November 30, 2015
The seventh anniversary of the terrorist attack on Mumbai — seared into India’s memory and the consciousness of security experts and law enforcement authorities around the globe — offers painful reminders of both the urgency of confronting violent Islamist extremism and, in the wake of the Paris, Bamako and Beirut atrocities, the failure of so many governments to take adequate steps to protect their citizens.
The parallels to recent events couldn’t be more chilling. The Mumbai massacre was a synchronised multi-targeted rampage that lasted four days and killed 164 people, wounding hundreds more. That attack, carried out by Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), a Pakistan-based Islamist group, was one in a long series of terrorist attacks over the decades in many parts of the world. It may be considered a predecessor and model for the 13 November 2015 attacks in Paris.
Both the Mumbai and Paris atrocities were carefully orchestrated and planned operations involving multiple, well-trained killers, who simultaneously struck soft targets and exacted a high toll of casualties in major international cities — centres of commerce, entertainment, culture, and multiculturalism.
Both acts also exemplify the export of terror — in Mumbai, from Pakistan, and in Paris, from ISIS, based in Syria. While the specific details of methodology, weaponry, and tactics may differ (in Mumbai, the attackers fought to the death, whereas in Paris, they used suicide vests), both events share the scale of operation and terrifying effectiveness in exhibiting how a non-state actor can amplify a message, however perverse. Both horrific events employed hostage taking as a means of extending the terror and drama of the events, garnering worldwide attention and non-stop media coverage. The attacks were potent tools to rally support and encourage recruitment.
While no Jewish site or Jewish people were specifically targeted by the Paris attackers this month, the fatal attacks in Paris this past January and the 2008 attacks in Mumbai, along with numerous other acts of violence in France and throughout Europe over the last decade, have explicitly targeted Jews and Jewish sites.
Once again in history, the Jews are the “canary in the coal mine”. Attacks upon them are precursors to broader attacks on democratic societies, the liberal values they espouse and represent, the social and civil institutions that defend them, and the people who comprise them.
The twelve Mumbai sites hit on 26 November 2008, included a rail station, a restaurant, a major hotel where dozens of hostages were held for four days, and, notably, a Jewish centre where five people, including a rabbi and his wife, were murdered. The Charlie Hebdo massacre in Paris in January was accompanied by an attack on a Jewish market where 15 hostages were held, and four of them murdered. In March 2012, an attack on a Jewish school in Toulouse killed a Jewish teacher and three children; in May 2014, four people were killed at the Jewish Museum of Belgium in Brussels. All the perpetrators were linked to such radical Islamist organisations as Al Qaeda and ISIS.
As we mourn those lost in Mumbai seven years ago and others around the world who have lost their lives and freedoms to Islamist terrorists, we must unite in determination to defeat those who threaten us with terror and xenophobic, hate-filled ideologies. It should be clear by now that terrorism knows no borders.
The terrorists and their sponsors must be countered by our resolve and commitment to defend democratic values and universal principles of justice. As Mumbai, Paris, New York, Beirut, Jerusalem, Nairobi, Buenos Aires, Burgas, Bamako, and countless other cities, and their inhabitants, can sadly attest, insufficient actions to protect citizens and to defeat Islamist terrorism has costs. On this solemn anniversary of the horror in Mumbai, and barely two weeks after the tragedy in Paris, concerned nations must come together in a coordinated, forceful way to eradicate this scourge. If we do not, the consequences are by now all too familiar, predictable and anguishing.
Shira Loewenberg is director of the American Jewish Committee’s Asia Pacific Institute.