There are bigger things on the agenda during U.S. President Barack Obama's Asia trip than symbolism, but symbolism counts, even if it's hard to quantify. That's why it was important that Obama stayed in the Taj Mahal Hotel and Tower when he and the First Lady visited Mumbai on the first leg of the tour. The Taj was the best-known of several targets during the horrific terrorist attacks of November 2008 by Pakistan-based Islamic militants on innocent people in Mumbai.
The attackers also understood the importance of symbolism. That is why they included the Taj - India's most famous hotel and a world-reknowned symbol of its travel and tourism industry - on the short list of targets. More than 160 people died in a three-day seige in which 10 heavily armed and well-trained killers held off Indian police until commandos stormed the building, putting an end to the assault, known in India as 26/11.
I stayed in the Taj during my visit to Mumbai, almost almost exactly one year ago. (My blog posts are achived under November 2009.) It was still being rebuilt and repaired at the time but parts of the hotel were nevertheless open for business. To say that security was heavy is an understatement. Yet, for the most part the hotel didn't feel tense and staff there had a let's-get-on-with-it air of determination and defiance. The hotel GM lost his wife and two children in the attacks, yet he still works there. Such bravery is hard to imagine and deserves respect.
It was that kind of spirit that Obama honored by checking in, becoming the first foreign head of state to stay there in the two years since the attacks. It was a classy move on his part.