Friday, November 28, 2008

More on the Mumbai attacks

An article in the New York Times outlines how the Mumbai attackers seem to have proceeded. One "black inflatable lifeboat" landed on the Fisherman's Colony fishing pier with ten men on it plus their supplies. This location is only three blocks from Nariman House, where the Chabad House was located. They joined other attackers - including some who had arrived in Mumbai days before. There were other boats that landed as well - up to four others. Up to 40 terrorists were involved in the attacks, and not all of them may be dead or captured.

The first location hit was the train station - Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus. They went then to the Leopold Cafe, the Taj Mahal and Oberoi hotels, and Nariman House. Nariman House was not the first target.

Indian officials are now specifically linking "elements in Pakistan" to the attacks. American intelligence officials point to Lashkar-e-Taiba, "which has long been involved in the conflict with India" over Kashmir.

(From CNN - the Indian prime minister "indicated that the gunmen came from" Karachi, Pakistan).

The leader of an Indian commando unit said, that the attackers were “very, very familiar with the layout of the hotel.” The terrorists "who appeared to be under 30 years old, were 'determined' and 'remorseless.'" Two of them may have had British passports.

Another rabbi at the Nariman House was found dead - Rabbi Leibish Teitelbaum, who was a mashgiach in Mumbai.

Al Qaeda behind Mumbai attacks?

Post begun Wednesday, November 26 (read down for updates): I spent the day pleasantly, hanging out with my family and getting ready for Thanksgiving tomorrow. My father and I went over to Newton to buy the kosher Thanksgiving turkey (yum!). I plucked the remaining feathers tonight (kosher birds for some reason always have a few remaining feathers that have to be removed). I read most of a book that I bought at the SBL a couple of days ago - Amy-Jill Levine's A Misunderstood Jew, which is very interesting and well-written.

And then - at least a hundred people killed in terrorist attacks in Mumbai/Bombay today. One of the bloggers at TNR points out how these attacks were different from earlier ones in the city. They were aimed not at Hindus (which we would expect if this were part of ongoing Muslim-Hindu violence), but at foreigners - Americans, Britons, and Israelis (the Chabad House in Mumbai was attacked and some people were killed there - the local Chabad rabbi and his family have disappeared - this is at a place called Nariman House).

He speculates about the culprit in Bombay:

But these Bombay attacks are different. The targets are not obviously Hindu at all--they are the main tourist locations in the city, and they were after Americans, British and Israelis. They went after a building called Nariman House, where several Israeli and Jewish families live. It was international, not domestic considerations which seems to be have been driving them. Also they seem very well-resourced. Apparently they came into the city on boats, used hand grenades and automatic weapons. It suggest some sort of Al Qaeda connection.

The New York Times has very good coverage - one of their blogs has been updating all day. They pointed to an interesting phenomenon - how much the attacks are being reported by new social media such as Wikipedia (which has a page up on the attacks) and by Twitter - Mumbai.

Update: I'm watching CNN-IBN right now via the CNN site. They're live-streaming the CNN India affiliate. This technology continues to astonish me. The terrorists have not yet all been captured or killed. There is an ongoing hostage situation at the Nariman House, with a number of people being held hostage there. At another hotel (Oberoi), there are still terrorists holding hostages, and government forces are now attacking them. There are also terrorists holed up in the Taj Hotel, which is on fire. There was another hostage situation at Cama Hospital. Some high anti-terrorist officials have been killed (one of the attacks was on a police station).

Now, a live interview with L. H. Advani (leader of the parliamentary opposition in India). First he spoke in English, now in Hindi I would guess. Advani said that this terrorist attack must have been planned for months.

Now reporting - terrorists came into Mumbai by boat, hijacked police vans.

Update: CNN-IBN is reporting that three people have managed to escape from Nariman House, two Israelis (mother and child), one Indian. Two or three of the floors of the house are rented by Israelis, others rented by Indians.

Another update (November 28): Nariman House has been stormed and there has been fighting there for over 12 hours. 5 bodies were found, and Haaretz has identified two of them as belonging to Rabbi Gavriel Holtzberg and his wife Rivkia. "The couple ran the Chabad's local headquarters, which was one of 10 sites attacked. The Holtzberg's toddler son, Moshe, was smuggled out of the center by an employee, and is now with his grandparents. Representatives from the Israeli embassy and ZAKA rescue service personnel began the process of identifying the victims of the terrorist attack on the Chabad center in Mumbai."

