As few as 10 terrorists armed with simple weapons tormented one of the world's most vibrant cities for three days, inflicting 500 casualties - nearly 200 of them dead.
No commandeered airliners were involved; no massive bombs, no radioactive material. All it took was one squad of committed-unto-death terrorists with assault rifles, grenades and a few rucksacks filled with explosives.
It also took sophisticated planning. The attack - on Mumbai's hotels, restaurants, main train station and a Jewish center - unquestionably involved an infrastructure behind the trigger-pullers. It wasn't locally concocted.
As Indians rebound from the shock of last week's carnage, Western media analysis remains self-absorbed, naive and breathless. Once again, commentators insist the story is really about us. It's not.
We're not the only targets of Islamist fanaticism - and we're on the far margins of this one.
Islamist extremists hate India as deeply as they hate the United States. Those terrorists didn't strike Mumbai because they couldn't reach New York (although many others would like to), but because they wanted to harm and humiliate India.
Let's examine who the terrorists were, who probably backed them, and why they committed this horrendous crime.
Who did it? The terrorists claimed to be members of the "Deccan Mujahedeen." Embarrassed that they'd never heard of such a group, "experts" dismissed what the perps themselves announced. I believe the terrorists.
The terror underworld is far more fluid than Western organizations. Our analysts want tidiness, but Islamist groups overlap and identities evolve. Alliances of convenience come together, then disintegrate. Rogue actors further complicate the mix.
The title "Deccan Mujahedeen" is just the equivalent of a US Army task-force name, assigned for a specific operation. The terrorists' deeper affiliation could lie with any number of Pakistan-sanctioned Islamist groups - or with India's homegrown Muslim terrorists, who have their own indirect connections with Pakistan.
Preliminary statements issued by the Indian government claim that most, if not all, of the terrorists were Pakistani nationals. Yet, even if proven, this does not mean that the current government in Islamabad knew of the attackers' plan. It didn't.
Pakistan's law-unto-itself Inter-Service Intelligence (ISI), a sprawling organization with deep ties to extremists, spent decades nurturing terrorists (with our blessing, as long as the Soviets were in Afghanistan). For much of the time, the rallying cry was "Kashmir!" - but anti-Western fundamentalism has infected the ISI for over a generation.
Now the current Pakistani government can't control the demons the policies of its predecessors unleashed. Islamabad does not seek a confrontation with India, but this nuclear-armed power can't control its own territory or its personnel.
So the issue isn't whether Pakistan bears any guilt, but how direct the guilt may be. And how can India respond to a nuke-armed neighbor that doesn't know what its own operatives are up to? Pakistan's barely a country - it's chaos with a parliament.
In the realms of terror, guilt is rarely clear and retaliation is infernally hard.
What causes do these ter rorists represent? Their name, Deccan Mujahedeen, captures their vision: an India once again under Muslim rule.
To us, this seems an absurd, impossible goal, as mad as al Qaeda's dream of a global caliphate. We're dealing with sometimes brilliant operators, but we're also facing dreamers whose visions are irrational by our standards.
Madness and genius are not mutually exclusive. And rational goals don't attract suicide commandos.
For centuries, the Deccan plateau was a Muslim stronghold in central India, ruled by tyrants from mighty fortresses. The subcontinent's Islamist extremists believe that Muslims are entitled to rule India again. They view the Deccan as Islam's dagger in India's Hindu heart.
For all its 900 million Hindus, India is also the world's third-largest Muslim country - just behind Indonesia and Pakistan. More than 130 million Muslims are governed from New Delhi.
Carving the new Muslim state of Pakistan from British India proved disastrous for regional Islam. Pakistan could never compete with its giant neighbor, while the Muslims who remained in India saw their political power fatefully diluted.
And neither Muslim nor Hindu activists have forgotten that 2 million of their co-religionists were slaughtered in the partition violence. Since then, sporadic outbreaks of interfaith bloodshed have plagued India, with confrontations increasing as Hindu fundamentalists take a page from Muslim extremists. (Hindu fanatics attack Christian converts, too.)
Every party has grievances, none of which can be satisfied.
What were the terrorists' immediate goals? First, it bears repeating: These attacks were not about us or our government's actions. Culling US or British citizens for special attention was a bonus, not a core objective.
The terrorists had several goals: First, they just wanted to hurt India. Second, they wanted to embarrass the Indian government. Third, they wanted to damage India's strengthening economy.
The attacks on the hotels weren't just to scare away tourists. The underlying purpose was to frighten off foreign businessmen and investors - to make India seem unstable and incapable of protecting itself.
One of the grievances shared by Islamist extremists throughout the region and Pakistanis in general is jealousy of India's remarkable progress from economic basket case to a sparkling center of yuppie consumerism.
While India remains a bitterly poor home for most of its citizens, a fifth of them have been soaring upward, while more than half have seen their lot improve. Meanwhile, Pakistan tumbles ever farther behind, unproductive, paralyzed by corruption, torn by violence - and paying a grim price for restricting schoolchildren's English-language instruction for two generations, cutting off the populace from the benefits of globalization.
Indeed, jealousy is the great unacknowledged strategic factor of our time.
Apart from being the world's largest (if raucous) democracy, India shares a trait with the United States that infuriates Islamists shamed by the abysmal failures of their own societies: India is a success story. And Allah had nothing to do with it.
What does it all mean for us? We Americans still re fuse to learn the lessons of 9/11: Evil is real, hatred's delicious and those who can't bear their self-wrought disasters are desperate for someone else to blame - and we and the Indians are it.
You can't reason with faith-drunk sadists. The terrorists who attacked New York City and those who struck Mumbai want to kill people. Slaughter is the only thing left that validates their faith.
All the complexity of counterterror operations comes down to three essential requirements: Superb intelligence, ruthless determination and tremendous patience.
Intelligence helps you find the enemies you need to kill; determination means you kill them - and patience means accepting that even a successful fight will take decades, if not generations.
The horrific attacks in Mumbai had nothing to do with the Bush administration. They didn't even have anything to do with India's current government. Those horrid strikes were about the catastrophic, homemade failure of the cultures that produce Islamist terror and the blood ecstasy to which terrorists are addicted.