It Ain’t the Big Easy...

| 11 Nov 2014 | 02:14

    During the friendly warmth that was Thanksgiving week, Americans were again reminded that the world is still one screwed-up place.We owe our thanks for this reminder to 10 machine-gun wielding, hand-grenade-throwing and homemadebomb- planting terrorists straight outta Karachi who went buck wild in the Indian city of Mumbai, killing 179 innocent people.

    Like many, I thought “Oh, my God,” as I watched in disbelief at the site of hotel guests using bed sheets to escape their attackers and heard reports that British, American and Jewish residents were being singled out for death. But as day one turned to day two and then day three and still the carnage continued, my earlier OMG became more of a WTF??!! Just days before the terrorists struck, I read that the Indian navy had destroyed the mother ship of a bunch of Somali pirates thousands of miles away, and yet it was taking three days for their forces to take out 10 punks holed up in a few luxury hotels located in the heart of their largest city. The Economist reported that not only were the police who initially responded to the attacks “unprepared and outgunned” but that the commando units who eventually succeeded in stopping the terrorists took two days to reach the scene.

    To many in India, the initial reaction has been to compare what happened in Mumbai to the 9/11 attacks. Newly appointed Home Minister Palaniappan Chidambaram, India’s top law enforcement official, said that “9/11 changed the U.S.…26/11 [Nov. 26] should change us.” Bharatiya Janata, the leading Hindu nationalist political party, has insisted that India’s response “must be close to what the American response was” to the attacks on the Pentagon and the Twin Towers. But as I learned more and more about the events, the situation began to sound more like New Orleans than New York City. The Indian government was warned by U.S. intelligence officials that an attack on Mumbai was imminent, but just as the National Hurricane Center warned New Orleans that the levees wouldn’t withstand Hurricane Katrina’s assault, not enough was done to prepare first-responders or the local populace. It took days for the Indian government to send in national commandos to handle the situation; it took days for the U.S. Coast Guard and other forces to rescue those who were unable to evacuate ahead of the hurricane. Public outcry in India over the government lapses has led to the original home minister resigning, just like our own FEMA Director resigned just days after his ineptitude became all too clear.

    To put it another way: this isn’t India’s 9/11…it’s Mumbai’s Katrina. While 9/11 was the first time foreign terrorists struck U.S. soil, this is by no stretch India’s first time at the terror rodeo. According to the National Counterterrorism Center in Washington D.C., terror attacks in India from 2004 to 2007 resulted in the deaths of 3,674 people while in 2008, five other major Indian cities—Jaipur, Ahmedabad, Delhi, Hyderabad and Varanasi—experienced bombings that have killed hundreds.What the Mumbai attack has exposed, just like Katrina did for our own nation, is a government that is unresponsive to the needs of its people during a crisis.

    I spoke to a woman from Mumbai who works for a major international aid group that has conducted flood-relief work throughout the Mumbai area (my first anonymous source…woohoo!) and she told me that part of the problem is rampant corruption of local officials in the city. She pointed me toward an NBC News report of a fishing village only one mile from one of the attacked hotels, where the head of the local fishing council wrote a letter to authorities telling of worries in his village of suspicious boats coming into Mumbai—his concerns were never answered.

    We know now that the attackers came from Pakistan on a fishing boat. She said that had the fishing council chief bribed a government official, perhaps someone would have investigated his concerns.

    Similarly, corruption throughout Louisiana government is often cited as one of the reasons why Hurricane Katrina so devastated the region.The New York Times has reported that just nine months before the storm, three Louisiana emergency preparedness officials were indicted for mishandling $30.4 million in disaster relief money meant to buy out homeowners in flood-prone areas.

    That money has yet to be recovered. Now I’m no expert on India, but after eight years of living under Bush rule, I know incompetence when I see it. So before India passes its version of the Patriot Act and starts to undermine the fabric of its own democracy, perhaps its government should look at this through the lens of improving the services it offers its people.That same aid worker said that in the Mumbai area there is a lack of clean drinking water, hospitals, housing, roads, sanitation utilities and paramedics.

    Meeting these challenges would not only limit in scope the deaths from future terrorist attacks but also address the widespread poverty that often helps terrorist recruitment efforts and breeds public discontent.

    While I know that Mumbai ain’t exactly New Orleans—India has every right to view this situation as the latest in a long line of acts of terror aimed at spreading fear and chaos— India shouldn’t miss the opportunity it now has to rally public and political will to use its newfound wealth to benefit its populace. Katrina is in many ways responsible for the change in leadership we have experienced here in the United States; and thankfully, we will soon have a government that plans to do more for the people of New Orleans. Hopefully the people of Mumbai will demand the same.