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Discussion in 'Social & Current Events' started by muse, Jul 13, 2008.

  1. muse


    Oct 26, 2006
    +0 / 12,511 / -0
    Jihad and retribalisation in Pakistan by Khaled Ahmed

    Partisans of Allah: Jihad in South Asia
    By Ayesha Jalal
    Sang-e-Meel Publications, Lahore 2008
    Pp373: Price Rs 695
    Available at bookstores in Pakistan

    Not far from Balakot, the votaries of the Sayyid are fighting on the side of Al Qaeda against ‘imperialist’ America and its client state, Pakistan, and killing more Muslims in the process than Americans, just as the Sayyid killed more Muslims than he killed Sikhs

    Ayesha Jalal studies the jihad of Sayyid Ahmad Shaheed (1786-1831) in India as the most immaculate articulation of the theory of jihad in Islam. Sayyid Ahmad may have conceived his holy war against East India Company while living in Rai Bareilly in the central region of northern India, but he moved his warriors to where Pakistan’s North Western Frontier (NWFP) province is today because he thought that the Pashtun living in the tribal areas under non-Muslim Sikh occupation were better Muslims than the settled Muslims of the plains.

    Here was the first indication that Islamic utopia could be constructed more easily in a tribal society. He probably wanted to take on the British after creating a mini-state on the pattern of Madina in the NWFP and probably hoped to reform the contaminated Muslims of the plains as a means of enhancing his challenge to the British. Al Qaeda too discovered the Pashtun straddling the border of Pakistan and Afghanistan as the tribal matrix where an Islamic utopia would grow into a centre of the global caliphate devoted to reforming and uniting Muslims living unhappily as subjects of today’s nation-states.

    Sayyid Ahmad was feared by Muslims in the urban centres of India and was wrongly called a Wahhabi — a negative term pointing to the intimidation and violence associated with Saudi Islam — because they thought he would use ‘retribalisation’ as a method of returning them to the true faith. Pakistan fears Al Qaeda and its Pashtun foot soldiers as it sees the same kind of process in evidence under what is called Talibanisation.

    Historian Ayesha Jalal has a fair claim to knowing the various communal narratives of Muslim India, as proved in her 2000 monumental work Self and Sovereignty: Individual and Community in South Asian Islam since 1850. One can say that her latest book on Jihad has grown out of this earlier work and that her identification of one of the most ideologically ‘explained’ holy wars in the 19th century India is intended to understand the location of Al Qaeda inside Pakistan’s Tribal Areas in the 21st century. She writes on page 16:

    ‘The geographic focal point of the jihad of 1826 to 1831 on the northwest frontier of the subcontinent corresponds to the nerve centre of the current confrontation between Islamic radicals and the West. The jihad movement directed primarily against the Sikhs was transmuted in the course of the war into a conflict pitting Muslim against Muslim. This feature of intrafaith conflict in a jihad as armed struggle has not diminished its appeal for contemporary militants, who evidence many of the same failings that undermined Sayyid Ahmad’s high ideals. The martyrdom of those who fell at Balakot continues to weave its spell, making it imperative to investigate the myth in its making’.

    The story goes like this. Sayyid Ahmad, convinced of his own semi-divinity and admired by a large number of followers for his exact adherence to Islam, marched from Rai Bareilly in Central India in 1826 in the direction of the north-western city of Peshawar with a an ‘army’ of 600 local Muslims optimistically posing as warriors. The aim was to establish an Islamic state on the land of the Pashtun. As he meandered through the various regions of India and Afghanistan, he was greeted by Muslim rulers not very keen to support him in his jihad. But in Kandahar, 200 Pashtun warriors joined him, clearly in expectation of the loot which jihad in their view brought in its wake. Some Yusufzai tribesmen, irritated by Sikh rule, also joined his lashkar.

    If he thought he was walking into a ‘people’ of uniform views, he was mistaken. The Durrani Pashtun of Peshawar were not particularly enthusiastic about his movement. Scared of the internecine Pashtun warfare, they had become allies of the Sikhs and paid tribute to them.

