Monday, December 01, 2008

Mumbai, emotion and rationality

The knock-ons for the terrorist attacks in Mumbai begin. Indian home office government ministers resign. A war of words starts between India and Pakistan. A youth interviewed in a demonstration declares with adolescent certainty that what is needed is "a war with Pak".

Let us assume that the attacks (despite a denial from one source) were mounted by Laskar-e-Toiba (LeT), the "Army of the Righteous" (sick). They are a Pakistan-based Islamist group whose primary objective is to get India out of Jammu and Kashmir, but while they are at it they wouldn't mind restoring Islamic power over South Asia, and parts of Russia and China. Nothing ventured, nothing gained. Oh, and they want to destroy the Indian republic and put an end to Hinduism and Judaism. And they have a fatwah against the Pope because of his unguarded remarks against the Prophet (PBUH).

LeT seem to be supported by the Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence, ISI, the most powerful and cloudy of Pakistan's three intelligence agencies, which has been kinked with election rigging, corruption, illegaity, and support for the Taleban. Confused?

The ISI appears to be a state within a state. This should not come as a surprise. Secret Services are by definition not transparent, and transparency is incompatible with democratic accountability. I have no clear idea how to respond to this problem. A few years ago I proposed some Green Party policy to try to rein them in, but it was crushed by the Handbrake Tendency. I must learn to be more dogged.

Contrary to immediate claims, there were early warnings of the attack, going back to March of this year, which specified the hotels targeted. It was said that the attack would come by sea. Fishermen warned in August of suspicious activity.

Given that security services do exist, it is surprising how ineffective they are. Mrs Thatcher had intelligence of Gen Galtieri's plans to invade the Falklands/Malvinas, but it was not acted on. The US security agencies ignored early warnings of 9/11.

The Indian Government will probably follow the US and UK by increasing surveillance of the whole population and reducing general civil liberties, but the real problem lies in assessing and integrating warnings. They probably get thousands of bits of information, and as a GP I can testify to the inherent difficulty of filtering the signal from the noise. However, it can be done. Computers can help, by handling vast volumes of information, although they are not infallible (computers discarded early data showing the ozone hole because they did not expect that to happen).

More importantly, a single agency needs to be responsible for filtering potentially important information, especially if 2 or more bits of information are pointing in the same direction.

There are other rational responses that can be made, but the overwhelming likelihood is that the attack will get an irrational response, with relationships between India and Pakistan, both nuclear armed, getting more angry.

Anger - the wish to hurt the one who is perceived to have hurt us - is a primitive emotional reaction, and if deployed, inevitably leads to escalation of the problem.

Philosophical rationality is the counter to anger. It takes the higher vantage point and the long-term view. It notes the emotion expressed by others, and integrates it as a factor in the equation, but it looks at all the causes of the problem, and tries to find an answer that addresses the whole field of problems. We humans do have the capability to respond in this way, it is just that we find it quicker to make an emotional reaction.


Green Gordon said...

Did you mena to say "and 'a lack of' transparency is incompatible with democratic accountability"?

DocRichard said...

Yes Gordon I did, and will put it to rights immediately.

Did you mean to say mean instead of mena?

This could go on forever, or until the spell checkers come home...

Green Gordon said...

Yes, I did, but decided against deleting and re-typing...

scott redding said...

Thanks for commenting on this. Both on the national website (press releases) and from Green Party bloggers, there has been a silence on Mumbai.

DocRichard said...

Thanks Scott. There is a mistaken tendency for the Green Party to avoid issues that are perceived to belong to the "other side". Mumbai = more war on terror, we disagree with the war on terror, so ignore it. Same goes for the Damian Green arrest scandal: Green is a Tory, we dislike Tories, so ignore the story. We should go for a more holistic or (if holism leaves a wooly taste in the mouth) comprehensive approach to politics.

DocRichard said...
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adolfo said...

With the resumption of violence yesterday, it seems the right time for reflection and thought about where we are and we should be. The Road Map for Peace is as everyone knows, a very problematic document it has more questions than answers, and is full of contradictions and ambiguities.