Archive for category Terrorism

A Facebook dialog after the Newtown shooting

After the recent shooting at an Elementary school in Newtown, CT, I posted this question on Facebook:

 “Leaving aside the politics of gun control, 2nd Amendment rights, etc, why cannot a country which is in the forefront of all kinds of innovation in every field, swiftly find a way to permanently end, once and for all, the random killing of innocent people (most recently some 20 elementary school children in CT) by crazed individuals?”

This eventually resulted in an extended Facebook dialog between me and Boyd Hawkins (which I am posting in its entirety here).  Just as an introduction, Boyd and I serve on the Board of the Coppell Republican Club.  However, we have radically different backgrounds.  Boyd is white, Christian, gun owner who has been around guns since he was a kid and an ardent defender of the 2nd amendment and gun owner’s rights.  I am brown, Hindu, never handled a real gun in my life and a pragmatist (that is, a problem solver not bothered too much about any ideology).

Hope you find this dialog illuminating – and worth commenting about – your views (especially controversial ones) are welcome!

7 hours ago · 


  • This coincidentally happened also last Friday but in China – same scenario – evil, crazy nut attacks children in school – except nobody appears to have died because the weapon of choice was not an assault rifle. There are and always will be some crazy, lunatics in all countries and cultures – challenge is for the “sane” majority to finds ways to minimize the damage that the loons could potentially do.

    Knife attack at Chinese school wounds 22 children

    Twenty-two primary school children were wounded in a knife attack Friday in central China, authorities said.
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      Boyd Hawkins “The attack marks the latest in a series of violent assaults at elementary schools in China. In 2010, a total of 18 children were killed in four separate attacks. On March 23 of that year, Zheng Minsheng attacked children at an elementary school in Fujian Province, killing eight.

      One month later, just a few hours after Zheng Minsheng was executed for his crime, another man, Chen Kanbing wounded 16 students and a teacher in a knife attack at another primary school in Fujian. The following month, on May 12, a man named Wu Huangming killed seven children and two adults with a meat cleaver at a kindergarten in Shaanxi Province. That attack was followed by an August 4 assault by Fang Jiantang, who killed three children and one teacher with a knife at a kindergarten in Shandong Province.

      In 2011, a young girl and three adults were killed with an axe at an elementary school in Henan Province by a 30-year-old man named Wang Hongbin, and eight children were hurt in Shanghai after an employee at a child care center attacked them with a box cutter.”
      Venky Venkatraman Imagine if the assailants had assault rifles in each of the above scenarios – the damage would have been ten-fold. Conversely, if this pip squeak Adam Lanza had showed up in the school with a knife, he might have been easily over powered by the Principal, possibly aided by a strapping gym teacher, before he could even get close to the children.
      Boyd Hawkins If we eliminated Gun Free Zones and placed armed police in schools, or allow teachers / administrators to be armed as they do in Israel, maybe Lanza’s initial confrontation with the principal would of ended differently….or maybe the coward would of never entered the school.
      Venky Venkatraman Boyd – I had been a couple of times to Israel in 1996-97 and stayed for about a month each time – there were soldiers with guns all over the place (buses, hotels, airports, etc). Although I felt pretty safe there all the time (despite or because of there being visible guns everywhere), I was glad to be back in the US where things were “normal”. And I really don’t think Principals Pam Mitchell, Laura Springer or any of their staff could actually confront and kill a crazy, armed, 20 year old “kid”, whatever training they are provided. So we might end up having a Govt agency like the TSA maintaining security in all schools. Do we really want to have that?!
      Boyd Hawkins When I was a kid, I was around guns all the time … it was “normal”. There were always guns in the gun rack in the back window of the truck or behind / under the seat. There was never a sense of concern because of people had a respect for the power of guns…. Safety, respect and an understanding of proper gun use was always present around guns. When you traveled to Israel, you felt safe because you knew that the soldiers were there for your protection and not to harm you. If you had been traveling through Afghanistan and came across a group of armed soldiers, would you of had the same sense of safety? Its the culture that is the difference. You are probably right about the school administrators you reference, but I would be willing to bet that there are teachers / administrators who would be willing to take on the responsibility and get properly trained / certified. I do not like the idea of needing armed guards at schools either, but we have allowed our culture to deteriorate and are confronted with that reality. Any gun restrictions are only going to effect law abiding citizens….someone who is willing to shoot up a school will not be deterred by gun laws … they are more likely to be emboldened by them.
      Boyd Hawkins Have you seen this clip of Eric Holder from 1995? The same Eric Holder behind Fast and Furious. I think I will heed Thomas Jefferson’s advice here … “No free man shall ever be debarred the use of arms. The strongest reason for the people to retain…See More has uncovered video from 1995 of then-U.S. Attorney Eric Holder an

