Terrorism has been a way of life in India for more than two decades: Indians have been killed in Punjab in the eighties, in Kashmir and the north-east (Assam, Nagaland, Tripura, etc) in the nineties. Entire bus loads of Hindus have been shot in cold blood, trains blown, planes have been hijacked, huge bombings have happened periodically in Bombay (Mumbai), or Coimbatore, in the South. Every time you step out of your house in Delhi, the capital, you never know if you are not going to get blown-up by some bomb. Today, there are 300.000 Hindus who had to flee the valley of Kashmir under terror and have become refugees in their own land, an ethnic cleansing without parallel in the world.

The 11th September 2001 attacks on the WTC were spectacular and tragic and the scars they have left in America’s psyche will take a long time to heal. Yet, they do not compare with India in terms of loss of human life: every day, hundreds of people die on the dangerous and terrible Indian roads; each month, hundreds of innocent human beings are killed in Kashmir, Assam, Tripura, or Jammu; and in Kashmir only, 25.000 people have lost their lives in ten years. It is true that in the East there is a more philosophical acceptance of death, a more fatalistic attitude towards loss of life. But nevertheless, death is death: the loss of a wife, a father, a mother, is as heart-rending to any human being, whether Indian or American, White or Colored. It is also a fact that in the West, there is more a fear of death, maybe because Christians believe that this life if the only one, whereas a Hindu, Jain, or a Buddhist thinks that only the body dies, the soul is immortal and free and is reborn again and again, till union with God is achieved.

These two attitudes towards death are reflected in the ways both India and America deal with terrorism. In India, people know that it may be written that you have to die at this very moment – and no amount of precautions can prevent it. Whereas, in the United States, it is believed that one can ward off death by taking all possible precautions. Indeed, one sometimes feel, although it is in done in good faith, that the American Government has overreacted to the 11th September tragedy. The Western mind likes to think that it can plan everything, forecast everything – but Fate is unpredictable, Death always comes unannounced. Does the US Govt think that the terrorists are again going to use the same tactics than on 11th September? They are not that stupid! You cannot stop a resolute terrorist, as Palestine suicide bombers are showing in Israel. What if Al Qaeda decides to use human bombs in the States? Anybody can walk into an airport in the US and the havoc would be terrible.

In fact, the impression one gets while traveling in the US is that the American Government may be in the process of stifling some very necessary space of freedom in the US collective consciousness, as there are now video cameras everywhere: at airports, in the streets, at traffic lights, in shopping malls… More and more, everything is known about you through computerization and there is actually a very thin line, which is in danger of being crossed, between prudence and fear: “you may go to jail for something you say as a joke”, we once heard on the Atlanta airport PA system. Security in airports has gone to ridiculous lengths and it is putting a psychological strain on passengers, in addition to a huge economic strain on airlines, as the bankruptcy of US Air and the seething troubles of two other airlines are showing. Ultimately the American govt, by reacting excessively, is playing in the hands of the Islamic terrorists: if passengers fly less – and they are bound to do so, as it is such a hassle to travel by air now – and airlines go bankrupt, the terrorists must be laughing all the way to heaven! It is also true that airlines are using the security threat to be callous in the handling of their passengers, as we learnt, care of American Airlines India, who refused even to give us a claim form, after they lost all our three baggage in Boston.

Indian Airlines and Air India have faced more attacks, hijackings and casualties than US air companies, yet their security, however tough, do not compare with the US in terms of the stress it puts on passengers. What the US can learn from India is to have a little more philosophical attitude, while taking all necessary safety measures. India is a vast land of diverse ethnic groups, various religions, with different aspirations – and that sometimes trigger violent separatist movements. Yet for fifty five years of India’s independence, life has unfolded normally here: people go on with their businesses and bureaucrats run the country, regardless of political upheavals. More than that, even the Indian psyche has remained unchanged: peaceful, fatalistic, and tolerant of others, in spite of a few recent aberrations. There is also such a thing as karma. You can call it Fate, or Destiny, but basically, Hindus believe that an individual, or a nation, creates his or her own karma by his or her actions, good or bad. And that sooner or later, you repay this karma by benefiting from favorable circumstances, if you have done good; or by some unhappy situations, if you have done bad. What is the karma of the United States? It is a question that only it can answer.

America is still the major superpower in the world, a power which has always shown that it rises-up on exceptional occasions, whether during the Second World War, when it helped humanity to get rid of the terrible menace of nazism, or today in this very important war against terrorism. But first the battle lines have to be clearly drawn and friends and enemies have to recognize each other. Therefore the US has to realize that it cannot find a better friend in Asia than India. Not only Indians are intensely pro-American, not only India is a democracy, whereas China, Pakistan, or Singapore are not, but also India, which has been a victim of terrorism for so long, could help the US on how to deal with terrorism, both in a military speaking manner, as well as in a psychological way.

François Gautier

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