Thursday, May 29, 2014

Report of the 2008 Mumbai Terror Attacks

The following is from my final project for a massive open online class I was taking under Universiteit Leiden titled Terrorism and Counterterrorism: Comparing Theory and Practice, conducted by Professor Edwin Bakker.

The Mumbai Attacks of 2008 were a series of alleged terrorist attacks across the Indian capital city of the state of Maharashtra, Mumbai, lasting a total of four days from the 26th of November till the 29th. The attack was initiated by members of the Pakistan-based Islamist Jihadist organization Lashkar-e-Taiyeba vying to establish an Islamic State across the South Asian region.

The reported members involved in the 2008 terror attacks are: Ajmal Kasab, Abdul Rehman, Abdul Rahman Chhota, Abu Ali, Fahad Ullah, Ismail Khan, Babar Imran, Abu Umar, and Abu Sohrab. Out of the ten, only Ajmal Kasab was captured alive. The remainder nine were killed off by Indian forces.

The attacks targeted Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus, Oberoi Trident Hotel, Taj Mahal Palace and Tower Hotel, Nariman House Jewish community center, Leopold Cafe along with a few other places across Mumbai, claiming the lives of more than a hundred and fifty people, wounding as many as around three hundred.

On the 25th of February, 2009, Ajmal Kasab was charged with counts of waging war against India, terrorism, murdering seven and abetting the murder of one-hundred-fifty-nine, conspiracy, kidnapping, causing explosions, illegal use of arms, breach of the Railways Act, robbery, along with over seventy other offences. He was tried, convicted and awarded the death sentence for his crimes, later executed by hanging.

According to the twelve elements of Alex Schmid, the 2008 Mumbai Attacks can be classified as terrorism since:
  1. There were obvious civilian casualties in almost all of the places targeted by the attacks.
    For example, casualties at the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus were mostly non-combatants, including children. All of the victims in Oberoi Trident Hotel, and Taj Mahal Palace and Tower Hotel were hotel staff and guests.
    None of these targets were guilty of anything the assailants were fighting against. They were merely innocent bystanders. It is clear that the brunt of the attackers' displeasure were not ultimately to be bore by them;
    rather they were a message deployed to incite terror.
    Also, none of the targeted areas can be classified as regions of conflict. They were essentially civilian populated complexes such as hotels, train stations, hospitals and cafes.
  2. Ajmal Kasab, one of the actors involved in the 2008 Mumbai Attacks was convicted of murder and kidnapping. The Wikipedia entry of the list of casualties of the 2008 Mumbai Attacks states, “terrorists used AK-47 rifles to shoot recklessly and threw grenades everywhere in the [Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus] station”
    The series of events of the 2008 Mumbai Attacks was indiscriminate as many women and children were killed without consideration. Patients of the Cama Hospital were intended targets. It was brutal in nature and propagated fear and chaos.
  3. The initiators were physically and psychologically prepared for the acts, indoctrinated with extremist Islamic propaganda and receiving military-level training along with military-grade weapon and technology forming well-organized squadrons with ranks and hierarchies behind them.
  4. The perpetrators of the attack were affiliated to Lashkar-e-Taiyeba, a group infamous for supporting a radical Islamist agenda through acts of violence and terrorism based in Pakistan, hence transnational connections, pushing the propaganda of forging a puritan Islamic State under a fundamentalist Sharia Constitution.
    Therefore, it is obvious that the attacks were initiated to promote the Lashkar-e-Taiyeba's ideology of extremist Islam, creating an environment of fear to exhibit their clout and gravity, pressuring opposing forces to give in to the terror and submit to the group's demands.
  5. It is blatant that most, if not all, of the above mentioned points are in compliance to the twelve elements mentioned by Alex Schmid to classify a series of events as an act of terrorism and thus it can be concluded that the 2008 Mumbai Attacks was indeed such an act.