      nouncing a public campaign to “really brainwash people into thinking about gu…
      Venky Venkatraman Looks like only the two of us are shooting it out on this topic at OK Corral, Boyd (while our other Republican buddies appear to be cowering in some corner). Thanks for educating me regarding how common guns were when you were growing up – that fits with the image of the rugged American individualism that we imagined existed in America while growing up in India. What I would be curious about would be to learn what prevented you or your brother or father from grabbing a gun off the truck and killing one another when one of you were upset about something. My brothers and I used to fight a lot and sometimes were “killing” each other with toy guns when growing up and if there was a real gun around, one of us probably would not have made it past childhood. I assume that no one was going around shooting up children in schools when you were growing up. As you have correctly pointed out, the culture clearly has changed since when you were young and things unimaginable then are now happening. All I am saying is that if we make it our highest priority that never again will we allow a deranged, gun toting person from ever massacring innocent children, then we should leave no option off the table – one of them being making it impossible for disturbed individuals to own guns – even if in doing so, we may it somewhat more onerous for law abiding individuals from getting guns suitable for protecting themselves.
      Boyd Hawkins What kept us from killing each other?… that is easy…the underlying value system that was within the fabric of society. Our Christian upbringing taught us to value and respect life. This was supported / reinforced by society and even schools at the time. We certainly fought and misbehaved, but there were clear lines and consequences when those lines were crossed. … Venky, where you are going wrong is even having the notion that it is possible to “never again will we allow a deranged, gun toting person from ever massacring innocent children…” Human nature is not possible to control. How did the Soviet’s “New Man” and the Nazis perfection of the “Aryan Race” work out? All we can do is set up agents of deterrent (responsible armed citizens) and severe consequences for such behaviors. Restricting law abiding individuals will only put those same law abiding citizens at more risk.
      Venky Venkatraman Boyd – this is turning out to be a really illuminating exchange – I hope others of various political persuasions and views read this – with respect to your statement “Venky, where you are going wrong is even having the notion that it is possible to “never again will we allow a deranged, gun toting person from ever massacring innocent children…” Human nature is not possible to control.”…………. What I am saying is that we need to set that as an aspirational goal. For example “We will never allow a commercial airline to crash again” – see how close we have come to perfection that nowadays we we do not even consider the possibility of a plane crashing when we take a flight. Or after 9/11 – “we will never again allow anyone to hijack a plane in the US” – and we have been completely successful in that endeavor that we do not even worry about a hijacking while boarding a flight. So why can we not agree to have an aspirational goal “never again will we allow a deranged, gun toting person from ever massacring innocent children…” and then see what need to do get there?
      Boyd Hawkins That is a goal that we should strive to achieve, but we also have to be realistic. Just as Adam Lanza tried to purchase a gun and was denied (the laws worked in that respect), he was still able to find a way to get his hands on guns.
      Venky Venkatraman OK Boyd – now that we (and hopefully a majority of Americans of all stripes) are in agreement on the goal, it is only a question of putting our collective heads together and figuring out a way that the Adam Lanza’s of the world never again are able to get their hands on any type of weapon of “mass destruction”. BTW – I was not aware that Adam Lanza tried to purchase a gun and was denied. Where did you learn that?
      Boyd Hawkins I have seen it a few places, but here is one of them…

      Video on NBC’s Pete Williams reports that Connecticut school shooter 

      Adam Lanza attempted to purchase a rifle earlier this week at a sporting goods store in Danbury, Conn.
      Venky Venkatraman Thanks for sharing – that’s very interesting to know. So if his mother did not have any guns, then I guess Adam Lanza would not have had the ability to perpetrate this horror. Then the next question would be, how can guns (purchased legitimately it appears in this case) by parents be prevented from falling into the hands of crazy children (of which I am guessing there must be a lot out there, given the number of broken homes and single mothers who may have out of control sons)?
      Boyd Hawkins You just slipped on the slippery slope and are falling into a totalitarian state. The only way to mitigate this threat (and mitigate is all we can hope to do) is to restore the traditional American (Judeo-Christian values) culture which recognizes that there is actually good and bad / right and wrong. Only responsible self-governing people can be free.
      Boyd Hawkins I believe my generation and my parents generation are guilty of standing by and letting it happen, but here is a talk (audio and video download) that Evan Sayet gave back in 2007 where he explains what is a significant contribution in the culture shift that has occurred in this country … There is a transcript of the speech here:

      Regurgitating the Apple: How Modern Liberals “Think”
      Venky Venkatraman Sorry to say but now you are slipping into becoming an ideologue, Boyd. Not that other religions (including Hinduism) don’t distinguish between right and wrong but how do you propose to restore “traditional Judeo-Christian values” when white (Christians) are going to be a minority in the US within a couple of decades (and probably sooner in Texas)? Are you saying that you want be so ideologically pure that you do not mind sacrificing a bunch of school children every few months? What exactly does “responsible self-governing people” mean? Does it mean that it is everyone for himself/herself – buy a gun and take care of yourself and your children and be free??
      Venky Venkatraman The article was a little too long to read in its entirety – but I got the gist. My point is that to solve pressing matters like preventing any further gun violence in schools perpetrated by deranged nuts, we need to toss our liberal/conservative hats and put on our problem-solving caps – otherwise, nothing is ever going to get resolved.
      Boyd Hawkins I am not saying that other religions do not have values. What I am saying is that this countries heritage is Judeo-Christian. Also, the Christian faith is not limited to the white race. This culture is not something that can be impose on people. The only way to restore that culture is for Christians to start living like Christians again and churches to start being churches again. That culture is a byproduct of Christians living out their lives / faith … not an imposition of moral laws on a people. Human nature is independent of ideology as well as religion….you can’t tie them together like you are implying and you can’t conclude that the a certain ideology / belief is going to result in the sacrifice of school children. Man thinking he is going to change human nature has had devastating results throughout history. However, a societies collective culture can have an influence on behavior, but it will not change human nature and it does not guarantee outcomes … there is always the risk of evil acts. … No, it does not mean anarchy. It means a society agreeing to live by certain standards, individuals doing their part in honoring those standards and having a government that applies equal treatment of the law when people act outside of those standards.
      Boyd Hawkins It is about an hour long speech, so it is more than a lengthy article. I am not saying that we should sit idly by and let stuff happen, but the current administration believes in a managed society and is eager to take away individual liberty … I have no interest in handing it over.
      Venky Venkatraman Don’t disagree with anything you have said there with respect to the big picture – I am just putting on my Consultant’s hat and sharing my thoughts as if I had been given the SPECIFIC assignment of solving gun violence perpetrated by nuts, and willing to bulldoze through whatever stands in my way to accomplish that goal (which is what I am hoping political leaders who have the power will do ASAP). I believe individual liberty can be safeguarded while also ensuring collective safety of the citizenry, protecting them against both foreign and domestic terrorists (which I believe you will agree is any Government’s responsibility).
      Boyd Hawkins Yes those responsibilities do fall to the gov, but our constitution also starts out We The People and I do not believe our gov has been acting as a government by and for the people for some time now. … in short, I do not trust them with my liberty currently.
      Venky Venkatraman I get where you are coming from on this matter, Boyd. Thanks for engaging with me on this. I believe this is the kind of frank talk that is needed between reasonable people of all view points if we have to solve any serious problem that is facing this country. Would you mind if I publish this entire thread on my blog for the benefit of my readers?
      3 hours ago · Like · 1
      Boyd Hawkins Sure, that is fine


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Guest Blogger on India’s New Visa Requirements

Rupa Bose is a fellow alumnus from the Indian Institute of Management.  She maintains a very informative blog ( which is mostly business related with a primary focus on India, Asia, economy, products and companies.  Rupa has also authored a fact filled book about doing business in India titled “India Business Checklists”.

We have decided to occasionally guest-blog, that is, my posts will show up on her blog as well, and vice-versa.

I found that her posting on India’s New Visa Requirements complemented my blog entry comparing and contrasting 9/11 and 26/11.

Following is her article from Jan 14, 2010:

Terrorists and India’s New Visa Requirements

If you have an American visa passport (or a European one), you can visit most countries free of visa requirements.

India’s not one of them. Almost all foreigners need visas for India. (Citizens of five countries qualify for 30-day visas-on-arrival.) In fact, India has a whole bunch of visa categories: Tourist,  Business, Journalist, Conference,  Transit visa, Entry Visa,  Employment, Student, Missionary, Research, Sports.  Recently, thanks largely to a single terrorist, the rules were tightened further.

India had always given long-term multiple entry tourist visas to foreigners who wished to visit the country regularly. Thousands of visitors took advantage of it, including people who used it essentially as a business visit visa.