    In the first engagement with the Sikh army near Peshawar Sayyid Ahmad suffered a defeat because his soldiers took to looting after the first attack and thereby allowed the Sikhs to regroup and attack again. The next battle at Hazro met with the same fate: the Pashtun warriors took to looting before the battle was won and failed to gain decisive edge later on. The warriors fought over the spoils of war and the various groups carried off what they thought was their share, no one listening to the Sayyid.

    The lure of loot attracted 80,000 more local warriors to his lashkar which now became an army. At the battle of Shaidu, the warriors of Islam outnumbered the army of Budh Singh, the general who represented the suzerain Maharaja of Lahore, Ranjit Singh. This time a part of the Islamic army refused to fight, and the Durranis actually poisoned the Sayyid fearing his growing spiritual power, and let him be defeated as their imam. Weakened by poisoning, he nevertheless sought solace in marrying an Ismaili girl as his third wife.

    As author Jalal points out, the parallels are shockingly close. Sayyid Ahmad’s main objective was the expulsion of the British from India (p.70). Osama bin Laden’s foray into Pakistan is also a phase in his jihad against America. Sayyid Ahmad was under pressure from the puritans of the faith from India to first wage war against the ‘Muslim infidels’ and for this he had to enforce sharia on the Pashtun population of Hazara which was under his military control:

    ‘The scope of the laws was broadly defined to include the compulsory enforcement of Islamic injunctions relating to prayers and fasting, as well as a ban on usury, polygamy, consumption of wine, distribution of a deceased man’s wife and children among his brothers, and involvement in family feuds. Anyone transgressing the sharia after swearing allegiance to Sayyid Ahmad was to be treated as a sinner and a rebel. Any breach was punishable by death, and Muslims were prohibited from saying prayers at the funerals of such people. Two weeks later, after another meeting of tribesmen, Sayyid Ahmad began appointing judges in different parts of the frontier...the moves infringed on the temporal powers of the tribal chiefs and seriously undermined the prerogatives of local religious leaders (p.94)’.

    The three conditions that Sayyid Ahmad and the Taliban fill are: fighting enemy number one (the British, the Americans) through a secondary enemy (the Sikhs, Pakistan); mixing local Islam with hardline Arab Islam; and using the tribal order as matrix of Islam. The Taliban derive their radical Islam from the Wahhabi severity of the money-distributing Arabs; the mujahideen of Sayyid Ahmad derived their puritanism from Shah Waliullah’s ‘contact’ with the Arabs in Hijaz in 1730.

    In the battle of Balakot, Sikh commander Sher Singh finally overwhelmed Sayyid Ahmad after he was informed about his hideout by his Pashtun allies. Ahmad fought bravely but was soon cut down. To prevent a tomb from being erected on his corpse, the Sikhs cut him to pieces but ‘an old woman found the Sayyid’s severed head which was later buried in the place considered to be his tomb’ (p.105).

    Author Jalal notes that in the battlefield of Balakot, where Sayyid Ahmad of Rai Bareilly was martyred in 1831, another kind of ‘cross-border’ deniable jihad is being carried out by other mujahideen. She writes: ‘To this day Balakot where the Sayyid lies buried is a spot that has been greatly revered, not only by militants in contemporary Pakistan, some of whom have set up training camps near Balakot, but also by anti-colonial nationalists who interpreted the movement as a prelude to a jihad against the British in India’ (p.61).

    Not far from Balakot, the votaries of the Sayyid are fighting on the side of Al Qaeda against ‘imperialist’ America and its client state, Pakistan, and killing more Muslims in the process than Americans, just as the Sayyid killed more Muslims than he killed Sikhs. According to Sana Haroon (Frontier of Faith: Islam in the Indo-Afghan Borderland; Hurst & Company London 2007), Ahmed Shah Abdali had induced descendants of Mujaddid Alf Sani to move to Kabul after his raid of Delhi in 1748. In 1849, Akhund Ghafur set up the throne of Swat and put Syed Akbar Shah on it as Amir of Swat, the Syed being a former secretary of Sayyid Ahmad of Rai Bareilly.