(By the way, the Wall Street Journal for today has some very interesting articles on the businesses likely to be affected by the attacks - the articles really detail well for the uninformed, like myself, how much Mumbai is an international commercial center).

I've been reading a number of websites discussing who might have launched these attacks - the group that claimed responsibility for these attacks, calling itself "Deccan Mujahadeen," a group called the Indian Mujahadeen, who have claimed responsibility for earlier terrorist attacks this year in India; a couple of Pakistan based terrorist groups that were organized about twenty years ago to fight against the Indian presence in Kashmir (Laskhar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Muhammed) - or a combination of the above. Most of the sites I've read argue that Deccan Mujahadeen is just a name, not an actual group.

But if the terrorists are just an Indian group, or a mixed group of Pakistani/Indian terrorists, organized with local aims (to destabilize the Indian government; to disrupt peace talks between India and Pakistan; to highlight the complaints of Indian Muslims), then why aim at foreigners? Previous attacks have targeted Indians. It's the international connection that makes me think of Al Qaeda involvement. The attack on the Jewish center especially makes me think of Al Qaeda. As someone commented on Harry's Place - if the goal was to strike at Israel or Israelis, then the Israeli consulate would have been a target, or an El Al office. But instead a specific Jewish center was chosen.

I think that people have largely forgotten that after the 9/11/01 attacks, there were a number of Al Qaeda attacks directly targeting Jews in various countries. The one I specifically remember is an attack on the synagogue on the island of Djerba, Tunisia, which actually killed a large group of visiting tourists. Another occurred on November 15, 2003, in Istanbul - attacking two synagogues, Bet Israel and Neve Shalom.

But another question is - why the Chabad center in particular? There are Jews living in Mumbai, both Baghdadis and Bene Israel. Their synagogues were not attacked.

Chabad is an international organization, with its headquarters in Brooklyn. It's much better known than the Bene Israel or Baghdadi Jewish communities. I suspect that it was chosen, instead of those two Indian Jewish groups, because it was so well known and has an international presence. Attacking Chabad could be seen as an attack on Jews everywhere. This would be another reason to suspect Al Qaeda involvement.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Who could be behind the Mumbai attacks and why?

An interesting Reuters article on who could be behind the Mumbai attacks and why?. One interesting point made in the article:

The Mumbai attacks appear to have been carefully coordinated, well-planned and involved a large number of attackers. A high level of sophistication has also been a hallmark of previous attacks by the Indian Mujahideen.

The Mumbai attacks also focused clearly on tourist targets, including two luxury hotels and a famous cafe....

The tactics -- a military-style assault on soft targets, singling out foreigners, and taking hostages -- are rare and do not fit the usual methods of militant attacks on civilian areas.

However, similar attacks have been carried out before, notably the May 2004 attacks in the eastern Saudi city of Khobar. Gunmen attacked two oil industry installations and a foreign workers' housing complex in the city, taking more than 50 hostages and killing 22 of them. The attackers asked hostages whether they were Christian or Muslim before deciding whom to kill.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Obama daughters to attend Sidwell Friends school

The Obamas have chosen the school that their daughters will attend in Washington - Sidwell Friends School. I usually wouldn't pay attention to what school the President's children go to, but this interested me because my mother attended Sidwell Friends high school when she was growing up in Washington, D.C., in the late 1940s.

The school was not integrated until 1956 (the year in which I was born), according to a February 16, 1956 New York Times article, which highlights the fact that the children of Senator James O. Eastland, Democrat of Mississippi, who was virulently opposed to integration of the schools, attended Sidwell Friends. This means that the school my mother went to was all-white. I do recall her saying that the children of foreign dignitaries went there, but it seems unlikely that any of them would have been non-white.

It's pretty remarkable that a school that was part of the white, segregated power elite of Washington will now educate the daughters of the first African-American president. My grandparents were part of that segregated elite - my grandfather, Richard Wilson, was the Washington bureau chief of the Des Moines Register and Tribune for many years, wrote a column for the Washington Star, was president of the National Press Club in 1940, and was active in the Gridiron Club. The deed to the house they bought in Bethesda, MD in 1948 contained a restricted covenant that forbade them to resell the house to Jews or blacks. (Incidentally, the Supreme Court in 1948 ruled that such restricted covenants were unconstitutional). (At the time the National Press Club was also restricted to white male journalists; in 1955 it was opened to black male journalists, and in 1970 to women).