David Coleman Headley allegedly used it for a more nefarious purpose – to research potential targets in Mumbai ahead of the horrendous terror attacks on the Taj Hotel, the Oberoi Hotel, and a major train station among others.

The Indian government will now prohibit a visitor – even one with a multi-year, multiple re-entry visa – from returning in under two months. Exceptions may be permitted with an advance itinerary – if for instance your travels take you into other countries and back through India for two or more short stays.  However, if the total period exceeds 90 days (or 180 days, depending on the visa), then the two month gap becomes a requirement.

The government is also becoming stricter about the de facto use of tourist visas for other purposes – like business.

People with Overseas Citizen of India (OCI) or Person of Indian Origin (PIO) status do not need to get Indian visas, no matter what nationality they have.


We’ll all get used the the new visa rules eventually. But meanwhile, the first, very public, evidence of the visa inconvenience showed up in the Indian press.

Several guests who’d planned to speak at an important Literary Festival in Jaipur didn’t get there for visa reasons. The Indian Express reported the following:

  • Eminent Harvard Professor Henry Louis Gates – the gentleman who shot into the headlines after being arrested on his own front porch by mistake – didn’t get a visa in time. The rules had been tightened after his application went in, and the consulate went by the new rules. Apparently they wanted a copy of his birth certificate and his college diploma…
  • Andrew Lycett, from the UK, had visited in November, and had a tourist visa valid for six months. But since he needed to re-enter within 60 days, it wasn’t. It wasn’t the right type of emergency…
  • Palestinian-American poet Suheir Hammad tried to get a visa from London, though she is from New York. The passport was sent to New York for verification, and hadn’t returned by the time the festival started.

(Of course, Delhi is in the grip of fog season, which adds its own complications to travel. Today’s news is that visibility is down to 100 meters, and over 100 flights are affected. Not to mention the trains.)


If terrorists measure their success in terms of inconvenience caused to the public at large, this is another point for them. Along with shoe-removal when visiting the US and several other countries, no liquids permitted on board, a wide range of items prohibited in carry-on luggage, finger-printing at Immigration in some countries, and coming soon to an airport near you, full-body scanners.

Then again, I suppose all these measures are generating jobs and economic activity…


The Universal Appeal of Avatar …

Avatar - the movie

Avatar - the movie

Yesterday was not a good day for James Cameron.  His highest grossing, block buster movie, Avatar, was beaten to the Oscars by his ex-wife’s movie, The Hurt Locker.  As Jay Leno had predicted, he will get see these Oscars only on Wednesday evenings and every other weekend!

Last year’s big Oscar winner Slumdog Millionaire brought a gritty piece of India to the world audience. Avatar (meaning “reincarnation” in Sanskrit), on the other hand, is based on a concept of having multiple births (which is familiar to most Indians), a word that has now been adopted into the English language.

The best known Avatars for Hindus are those of Vishnu (the God of Maintenance) whose 10 Avatars (known as Dasavatars, see below) include well known ones like Rama and Krishna.

10 Avatars of Vishnu (dasavataram)

10 Avatars of Vishnu (dasavataram)



Ever since I saw the movie Avatar (in 3D), I have been pondering about the rationale for the popularity of this movie (other than the obvious entertainment value) all over the world.

One could understand its universal appeal because of the fantastic special effects but more than that, I believe everyone read into the movie whatever they wanted to, based on their own cultural values and political beliefs.

For example, the environmentalists could see this as promoting their cause of conservation.

Devout Hindus could see this as affirmation of their beliefs.  For example, an uncle of mine related the following story after seeing the movie.

The transfer of soul from one body to the other (Parakaya Pravesam) is not new to the Hindu thoughts. Adi Sankara was involved in an intelectual argument (known as Tharkasastra) with Mandana Misra at Varanasi (Benaras). Mandana Misra was a married person and an erudite scholar in Meemamsa,a science of Vedanta. He was on self immolation bid in his last stage of life,covered in a heap of rice husk,just lighted at the bottom.The fire was gradually spreading from the bottom when the argument was proceeding. At one stage when he found that he could not win over Adi Sankara in argument, said that Adisankara was an unmarried Sanyasi and that he had no experience as a Grahastha (married person) to argue on grahasth’s life. At the sametime the king of Benaras had just passed away and his body was lying in state.Adi Sankara left his own body and entered the dead king’s body.When the queen was delighted to see the king alive,Adi Sankara told her the true story to her surprise. It was just to qualify himself as a Grahastha he had performed the act and discussed with her certain relevant topics and then re-entered his own body and continued his arguments with Mandana Mishra,who was immensely pleased with Adi Sankara’s efforts to emphasize on the truth and conceded his defeat.So goes the story.

