One argument that is being made about the Mumbai attacks is that they are garnering so much attention because this time the rich were targeted. This argument contains multiple levels of silliness.
Yes, there is a class divide in India. There is a divide between the literate and the illiterate. There is a divide between those who read English newspapers and those who don’t. There is a divide between cities and villages. Now, the whole point of a class divide is that those on one side of a divide feel greater kinship among themselves than with those on the other side. Readers of English newspapers like to read about the travails of other middle-class readers like themselves and don’t care much about farmers dying in Vidarbha. A citizen of Mumbai cares more about people dying in train bombings in his city than he does for deaths due to Naxalism or caste wars. That makes sense.
But if you try to stretch this standard argument to argue that this particular terror strike is getting more attention because it was targeted at the rich South Bombay types, that is where the argument snaps. The typical English speaker is far more likely to travel by train than be able to afford coffee at the Taj or Oberoi. He is much more likely to feel kinship with those who died in a train blast on July 11, 2006 than with those who died in the November massacre.
There is a sliver of truth in the argument – in that it is true that the attacks got more attention in the West because Americans and Britons were killed. But using the argument to explain why they have generated such an enormous outrage amont Mumbaikars involves lazy thinking as well as an active effort to avoid the blindlingly obvious.
Five years ago, the Economist was cheering not only the invasion of Afghanistan, but also that of Iraq. Now, when it comes to India’s response to the Mumbai terror attacks, the Economist has declared that we should not emulate the US “mistakes” like… the invasion of Afghanistan. Worse still, now it turns out that the US incursions into Pakistan – the threat of which is the only thing that is keeping Pakistan in check, are also a bad idea.
Ritwik’s lament is that all his arguments with me devolve into nitpicking. My response is, he starts it. For example, in my post about terrorism, I model Narendra Modi as being interested only in votes, not in combating terrorism. Ritwik’s response to that is that while is interested in both fighting terrorism and winning elections, and when there is a conflict between the two, winning elections takes precedence. In FitW’s formulation of the same point, Modi considers winning elections his patriotic duty to keep the evil Congress at bay, and therefore considers short term setbacks in the fight against terrorism as acceptable collateral damage.
This is an astonishingly subtle distinction, and I took some time to grasp it. The trouble is, this distinction has very little to do with my actual argument.