    It was a Wahhabi war in the eyes of mild Indian Muslims. It was therefore a virulently Sunni war which pointedly did not attract the Shia. It is difficult to believe that Urdu’s greatest poet Mirza Ghalib (1797-1869) could have supported the jihad (p.61). Writers have claimed that he wrote in cipher and used complicated metaphor in his poetry to attach himself surreptitiously to jihad; but that is not true if you read his Persian letters recently made accessible in the very competent Urdu translation of Mukhtar Ali Khan ‘Partau Rohila’ in a single volume Kuliyat Maktubat Farsi Ghalib (National Book Foundation Islamabad 2008).

    Far from being attracted to the movement of jihad inspired by anti-Shia saints like Shah Waliullah and Shah Abdul Aziz, Ghalib praises an opponent of the Sayyid, Fazle Haq, and is more forthright about his own conversion to Shiism from the Sunni faith. Like Al Qaeda’s war against America, Sayyid Ahmad’s jihad was a Sunni jihad, an aspect that must be made note of. Al Qaeda today kills Shias as its side business
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  2. muse


    Oct 26, 2006
    +0 / 12,511 / -0
    Here come the muhajababes!
    How sex, booze and heavy metal fit into the world of hip young Arabs today.

    By Laura Miller

    July 10, 2008 | "Rewish," or "al Rawshana," is a colloquial Arab term that means "hip" and also "distracted or confused," according to Allegra Stratton's "Muhajababes," a lively (and rewish) exploration of youth culture in several Middle Eastern nations. One of the many people Stratton interviewed for her book -- a bike-glove-wearing female member of a dance troupe that inexplicably describes itself as "an R&B band" -- told Stratton that the region's booming under-25 demographic is being made ever more rewish by their exposure to two seemingly opposed forces: racy pop music videos full of gyrating, pulchritudinous singers like Haifa Wehbe and what Stratton calls the "piety trend," which has more and more young Muslims heeding the call of TV mullahs to abandon smoking, drinking, displays of flesh and premarital sex.

    The result is a new breed of mermaid-like creatures, spotted by Stratton all over the streets of Beirut, Amman, Cairo, Dubai and Damascus. These are "muhajababes," from "muhajabe," a term for the veil. Zina, a girl Stratton met in a Cairo cafe, is a classic example. Her hair was covered with "a flower-patterned headscarf" but she was also wearing heavy makeup and jeans so tight she couldn't fasten the top button. When Stratton asked Zina why she also smoked (widely considered "haram," or forbidden, to observant Muslims), Zina grew "frosty." Then she explained: "If I smoke and wear the headscarf you know that I'm not one of them [that is, the Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt's largest Islamist group]. You know that I'm Islamic. That I am devout. But I'm also different ... If you know what you're looking for then you'll see being a Muslim these days is a different thing."

    Stratton, a British journalist, didn't begin her research knowing quite what she was looking for, but she had a thesis, taken from Western scholars of the contemporary Middle East. These professors are predicting a major sociopolitical shakeup in the region, based on demographic patterns resembling those seen before in upheavals in Western history, such as the English Civil War and the French Revolution. "What creates unrest," Stratton writes of this theory, "was not just an increase in the numbers of young people but also in the numbers of educated young people with no increase in jobs." (Yes, that sentence is grammatically incorrect, as are many in "Muhajababes." Chalk it up to a combination of Stratton's attempt at an easy, casual style and the bad habits engendered by the low editing standards in British publishing. Be warned: Participles dangle as plentifully in these pages as vines in a jungle.)

    Having spent her own post-collegiate years sharing a big, ramshackle East London house with a bunch of idealistic pals (they dreamed of setting up a printing press in the basement), Stratton decided to wander around a handful of Mideast cities, in search of the "Arab Haight-Ashbury," where the coming revolution might be brewing. Mark LeVine, author of another new book, "Heavy Metal Islam: Rock, Resistance and the Struggle for the Soul of Islam," also went looking for glimmers of social change, but he took an approach at once more and less comprehensive than Stratton's. LeVine, who is both a professor of Middle Eastern history at the University of California, Irvine, and a profession rock musician, traveled to more countries (including Pakistan and Morocco) than Stratton, but he seems to have hobnobbed with a much narrower range of people.

