Violence Comes in Many Shades: How Mumbai and Paris Attacks Differ

Paris attackers are disillusioned Arab-French youth marred by stigmatisation for long, writes Mohan Guruswamy.

Published
Opinion
5 min read
The French Assemblee Nationale, which houses the bicameral Parliament, is lit in the national flag colours, in Paris on November 22, 2015, one week after the Paris attacks. (Photo: AP)

In everyday life, it is common to empathise with a person by becoming a fellow victim and saying, “listen to what happened to me.” Following the Paris attack, India too is having its “listen to what happened to me” moment.

Speaking to the media, Mumbai Police Joint Commissioner Deven Bharti said: “prima facie, the similarity is in the involvement of multiple targets, indiscriminate firing and use of IEDs.” The Pakistani newspaper Dawn gets into the act by cleverly insinuating that Pakistan too is a fellow victim by saying: “Like the Mumbai attacks and the Peshawar school tragedy, there are some crimes that numb the mind for their monstrousness.”

French soldiers patrol in front of the Paris Big Wheel next to the Champs Elysees, in Paris on November 22, 2015, one week after the Paris attacks. (Photo: AP)
French soldiers patrol in front of the Paris Big Wheel next to the Champs Elysees, in Paris on November 22, 2015, one week after the Paris attacks. (Photo: AP)

That might be equally monstrous. But there is no comparison between the two. The Peshawar attack was a homegrown enterprise, very much like the Paris attack. But beyond the scale of monstrosity, what was perpetrated in Paris or Peshawar and Mumbai are entirely different.

Pigeons fly outside the Taj Mahal Hotel, which was one of the targets of the 26/11 attacks in Mumbai in November  2008. (Photo: Reuters)
Pigeons fly outside the Taj Mahal Hotel, which was one of the targets of the 26/11 attacks in Mumbai in November 2008. (Photo: Reuters)

How Was Mumbai 26/11 Different?

The Mumbai 2008 attack was state-sponsored and was planned and executed by a foreign intelligence agency. It was a standoff attack mounted with the comfort and security of a foreign country. The multiple, simultaneous attacks were minutely planned after a detailed reconnaissance of the targets for maximum impact. It was monitored and micromanaged by professional handlers from the moment it was conceived till the last jihadi was killed.

But let’s also be clear about this, if 166 Indians were killed in Byculla or Matunga, it would not have captured the world’s attention. Mumbai 2008 was daring in its conception since it targeted killing as many white foreigners as possible by attacking two five star hotels, a restaurant popular with western backpackers and a community center of the Israeli Chabad-Lubavitch for the followers of the orthodox Jewish Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson. Among the dead in Mumbai were 138 Indians (including 17 policemen and NSG commandos) and 28 foreigners. In addition, nine of the ten attackers were killed and one was captured.

A staff member displays a bullet hole in the wall of Leopold Cafe, which was one of the targets of the 26/11 attacks in Mumbai. (Photo: Reuters)
A staff member displays a bullet hole in the wall of Leopold Cafe, which was one of the targets of the 26/11 attacks in Mumbai. (Photo: Reuters)

This was the almost perfect “propaganda by deed” and Vera Zasulich, who in 1875 first propounded that concept, would have approved. But it was not a jihadi attack, it was a well-planned move by a rogue state that employs jihadis to carry out its political missions. The only thing the Paris and Mumbai attacks have in common is they were aimed at shocking and for a searing impact on society, which beyond saying, “we are here” does not achieve much.

Snapshot

Different in Motive, Similar in Approach

  • The only thing common between Paris terror attack and Mumbai 26/11 is they were aimed at generating shock and a searing impact
  • ‘People versus natives’ factor at play as well; Lockerbie bombing still finds resonance, while the 1985 Kanishka bombing has just faded away
  • Unlike the Paris attackers, who bore a sense of stigmatisation, the perpetrators of the Mumbai attacks were motivated by money and hope for a better life
  • Paris and Peshawar attacks were similar in being the counter-attacks by homegrown jihadi forces

People vs Natives

To this extent the Mumbai and Paris attacks are alike. Against 166 killed in Mumbai, 129 people died in the Paris attacks. They become more monstrous because so many white people were killed. As Sartre famously wrote in his preface to Franz Fanon’s The Wretched of The Earth, there are people and there are natives.

An unidentified man speaks during a service of remembrance to mark the 25th anniversary of the Lockerbie air disaster at Westminster Abbey in London, December 21, 2013. (Photo: Reuters)
An unidentified man speaks during a service of remembrance to mark the 25th anniversary of the Lockerbie air disaster at Westminster Abbey in London, December 21, 2013. (Photo: Reuters)

When the Air India 747 Kanishka was bombed in June 1985, 329 died. In the Pan Am 747 bombing over Lockerbie in December 1988, 258 died. But the manner in which the survivors of the victims were compensated and the bombers were hunted down was very different. The Lockerbie bombing still finds resonance, while Kanishka has just faded away. The bombers were even acquitted by a Canadian court.

Wreaths are laid at a memorial event on the 25th anniversary of the bombing of Pan Am flight 103, in the Dryfesdale Cemetery, in Lockerbie, Scotland December 21, 2013. (Photo: Reuters)
Wreaths are laid at a memorial event on the 25th anniversary of the bombing of Pan Am flight 103, in the Dryfesdale Cemetery, in Lockerbie, Scotland December 21, 2013. (Photo: Reuters)

Motive Was Different

The Paris attack was by Europeans of Arab descent. Five were French and the rest Belgian nationals, born in their respective countries, and their act had a lot to do with their local circumstances.

Unlike the French Arabs who may have grown up with a sense of stigmatisation, the killers who entered Mumbai from Pakistan suffered from no such thing. They were youth belonging to the lower strata who joined the jihad for money and hope of a better life.

They were victims of their poverty and extreme circumstances. To that extent they were mercenaries whose economic and social condition made them easy recruits, unlike the attackers in Paris who were motivated by their sense of alienation.

A protester holds a placard in the wake of Peshawar attacks in 2013 in Pakistan. (Photo: Reuters)
A protester holds a placard in the wake of Peshawar attacks in 2013 in Pakistan. (Photo: Reuters)

The Paris and Peshawar attacks were counter-attacks by homegrown jihadi forces within the two countries because they perceived the mother country as following policies and actions aimed at marginalising or eliminating them. India on the other hand is not waging a war on jihadi Islamists, within and outside.

In fact India is fairly benign when it comes to dealing with jihadis. Madrasas run freely, proselytisers function openly and the fundamental rights enjoyed by all Indians also guarantees free-brainwashing. A foreign power struck a blow at India, and we must not exculpate it of its acts by seeing similarities between Mumbai and Paris, or even Peshawar.

(The author is chairman and founder of Centre for Policy Alternatives.)

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