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What we can learn from India's 9/11


Mumbai, India
Nov. 26, 2009

I came to Mumbai to convene the first multifaith event of the many memorials on the first anniversary of 11/26 - India's 9/11. Together with my Hindu partner of the Art of Living Foundation, I walked through Mumbai's main train station, tracing the route where 100 commuters were slaughtered. I stared at the large sign "For Women and Children Hospital" which failed to deter those shooters from firing at the nearby Muslim-run facility
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Photo: At a memorial service at Chabad House one year after the terrorist attacks, religious leaders gathered in solidarity and prayer. Pictured L-R: Israeli Consul General Orna Sagiv, Rabbi Avraham Berkowitz, Director of Chabad Mumbai Relief Fund, The Honorable D.R. Kaarthikeyan, Former Director of CBI, SWC Associate Dean Rabbi Abraham Cooper, Swami Gnanatej, Senior Swami Art of Living Foundation and Father Caesar D'Mello, Rector, Cathedral of the Holy Name at Colaba, Mumbai.
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A taxi driver outside the seafront Trident hotel, which lost six employees, told me how the cabbie next to him had offered a ride to two backpackers who moments later would spray deadly automatic fire at the adjacent Oberi Hotel. I sat with Rajita, who together with her husband was held hostage for 13 hours before barely escaping.

Scores of others weren't so lucky. A thoroughly charming professional, Rajita finally overcame her trauma and reentered the hotel for the first time since 11/26 to read a poem about love and forgiveness at our memorial.

Finally, I visited Mumbai's Chabad House.

For those who travel extensively in Asia, Chabad is synonymous with joy and community - from Tokyo to Timbuktu. Chabad is every traveling and wandering Jew's home away from home.

I found the five-story walk-up in a mixed residential and market area virtually untouched since Indian commandos stormed the place on November 29 to kill the terrorists and recover the bodies of six innocents, including a beautiful young couple, Rabbi Gavriel and Rivka Holtzberg. The room of their beloved toddler, Moishy - who was miraculously saved by his Indian nanny - was still lit up by the Hebrew alphabet painted on the wall. His toys and stroller were still there.

On another bullet-riddled floor was the synagogue where a Torah scroll inside the Holy Ark was pierced by a single bullet - that pierced the parchment of the Five Books of Moses that reads Aharei Mot ("after the death of martyrs").

The initial official reaction to the three-day siege which left over 150 dead and 300 wounded sounds eerily familiar to this American. Indian government officials were in denial about the extent and interrelations of terrorist threats, and together with much of the media hid reality under a cloud of euphemism. Terrorists were labeled "gunmen"; there was an initial failure to identify their Islamist affiliations and beliefs, and described the Chabad carnage - removed from the train station by whole blocks - as merely an "accidental hostage scene."

JUST AS Dr. Phil sought to explain away the Fort Hood shooting spree as the result of Major Nidal Malik Hasan's "vicarious PTSD," last year Deepak Chopra claimed on CNN that the Mumbai massacre was "collateral damage" caused by delayed Muslim anger at the Bush administration's attack on Iraq.

Meanwhile, back in the US there were two related perplexing developments: first, the refusal by officials in Washington and the media to apply the "T word" to American-born Hasan's rampage - he will face a court martial for multiple murders, but will not be tried for "terrorism"; second, US Attorney-General Eric Holder's convoluted decision to try by military commission the international terrorists who attacked the USS Cole in Aden in 2000, while consigning for a civilian trial in a courthouse near the destroyed World Trade Center the international terrorists who masterminded the 9/11 attacks. 

But the India I found on the eve of the 11/26 anniversary has come to realize that its attackers were no mere criminals, but trained terrorists who launched acts of war against the world's largest democracy. The key player: A Pakistani-born American citizen, David Coleman Headley, a.k.a. Daood Gilani.

Headley was arrested last month for conspiring with Chicago businessman Tahawwur Hussein Rana - a Canadian citizen also born in Pakistan - to kill the Danish cartoonist and target the newspaper Jyllands-Posten, responsible for the 2005 cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad.

We now learn from a joint investigation by Indian and US authorities that Headley, months before the Mumbai attacks, also spied for the Pakistani terror group Lashkar-e-Taiba, casing all 10 Mumbai locations that were subsequently hit. Headley even posed as a Jew when he visited the Mumbai Chabad House, learning the layout of the fellowship facility. The Calcutta Telegraph reports that he still had a book titled To Pray as a Jew at the time of his US arrest. Headley also may have mapped out India's nuclear sites.

Headley's arrest as he prepared to fly back to Pakistan ends only one among a dozen Islamist terror plots uncovered in the US in 2009. Just as terrorists today "think globally while acting locally," we who oppose terrorism must build new digital-age networks from the ground up and the top down to foster tolerance between faiths and civilizations.

Last year in Mumbai, the enemies of decency indiscriminately slaughtered Hindus, Muslims and Christians, and then sought out and murdered peaceful and pious individuals solely because they were Jews. This year, I came to Mumbai to further a coalition of faith communities - Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, Bahai, Sikh, Jain and others - to rebuild bridges of cooperation within Mumbai and between it and global faith communities.

Where religious-inspired terrorists use Internet social networking to spread hatred and divisiveness, it falls to religious leaders to respond by building bridges. Where they organize hatred, we must create new paradigms of trust. Where they polarize, we will harmonize. When they accuse us of "loving life over death," we plead guilty and sentence ourselves to a lifetime of building a world based on love and tolerance.
But all these efforts will come to naught unless misguided politicians around the world stop cloaking these enemies of humanity behind a shroud of dangerous and false political correctness.

In Mumbai, a leading Muslim figure openly denounced the Muslim perpetrators of 11/26 as terrorists and then stepped from the podium to publicly embrace a grieving Chabad rabbi before dozens of cameras and reporters. In the struggle to secure our homeland, it's past due for America's leaders to trust their citizens with the most powerful weapon of all: The Truth.

This article appeared in the Jerusalem Post. The writer is associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center. He has traveled extensively throughout Asia, including India. He coordinated a multifaith solidarity meeting in Mumbai to remember the victims of the November 26, 2008, terror attacks.

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