Tragedy in Mumbai

Mumbai_hotel_fire_232 This week a shadow was cast over Shabbat; we went into Shabbat knowing there was a major terrorist attack still under way in Mumbai (aka Bombay), and that just as Shabbat started the news came in that five bodies had been found at the Chabad House in Mumbai (Nariman House).  At shul (Moreshet Avraham in Jerusalem), Rabbi Barry Schlesinger gave a d’var Torah proclaiming "we are all Chabad."  Whatever we believed, or thought about the dispute in Chabad about whether the late rebbe is the Messiah (click here for more on the rebbe as Messiah), we were united in our prayers for the people taken hostage at the Chabad center.

After Shabbat we got the sad news that the total death toll in Mumbai had climbed to around 200, and the rabbi and rebetzin of the Chabad House were among the victims.  One small consolation, a worker had managed to rescue their two year old son who has been reunited with his grandparents.  Information on the victims at Chabad House can be read at this J Post article.

Of course, anti-Semites have always chosen their Jews indiscriminately, and historically, much more than "we are all Chabad," we are all Jews, and people out to hurt Jews don’t care if you’re secular or Chabad, Reform or Conservative, wear a kippah all the time or eat ham sandwiches.

But it’s worth remembering that the tragedy in Mumbai was not about the Jews.  In this case, Jews were just one among many targets.  The death toll among non-Jews is more than 20 times the death toll of Jews and Israelis. 

What was the tragedy about?  It’s actually somewhat hard to say.  The group that claims responsibility, Deccan Mujahideen, is a new and heretofore unknown group, and they have not communicated a clear manifesto of what they were hoping to accomplish with this despicable act.  There is an interesting Wikipedia entry about them, which you can read by clicking here.  Between the Wiki and what I’ve read in other news sources, the group’s motives are either to further a Muslim separatist agenda in Kashmir (area in the north of India which is mostly Muslim and parts are in dispute between India and Pakistan) or just a general protest on the poor conditions of the 150 million Muslim minority in India (Muslims in India represent about as much of the population as African Americans in the US, just to put their share of the percentage of the population in perspective).

Trying to figure out what was happening in Mumbai was very interesting.  Alexander Wolfe of Information Week has an interesting article "Twitter in Controversial Spotlight Amid Mumbai Attacks." Wolfe said something very interesting in the article: "I’d add that Mumbai is likely to be viewed in hindsight as the first instance of the paradigmatic shift in crisis coverage: namely, journalists will henceforth no longer be the first to bring us information. Rather, they will be a conduit for the stream of images and video shot by a mix of amateurs and professionals on scene."

To illustrate what he’s talking about, my friend Charlie Kalech put up a web page that lists "real-time" sources for news about what was happening at the Chabad House — you can see it here.  If you click on the first link, "Twitter Updates" you can see what Wolfe is talking about with the volume of information that comes in on Twitter.

What makes Twitter significant, is that while any blogger can post something about a breaking news event, with the way search engines like google work it might not show up in search engines for days or weeks, and what shows up is filtered by the proprietary page rankings.  Twitter will show in real time what anyone posts on that topic — so it’s ideal for capturing news type events when things are moving fast and eyewitnesses may have something to post — but there’s also an awful lot of chaff and noise there.  Hence there is still a useful role for journalists in sorting through the noise.

Whatever the goals of the terrorists were, it’s a sad day and our prayers go out to all victims and families of victims of the terrorists, whether Indian, American, British, Israeli, or any other nationality, Hindu, Christian, Jewish, or any other religion.  May we soon see the day when disgruntled people don’t resort to senseless violence to advance their agendas.

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Barry Leff

Rabbi Barry (Baruch) Leff is a dual Israeli-American business executive, teacher, speaker and writer who divides his time between Israel and the US.

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