Apocalypse now

My heart goes out to the people of Mumbai, India, who have endured days of an ongoing and vicious terror attack that has already killed over 100 and wounded hundreds and hundreds, and does not appear to be over.
And as if the attackers wanted us to know they had some Islamist tie-in, they managed to find and attack some of the only 30,000 or so Jews in a country of over 1.3 billion people (at least five of the dead were Israeli citizens, murdered at a Jewish community center during a raid by Indian commandos), and the attack seemed aimed at undermining Mumbai’s role as an international business and cultural center, as luxury hotels often frequented by foreigners were targeted.
The likeliest groups responsible (that would be our old friends at al-Qaeda, or perhaps more likely, the Pakistani based Lashkar-al-Toiba [LaT]) certainly planned out this parade of monstrosities, featuring multiple attacks on hotels, the Jewish center, a train station, a movie theater, a hospital and police facilities, with explosions, gunfire and hostage taking (and killing). Officials in Pakistan quickly took to the airwaves to try to prevent the recent thawing in India-Pakistan relations from falling apart, which of course, would be a goal of any Islamist terror organization.
Yes, yes, we know that Joe “the Plumber Genius” Biden predicted that President Obama would be tested by a major crisis within the first six months in office (as if the financial crisis didn’t already qualify)… and certainly, the possibility of a conflict between two nuclear armed nations would be… bad… but the whole point of this kind of terrorist attack is that (as those of us who went to work on a sunny September morning in New York oh seven years ago will tell you) it can occur anywhere, anytime. As with 9-11, the scale of the Mumbai attacks will doubtless cause many questions to be asked about the effectiveness of Indian intel. But then, as with 9-11, it appears that the terrorists took advantage of a reasonably open society to position themselves to inflict the most horror.
Whatever the response to these events are (and the first priority on this one has to be too end it, to finish off the last of the hold out terrorists, and to make sure there are no follow-on attacks, and to attend to the dead and wounded), the response has to be intelligent and effective; a knee-jerk attack on Pakistan, for example, might be just what the terrorists want. Don’t know. The fact is, the motivations of the attackers, and indeed, the identity of the attackers… is still not known. In what I consider a good move, India has invited Pakistan’s ISI intel chief to assist in the investigation. Pakistan’s military and intel services are, to be sure, multi-headed hydras, but if the governments of Pakistan and India writ large can work together to clamp down on those responsible for these attacks, it can go a long way toward stabilizing a most troubled region.
Again, as horrible (and we can safely call it evil) as these attacks are, the attackers, and those who organized them, have an agenda. That agenda can be broadly understood as “instability”: shaking up a status quo in a violent and nasty way to accelerate some kind of political outcome. When such attacks are targeted at India, it is often about the India-Pakistan relationship, though not necessarily. Don’t know. One needn’t fear that this isn’t the last attack of this kind”: it is a certainty that somewhere in the world, some other group will plan something equally or even more horrific in the future, if not the very near future. That’s how it is, and with ever more lethal weapons ever more easily obtainable, that’s how it’s going to be.
It’s just that the last seven years have taught us that if, if in responding to brutality and horror, we chose to betray the values of a civilized and law-abiding society, we will not only have failed to stop future attacks (as the events in Mumbai have shown, this is damned near impossible in any kind of open society as it is), but we will have given the attackers exactly what they want. My fervent hopes for an end to this particular horror, and to these horrors in general, though I acknowledge that’s probably too optimistic.