Madness in Mumbai

Madness in Mumbai

By Hasan Zillur Rahim

On Wednesday, November 26, on a lark I decided to watch a movie called “Slumdog Millionaire.” This Bollywood production is set in Mumbai (formerly Bombay) and tells the stirring story of Jamal Malik, an orphan who has witnessed and experienced unspeakable horrors in his young life but who goes on to win 2 crores of rupees in the wildly popular Indian TV show “Who Wants to be a Millionaire.”

Jamal is an orphan from the teeming slums of Mumbai. When he was about 6, his mother was killed by a Hindu mob in a burst of communal violence. He and his older sibling Salim somehow survive but are “rescued” by hard-core criminals whose “business” consists of turning helpless orphans into lifelong beggars and a constant source of income by disfiguring and brutalizing them. The two brothers manage to escape and a dizzying sequence of events and escapades ensue, with Jamal finally, and improbably, facing the arrogant game-show host. Each question is the source of flashbacks about how he came to acquire its answer through the near-death experiences he endured. While the older Salim becomes the goon of a godfather and loses his soul (eventually he redeems himself), Jamal remains honest in adversity while nurturing a keen aptitude for factoids. Not only does he win a gigantic pile of cash, in the end he even gets the girl. (It couldn’t possibly be otherwise in a Bollywood movie!) The melodrama notwithstanding, all of us came out of the theatre smiling.

The smile did not last. With life imitating art but in reverse, on that very night, terrorists claiming to be Muslims attacked luxury hotels, train stations, a synagogue and even hospitals in Mumbai, killing close to two hundred people and injuring many more. They fired at random, apparently with “serene smiles” on their faces, as screaming bodies fell around them.

We have just entered the month of Dhul-Hijjah and I couldn’t help but recall a verse, appropriately enough, from Sura Al-Hajj: “… If God had not enabled people to defend themselves against one another, monasteries and churches and synagogues and mosques - in all of which God’s name is abundantly extolled - would surely have been destroyed …” (22:40)

The injunction to defend all places of worship by people of any faith is the essence of this verse. Yet these nihilists, these remorseless killers, in acts that can only be described as pure evil, even attacked a synagogue, killing its American rabbi and his wife, turning their 2-year old son into an orphan overnight. What a monstrous perversion of God’s command!

We will now hear that sickening sophistry again and again: “All Muslims are not terrorists but all terrorists are Muslims.”

No definitive details about the terrorists have emerged yet, still it is difficult to fathom how human beings can become so brainwashed and turn into such cold-blooded murderers. It is a good thing that Pakistan’s chief Intelligence officer has pledged to work with his Indian counterpart to cauterize this cancer from their midst, although much suspicion and distrust have to be overcome before that goal can be achieved.

The last thing India, and the world, needs are Hindu-Muslim violence. The murderous rampage by a few “Muslims” has made Muslims everywhere, particularly Indian Muslims, jittery, angry, frustrated and vulnerable.

Ahmed Khan is a taxi driver in Mumbai, having moved to the city from the poor state of Uttar Pradesh to work and to “provide his children with a better future.” He is in his early 40s and, of course, he is a Muslim. “This is so wrong,” he told a German reporter, holding back his tears. “It simply can’t be.” All Muslims he knows are in a state of utter shock. “What these young men have done here is haram, forbidden. Spilling blood is a sin.”

Noted Indian author Shashi Tharoor wrote in the Los Angeles Times: “If these tragic events lead to the demonization of the Muslims of India, the terrorists will have won.” Precisely, but neither must we indulge in any form of grievance-mongering to even remotely try to justify the acts of these terrorists.

Terrorism threatens us all. It is against all the values that we hold dear and that give life its meaning, irrespective of religion and culture. Terrorists have their own religion, no matter what they may call themselves, and its essence is to kill. We must unite against it. This is the only way we can defeat it. There is no other way.