the Portal. Three things struck me then and they haven’t changed at all since.
* First, many reports cite SATP’s numbers on fatalities due to terrorism. Their most current listing of these “India fatalities”, as of December 19, is 59,471 since 1994 (add the columns on the extreme right of each table). It’s a startling total. It is even more startling when you look more closely at the tables and find that the 59,471 includes terrorists, and in fact as many 28,018 terrorists, or nearly half of the total.
It’s worth asking, at any rate: Should a list of deaths due to terrorism include dead terrorists?
* Second, no sources are listed on that India Fatalities page. Not one. None, as far as I can tell, for Dhume’s 950 figure either. On some other pages, you will find this statement: “Figures are compiled from news reports and are provisional”. Or this one: “Compiled from English language media sources.”
SATP uses unmentioned press reports to compile its figures. In turn, the press quotes SATP’s figures in its reports. It’s worth thinking about, at any rate.
* Third, nowhere in SATP’s India Datasheets will you find data for, or even a mention of, the atrocities I mentioned earlier — the 1984, 1992-93 and 2002 massacres. Nowhere. Why? Well, perhaps SATP, like Dhume, considers these events to be “communal violence”, or “sectarian violence” — but not terrorism. I cannot agree, but it’s their opinion, their site, his article in the WSJ.
But then I looked at SATP’s Pakistan Datasheets. One of them is titled Sectarian violence in Pakistan since 1989. It has tables and graphs and descriptions of this “sectarian violence” in that country, which has left nearly 3500 Pakistanis dead in two decades.
Why does SATP offer comprehensive numbers on sectarian violence in Pakistan, but remain silent on exactly the same kind of violence in India? That’s worth a question or two, surely?
It’s these three features of SATP’s work that told me exactly how seriously I should take them. It’s too bad Dhume wasn’t as sceptical of SATP as he is in his other journalism.
Dhume ends by suggesting that Rahul Gandhi is “out of touch with the dominant ethos” of India. Maybe so, but what ethos is that, really? One that asks us to be ostriches about one kind of violence, but only one kind, in this country?
If so, I’m glad to be out of touch as well. I’m gladder still that plenty of my countrymen are just as out of touch. And that’s why I suspect it’s not as dominant an ethos as Dhume thinks it is.