When I was growing up and we used to visit my grandparents in Washington, I always felt a sense of discomfort walking around D.C. I knew that the city was segregated, that blacks were the majority of the population, but that white people held the power there. It felt like a colonized city (of course, that's not the terminology I thought of at the time). When I've visited more recently I've felt much more comfortable, although of course there are still great disparities of wealth and poverty in the city, often along racial lines. We also used to visit them at the house they owned in the West Virginia mountains (which was called "Ball Alley"), about 75 miles from D.C.

I loved my grandparents and I loved visiting them, especially at Ball Alley - but increasingly through the 1960s and 1970s I heard them making racist remarks about black people. (Although my recollection is that my grandfather was also involved in hiring the first black columnist for the Star - Carl Rowan, who had written for the Minneapolis Tribune, which was part of the same newspaper chain). I remember that they were very frightened by the riots in Washington in 1968 after the assassination of Martin Luther King, which probably was a factor in their increasing antipathy to blacks. I recollect my grandmother talking about the riots and telling us how close my grandfather was to the violence.

This is a photograph of nine presidents of the National Press Club, taken in 1971. My grandfather is the second from the right (the tallest man - he was 6' 3").

I wonder what my grandparents would think now if they knew that the children of an African-American president of the United States were going to the school their daughters had gone to in a segregated Washington, D.C.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Racist Reactions to Obama's Election

Unfortunately, this is not a "post-racial" country: a roundup of articles on racist reactions to Obama's election:

Election spurs hundreds of race threats, crimes [dead link]

Anti-Obama racial incidents reported in several cities [dead link]

Opinion: Racist Incidents Follow Obama Victory
Of the greatest fears many Blacks feared after the euphoria faded, was that there would be some racist backlash against Obama. Not surprising after seeing footage of the hate mobs attracted to McCain-Palin rallies. The fringe elements of those Republican crowds were drilled into believing that Barack Obama was a terrorist, communist, Muslim sleeper and traitor. The campaign was heavy with racial undertones, from Rush Limbaugh’s racist rants about Colin Powell's endorsement, to Sarah Palin turning a blind eye to someone yelling the N-word at a rally. After the Obama victory, there remained a potential that some would continue their anger toward the President-elect and his supporters. And sure enough, since election night a few racists and violent extremists have been lashing out.

There have been a string of disturbing firebombings, assaults, and incidents of vandalism directed at African-Americans. A Black church in Springfield, Massachusetts was burned down on election night. Police have downplayed whether it was related to racism or Obama’s triumph, though there are indicationsit was. If this was indeed a hate crime in liberal Massachusetts, it serves as a painful reminder to some of the destruction and terrorism that greeted the civil rights movement, particularly the bombing that killed four little girls in a church in Alabama.

Another incident involved a Black family near Pittsburgh, who had their car torched right outside their home while watching Obama deliver his victory speech on TV. Before the arsonists burned the car, they tossed the family’s Obama/Biden yard sign through one of their windows and spray painted “Obama” across the trunk. The blaze almost set the family’s house on fire, and left them fearful for their safety in a home where four generations of the Black Pennsylvania family has lived. This was clearly an act of terrorism. Instead of a burning cross on the family’s lawn reminiscent of a bygone era, there was a burning car, symbolizing the torching of our new African-American president. A Car bombings is something you expect to occur in Iraq, Afghanistan or Israel, not America.

There was election night incident in Staten Island, New York where an 17 year-old Muslim, African-American male immigrant, was beaten with baseball bats by a group of White men who repeatedly yelled, “Obama.” This hearkens back to memories of Yusef Hawkins who was chased and beaten by an angry mob in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn during the summer of 1989, resulting in his death.

At North Carolina State University in Raleigh, four students admitted spray painting an entire campus walkway with racist and violent threats including “Shoot Obama” and “Kill that nigger.” In Austin, Texas, Buck Burnette, a reserve center for the University of Texas football team, wrote on his Facebook page, “All the hunters gather up, we have a Nigger in the White House.” Burnette offered an apology not for what he posted, but for posting it on a public forum, and was kicked off the team.

All enlightened citizens must condemn any post-election outbursts of hatred or intimidation. While the symbol of Barack Obama’s presidency is a great thing for the nation, it may trigger the remains of the lunatic racist fringe to resume their old tactics of bombings and assassinations. Already the FBI and ATF have broken up two plots to kill Obama, each originating with radical white supremacist groups.
Chronicle of Racist Incidents and Threats Against Obama
Since election day, the number of threats against the president-elect, and racial or violent incidents directed at his supporters, have soared. The Secret Service is concerned, calling it the highest number of threats against a President-elect in memory, but the national media until this weekend have largely ignored the disturbing pattern.
A couple of examples:
* In a Maine convenience store, an Associated Press reporter saw a sign inviting customers to join a betting pool on when Obama might fall victim to an assassin. The sign solicited $1 entries into "The Osama Obama Shotgun Pool," saying the money would go to the person picking the date closest to when Obama was attacked. "Let's hope we have a winner."

