As Americans celebrated the Thanksgiving holiday yesterday, the world yet again watched in shock and horror a scene now eerily familiar: coordinated bombings, this time in Mumbai, that targeted civilian locations (particularly those frequented by American and British tourists) and were stunning and terrifying in their boldness and scope. The thoughts of a nation and its diaspora were with the families of the victims, those who lost mothers, brothers, uncles, and nieces to this senseless violence.
One can only hope that these attacks are not used as excuses for further violence against Muslim minorities in India; that the world has learned from the attacks of September 11 and the excesses and abuses of Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo that terror must be met with due process and fairness; that India's beautiful and vibrant democracy can overcome those who seek to destroy it without resorting to undemocratic means. History does not inspire confidence; prior terrorist threats have led India to institute draconian antiterrorism laws (the Terrorist and Disruptive Activities Act in the late 1980s and the Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA) after 9/11) that were eventually scrapped because of serious civil rights violations (allowing detention for 180 days without charge; using confessions to police as evidence in court). And Indira Gandhi's infamous State of Emergency, which suspended not only civil rights but also elections, ominously reminds us how national security threats can be used to perpetrate further rights abuses. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has thus far avoided the errors of the past; one of his first acts in office was the dismantling of POTA. His focus on ending financing for terrorist groups and using existing laws to fight terrorism seems promising. Here's hoping that Singh's balanced approach stands up through this crisis.