All too often, natural disasters and human atrocities make only a fleeting impression. We watch fascinated and horrified as TV anchors give us their impressions while images of death and disaster roll across our screens.
But soon, one particular crisis is overtaken by another, and relentlessly, the news cycle moves on.
It is not until one sees and hears the survivors that the magnitude of a disaster really sinks in. This is what I experienced while watching Channel 4's programme on its Dispatches series. Called “Terror in Mumbai”, the documentary retraces the steps of the terrorists as they first landed in Mumbai by boat, and then made their way across the city, spreading mayhem over a period of 60 hours.
We were shown clips from CCTV cameras that had captured the killing spree. Casually the killers shot everybody who moved. At the VT railway station, where 52 people died, they massacred a family, and a young boy who survived, later recounted, who had died: "My father. My mother. My aunt. My uncle. Their two sons. What had we done to them? So many dead. What had they done to the terrorists?" What indeed?
When I wrote a couple of columns expressing sympathy for the victims and condemning the killers and those behind them in Pakistan, I got a flood of angry emails demanding to know the proof that linked the terrorists to Pakistan. Our government was in similar denial. And although it has grudgingly accepted that the controllers and planners of the attack were based in Pakistan, and has even arrested some members of the Laskhar-e-Tayyaba that has morphed into the Jamaat-ud-Dawa, very little progress has been made on punishing those responsible.
The most chilling part of the documentary was the constant voice contact between the terrorists and their handlers. Talking on cell-phones, the controllers urged on their pawns in Punjabi and Urdu, interspersed with the odd English words and phrases. They certainly did not sound like graduates of madrasas. Rather, they were professionals doing a job, instructing the young terrorists to kill as many people as possible; urging them to move from one target to another; and repeating that they must not allow themselves to be captured.
Soon after his arrest, Ajmal Kasab was questioned by the police, and admitted that he had been sent by the Lashkar-e-Tayyaba. Asked why and how he had joined the group, he said his father had "sold" him to the Lashkar for money that would lift the family out of poverty, and pay for his sisters' weddings.
A Turkish couple, spared because of their faith, recount how the bodies of massacred guests at the Trident Oberoi piled and how slippery it was to walk over the pools of blood. A neighbour of the rabbi and his wife who were murdered at the Jewish Centre describe how the couple said "shoot me" to the killers and were duly shot. After the terrorists had left, the two-year-old son of the couple is filmed in a heart-breaking sequence, walking around in the room, clearly confused.
After Kasab had been captured, the controllers realised what would happen if he spilled the beans. They ask two of the killers to take a hostage and get her to call the authorities with a demand to free Kasab in exchange for her life. After an hour or so, when there is no response from the government, they are told to finish off the hostage. All through the atrocity, the handlers keep urging their foot-soldiers on, encouraging them by descriptions of what they are seeing on TV. "The whole world is watching your deeds… Remember this is a fight between the believers and the non-believers… If you speak to the authorities, tell them this is only the trailer and the real film is yet to come..."
And when the terrorists are clearly exhausted, the controllers urge: "Throw some grenades, my brother... How hard can it be to throw a grenade? For your mission to end successfully, you must be killed. God is waiting for you in heaven". After each such exhortation, the young terrorist at the receiving end says, "Inshallah". At the start of the programme, the handler asks the landing party if they have eliminated the captain of the hijacked boat, and if so, how? "Zibah kar diya", is the chilling response. ("We have slit his throat.")
Repeated use of Islamic phrases underlines the extent to which the faith has been cynically used to spread violence. While Muslims argue that Islam does not condone this kind of terrorism against unarmed, innocent civilians, most do not condemn it in clear, unequivocal terms. After agreeing that such acts are un-Islamic, there is all too often a lingering "Yes, but…" hanging in the air.
It is this ambiguity that has given terror groups in Pakistan and elsewhere the space and legitimacy to operate. Now that Pakistanis have seen the true face of terrorism in Swat, and have begun to support the government in its drive to rid us of this cancer, the lesson needs to be reinforced. One way would be to dub the Channel 4 documentary and show it extensively on various TV channels in Pakistan. We need to hear ordinary people who survived or lost close relatives, and see their pain.
We need to see the horrors inflicted in the name of Islam. Above all, we need to share the agony of our neighbours. (Source: Asian Age, New Delhi)