* In Idaho, the Secret Service is investigating a "public hanging" sign erected by a man upset with the election outcome, the Bonner County Daily Bee reported Thursday. A handmade sign posted on a tree reads "FREE PUBLIC HANGING" written in large letters beneath a noose fashioned from nylon rope. The most prominent name on the sign is "OBAMA," according to the Bee. "That's a political statement. They can call it whatever they want, a threat or whatever," the creator of the sign, Ken Germana, told the Bee.
Hate Graffiti Targets Obama Backers in Torrance.
Vandals over the weekend attacked homes in south Torrance that displayed support for President-elect Obama, spray-painting cars, walls, trees and campaign signs with swastikas and racial slurs. One Hollywood Riviera resident awakened to find a large Nazi symbol on a tree, the N-word across her garage door and the phrase "Go back to Africa" scrawled across a front wall. "They had painted a big swastika on my car and spray-painted out my bumper sticker," she said Monday. "It was pretty shocking. Immediately my heart began racing." Torrance police Sgt. Bernard Anderson said officers took four vandalism reports Sunday morning. The Daily Breeze located a fifth home that was hit. One couple who live near Calle Mayor found the words "Hitler" and "Nazi" painted in black on their Volkswagen.
Gang angry at Barack Obama win beat me, says Staten Island teen.
A black Muslim teenager said he was beaten on Election Night by four white men furious that Barack Obama was elected the nation's next President. Ali Kamara, 17, was walking home when four white men leaped from a gold car and started kicking him and smashing him with a baseball bat at about 10 p.m. near his Staten Island home. "I see the car coming. They looked at me and said, 'Obama!' They were not happy. They had hoodies on. They started hitting me with bats and my body started vibrating," said the Curtis High School, S.I., student.
Obama Victory spawns racist, derogatory remarks - from "The Appalachian," student newspaper of Appalachian State University. "At least one t-shirt has been seen around Appalachian’s campus with the phrase, 'Obama ’08, Biden ’09' displayed on it."

Racist Graffiti at Colgate University. Catch the photos of the graffiti - one reads "They were born to be slaves and serve white people."

Church parishioner claims pastor humiliated her over Obama signs [dead link].

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Ithaca College Celebrates

The students in my classes this morning told me that there was a huge, spontaneous party last night after it was announced that Barack Obama had won the presidency - and I just found a couple of videos on line showing the scene, from the CNN iReport website.

Ithaca College Celebrates -

Ithaca College Celebrates 2

Yes We Can!

I stood last night at Castaways (a local bar in Ithaca) with my friends and we watched Barack Obama win this historical election. Amazing! Watching the students from Spelman College and the people at Ebenezer Baptist Church - this has been a long time coming!

Monday, November 03, 2008

Obama's grandmother dies

Obama's grandmother died very eary this morning. Joe Klein of Time Magazine has a moving obituary about her - To The Mountaintop.

Rabbi Moshe Cotel

In today's New York Times, there is a moving obituary of Rabbi Moshe Cotel, whom I met when I belonged to the West Side Minyan (an independent minyan that is part of congregation Ansche Chesed on the Upper West Side of Manhattan) in the late 1990s. I never got to know him very well, but his fierce dedication to Judaism was apparent when he led services or gave a d'var Torah.

He was a well-known composer who taught at the Peabody Conservatory of Johns Hopkins University for many years. Many of his compositions were on Jewish themes - and I would love to find them and listen to them now. Those listed in the obituary include "Deronda," an opera based on George Eliot's novel Daniel Deronda, "The Fire and the Mountains," which commemorates the Holocaust, and "Night of the Murdered Poets," about poets and intellectuals murdered by Stalin in 1952. He also wrote an opera on the Dreyfus Affair, which apparently led to his return to Judaism.

There is one cute story involving a cat in the obituary. In 1996, while he was playing the "Well-Tempered Clavier," his cat, Ketzel, pounced on the keyboard, and he "grabbed a pencil and inscribed a descending paw pattern from treble to bass." This work he named "Piece for Piano - Four Paws," and he later wrote a longer composition based on the original piece, which was only one-minute long. This longer composition was named "Mews' Muse."

Another account of his life appears at his website - Bio.