“Our Friends In Bombay”

That’s the title of this essay by Christopher Hitchens. Hitchens clarifies something that I missed, for some reason: the origin of “Mumbai.” I first realized that Bombay had been renamed within the last year or two when, on an airplane, I read an airline magazine article about “Mumbai,” evidently one of the great cities of the world, but of which I was entirely ignorant. I figured it could only be Bombay. Hitchens writes:

When Salman Rushdie wrote, in The Moor’s Last Sigh in 1995, that “those who hated India, those who sought to ruin it, would need to ruin Bombay,” he was alluding to the Hindu chauvinists who had tried to exert their own monopoly in the city and who had forcibly renamed it–after a Hindu goddess–Mumbai. We all now collude with this, in the same way that most newspapers and TV stations do the Burmese junta’s work for it by using the fake name Myanmar. (Bombay’s hospital and stock exchange, both targets of terrorists, are still called by their right name by most people, just as Bollywood retains its “B.”)

This may seem like a detail, but it isn’t, because what’s at stake is the whole concept of a cosmopolitan city open to its own citizens and to the world–a city on the model of Sarajevo or London or Beirut or Manhattan.

I agree with Hitchens’s assessment of India’s importance as an ally:

India is emerging in many ways as our most important ally. It is a strong regional counterweight to Russia and China. Not to romanticize it overmuch, it is a huge and officially secular federal democracy that is based, like the United States, on ethnic and confessional pluralism. Its political and economic and literary echelons speak English better than most of us do. Its parliament in New Delhi–the unbelievably diverse and dignified Lok Sabha–was viciously attacked by Islamist gangsters and nearly destroyed in December 2001, a date which ought to have made more Americans pay more attention rather than less.

India is a country with many flaws, some of which were sharply revealed by the terrorist attacks, but if the history of the next 50 years is to be a happy one, India must play an important and positive role.

Via Hugh Hewitt.

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