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Monday, December 1

Mumbai 9/11: Dancing in the dark with evil

From Decline of a Great City, Gerson Da Cuna, 2003
What went wrong?

In three little words, the city’s politics.

They have turned a good thing into something that yields bad outcomes. Democracy is being used for competitive populism and to protect the corrupt and the malefactor. A lecture I watched on late-night TV recently coined the term ‘democratic excess’ for me. A professor of political science in Toronto said this refers to perfectly legal acts passed by a legislature, or government regulations, that in fact are not in the general public interest but mainly serve narrow political, sectarian or the legislators’ own ends.

The fragmentation of our polity yields such fragile majorities on the floor of any House that democratic excess is rampant and no difficult decisions get taken. Yet all the decisions needed to address our problems are difficult ones. Impasse. This is true and the current fate of today’s Mumbai. [...]

The other difference from the past is Mumbai’s lawlessness. This does mean the cops and robbers aspect, guns and gangs. But perhaps more importantly, we speak of a privileged political class whom nothing can touch, flouting of municipal and police regulations with impunity, disregard even of High Court orders when it affects political lobbies, arbitrary transfers of officers and officials. We have laws whose only articles are defined by corruption. There is a breakdown of governance. The city could not fail to pay the price.
December 1, 2008
The inevitable public outrage finally erupted yesterday with huge street protests and the enforced resignation of the Indian home minister and national security adviser.

And even before that, there was an extraordinary volume of vitriol and anger being directed at politicians of all hues, from prime minister Manmohan Singh to local politicians in Mumbai. Newspapers condemned the anaemic responses, text messages lampooned them, commentators on television lashed out openly at the "corruption" and ineptitude of the political classes.
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Sajjad H. Karim, born July 11, 1970, in Lancashire, England. Father a Conservative councillor. Attended the College of Law in Chester studying Law. Qualified as a Solicitor of the Supreme Court of England and Wales in 1997, quickly rose to becoming an equity partner, specializing in cases of serious fraud. Entered politics as a Liberal Democrat; joined the Conservative Party in 2007. Representing North West England he was the first British Muslim elected to serve in the European Parliament.

Serves on the International Trade and Human Rights Committees; also served as a Member of the European Parliament's 'Committee of Investigation into alleged CIA extraordinary renditions and secret prisons' after having been the first MEP to officially raise the matter.

Vice-President of the European Parliament's Anti-Racism and Diversity Intergroup and Co-Chair of the European Muslim Forum. Focused on the rise of intolerance in Europe in recent years, notably the rise of Islamophobia and anti-Semitism.

Sajjad Karim is also the EU Rapporteur on EU-India Trade and Economic relations; in that capacity he was sent to India for meetings ahead of a EU-India trade summit. That is how he came to be in the lobby of the Taj Mahal Palace hotel in Mumbai on Wednesday, November 26, when gunfire broke out.

In panic he and about 30 other people in the lobby ran for an exit.

And then a gunman appeared. Where he'd come from, they didn't know, but he was right there, in front of them, holding an automatic weapon on them.

CNN's Wolf Blitzer wanted to know: What did the terrorist look like?

He looked like the gun, you fool.

I can't clearly recall, Sajjad answered tactfully. "I was focused on the gun."

Wolf pressed: Could he remember, anything at all, about what the gunman looked like?

"From the very brief glimpse that I got of him, he was a fairly young man of south Asian appearance. And he was wearing a smile on his face as he started to spray the bullets."

Sajjad ran, ran past bodies cut down by gunfire, and didn't stop running until he got to a restaurant in the hotel basement.

Hours later, still barricaded in a pitch-dark room with 50 other people, he listened intently to the warfare going on above his head as commandos fought the terrorists "floor by floor, room by room."

They fought in the dark. The terrorists had shut off the lights in the hotel.

"In the Taj in the ballroom, when they were fighting in the dark, for me it symbolized the whole situation," said Gerson Da Cunha.

What can I say, as an American who lived through 9/11, to Mumbaikers? My commuting route shut down by the Pentagon terrorist bombing, a bus dispatcher at Pentagon City Metro subway plaza, which had been hastily transformed into a bus depot, sequestering an empty Metro bus for me, in the evening, when all the other stranded commuters had dispersed, telling the bus driver, "Find a route. Take her home."

What can I say -- I whose conversation trails off mid-sentence whenever I hear a plane flying low, as I forget everything else and tense, listening?

What hard-earned wisdom, what words of advice, can I dredge up for others who also allowed their government to deliver them into the arms of evil?

The first human right is the right to be free of massacre. If you've lost that right in a democracy that's not the fault of politicians. That's your fault. Learn to save yourselves because let me tell you that democracy is a death trap to those looking for a king to do their thinking for them.
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