The media look within to explain the sick delusions of the Mumbai killers.
By DOROTHY RABINOWITZ
The Wall Street Journal
NOVEMBER 30, 2008, 11:53 P.M. ET
Deepak Chopra on Larry King Live
If the Mumbai terror assault seemed exceptional, and shocking in its targets, it was clear from the Thanksgiving Day reports that we weren't going to be deprived of the familiar, either. Namely, ruminations, hints, charges of American culpability that regularly accompany catastrophes of this kind.
Soon enough, there was Deepak Chopra, healer, New Age philosopher and digestion guru, advocate of aromatherapy and regular enemas, holding forth on CNN on the meaning of the attacks.
How the ebullient Dr. Chopra had come to be chosen as an authority on terror remains something of a mystery, though the answer may have something to do with his emergence in the recent presidential campaign as a thinker of advanced political views. Also commending him, perhaps, is his well known capacity to cut through all sorts of complexities to make matters simple. No one can fail to grasp the wisdom of a man who has informed us that "If you have happy thoughts, then you make happy molecules."
In his CNN interview, he was no less clear. What happened in Mumbai, he told the interviewer, was a product of the U.S. war on terrorism, that "our policies, our foreign policies" had alienated the Muslim population, that we had "gone after the wrong people" and inflamed moderates. And "that inflammation then gets organized and appears as this disaster in Bombay."
All this was a bit too much, evidently, for CNN interviewer Jonathan Mann, who interrupted to note that there were other things going on -- matters like the ongoing bitter Pakistan-India struggle over Kashmir -- which had caused so much terror and so much violence. "That's not Washington's fault," he pointed out.
Given an argument, the guest, ever a conciliator, agreed: The Mumbai catastrophe was not Washington's fault, it was everybody's fault. Which didn't prevent Dr. Chopra from returning soon to his central theme -- the grave offense posed to Muslims by the United States' war on terror, a point accompanied by consistent emphatic reminders that Muslims are the world's fastest growing population -- 25% of the globe's inhabitants -- and that the U.S. had better heed that fact. In Dr. Chopra's moral universe, numbers are apparently central. It's tempting to imagine his view of offenses against a much smaller sliver of the world's inhabitants -- not so offensive, perhaps?
Two subsequent interviews with Larry King brought much of the same -- a litany of suggestions about the role the U.S. had played in fueling assaults by Muslim terrorists, reminders of the numbers of Muslims in the world and their grievances. A faithful adherent of the root-causes theory of crime -- mass murder, in the case at hand -- Dr. Chopra pointed out, quite unnecessarily, that most of the terrorism in the world came from Muslims. It was mandatory, then, to address their grievances -- "humiliation," "poverty," "lack of education." The U.S., he recommended, should undertake a Marshall Plan for Muslims.
Nowhere in this citation of the root causes of Muslim terrorism was there any mention of Islamic fundamentalism -- the religious fanaticism that has sent fevered mobs rioting, burning and killing over alleged slights to the Quran or the prophet. Not to mention the countless others enlisted to blow themselves and others up in the name of God.
Nor did we hear, in these media meditations, any particular expression of sorrow from the New Delhi-born Dr. Chopra for the anguish of Mumbai's victims: a striking lack, no doubt unintentional, but not surprising, either. For advocates of the root-causes theory of crime, the central story is, ever, the sorrows and grievances of the perpetrators. For those prone to the belief that most eruptions of evil in the world can be traced to American influence and power there is only one subject of consequence.
Accustomed as we are by now to this view of the U.S., it's impossible not to marvel at its varied guises -- its capacity to emerge even in journalism ostensibly concerning the absurd beliefs about the 9/11 attacks held by so many Muslims. It's conventional wisdom in the region -- according to a New York Times dispatch from Cairo, Egypt, last fall by Michael Slackman -- that the U.S. and Israel had to have been involved in the planning, if not the actual execution of the assaults. No news there. Neither was the information that there was virtually universal belief in the area that Jews, tipped off, didn't go to work at the World Trade Center that day. Or that the U.S. had organized the plot in order to attack Arab Muslims and gain access to their oil.
The noteworthy point here was the writer's conclusion that the U.S. itself was to blame for the power of these beliefs. "It is easy for Americans to dismiss such thinking as bizarre," Mr. Slackman allowed. But that would miss the point that the persistence of these ideas represents the "first failure in the fight against terrorism." A U.S. failure? Nowhere in the extended list of root causes here was there any mention of the fanaticism and sheer mindless gullibility that is the prerequisite for the holding of such beliefs.
Its very ordinariness speaks volumes about this report. A piece written with evident serenity, the perversity of its conclusions notwithstanding, it's one emblem among many of the adversarial view of the nation that is today entrenched in the culture. So unworthy is the U.S. -- an attitude solidly established in our media culture long before the war on terror -- that only it can be held responsible for the deranged fantasies cherished in large quarters of the Arab world. So natural does it feel, now, to hold such views that their expression has become second nature.
Which is how it happens also that the U.S. is linked to the bloodletting in Mumbai, with scarcely anyone batting an eye, and Larry King -- awash perhaps, in happy molecules -- thanking guest Dr. Chopra for his extraordinary enlightenment.
Ms. Rabinowitz is a member of The Wall Street Journal's editorial board.