Terrorism in my backyard.

December 1, 2008

in Scenarios & Futures

I’ve been writing this post in my mind since 26/11 and the Mumbai Terrorist Attacks. These attacks hit me at my core and were assault on my values, my friends, my beliefs on how we should work and live together. With messages from @dina and on Twitter it hit my screen instantly. I was soon watching it live on Indian TV.

For me Mumbai Terror was personally more impactful than the 9/11 twin towers which I saw brought down live on TV. I’d been to the top of the Twin Towers (WTC) and underlying it was an act against America. It was something I could understand. It was symbolic and while deplorable, despicable and wrong it didn’t change too much around me. It grounded the planes and I didn’t make a business trip. It was a lapse in our security. It was a few people and it should have been stopped long before it happened.

Our responses as a nation after that event have not made the world safer. Mumbai brings that home!

For Mumbai the Taj  is an icon every bit as powerful as the World Trade Center in New York was. It too is a center of power and a symbol both historical and of prosperity. I’ve had tea at the Taj. I’ve looked out the windows from the Sea Lounge at the Gate of India. It’s a place where business, entertainment and tourism is done. This symbol is every bit as important (vs WTC) to India and probably more important than attacking a government building.

Terrorist attacks in Mumbai made terrorism real for the whole world. It wasn’t just Americans killed, and the stories that are being broadcast back to the US are going to other countries too. For the first time, my first point of information was NDTV, links to which I got off Twitter. That’s India television streamed live over the Internet from the first minutes. I heard Indian announcers, I heard real voices talking about it in real time. It wasn’t filtered with an American accent. Within seconds I was also seeing a whole lot of on Twitter #Mumbai.

Like at the WTC, only a few terrorists were involved in Mumbai. 10. That so few can terrorize so many is completely wrong. The damage is massive and under-rated at this time. Half a world away I directly felt the effects as “travel bans” were put into effect by large US corporates killing Mosoci projects planned in December. I’m sure “flights” to Mumbai are cheaper today. This of course is minor by comparison to those killed or maimed.

Let’s look at the Global Corporate reaction. They say, let’s put in place a travel ban! Look people it is not a war. It should not lead to war! Putting in a travel ban just plays to the few and wreaks havoc on the earnings of many. By all means change hotels. Be smarter about security but like Suketu Mehta wrote in the NYTimes it doesn’t worry me. Going to India is as safe as anywhere else right now. And in my simple opinion the airport security is always way better than it is in the US. It’s a good place to start.

Corporates should be part of the solution.What corporates have said they will step forward? Are they prepared to publicly create reviews (wikis) on tech and materials gaps? Are they analysing how well the communications and emergency response systems worked? What did they learn from social media and the impact of Internet? If you are a large corporate with ties to India you need to think hard about your strategies and how you might move forward.

I think the world has changed. Rather than pull back perhaps you should consider what you can do to move the world forward.

Some reasons why i believe the world has changed:

1. The Taj assault was a dramatic and impactful follow up to 9/11. Global governments have failed since 9/11 to make the world a safer place. All governments are culpable. Terrorism now strikes anywhere and will almost always involve a global audience and instantaneous reporting and live accounts. The reporting tools depending on the location are only getting smarter and easier for anyone in the street to use. Terrorists can attack anywhere. Mumbai is not an “armed” society. Nor are other large metropolises around the world. Anyone with an AK-47 could raise havoc quickly. Heads are already rolling in India, ministers have resigned. I see that as window-dressing. Terrorism won’t ultimately be solved with more guns, and security. We have to fix the factors that lead to it in the first place.

2. Mumbai, while a growing financial capital, is more about trade and a growing economy. 1 billion people won’t and can’t be ignored, it is too big a prize for global multinationals. Should they protect their officers with armoured cars and extra guards? No I don’t think so as it hasn’t worked anywhere. If anything, corporate travel bans are wrong. We should run faster to provide help and support. That support should not be given to governments. Instead we need new vehicles to provide the help. Just like the reporting, these need to be self-organizing in the places where it can help. It can help where terrorists are breeding in the first place. The help in Mumbai after the clean up is how to make the populace more self-aware and be more willing to report concerns.

3. That such small groups can have such a large impact and capture so much television is wrong. It’s community apathy and terror that has lead us down this path. We all need to understand the roots of terrorism better and actively do something about it. Youth and young people don’t just accidentally turn into martyrs and follow suicide missions. I’ve also seen some posts on bullying something I had more than my fair share of as a child. Terrorists are bullies and we should take more action to address them like that and early on.

4. Governments are failing to protect the people. As I sit and write (I hope purposely a little provocatively) I watch governments handing money over to bankers, a destroyed banking systems, poor uses of funds everywhere and layers of bureaucracy in heath care and contracts that is just another form of graft. Add in communications policies and watch a war that should have never started in Iraq and you realize that the complicity or duplicity is global not national. It may be my background (Brit, US, Kiwi) but my identity is global not local and my friends are global, my business is global and I have come to expect very little of my various governments. So for the most part I take things into my own hands and have done very little about or to understand the root causes of terrorism. Till last week it was never in my backyard. I now wonder how I can help to change it.

5. Connectivity too had a new resilience. The world could watch via NDTV not via CNN. While the numbers may still be small, Twitter and blogs rapidly began capturing information. It provided more transparency and put a more personal face on the tragedy as it unfolded. As a QIK user and as the London attacks showed video is now just a mobile away. Flickr quickly became a repository for latest pictures. In fact the combined updates on search.twitter.com #mumbai rapidly came faster than updates on the live newscasts and from more directions. They also suffered new problems and issues. Eg were Tweeter’s giving away important info etc. For the most part, common sense prevailed in the early days and hours. The beliefs of open channels / fact checking were spelt out by a few Tweeters @dina included. It’s important to see this form of communication as open and unmediated and self-correcting. You can’t control it. If someone will Tweet a police position and not use common sense then it may pay to put some more time into educating in “common sense”.

Terrorism is now in my backyard.  You, me, all of us, we need to acknowledge it. We will not be bullied. What if I put in 5% of my time/resources into stopping it? Or even a larger percentage. What commitment can I make? Really we need to be more vigilant as a society.

  • Abe

    I share many of your thoughts, but I haven’t been able to put them in words that make sense. The emotions of sadness, anger, disappointment, apprehension, frustration, and compassion are running high.

  • Yeah. Terrorism is more of a global problem now.Every event is very inter-connected now. We need more co-operation between the govts to handle this. Lets see how Govts cooperate with each other to solve this problem.

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