    There's something irresistible about the idea that LeVine, who according to his author bio has played with such luminaries as Mick Jagger and Dr. John, not only interviewed rock and rap artists from all over the Middle East and North Africa (or MENA, as he calls it), but also put down the notepad and got up onstage to jam with them. The folio of photographs at the center of "Heavy Metal Islam" features a few shots of him rocking out with his subjects at festivals and in nightclubs. Yet LeVine's account of Muslim rock culture is strangely colorless, mostly because he's only interested in two things: the music itself and the degree to which a band's lyrics explicitly criticize the political regimes in their home countries.

    Most heavy metal lyrics are aggressive and doomy, and the lines LeVine quotes -- "This land is barren, it does not feel/ Our self-made slaughte / by our own hands/ Here lies the orphaned land" from the Israeli band Orphaned Land, for example -- can be interpreted as speaking of anything from, say, the conflict over Palestine to environmentalism to free-floating teenage social angst. The people LeVine interviews have ample cause for complaint; besides the general authoritarian, undemocratic nature of their governments, they often come in for extra harassment as a result of their appearance and musical taste. Metalheads in Morocco, Lebanon and Egypt have even been arrested for practicing "satanism." But their counterparts in the democratic West are often just as disgusted with the adult world for entirely different reasons.

    Complaining about their governments isn't what makes Islam's metalheads unusual -- practically everyone in the Mideast does that (to the extent they can get away with it). What's interesting is the fact that they've chosen heavy metal in spite of its Western roots, and the ways they reconcile this with their own regional and nation identities. Several of the musicians LeVine interviews are religious, even devout, and the author has hopes that rock fans will unite with young Islamists against their authoritarian rulers. To his great disappointment, a meeting he facilitates in a Cairo hotel bar between members of a band called Wyvern and the editor of the Muslim Brotherhood's Web site turns out to be a dud, mostly because the metalheads don't seem to believe the Brotherhood's recent protestations that they are now interested only in political reform, not policing cultural virtue. "So many Egyptians -- and Arabs more broadly," LeVine laments, "prefer to continue dealing with the devil they know (corrupt and autocratic regimes) than to risk the even less appealing alternative of a religious state."

    It seems churlish to reproach politically vulnerable people for a prudent refusal to accept the enemy of their enemy as their friend. It's true that many young Arabs increasingly see their religion as the ideological basis for political change while at the same time rejecting the extreme Wahhabist puritanism of Saudi Arabia. But even tolerant cultures tend to give metalheads a hard time, partly because metal -- like other forms of what LeVine refers to as "intense" popular music -- is fueled by a rebellious spirit. Sure, the Islamists might want to harness that energy now, while they're rebelling themselves, but they're unlikely to appreciate this particular manifestation of diversity should they ever come to power.

    Another problem with "Heavy Metal Islam" is that virtually all of the subjects LeVine interviews in any depth are either musicians or professional scene-makers (promoters, producers, etc.). What's glaringly absent from the book is any substantive consideration of the fans, their numbers and the role of the subculture in their lives. After all, in the West, it means one thing to be a heavy metal musician and another thing to be a fan; the audience who go to Metallica concerts doesn't live like the band's members, even if they might want to. Besides, people rarely become musicians because they want to be activists. (Even the exceptional Plastic People of the Universe in Czechoslovakia, as LeVine finally gets around to admitting in his epilogue, were persecuted by their repressive government into becoming an inspiration for the Velvet Revolution of the late '80s.) Professional musicians, like most artists, are few in number and largely preoccupied with their work. Little wonder that so many of them told LeVine that they just want to be left alone.

    "Heavy Metal Islam" works best as a tip sheet on the hard rock of the Muslim world. Most of the bands build their fan base via MySpace pages and Web sites. The book's bibliography and list of links lead to acts ranging from the Kordz of Lebanon, whose sound, according to LeVine, "blends together hard-rock and funk-guitar riffs, with a Gnawa (Moroccan blues-style Sufi music) bass line and vocals, Lebanese-inflected melodies, and a hip-hop beat" to the fabulously hypnotic (and subcontinentally iconic) Junoon, who combine rock with "the complex scales of classical Indian music, which offer twenty-two intervals to choose from in constructing the that or raga scale of a particular song."

