A year ago, on November 26, my friend, Alan Scherr, 58, and his daughter Naomi, 13, were murdered in the restaurant of the Oberoi Hotel in Mumbai by one of the 10 Islamic terrorists conducting attacks at several carefully selected locations. Over 200 persons were murdered and more than 308 wounded in the attacks, which lasted from Nov. 26 to Nov. 29.
Two television documentaries recently commemorated the attacks: HBO’s “Terror in Mumbai,” narrated by Fareed Zakaria; and PBS’s “Mumbai Massacre,” which is an episode of the series, “Secrets of the Dead.” I have to admit, I could not bear to watch them.
But, as a writer in the political opinion niche, I know that one of the reasons you seek to be the one who tells a story is to assemble the evidence and craft a narrative that provides the conclusions you reach with the emotional and logical foundation for their acceptance — and to defeat or crowd out alternatives. Reading the reviews by the New York Times, the Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times, it seems odd to me the lengths that the reviewers — and, I gather, the filmmakers — went to expunge any association of Islamic fundamentalism as the prime motivator for the attacks. Tom Shales of the Washington Post calls them “Pakistan-based terrorists,” Robert Lloyd of the Los Angele Times calls the attacks “intricately planned by the Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Taiba, or Army of the Righteous, yet mindless and random, nonetheless.”
Indeed, the real story of “Terror in Mumbai” is not so much violence and survival as it is the incompetence and lack of resources that allowed 10 men with guns and grenades to throw a city of 14 million into chaos. Mr. Zakaria works hard to bring the threat home — “Their method of attack could easily be adapted to any American city,” he says — and it’s undeniable that committed terrorists will always be able to inflict heart-rending damage.
I beg to differ: not if more people could get carry permits and start packing, they wouldn’t. Oh, and not if more people were allowed to discuss the I-word in connection with what religious justification is goading the murderous rampages in the first place. And most of all, not if the best and most effective alternative were employed, which I’ll get to in a minute.
The Mumbai attacks have been in the news lately due to the arrest of the Pakistani-born co-conspirator, David Headley, born Daood Gilani, at his home in Chicago in October — what IS it with that city and corruption and terrorism? — and the indictment of seven accused Pakistani co-conspirators on 11/25 in Pakistan.
ABC News also recently interviewed Linda Ragsdale, who was part of the group of six from the Synchronicity Foundation, including Alan and Naomi, who had spent the day sight-seeing and were eating together when they heard gunfire — note that ABC News calls him a “gunman” and not a terrorist:
“We were eating and then we just heard shots,” said Ragsdale. “I don’t know how to describe the amount of sound that came after us. It was continuous and nonstop. And just everything exploded.”
Diving under the table with the others for protection, Ragsdale said the shooting seemed to be never-ending.
“When it was all finally subsiding then we saw gunman coming through the restaurant and shooting table by table,” she said. “I remember thinking to myself, ‘I’m going to remember this forever.’”
“He was this little 20-something boy — the same age as my oldest son — and was wearing khaki pants just like my kids in their school uniforms,” she said. “His posture looked as if he were petrified. He was walking through this restaurant of unarmed, innocent diners expecting war.”
In addition to the details about the gunman, Ragsdale remembers other vivid details from the bloody attack.
She can still see the bodies of 58-year-old Alan and 13-year-old Naomi Scherr lying dead next to her on the floor of the Oberoi Hotel just before a bullet slammed into her back and ricocheted through her body.
You never think that someone you know will be murdered, let alone that it will be in such an atrocity that you find out by seeing their photo flashed on CNN.
I met Alan in the late 1970s or early 1980s when he and his first wife, Marcia, were in charge of the Baltimore Transcendental Meditation Center in Pikesville, Maryland. Almost every day I would drive 45 minutes each way to practice the TM-Sidhi program, which includes yogic flying, with a group at the TM Center in Pikesville.
The late founder of the Transcendental Meditation program, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, systematized the knowledge of how to instruct people in the TM technique and explain the growth of consciousness to the various states of enlightenment thoroughly so that the personality and spiritual attainments of his TM teachers would be irrelevant to transmitting the knowledge.
However, in terms of personality, at least, Alan and Marcia brought a great deal to the table. They were warm, friendly, funny, dynamic and creative, so it was always a joy to come to the TM Center for the group yogic flying sessions, celebrations, lectures, dinners and other programs.
This is not to say that Alan suffered fools gladly. He did not. And noticing the difference in the way people treated Marcia and Alan changed my life. Marcia is the very soul of compassion, but this led to people going to her rather than to Alan when they had a complaint or needed to moan. Alan, although he also had a big heart, thanks to the combination of a bit of a temper and better boundaries, would not put up with any nonsense. As a result, much less of it came his way.
I would love to tell you that watching this contrast made me resolve to be more like Marcia. Alas! It made me determined to emulate Alan!
The last I saw of Alan was in the 1990s when he and his second wife, Kia, were working for an osteopathic physician in Silver Spring, Maryland, where my late life partner, Margaret Ardussi, who also was a TM teacher, was a patient. Not long after that, Alan left the TM movement to join the Synchronicity Foundation, a spiritual movement headquartered in Faber, Virginia. Alan and Naomi were in Mumbai participating in a Synchronicity program when they were murdered. CNN reported the organization’s leader said when he was taken to the restaurant to identify their bodies, they were under a table, facing one another, their arms intertwined. Alan had been shot in the head.
Just a couple of weeks later, despite the overwhelming pain from her loss, Alan’s wife, Kia, was calling for forgiveness. Earlier this month, the Synchronicity Foundation announced that Kia is co-founding the One Life Alliance to teach people that life is sacred and about the power of forgiveness to create world peace. The organization was officially inaugurated on Thanksgiving Day.
Forgiveness is giving up the resentment you feel toward someone who has hurt or wronged you, which frees you from being emotionally tied to them and stops them from being able to feed on your pain. It does not mean you condone the wrong. You just let go of the resentment it caused.
So forgiveness is, indeed, a great power — IF you can get people to do it.
However, the track record of persuasion, and even those great powers, love and forgiveness, have had quite limited success in curbing the spread of sharia and making Islamic terrorists embrace peace, equality, diversity, dissent and democracy.
Likewise, trying to kill hate by shooting it also has a dismal track record for creating peace — unless you are extremely thorough.
So while Alan Scherr spent his entire adult life working for individual enlightenment and world peace, I have to say that I believe when he left the TM movement, he walked away from the only technology scientifically demonstrated to have produced peace and reduced indicators of negativity without requiring any change in routine — and no special beliefs or attitudes — by more than one percent of a population, or even as few as the square root of one percent, due to a phenomenon called the Maharishi Effect.
If the U.S. made the Maharishi Effect part of its military and diplomatic strategies, we would still arm our military with every possible weapon and use them zealously when required. But the Maharishi Effect is the only weapon we have with the demonstrated ability to kill hate. And hate is what we are fighting when we oppose totalitarianisms, whether they are political or religious. It is a technology that deserves full consideration in the marketplace of ideas.
Cynthia Yockey is a writer and blogs at A Conservative Lesbian. She learned the TM technique in 1974 and the TM-Sidhi program, including yogic flying, in 1978.