Posted by: Titus Presler | November 5, 2009

Woodstock, Christian school in Himalayas, reported to be terrorist target

Under the headline, “On Lashkar radar: Doon, Woodstock, Defence college too,” the Indian Express, one of India’s major daily newspapers, reports today that the FBI arrested two people in Chicago for planning attacks that were to include Woodstock School in Mussoorie, where I was born and grew up, attending Woodstock from kindergarten through grade 12.  Here’s the story:

Two of India’s most prestigious boarding schools — Doon in Dehradun and Woodstock in Mussoorie — and the National Defence College (NDC) in Delhi could be targeted by the Lashkar-e-Toiba, it has emerged from intelligence shared by the FBI following the interrogation of David Coleman Headley and Tahawwur Hussain Rana.

Schoolmates Headley, an American, and Rana, a Pakistan-born Canadian, were arrested by the FBI in Chicago last month on charges of planning major terrorist attacks in India and Denmark.

The Uttarakhand government is learnt to have received information on October 27 about a possible attack on the schools. The state police have since deployed plainclothesmen on the campuses and stationed Quick Reaction Teams of 15-odd men with sophisticated weaponry close by, and are reportedly running background checks on school employees.

The police declined to divulge details of the threat and their response.

Founded in 1854 as a British school for girls, Woodstock before and during my time served principally the children of USAmerican Protestant missionaries, many from mainline denominations and many from evangelical groups, though there were always a number of Indian students and those from other nationalities, whether mission-associated or not.  My four siblings and I attended between 1949 and 1968.  As the Indian government became less hospitable to Christian missionaries in the 1970s, the missionary component decreased and the Indian component increased, but Woodstock today continues to be an international Christian school with a significant number of children from current missionary families.

At this past summer’s annual Woodstock Old Students Association gathering in Eugene, Oregon, where I also attended the 40th reunion of the Class of 1969, with which I spent most of my time at Woodstock, I was struck by the enormously diverse and interesting contributions made by the families of classmates and by the continuing Christian commitment and mission contribution today of many classmates and graduates.

By educating their children, Woodstock had and continues to have an important place in assisting the work of Christian missionaries in India.  It is interesting that the Indian Express terms it one of India’s most prestigious schools.  Certainly the education offered there has always been excellent, and for me Woodstock was one of the great experiences of life: socially, intellectually, culturally, religiously and, located at 7,000 feet in the Himalayas, geographically.  Its current slogan, “Education for a World of Difference,” is one that Woodstock can deliver on!  Being targeted by a terrorist group will be a blow to Woodstock’s efforts to attract one-semester and one-year students from the USA, a program that has helped the school’s finances over the last couple of decades.

The current threat recalls the 2002 attack on Murree School, founded in 1956 in Pakistan, also in the Himalayas, to serve children of missionaries in that country.  Killed were six people, though none of them were students or expatriates.  The school had since returned to normalcy.  However, according to an Assist News Service story yesterday, arsonists burned down three of the buildings of the nearby St. Denys School on Tuesday, Nov. 3.  The affiliation of the unknown attackers is unclear, but “militants” are mentioned in the story.  Founded in 1882, St. Denys is an institution of the Church of Pakistan, which was formed in 1970 from the union of a number of denominations, including the Anglican Church.

Given that the current threat to Woodstock links it with the Doon School, probably the most elite of all India’s schools and without any Christian affiliation, and the National Defence College, it appears that Woodstock’s Christian identity is not what  prompted its being targeted.  The opposite is probably the case with St. Denys in Pakistan.

Woodstock has a sister school, Kodaikanal, in Tamilnadu in South India.

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Responses

  1. Hi Titus

    Greetings from a safe Woodstock!

    “Being targeted by a terrorist group will be a blow to Woodstock’s efforts to attract one-semester and one-year students from the USA, a program that has helped the school’s finances over the last couple of decades.”

    Unfortunately, we hear that this has happened. The fact is that Woodstock was not specifically “targeted”; as we understand it, but the arrested terrorist planner had mentioned discussions about attacks on prestigious schools in north India. (1) Woodstock was mentioned by the Press, not by the terrorists; (2) It never got as far as “targeting”, much less firm plans. For a short period we had an enhanced security presence from the State police. Six months on, all is peaceful, and there is no suggestion that Woodstock is in anyone’s firing line. We keep in close touch with the Indian Government and the US Embassy to monitor the situation.

    However, this blog still comes second on Google for any concerned parents who search for “Woodstock” and “terrorism”.

    Pete Wildman, Communications Manager/Safety Officer, Woodstock School.

    • Thanks very much, Pete, for updating and clarifying the situation. All of us rejoice in a safe Woodstock, and thanks for your work in getting the word out about the wonderful opportunities Woodstock provides for young people from around the world. “Education for a World of Difference” is such a fine distillation of what Woodstock offers, and I hope more families take advantage of it.

  2. I neglected to include this link to a site reporting the St. Deny’s attack.

    http://www.assistnews.net/Stories/2009/s09110016.htm

    • Thanks, David, that’s helpful.

  3. The school that was set afire recently was St. Deny’s School for Girls, an Anglican or Church of Pakistan school primarily for Pakistani girls, located near Kashmir Point in Murree. (I attended one summer as a IIId Std. day student from my home just over the hilll, but was not allowed back the next summer, being male and too old.)

    This is not the same school as the Murree Christian School, a later school primarily for Protestant missionary children, which I also attended. It is located a few miles outside Murree proper, in Gharial.

    I knew all or some your brothers, more or less distantly, 😉

    David Salmon
    WS 1962

    • Thanks, David. I’ve never been to Murree so am not clear on the connection between St. Denys and Murree Christian School. The ANS news report implied that St Denys is in some way part of Murree School. And a knowledgeable advocate of the Church of Pakistan, the Rev. Patrick Augustine, himself a Pakistani, seemed to concur. Unconnected to this particular incident but related to the Church of Pakistan, you may wish to check out my earlier posting on a report from Bp. Mano Rumalshah, Bishop of Peshawar.

  4. All you WOSAs out there, check out the newest Woodstock Distinguished Alumni awardee. He’s the founder of the online lecture site TED. His speech in Parker Hall upon accepting the award is linked on the Woodstock Alumni website. http://www.wsalumni.com/link.asp?ymlink=124865&finalurl=http%3A%2F%2Ftedchris%2Eposterous%2Ecom%2Fan%2Dinternational%2Dschool%2Din%2Dindia%2Dwith%2Da%2Dmessa

    A good read.

    And it is not off-topic here: the whole world is connected. Nobody gets to move in a vacuum removed from contact with the rest.

    • Thanks very much, Reid! It was good to see you in Eugene and to have a longish talk with brother Ken!

  5. Yes, Paul, I quite agree – and, of course, you and I took quite a number of hikes together. Direct, unmediated experience of the Himalayas and the people who inhabit them gave us a mature sense of journey, pilgrimage, exploration, encounter and learning that was a great privilege. We already know that in recent years students’ freedom to be out on their own has been somewhat curtailed. Further restrictions in the current environment will be regretable but understandable. – Titus

  6. This news item is a sad reminder that our world is becoming increasingly unpredictable. Uncertainty breeds fear, and fear understandably results in greater vigilance and caution. I pray that the schools that have been threatened will be able to move forward without over-reacting in terms of restrictive protective measures.

    When we were classmates at Woodstock in the 60’s, Titus, I think there may have been nothing that contributed more to my own development as a person than the freedom we enjoyed to explore our Himalayan setting. The unchaperoned hikes into the mountains offered character-building experience of the highest order!


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