By almost all accounts, Patrick French's recently released (and authorized) biography of V.S. Naipaul, The World Is What It Is, is an admiring look at the Nobel laureate's impressive oeuvre and an unflinching account of his notorious snobbery and sadism towards the overlapping women in his life. It's in the stack of books to be read over the Christmas, though if you cannot invest the time, Ian Buruma has a good recapitulation of the book's main themes here. But French is also an expert on the Indian subcontinent and today takes to the pages of the New York Times to argue that there is no easy political or ideological explaination for last week's spasm of violence in Bombay. As he notes, before any statement was made by the group responsible for the atrocities, countless pundits "were making chilling deductions on their behalf: their actions were because of American foreign policy, or Afghanistan, or the harassment of Indian Muslims. When officials said that the killers came from the Pakistani terrorist group Lashkar-e-Taiba, it was taken as proof that India's misdeeds in the Kashmir Valley were the cause." Not that simple, says French:
These misdeeds are real, as are India's other social and political failings (I recently met a Kashmiri man whose father and sister had died at the hands of the Indian security forces). But there is no sane reason to think Lashkar-e-Taiba would shut down if the situation in Kashmir improved. Its literature is much concerned with establishing a caliphate in Central Asia, and murdering those who insult the Prophet. Its leader, Hafiz Saeed, who lives on a large estate outside Lahore bought with Saudi Money, goes about his business with minimal interference from the Pakistani government.
Lashkar-e-Taiba is part of the International Islamic Front for Jihad Against Jews and Crusaders (the Qaeda franchise). Mr. Saeed's hatreds are catholic—his bugbears include Hindus, Shiites and women who wear bikinis. He regards democracy as "a Jewish and Christian import from Europe," and considers suicide attacks to be in accordance with Islam. He has a wider strategy: "At this time our contest is Kashmir. Let's see when the time comes. Our struggle with the Jews is always there." As he told his followers in Karachi at a rally in 2000: "There can't be any peace while India remains intact. Cut them, cut them—cut them so much that they kneel before you and ask for mercy." In short, he has an explicit political desire to create a state of war between the religious communities in India and beyond, and bring on the endgame.
Like other exponents of Islamist extremism, he has a view of the world that does not tolerate doubt or ambiguity: his opponents are guilty, and must be killed. I have met other radicals like Mr. Saeed, men who live in a dimension of absolute certainty and have contempt for the moral relativism of those who seek to excuse them.
Read the whole thing here.