    Stratton, by contrast, can't really articulate why she thinks a Lebanese "ethno-techno" musician is "really good" or a Jordanian painter's work is "very bad," but she can give you a sense of how their work fits into the average Middle Eastern life. The answer is: barely. The painter, who mostly does nudes, has to keep them locked away in his home/gallery for fear of the Muslim Brotherhood, and the musician can't really compete with the sexy pop hits that monopolize audiences throughout the region thanks to heavy TV rotation given over to "video clips" (as music videos are called). A single company, Rotana, owned by a Saudi prince who mainlines money into the business, dominates over 80 percent of the music industry and its specialty is writhing bombshells in skimpy outfits. (It makes a nice favor to one's girlfriend of the moment to turn her into a star -- which explains why so many of the company's singers have such weak voices and such stunning figures.)

    Rotana's video-clip floozies are wildly popular in the Arab world, even among the fashionably devout; Stratton witnessed a flock of veiled girls mobbing the singer Ruby at a Cairo shopping mall, unperturbed by the fact that she shakes it on-screen with a bared midriff and a python. A member of Ruby's entourage floated the idea that the girls regard the videos as a rare glimpse of the sexual life that they otherwise won't taste until their wedding nights.

    Stratton had by then learned enough to doubt this picture of the muhajababes as "sexual ingenues." One of the girls she interviewed, a single mother at the center of a media circus surrounding the paternity suit she'd filed, told the author of her "urfi marriage," a kind of semiformal, provisional wedlock contracted by young Egyptian couples who want to have Islamically correct sex. The girl, Hind, got pregnant, and refused to comply with her TV-star boyfriend's request that she get an abortion and hymen-reconstruction surgery (!) to restore her virginity, combined with a 10-camel payoff and 60-day fast that a sheik assured him would cleanse their souls of the sin of the abortion. According to Hind, such practices are fairly routine among Egypt's middle-class youth.

    Later, Stratton found out that Hind's ex, Ahmed, had been hanging out with an Egyptian televangelist named Amr Khaled, a man who becomes the Keyser Soze of "Muhajababes," an influence the author detects everywhere but whom she never gets the chance to meet. A potent combination of Billy Graham, Oprah Winfrey and Dr. Phil, Khaled is a regional superstar. "Absolutely bags of money," an unveiled Palestinian girl told Stratton. "Pop star friends, internet sites, television programs. People -- both girls and boys -- are so into him he's like a heart throb." So much so, in fact, that in the early 2000s, the Egyptian government, apparently seeing his popularity as a threat, told Khaled that if he wanted to stay in the country he'd have to stop preaching. Instead, he went to a university in Wales while the sales of his videotapes skyrocketed and his appearances via satellite and Internet went on as usual. (Khaled has since made several return trips to Egypt.) Satellite television and the Web, Stratton notes, mean that effective state control of the media, once a given in the Middle East, has become more and more difficult

    "He doesn't shout at us. He talks. Softly," the muhajababe Zina told Stratton of Khaled. Unlike the usual run of fire-breathing mullahs, this preacher, a former accountant, is clean-shaven, speaks an informal dialect rather than classical Arabic and wears Western-style suits. He encourages women to take the veil, but not by scolding them. Instead, he retails the stories of teenagers who felt depressed or incomplete until they renew their faith by putting on head scarves. This is a confessional mode familiar from countless American talk shows, and audiences eat it up. Zina, who dislikes the Muslim Brotherhood, took from Khaled the self-help nostrum that "the only way to change society is by changing yourself first," and went off to start a photocopying business. Later, Stratton meets a member of the Brotherhood who praises Khaled for denouncing domestic violence and calling for women's suffrage. The Brotherhood, which had once accused Khaled of selling a watered-down, moderate religion they call "air-conditioned Islam," eventually changed their tune (no doubt sensing a shift in public sentiment) and berated the government for banning him.

