Friday March 22, 2019
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Cynicism about ‘selective compassion’ in times of crises


Being a cynic may be easy, but one needs to comprehend the collective contribution of small steps in bringing a larger chance in perspective. The global outpouring of sympathy towards Paris since Friday the 13th is akin to the one which enveloped the United States in emotional comfort after the 9/11 attacks.

In the wake of this event, the citizens across the globe displayed their comradery around the globe by lighting up monuments in the tri-colors of the French flag. Presidential discourses peddled the need to protect shared values of humanity, brotherhood and harmony.

Facebook also offered its users a one-click option to converge their profile pictures with the French tricolor. The social media giant, on Friday, even initiated ‘Safety Check’, a facility typically earmarked for natural cataclysms that let people alert families and friends that they were safe.

However, just a day before these attacks, two suicide bombers killed at least 43 people in twin blasts, leaving around 250 injured, in Beirut, the capital of Lebanon. Both the attacks were claimed by ISIS, the deadliest threat that has emerged out in the world after al-Qaida.

But these attacks have led to a larger debate of ‘selective compassion’ rather than an objective assessment of empathy.

The social media and governments all across are being accused of being biased towards the tragedy of the western nations and are being name-called for participating in this apparent western hegemony of exclusive emphasis.

Yes, the Lebanese flag was not displayed everywhere on social media, and rightly so, Facebook didn’t provide an easy filter to converge their flags to display pictures. As unfair and biased as it sounds, in reality it’s the worst as it represents a tremendously flawed international ideology.

Does this mean that to rectify one problem (of selective compassion for Paris attacks and ignoring the Syrian and Lebanese sufferings) we have to demean a sincere display of empathy towards another tragedy? Can the rectification of biased approach not be achieved without demeaning compassion towards other people.

Why do we have to compare these incidents to point out the hegemonic nature of West? Were we unaware of this quality of the West to subtly influence the world?

In attempts to see the larger picture, what we fail to see is the small contributions of these attempts in creating awareness among the not-so-intellectual minds. Technology and Facebook penetrate into areas where the name of Paris is probably never even heard of, but with the changing display of pictures, people have been compelled to learn about this incident. Creating awareness and corresponding trajectories have been followed earlier as well- rainbow filters for gay rights and, of course, there had to be one for Digital India as well.

Why can’t we think of this as a trajectory towards creating cognizance which can contribute to revolutionizing the global awareness of adversities?

It’s not an impossible task to see that people are now more moved towards showing their camaraderie. Empathy towards one does not mean that the other is not worth it, or that the interest comes from some vested interests of people, but it only shows a lack of awareness of the issue. This can be resolved, if not by a path-breaking dramatic procedure, then definitely by filtering display pictures on Facebook.

If this move helps in directing any kind of empathy towards the indignant people, then why stop it?

We shouldn’t stop empathising with the victims just because we fear a presence of some Western agenda in the whole process. We should continue showing our support to Paris, as well the rest of the world, affected by terrorism, rather than eulogising about conspiracies and taking away compassion from those in need.

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Paris reminds Mumbai to revisit terror-proof security protocols


Soon after the Paris attacks on November 13 this year, Coast Guard teams launched a mock attack on Mumbai by approaching the city and surrounding through the coast lines, just like the Mumbai attackers had done in 2008. Sadly, the exercise was successful in showing how  security protocols still fail to scan incoming dangers as several of the Coast Guard teams succeeded in slipping through.

Officials stated that the test was not a complete disaster, but exposed India’s continuing vulnerability to outside attacks.

“There was a mixed result,” said a navy spokesman in Mumbai. “We do find weaknesses, but over the years the number of people who can go through (our defenses) is much less,” he added.

In the aftermath of the Mumbai attacks, in which 10 gunmen infiltrated the city after landing on the shores by boat, and proceeded to attack high profile sites, the city took certain steps in defense. A National Security Guard (NSG) unit was deployed to the financial capital, the Mumbai police received better equipment, and knowledge about the sea-borne threat was imparted to the fishermen population, while giving them a helpline to call on in case of suspected threat.

‘Force One’—a counter-terrorism police force, was also set up in Maharashtra.

However, security experts reported that the initial defensive rush faded fast.

“A lot of effort goes in at first. But over time, people lose interest. Momentum is lost. There is no leadership continuity,” said Govind Sisodia, who was a senior NSG commander at the time of the Mumbai attacks.

The immediately reporting police personnel during the attacks were too poorly trained and equipped to deter the heavily armed gunmen attacking multiple spots simultaneously.

Sisodia said that even after 12 hours after the Mumbai attacks started, the elite force wasn’t able to leave their New Delhi headquarters as no plane was available.

Though seven years have passed since the attack, Force One still hasn’t moved into its proposed headquarters and shares a fourth floor office with the police academy in a shabby Mumbai building.

“From every incident, we take a lesson, we revise our protocols,” inspector general of police running the unit, Sanjay Saxena, said on the Paris attacks.

Saxena said little on how the squad operated, including his plans to deal with the city’s high traffic which seriously hinders the journey time of any military personnel to reach the venue.

Security experts cite the evolving military tactics of terror forces as a major source of concern.

The Paris attacked were quite similar to the ones in Mumbai, but they differed in their use of suicide belts, which ruled out capture while maximizing casualties.

“Mumbai ushered in a new era,” said GK Pillai, India’s home secretary after the Mumbai attacks. “This is a new type of terrorism: multiple, very well-trained teams striking a variety of targets.

“The lesson was that in cities you need to have a few hundred of these elite commandos available within 10-15 minutes, whether it is Paris or London,” he said.

India’s main security focus is on containing Kashmir’s separatist tendencies, and as such the country has little force to spare for other regions. Militants crossing in from neighboring Pakistan, who usually target urban settings, is the major source of worry. Apart from the Mumbai attacks, this was also evident in the police station raid in Punjab in July.

“Any urban area remains a target,” said Home Minister P Chidambaram, who took over just after the Mumbai attack. “In a city anyone can burrow themselves and remain invisible for weeks, months, even a year.”

Intelligence sources don’t have adequate information on the tens of thousands of Indians working in Gulf countries. Iraq, which is partly under IS control, houses around 18,000 Indians, according to the government, though the actual number might be a lot higher.

“Our data (on labourers) working abroad, especially in the Gulf, who are usually targeted for joining IS, is woefully inadequate,” said Vappala Balachandran, a senior foreign intelligence specialist who had led an inquiry into the Mumbai attacks.

Islamic State had recruited 23 Indians, according to a recent Indian intelligence report. However, they were considered “inferior fighters” by the terror group.

With incoming threats from terror groups, India has to work fast in gathering any and all loose ends to terror-proof the nation.