The age of ‘celebrity terrorism’

Quite apart from the scores murdered and the hundreds injured, what the Mumbai terrorists really wanted was an exaggerated – and preferably extreme – reaction on the part of governments, the media and public opinion.

In these terms, the attackers received as much attention as they could possibly have hoped for, and the Mumbai outrage can only be described as a very significant terrorist success.

The attack received saturation coverage in the world’s media from the outset.

Almost within minutes, television screens showed harrowing scenes of pools of blood where people had died or been injured, hotels ablaze, Indian army snipers firing at distant targets, and CCTV images of the attackers.

Especially disturbing, hostages and survivors reported that certain nationalities had been identified by their passports and taken away for execution.

No matter how obscure, every detail of this multi-point, sustained attack was soon being pored over by terrorism experts, trying to fit the carnage in Mumbai into one template or another.

Unanswered questions

So the speculative – and often tendentious – questioning began.

What were the tactics of the terrorists? What weapons did they have and where could they have got them? How much planning and preparation would have been necessary for a military-style operation of this sort? Who were the terrorists – where were they from and what did they want?

Who was the mastermind behind the attacks? And did the attacks have the hallmarks of an al-Qaeda-style operation. Was it all part of the global jihad against the West?

This is precisely how terrorism is meant to work – the terrorist’s action must always be complemented by the target’s reaction in order to complete the scene.

How the attack is carried out, and what is done to whom, matters no more – and often rather less – than the way the attack is received, and the impact accorded to it.

The impact has indeed been instant and extensive, reaching into the worlds of politics, business and even sport, and on all levels – internationally, regionally and nationally in India.