Professor Alex Schmid defines terrorism with the following twelve elements:
  1. Terrorism refers, on the one hand, to a doctrine about the presumed effectiveness of a special form or tactic of fear-generating, coercive political violence and, on the other hand, to a conspiratorial practice of calculated, demonstrative, direct violent action without legal or moral restraints, targeting mainly civilians and non-combatants, performed for its propagandistic and psychological effects on various audiences and parties
  2. Terrorism as a tactic is employed in three main contexts:
    (i) illegal state repression,
    (ii) propagandistic agitation by non-state actors in times of peace or outside zones of conflict
    (iii) as an illicit tactic of irregular warfare employed by state- and non-state actors
  3. The physical violence or threat thereof employed by terrorist actors involves single-phase acts of lethal violence (such as bombings and armed assaults), dual-phased life-threatening incidents (like kidnapping, hijacking and other forms of hostage-taking for coercive bargaining) as well as multi-phased sequences of actions (such as in ‘disappearances’ involving kidnapping, secret detention, torture and murder)
  4. The publicized terrorist victimization initiates threat-based communication processes whereby, on the one hand, conditional demands are made to individuals, groups, governments, societies or sections thereof, and, on the other hand, the support of specific constituencies (based on ties of ethnicity, religion, political affiliation and the like) is sought by the terrorist perpetrators
  5. At the origin of terrorism stands terror – instilled fear, dread, panic or mere anxiety – spread among those identifying, or sharing similarities, with the direct victims, generated by some of the modalities of the terrorist act – its shocking brutality, lack of discrimination, dramatic or symbolic quality and disregard of the rules of warfare and the rules of punishment
  6. The main direct victims of terrorist attacks are in general not any armed forces but are usually civilians, non-combatants or other innocent and defenseless persons who bear no direct responsibility for the conflict that gave rise to acts of terrorism
  7. The direct victims are not the ultimate target (as in a classical assassination where victim and target coincide) but serve as message generators, more or less unwittingly helped by the news values of the mass media, to reach various audiences and conflict parties that identify either with the victims’ plight or the terrorists’ professed cause
  8. Sources of terrorist violence can be individual perpetrators, small groups, diffuse transnational networks as well as state actors or state-sponsored clandestine agents (such as death squads and hit teams)
  9. While showing similarities with methods employed by organized crime as well as those found in war crimes, terrorist violence is predominantly political – usually in its motivation while always in its societal repercussions
  10. The immediate intent of acts of terrorism is to terrorize, intimidate, antagonize, disorientate, destabilize, coerce, compel, demoralize or provoke a target population or conflict party in the hope of achieving from the resulting insecurity a favorable power outcome, e.g. obtaining publicity, extorting ransom money, submission to terrorist demands and/or mobilizing or immobilizing sectors of the public
  11. The motivations to engage in terrorism cover a broad range, including redress for alleged grievances, personal or vicarious revenge, collective punishment, revolution, national liberation and the promotion of diverse ideological, political, social, national or religious causes and objectives
  12. Acts of terrorism rarely stand alone but form part of a campaign of violence which alone can, due to the serial character of acts of violence and threats of more to come, create a pervasive climate of fear that enables the terrorists to manipulate the political process

–– Fahim Ferdous Promi

Monday, May 19, 2014

Importance of Trust in Building a Better Learning Environment

The following is an essay I penned for my Foundations of Teaching for Learning online class offered by the Commonwealth Education Trust and conducted by Professor John MacBeath of the University of Cambridge.

Learning is a cognitive process that takes multiple elements of our psychology into play including memory and incentive. It is a complicated concept and we are constantly researching the topic as new ideas are being developed every day. One particular area of interest are the factors involved in learning: how do we learn, what influences learning and make us better learners, what inhibits our growth as a learner, and what affects these processes.

On a basic level, we know that there is the factor of the learner’s own potential and desire. Personally, as a teacher and a lifelong student myself, I have noted that it is the latter which is more important than the former partially because potential is such a vague concept but more importantly because potential itself is not fixed. It can be changed, improved and a lot of that relies upon desire.

The student’s main weapon in their arsenal to learn is their desire to be better at the subject they are being presented with, to grasp the concept. They must have an incentive to learn. We can observe this in infants actually. As mentioned above, there is the function of potential playing a role here with the baby’s innate ability to pick up languages and construct words or sentences but there is also the desire to use this ability that comes into play foremost. For example, I currently possess the ability to swim in the Raritan river but I will not do that right now because I have no desire to. There is simply no incentive.

