Night is falling and I can see the Gateway of India from my Sea View room at the Taj in Mumbai, my favorite hotel in the world. There are boats coming and going, people eating and arguing, vendors buying and selling. A few minutes ago there was a band playing Sufi Muslim love songs, and now there is some sort of parade approaching - maybe a wedding, maybe a political rally. Drummers dressed in red uniforms, horn players in orange, dignitaries (the groom and his family?) in carriages drawn by oxen, a group of uniformed schoolchildren walking by, clapping along, utterly delighted.
The carnival of India.
It is chilling to think if I was sitting in this same room on November 26, 2008, I would have been witness to the nightmare of India, when a group of ten terrorists hijacked a boat and came ashore on the spot that I am staring at now, and attacked the building I am sitting in with guns and grenades - six explosions in total in this hotel.
They killed nearly 200 people and injured over 300 more, but they failed in their most important pursuit - to create a religious civil war in a city that had fallen prey to the ugliest version of the clash of civilizations in the recent past.
So why was this time different? Why did Mumbaikers overwhelmingly view November 26 as a case of pluralism vs. extremism, rather than Hindu vs. Muslim?
I've been asking journalists and religious leaders in the city this question, and here's what they've had to say:
1) The Muslim community came out against the terror attacks immediately and clearly and strongly. They organized press conferences and marches. They refused to bury the terrorists in Muslim cemeteries. "Since the ... terrorists were neither Indian nor true Muslims, they had no right to an Islamic burial in an Indian Muslim cemetery," the Indian Muslim journalist MJ Akbar told Tom Friedman in a widely read column.
2) The media paid attention. Zeenat Shaukat Ali, a Professor of Islamic Studies at St. Xavier's College and founder of an interfaith project in Mumbai, told me that Indian Muslims have long spoken out against terrorism, but their voices had rarely been carried by the media. This time, the media were not looking for messages of division, but instead messages of unity - and the Muslims of Mumbai were there with that message front and center.
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