    In other words, Khaled, like the head scarf, is newly fashionable, an affirmation of Muslim pride but also a cultural fad, like the Kabbalah or yoga in Beverly Hills. "I can list many female actors Amr and Ahmed hang around with," Hind told Stratton, explaining that her ex and his cohort turned to Khaled when gripped with a kind of existential despair about the absence of faith in their lives. The women are, like Ahmed, prone to what Hind calls "religious black moods"; sometimes Ahmed would "need to be alone in his penthouse and nothing could console him." The women celebrities who seek comfort in Khaled's circle are often referred to as "veiled-again," in reference to their resurgent interest in Islam.

    The closer Stratton looks at the lives of these young Muslims, the more they resemble those of their Western counterparts, from pop stars thanking God for their Grammies to Bible Belt residents with their pro-life politics and whopping abortion rates. In Kuwait, a university student in a spotless dishdasha speaks scornfully of "Bedouins" in the social science departments, men wearing similar outfits, but with shorter hems indicating that they can't afford many changes of clothes and need to keep them well off the ground and away from the dirt. "Bedouins" -- for this boy, it's less a tribal term than an epithet much like "rednecks" -- gravitate toward disciplines that don't require them to learn English, "because they are not the most clever students and this degree never reveals that." They also tend to be more conservative religiously and opponents of liberalizing policies like women's suffrage. Still, there are limits to the militancy of these unsophisticated young men. Even the Hezbollah member Stratton met in Beirut expressed nothing but contempt for the "freaks" of al-Qaida. Her Cairo translator, a former jihadi, said of the bin Laden crew, "These guys want an international caliphate. Who else wants that? Egypt is difficult enough to sort out as it is."

    The relatively small numbers of hardcore militants, however, is exactly what drives them to terrorism. Stratton got a firsthand taste of their rage on July 7, 2005, when she walked out of London's Tavistock Square moments before a suicide bomber blew up a bus there. Rumor had it that Amr Khaled had signed on as an advisor to the British government after the attacks, but Stratton could never get this confirmed; it would have made him unpopular among Muslims there. She found herself once again asking if the Mideast's secularists were right in claiming that Khaled's "trendy piety" is no more than "a rebranding of religious conservatism." Then, the next thing Stratton knew, she was hearing that Khaled was allowed to preach in the sanctum of the holy city of Medina (a "serious privilege" bestowed by the Saudi Arabian government). Later, he was Johnny-on-the-spot during the "cartoons crisis," urging Muslims enraged by Danish depictions of the prophet Mohammed to "move from protesting to starting a dialogue." Meanwhile, Khaled was recruiting ideological heirs and founding operations like the Life Makers project, designed to foster and fund entrepreneurship in the Arab nonprofit sector. All this, Stratton concludes, is "enabling the region's more moderate Islamists to ready themselves for power."

    Should LeVine's metalheads and other nonconformists in the region go on worrying about an Islamist takeover? It's hard to say. Stratton thinks that the effect of the Amr Khaled and muhajababe phenomena is that "the Middle East appears more religious," while Arab youth covertly take an "eclectic mix-and- match" approach to their faith. They are not, she believes, very likely to abandon "smoking, make-up, plucking eyebrows, tight trousers, revealing swimwear, having sex." Besides, even a sincere trendy piety is still a trend, which means it comes with a built-in expiration date. Only one thing is certain when it comes to the fixations of youth culture: They don't last long
  3. muse


    Oct 26, 2006
    +0 / 12,511 / -0
  4. muse


    Oct 26, 2006
    +0 / 12,511 / -0
    Through Indian Eyes

    Smoke and Mirrors by Pallavi Aiyar

    Reviewed by Sreeram Chaulia

    With the ascent of China replacing the menace of al-Qaeda as the hot international issue, a flurry of books on the Middle Kingdom has hit printing presses. Not all of them do justice to the complex realities of a country in a state of permanent change over three decades. Western authors typically focus on China's economic marvel, the challenge that it poses to the United States, or the prospects of it becoming democratic. Their approaches tend to be either intensely critical (Peter Navarro's The Coming China Wars) or unabashedly admiring (Jim Rogers' A Bull in China).