Humans are social animals. We have the innate desire to commune with our surroundings. The baby, in the above example, has the incentive to interact with its surroundings. It notices that adults around it do so by naming objects, actions, etc. and converse with each other. Humans beings also have the innate desire to connect with their surroundings and not be left out. We want to be part of our societies, our communities. The baby understands that it can do this by talking. The desire to talk, in conjunction with the innate ability to pick up languages works well here to allow the baby to speak.

Therefore, I personally believe, that the most important factor in learning is the incentive and the desire. Humans learn by example because the examples they follow are already part of a community and we want to join them. The example could be our parents, our teachers, older siblings, a celebrity on TV, etc. However, the core idea is that we see these role models as part of a desirable community we strive to be a part of. Let’s say we want to raise a family like our parents, be good with the neighbors, have colleagues, etc and thus we endeavor to learn in schools, colleges, get a job and get on that track. Sometimes, this role model could be someone else, for example a celebrity scientist, writer or actor, whose community we see as the more desirable one and we want to be more like them, following their path and thus we strive to learn what they know to develop ourselves as one with them.

On the other hand, if the desire to learn a craft is low, no matter how much the potential a student will not strive to learn it. Once again, personal anecdote: I was always called a gifted artist by my teachers but never really had the desire to learn it because, first, the grade from Arts and Craft did not impact our CGPA, and second, none of my role models, back then, superheroes in anime like Goku, were artists. Simply put, I did not want to be an artist myself. The teachers loved my work and it was good enough for me to pass the class, therefore the incentive, passing the class, was met with ease. I did not desire to improve.

Desire can be improved by the teacher. A teacher can be a positive influence on their students by being a role model. This is where another important factor comes in: Trust. Trust is a crucial environment in creating a learning environment between teacher and student. This is largely because one would not necessarily try to learn much from someone else who they do not trust or agree with. Shared values, commonalities in views and ethics mean that one can trust the other not to direct them towards a path that is not contradictory to their beliefs. To demonstrate this with a hypothetical example, let’s say that I believe homosexuality is wrong and someone believes it is right. I might fear that this person may convince me to abandon my lifelong beliefs, discard them unceremoniously and disrespectfully. Another example to expound on the importance of trust would be, let’s say, a business scheme. If a relative stranger were to come up to me with a business scheme that sounds a little unorthodox I would not trust the person because it might be a scam. However, if the person who comes to me with the scheme is someone I know I would want to learn more about the scheme because I know they know my preferences, ethical values, what I would do and not do, and, of course, they are not going to scam me.

Once a teacher, even if they do not share the same common values with the student and they have no similarities at all, takes the time and effort to understand their student, the students know they can trust the teacher because the teacher will not be making the effort to know someone they do not care about. Having that assurance makes it easy for the student to absorb what the teacher is dishing out. This is because the student now believes the teacher cares for them and thus the subconscious barriers and defenses are let down. So this trust is built upon respect for shared values and mutual care which, from my personal perspective, are fundamentals in creating a learning environment.

Finally, I would also like to include simplicity. The act of making an idea or concept easy to understand by fragmenting it, breaking it down, thus allowing easier absorption of the learning material, is crucial to helping the process of learning. Of course, making an idea simpler does not always mean making it shorter. Sometimes we need to expand upon a concept and use a series of smaller, simpler analogies to explain the more complicated idea. For example, comparing red blood cells to trucks, oxygen to goods carried by the trucks, and the arteries as roads, makes it tremendously simpler and easier to visualize for the students. The aforementioned idea can be connected to the previously mentioned idea of getting to know the student. Because getting to know the student really helps in using vivid examples through metaphors the student can relate to and comprehend.

In conclusion, we can sum up what is most important in creating a learning environment between student and teacher, parent and children, younger and older siblings, whatever the relationship may be, is a profound bond between the characters involved and a thorough understanding of one and another.

— Fahim Ferdous Promi