mumbai gunman 248 88 ap.
(photo credit: AP [file])
Israelis began Shabbat knowing that the siege at Chabad House in Mumbai had ended disastrously. On Saturday night, though, the full scope of the devastation was revealed: Nine Jews were murdered, seven of them Israelis. We still do not know if there are additional Israeli or Jewish victims among the other casualties.
The toll of this mega-terrorist attack - which began Wednesday night and did not end until Saturday morning - is estimated at about 200 killed, including some 20 foreigners. Hundreds were wounded. These figures may yet climb.
Most of the victims, it should be noted, were Indian citizens, and this newspaper reiterates its condolences to their families and government. Throughout Mumbai, hundreds of households are in mourning.
Though we are a nation of only some seven million souls, we well appreciate that even in a nation of more than 1 billion, every human life is precious.
But naturally the murders of our compatriots and coreligionists, and the bereavement of their families are, today, foremost on our minds. A two-year-old boy, Moshe Holtzberg, will grow up an orphan. The anniversary of the death of his parents, Chabad emissaries Rabbi Gavriel Holtzberg and his rabbanit, Rivka, will in perpetuity coincide with his birthday.
This will be a week of funerals in Israel, and in Jewish communities abroad, for the Mumbai victims. Psalms will be recited - "Man is like a breath, his days are like a passing shadowâ€¦" The kaddish prayer will be chanted. And those offering condolences will pray that the families of the deceased are "comforted among the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem."
There will be time to reflect on each individual life that was taken. But even now, one thing is plain: Those killed at the Chabad House were murdered because they were Jewish or Israeli.
The terrorists did not inquire whether their victims were haredi, Orthodox, traditional or secular. Nor did the killers ask about their politics. All that really mattered was that they were living representatives of Jewish civilization.
Each of them died sanctifying God's name.
Israeli officials are right to argue that the civilized world is under attack. This time the assault came in India, next time it will come somewhere else. The enemy is Islamic extremism. Its immediate goal is to vanquish - by any means necessary - Western symbols and values from those parts of the world it claims as Muslim.
IT WILL take time for all the facts associated with this attack to come out. For now, there are more questions than answers.
1. How many terrorists were involved? Authorities say at least nine were killed and one - a Pakistani national - captured.
But there is every reason to believe that the number of terrorists and facilitators who brought Mumbai to a halt is far greater. This was an operation that was meticulously planned and executed. It stretches credulity to believe that these individuals were acting alone.
2. Could the security operation at the Chabad House have been better executed? Might the hostages have been rescued?
It is possible that the terrorists murdered their victims within minutes of storming the facility. And Indian forces may have been stretched too thin and were operating without several of their top commanders who had been killed at the outset of the assault on Mumbai. Rather than second guess their efforts, we prefer to wait until more is known.
3. And finally, even though this was clearly an assault against innocent civilians and exclusively against civilian targets - hospitals, hotels and a train station - why does much of the British media, including the BBC and SkyNews, label the killers "militants" instead of terrorists? Why does the The Guardian join Al-Jazeera in calling them "gunmen"?
This may sound like a marginal concern, but nomenclature matters: The primary, often only, target of terrorists are civilians. Anti-civilian warfare is a key tool of Muslim extremists. Terrorism is a cruelty that has become the scourge of modern civilization and changed the way we live. It has debased humanity.
The international community, together with responsible elements in the media, should show zero tolerance for the kind of depravity manifested in Mumbai.
And a vital step to confronting it effectively is to recognize terrorism and call it by its name.