Certain Psychology of Terror

Taj Mahal Palace Hotel, Mumbai, Bombay, India

Taj Mahal Palace Hotel, Mumbai, India

Terror attacks in India

When thinking you’re right makes you wrong

As I write this, police, hotel staff and and various specialists are combing through the wreckage of the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel in Mumbai looking for casualties, evidence, survivors and possibly terrorists in hiding. There have been so many shocking images coming out of Mumbai over the last three days. Bloodied bodies. Flames and smoke billowing from an historic and important landmark. Survivors climbing down drain pipes. Paratroopers repelling down ropes onto the roof of Nariman House. I found the most chilling image to be that of a smiling young gunman, toting an AK-47, as he goes on his murderous rampage. His smile seems so out of place, so remorseless, so certain. It’s the terrorists’ certainty that scares me, more than anything else. That certainty springs from a mindset deeply rooted in the dualistic notion of right and wrong.

Dualistic thinking can lead you to think that you’re right, and the other guy is wrong. Period. Anything your mind can conceive, you can believe. You can believe it’s okay to open fire on civilians, strangers, as they are eating in a restaurant. It can lead you to think it’s okay to fly airplanes into skyscrapers. To plant bombs in markets and amusement parks.

Someone once said George W. Bush would rather be certain than right. His certainty, especially about the Iraq War, is just as chilling.

But religious certainty seems to be the most deadly. Looking back over world history, untold numbers of people have died in wars, holocausts, inquisitions, crusades — all in the name of certainty. My god is the only god.

I have been very lucky and very privileged in my life to be exposed to ideas, philosophies and practices that teach a non-dualistic approach to truth that is based in felt experience. I breathe in, I can feel my breath in my body, sense my heart beat, feel that I am alive. I can hear the chatter of my busy mind — and gain some distance from it. (Interestingly, in light of the Mumbai carnage, most of these beautiful ideas originate in India, dating back to the time of the ancient masters.)

The human mind is a marvel. It is very creative and can think up incredible ideas, like open-heart surgery and central heating and penicillin and yoga and vitamin-fortified milk. But it can also think up religions and political systems and convince people that theirs is the right one. The only one.

Talking about god and spirituality in the western media is basically a taboo — and partly because of a recognition that religious psychology tends to be so dogmatic and rigid. But I think that espousing and teaching a non-dualistic spirituality that helps put people in touch with their own divinity and engenders a deeply rooted respect for the divinity of ALL living creatures can help counter the certainty mindset.

For myself, I would rather be alive than certain.

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One Response to Certain Psychology of Terror

  1. Sonali December 1, 2008 at 1:44 am #

    Thanks for your email. I also just read your blog enrty. Life is still not normal for me, and I dont know if it will ever be the same for any of us. The night this happened, i was huddled in my parents bed, feeling insecure, uncertain abt thats going to happen and very scared, watching tv all night, right till the time it ended.

    I got to know that my relatives friends mom was in the Trident and another friends fiance who was to get married on this Sunday was shot dead. Puja (chennai) was there just 2 hrs before this happened) Another person in the extended family was in the Taj and survived. Some made it, some didnt. And you are right, the most chilling thing was the image of the terrorist smiling while running with his AK-47.

    Tales of heroism have emerged, we are indebted to those who risked their lives to save others. not just the NSG, Police, Army and Navy, but also normal civilians, like the doctors who were stuck in Taj who saved the injured, the person at the announcement counter at VT station who started announcing the exits areas inspite of the terrorist spotting him and firing at him.

    Mumbai is one of my favorite cities and I was shattered to see all this. Also thinking, which city is next? Maybe ours? Its not abt a city anymore actually, the whole of India is burning and very very angry. Sitting inside our homes, we can only pray for the families of those who died and now demand the change of the system. The change has begun, but for how long, who knows! I just hope that people of the world get back their faith and confidence to live in thier own houses, homeland and countries feeling safe and comforted which is of utmost importance

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