And so why would be a movie such as this be popular among Muslims (or some other religious or ethnic group) for whom the concept of reincarnation is as alien as the residents of the planet Pandora in the movie?

Well, the movie depicts a situation where natives armed with rudimentary weapons, by relying on just their religious faith and ancient culture, could defeat a mighty invading, colonial army trying to occupy their land.

Would not the movie not then inspire the Taliban (and others of their ilk) to believe that they would one day get the better of the forces that had “invaded” their land?

And the following news item (available through various media outlets) from last month seems to confirm that this theory may have some legs:

So if I was Mullah Omar watching this movie from my hideout somewhere in Pakistan, James Cameron would certainly inspire me to continue my struggle against the “infidel” powers who have invaded and occupied my land! 

And I would definitely have been rooting for Avatar to win against The Hurt Locker!!

26/11 v/s 9/11

VT Station (now CST Station), Bombay

VT Station (now CST Station), Bombay

Taj Mahal Hotel, Bombay

Taj Mahal Hotel, Bombay









Last week I was in Bombay exactly 1 year after the terrorist attacks of a year ago (26/11).  I made it a point to visit VT station and the Taj Mahal Hotel (site of two of the terrorist attacks).

VT station was its normal, bustling self.  The only signs that anything untoward had happened there was that there was one armed military person behind a stack of bags at one entrance, a few other armed policeman loitering around and strangely enough a bunch of metal detectors at the various entrance and exit points which hardly anyone bothered to walk through.  No signs any bullet holes or any indication of any kind of memorial to those 50 odd people who had been killed at this location last November.

The Taj Mahal Hotel (across from the Gateway of India monument) looked exactly the same as it did prior to the terrorist attack of last year which had left several sections of the hotel on fire.  The only changes that I saw was the side walk around the Taj was cordoned off and at the main entrance, one had to go through a metal detector and bags were also scanned separately.  On walking around inside, I met a Commander Ramamurthy who told me that he was a consultant to the Taj (presumably on security matters).  I asked him about any memorial that might be present to remember those dozens of people who had died in the terrorist attack.  He directed me towards the Golden Dragon restaurant where most of the killings had taken place and to the adjacent area where some of the terrorists had been killed.  However on going to these locations, I could not find a single indication of bullet holes or more importantly any memorial to the tragedy that had taken place at this hotel.

Bottom line – after the terrorist attack of 26/11/2008, people in Bombay had just cleaned up and resumed business as usual at all the locations that had been hit.  India had not invaded Pakistan to capture or kill the terrorists (who are clearly based out of there) and so no war had resulted which could have thrown the whole region into a turmoil.  But despite this, no further overseas based attacks had taken place a year since 26/11 either because security in Indian cities had been improved so much or just sheer luck or that Pakistan itself was now in turmoil with the home grown terrorist creating havoc there or a combination of all of these.

Compare that to the attacks on NY City of 9/11/2001.   Eight years later, the site where the World Trade Center stood is still a hole in the ground as competing interests (including politicians, lawyers, builders and victims’ groups) compete with each other to decide what exactly to build at that location.  The place has been given a new name (Ground Zero) and a grand memorial is planned to be located there to honor the victims / heroes that died there on that day.  Afghanistan was invaded to eliminate Osama Bin Laden and Al Qaeda but after more than 8 years of war involving more loss of thousands of US lives and billions of dollars in expense, this mission has yet to be accomplished.

Bottom line – the mark that the terrorists made on NY City continues to be there for all to see.

So why has 9/11 had such a different impact than 26/11?

In my opinion following are the reasons:

  • India has been used to terrorist attacks and mass deaths due to the same and so 26/11 quickly became just another blip in history while for the US, which considered itself fairly immune to overseas terrorist attacks in recent times, 9/11 was a seriously, unexpected shock
  • India was in no position to invade Pakistan (since it is a country possessing nuclear weapons) while Afghanistan had no such weapons to defend itself against a US invasion
  • Indian people have not yet developed the individualistic mentality of those in the US and the Indian Government was no compulsion to listen to bunch of people’s opinions as to when to rebuild and how to memorialize those who died in the attacks and so could swiftly move to restore normalcy

So while India has apparently brushed itself from 26/11 and moved on (for better or for worse), the US continues to wallow in the aftermath of 9/11 having failed to rebuild the edifice that was destroyed and getting mired in an unending overseas conflict.

So in which instance did the terrorists win?  The answer, at least in the short term, appears to be obvious …..

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