Not getting the 'r' word
It was New Years Eve 2008, and my son Dylan and I gathered with close friends for our annual holiday festivities. In past years we'd celebrated in Rome, Sydney and Vienna. Now in the waning days of 2007, we found ourselves in Mumbai, India and thanks to our hosts' generosity, our gala was to be held at the city's beautiful Taj Mahal Palace Hotel.
We checked into our exquisitely appointed rooms a couple of days before the party. After having spent the last week and a half in Bangalore, Delhi, Agra and elsewhere, we were particularly impressed with the old world elegance of Mumbai. We took photographs of the impressive boulevards, colorful gardens and regal buildings. But the Taj Hotel was especially lovely, overlooking the harbor, its fairy-tale architecture serving as a beloved landmark both to tourists and the local population. We, too, fell in love with it.
On December 31, after drinks and snapshots, we settled down to dinner. Two friends, with whom I've written other books - Paul Marshall and Roberta Green Ahmanson - and I were discussing our most recent offering, the soon-to-be-released Blind Spot: When Journalists Don't Get Religion. We had worked as editors and contributors for this Oxford publication, which focused on the fact that some journalists, especially those who are not religiously observant themselves, frequently overlook, misunderstand or under-report the importance of religion to current events.
OF COURSE it never crossed our minds that in less than a year, we would be seeing the very setting of our conversation and celebration destroyed by Islamist terrorists. Or that the reporting of Mumbai's siege would so aptly illustrate the thesis of our book.
Late last Wednesday night in my Jerusalem apartment, I was checking the headlines. All at once I found myself frantically trying to make sense of a growing number of news bulletins, video clips, live feeds and photographs coming in from Mumbai. It seemed that a murderous assault on the city had been launched, and one of the two five-star hotels attacked was our beautiful Taj Mahal Palace. Of course the grisly scenes of people gunned down in cold blood were the real tragedy. But for me, it was also jarring to see places inside the hotel where I had walked, shared a drink with friends, laughed with my son and welcomed in the New Year now smeared with blood and littered broken bodies. It was impossible to stop watching, and sleep was out of the question.
I was vaguely aware that the perpetrators were being identified mostly as "militants," their presumed motives as "economic," their targets as "Western" and their description - more than once - as "so young, dressed in casual clothes..."
Even though it was clearly a terrorist attack, most of reports avoided the words "Muslim" and "Islamic." It was, in fact, a while before the noun terrorism was employed.
On some Web sites there was occasional speculation about possible al-Qaida connections.