The style is the very man, as the French say. So what does one make of Gordon Brown's statement in the immediate aftermath of the Mumbai massacre that "I speak for the whole world" in expressing his "shock and outrage"?
Speaking for "everyone", yes. That is to express your part in humanity. Speaking for "Britain", yes, also. As Prime Minister he had the right to do that. But "for the world"? That suggests a view of oneself as centre of the universe verging on the unhinged.
Which is not as bad as some of the statements coming from the sporting world about whether the English cricket team should now be returning to India for the scheduled test series. "These terrorists have specifically targeted British people and American people," declared Lord MacLaurin, the former England and Wales Cricket Board chairman, this week. "I fully understand the England players might think this is a step too far."
Well, no one has a right to tell others what risks to take in the interests of higher politics. But before this particular vision of Muslim extremists bent on killing Westerners in general, and Brits in particular, takes hold, it is worth remembering that they did not arrive with the sole purpose of murdering Americans and British, or taking them hostage. It started with the indiscriminate killing of Indian passengers and families at the main Mumbai station. There were no Westerners there or likely to be. Of the 180 people killed in this multiple attack, only a dozen were from the West. The rest were nearly all Indians, many of them the staff at the two luxury hotels who died trying to protect their guests.
The best of the British was heard in the survivors, all of whom paid special tribute to the hotel workers, many adding that their own woes were nothing compared to those of the locals. The worst of the British is heard in the petty arguments about the English cricket team, the neurotic concern with safety from an attack too well-prepared to be repeated at will, and the fatuous debate over whether it would be better to cancel if not able to field a full team of top players.
Of course we should go, whatever. We should go to honour the dead, Indian as our own. We should go because India is now the centre of the cricketing world and we ignore it at our peril. And we should go because to do so is to make a statement of solidarity with the Indians, just as not going would be to make a clear statement of the opposite.
There is always after these outrages a tendency to talk of the attacks as "mindless". That, they are not. Their aim was clearly to create mayhem in a manner that would at once hurt India, frighten the West from the region, wreck any signs of rapprochement with Pakistan, exacerbate divisions between Muslims and Hindus, and above all make the presence of the extremist felt and its causes, as much through the power to hurt as the power to dominate the headlines.
If you go down the list, you can see that they have initially succeeded in almost every one of those aims. They have shown up the Indian state at its weakest and most ill-prepared. They have created the impression that they were after Americans and British as particular targets and thus caused alarm in the Western capitals. They have stoked up anti-Muslim passions. Indo-Pakistani relations have been strained to breaking point.
If you add to that a wish to destabilise the Pakistani government at a time when the new democratically-elected president is trying to meet US demands to stamp down on the militants, you can see the brutal logic of sending a team of highly trained young men to cause chaos in India's commercial capital, in front of the television cameras of the world. Hostage taking was clearly not the object. There were never any hostage negotiations. Singling out Americans and British wasn't the prime aim. If it was they would have pursued it more determinedly. A claim to unviersal attention was.
I wouldn't pretend that the minds behind this attack were clever enough to work all this out, any more than they had expected the total collapse of the Twin Towers when the planes went in. But they are not fools. Terror has a purpose.
Which is why the leaders of Pakistan and India need to show statesmanship in their relations and why the international community should support conciliation between the two rather than cornering Pakistan with humiliating demands.
It is why the world at large needs to help India recover as quickly as possible, restoring trade and tourism. It is why security authorities everywhere need to concentrate on this threat as a crime with an aim and not some outbreak of a clash of civilisations or any such nonsense preached by Bush and Blair in their "war on terror". And it is why, just as they had apparently decided last night, England's cricketers must get on the plane to do their sporting duty.Reuse content