This blog contains material I wrote and posted on between the years 2005 and 2011 only. It does not contain any new material. For newer writing, please check my main blog (Bill the Butcher).

Saturday, 13 October 2012

Anatomy of a terror strike: Guwahati, 30 Oct 2008

I was going to post the latter part of this as a farce, but it isn’t, any more.

A few hours earlier, as I got home today, in fact, there was a series of bomb blasts in Guwahati, that’s a hundred kilometres north of here, and in three other towns in the state of Assam – eighteen explosions in all. As of this writing, some eighty people have died and many more than a hundred have been injured in those explosions. I absolutely expect the death toll to rise over a hundred.

This is especially a bit weird-making for me, because the last time I was in Guwahati, I was walking along the street at two places where bombs went off today. At one of those places I was waiting in line at an ATM machine. And the laboratory that handles my crown-and-bridge work is located right next to another bomb. As of now I’ve been trying to phone them, but unable to get through either to their landline or to the owner’s mobile.

North East TV is running this as a running commentary, as the only news. I normally don’t watch TV. Today I can’t do much else. I have been predicting bombs in Guwahati or Shillong for some time now, and I believe this is only the beginning. As for the coverage: I will not be posting the photos of people with jaws blown off, or a foot dangling from the leg by a thread, or charred and yet alive and crying for help, and so on. I’m sorry.

And what’s the reaction of the people of Guwahati? They are smashing vehicles to express their anger. They are stoning fire engines and ambulances. The police, instead of managing the evacuation of wounded and the initial investigation, are having to hold back rubberneckers and stop riots. It makes me sick.

Assam has a rebel movement, which is on its last legs: the United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA). But these explosions aren’t ULFA’s style (it’s one of the AK47-and-landmine brigade, not of the car bomber persuasion); and the outfit’s already denied responsibility. Maybe the denial and style don’t matter – but ULFA is virtually moribund now and I believe (speaking as something of a private authority on Indian terror groups) incapable of carrying out eighteen simultaneous blasts over four cities. Jihadis, more likely. Again, this is what I’d predicted not too long ago.

Some time ago, I met a moron on Multiply who was boasting of how he was going around with a gun on 11/9 looking for a turbaned brown man to shoot. I’m sure there are some who would love to go around with a gun to shoot any Muslim they can find, or anyone else they want to blame for the blasts. This is the same impulse of retaliation: “I’m frightened, so I’ll kill!” that terrorists typically depend on.

Here in India in general and North East India in particular we’re none of us used to the idea of preventive vigilance. You stick a box in a public space, and chances are that even if there’s a signboard right above that box saying “REPORT ALL SUSPICIOUS ITEMS TO THE POLICE”, people will do precisely nothing. The usual reaction will be “What’s that got to do with me?” 

Things have got to change.

Here’s what I was going to post earlier as a satire. It’s no longer a satire. The first couple of points have already been realised:

Step 1: A series of bomb blasts go off in some Indian city. Many die or are injured. Many of these dead are saved because of help from locals. Nobody is saved due to the efficient rescue services. There aren’t any.

Step 2: The (figurehead) President, the (unelected) “Prime Minister”, and the (incompetent) Home Minister condemn the “dastardly” terrorists. The word “dastardly” has to be used. I’m not sure if anyone using it knows what it means, but it’s been used so often now you can scarcely say “terrorist” without saying “dastardly”. It’s like one word.
Step 2.5: The Central government says its intelligence agencies warned the state government of imminent blasts. The state government denies it strenuously. The Home Minister changes into a fresh suit of clothes.

Step 3: The official death toll steadily rises until the demands for compensation begin to come in, whereupon it begins as mysteriously to shrink. Anyone who can’t be positively proved to have died in the blast is silently resurrected; at least he or she is no longer among the dead.

Step 4: The police arrest Muslim youth in large numbers from around the blast site. Most of them are given a good beating and let off after their parents raise a ruckus.

Step 5: The right-wing Hindu parties claim the government is soft on terrorists and should immediately enact a “tough” law allowing the arrest, trial and execution of “terror suspects” (read Muslims) on sight and without evidence.  Right wing columnists immediately declare that we should copy “hard states” like the USA which has allegedly never had a terror attack after 9/11 (sic) and the so-called state of “Israel”. We should attack Pakistan like the USA attacked Iraq, which immediately becomes the “right thing to have done in the circumstances”.

Step 6: Bloggers and columnists argue till they are blue in the face that all Muslims might not be terrorists, but all terrorists are Muslims – in blatant contradiction to facts. Some Muslim Uncle Toms, in response to demands that the Muslim “community” should come out against terror, say in opinion pieces that terror has no religion, and that the community introspect on why Muslim youth are always involved in terror attacks.

Step 7: The police recover amazingly undamaged mobile phones at the site, which also have SIM cards which show phone calls to foreign locales (read: Pakistan) and reveal the identity of those “dastardly” terrorists. They go on to bust entire “terror networks” and arrest many young men with Muslim names. These people are immediately declared guilty by the media. Nobody knows if and when (or ever) they are brought to trial – or quietly released after a year or two when no evidence is forthcoming (if they aren’t killed in staged gunfights, that is).

Step 8: In the meantime, people get back to the business of making a living, and the whole episode is quietly forgotten until the next blasts happen after a few months. And then the whole circus begins again.

I said I intended this bit to be a farce. Reading back, I don’t find it farcical at all.

P.S. Oh, incidentally, this is the North East, so the blasts have already dropped off the national news channels.

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