Thursday, March 05, 2009

The Golden Rule

Recently there was a terrorist attack in Pakistan. The details of the matter are not clear yet, but they are somewhat similar to the terrorist attack in Bombay a few months ago. During the Bombay attack, I had heard a lot of talk for a pre-emptive strike against the country harboring the terrorists. At that time the blame generally fell on Pakistan, as Indians are often quick to blame Pakistan for a lot of violence. I am never in favor of any pre-emptive strikes. I fear what such an action would allow, if there was a terrorist attack in Pakistan. A terrorist attack, such as the one last week in Pakistan, would be enough justification for hostility against India. That is, if your standards were consistent.

Let's put it another way: what if China had a terrorist attack in Tibet, and some Indians were suspected? Is China justified in attacking India?

The proponents of first strike rarely consider the reverse situation, and that is where the double standards emerge from. I had a wonderful discussion with a friend of mine, who supported Israel's first strikes into targets in Gaza and Syria. The official reason is to attack military targets. After he had made his point, I asked him if Syria should also be allowed to carry out first strikes against military installations in Israel, his home? Of course, this is where he disagreed. It is fine for us to attack someone on the flimsiest of reasons. Our enemies, on the other hand, should provide a lot of evidence before they strike us. What was amazing was that this person, a logical and intelligent man otherwise, could not spot the fallacy.

I see a similar situation with immigration. I was discussing America's opposition to immigration with an Indian parent. His child is a successful engineer in a successful tech company. So his point was that educated Indians make a huge sacrifice in moving to America. They work hard, pay taxes, and are model citizens. So he couldn't understand the discussion over H1B visas, which limit the number of foreign citizens that can work in the US. This person was a Maharashtrian, so I asked him, "Well, since this is how you feel about immigration, you certainly must be opposed to Shiv Sena?" The Shiv Sena is a political party in Maharashtra, which is build on a platform of keeping non-Maharashtrians (for instance, people from Bihar) out of Maharashtra. This is even more aggressive than being opposed to immigration. Imagine California limiting the number of people from Montana that could come to work in California. This is what the Shiv Sena proposes. To my surprise, he supported the Shiv Sena, and was offended that any parallel could be drawn between the two situations! The Biharis are often trouble-makers, he said. The Shiv Sena was justified according to him. The same person was a Bihari in someone else's Maharashtra, and offended.

It is such a simple concept, "Treat others like you'd like to be treated", and yet we manage to get it wrong so often.