Samir Chopra March 4, 2009

Terrorists don't care for cricket

Why anyone would imagine that a mere cricket team would get in the way of their fascist ideology is beyond me

Last night, as I watched the India-New Zealand one-day international, Simon O'Doull and Ravi Shastri broke the news of the attack on the Sri Lankan team. I checked the headlines to make sure I'd heard them correctly, looked for updates, and then, still stunned, posted a brief note on my blog, which ended, "What a tragic way to refute the stupidest argument ever made in favor of playing cricket in Pakistan: 'the terrorists won't attack cricketers'". I never found that argument convincing (an attitude implicit in my post last year on why the Australian team was justified in not touring Pakistan), and it clearly doesn't have much mileage now.

Besides attempting to read the minds of unhinged killers, that argument committed the singular fallacy of imagining the terrorists had some stake in winning the hearts and minds of the Pakistani populace. They don't. They were, and are, interested in destabilizing the Pakistani polity, damaging its economy, and showing the Pakistani state is incapable of protecting the lives of its citizens. Why anyone would imagine that a mere cricket team would get in the way of their fascist ideology is beyond me. These folks were killing hundreds of innocent Pakistani men, women and children every year. That wasn't alienating the Pakistani populace? These killers were going to somehow spare international cricketers because they thought that would affect their public relations profile? That somehow the attack on a cricket team was going to be more damaging for their public profile than the much-repeated shots of women and children grieving for their dead?

Imran Khan, who for all his cricketing genius, always struck me as a political and intellectual lightweight, was fond of making the "the militants won't attack the cricketers" claim. Imran had in mind the idea that the violence in Pakistan was part of some massive expression of post-9/11 anti-American sentiment. But far more perspicuous analysis, by Pervez Hoodbhoy the distinguished Pakistani physicist, after the Lal Masjid events of 2007, always suggested the designs of the terror groups were more straightforward and ideological: destroy the Pakistani state from within.

The idea that these killers are cricket fans who in their spare time fire off a few AK-47s was always ludicrous. Indeed, one could make a very convincing argument that given all the focus on the international cricket scene and its security hassles, the terrorists, who do not lack a certain kind of deadly single-minded nous, would step up their efforts to attack a cricket team to completely discredit the Pakistani government. That they have done. In doing so, besides killing innocents, they have set back international cricket in Pakistan by a very long way. I assure you: they do not give a damn what cricket fans think about them.

In all of this, let us not forget that somewhere in Pakistan the families of the slain policemen are grieving. That is the true tragedy of today. The Sri Lankans are safe; one should be grateful for small mercies. And the Pakistani team will find other venues to play in. But the toll in human lives in Pakistan exacted by this insane violence shows no sign of diminishing.

Samir Chopra lives in Brooklyn and teaches Philosophy at the City University of New York. He tweets here