    One expects more nuanced analysis from the first and only Chinese-speaking Indian foreign correspondent who resided in China. Pallavi Aiyar's Smoke and Mirrors deciphers China through unique Indian spectacles in a witty and illuminative account that has flashes of a classic. Aiyar soaks into Chinese culture, society, economics and politics and reaps rich rewards by capturing what every author dreams of - the essence of the subject matter. (Disclosure: Aiyar is a regular contributor to Asia Times Online.)

    When Aiyar went from India to China in 2002 to keep a tryst and teach English journalism, she was stricken by "fear of the truly unknown" that lay north of the Himalayas. The haze cleared during the next five years of extensive travel and reporting, uncovering a landscape of "powerful contradictions" in which a sprinting economic engine existed alongside stationary authoritarian politics. Smoke and Mirrors is the story of a country undergoing dizzying change, recounted through an intelligent Indian prism.

    One sign of transformation that Aiyar noticed straightaway was the febrile construction boom in China, with roads, buildings and malls sprouting up profusely. Half of the world's concrete and one-third of its steel output were being consumed by this bottomless drive for modernity that humbled Aiyar as an Indian. What grated on her senses was the harsh enforcement of restrictions on rural migrants in China's metropolitan centers that gave them an extra-sanitized appearance which is absent in Indian cities.

    Aiyar's young students at the Beijing Broadcasting Institute had to undergo compulsory Maoism courses but "fantasized of little but money" (p 16). They reviled American foreign policy even while patronizing McDonalds and chasing admissions to US universities. Coming from a class of society that benefited from the economic boom, they were optimistic and ambitious but also apolitical and ignorant of knowledge deemed "unsuitable". They willfully ignored human rights problems and held a "bright, nationalistic worldview in which China was getting stronger and everything was getting better". (p 17)

    Parroting official propaganda with sincerity, none of Aiyar's students knew that Tibetan spiritual leader in exile the Dalai Lama was a Nobel laureate. The "zero anti-establishment feeling" and enforced homogeneity of thinking among the brightest minds of the country dampened Aiyar's liberal Indian mind, but also reminded that control of information was the key to government legitimacy in China. Muzzling of the media by the state seemed perfectly normal to the author's students, who held that "concepts like freedom of the press were fundamentally unsuitable to the 'volatile' nature of the Chinese people" (p 22). It was only after the full extent of the SARS epidemic coverup became evident in 2003 that Aiyar's pupils reacted with shock and resentment towards their government.

    One arena in which China's youth were defying authority was by breaking sexual taboos. Aiyar notes the irony of the runaway popularity of cosmetic surgery and titillation toys in a country that had hitherto condemned women's make-up as a bourgeois practice.

    Notwithstanding the Olympics-inspired English-learning fad, Aiyar remarks that the lack of English skills "remained a stumbling block in China's projection of itself as a major global player" (p 49). Continued inability to overcome corrupted "Chinglish" in public signs was puzzling for a dynamic country where the word "impossible" seemed anachronistic.

    On the structural underpinnings of power, Aiyar describes China as "a pressure cooker, calm on the top but boiling inside" (p 60). Unlike India, ordinary people in China have few opportunities for the release of myriad frustrations relating to their livelihood struggles. There is "no recourse for the marginalized when the government itself turned tyrannical" (p 209). The author is not fooled by the exterior calm and orderliness projected by the Chinese government and speaks of "isolated bubbles of tension" that the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) blocks from "merging into larger, more powerful forces" (p 70). She slams "the cruel fangs of China's autocratic regime" (p 122) that coercively relocated half a million households to beautify Beijing for the Olympics.

    Aiyar's stay in China coincided with a bout of thickening economic relations between Beijing and New Delhi. While expressing healthy skepticism about ideas of a merger of the two economies into a "Chindia", she unveils curious cases of Chinese software professionals being trained by Indian companies and Indian medical students and yoga gurus pouring into China for opportunities.

    According to the author, a basic belief in the dignity of labor, which is a legacy of Chinese communism, posed "the broadest gulf between India and China" (p 105). Although China was turning into one of the most unequal societies in the world in class terms, it lacked the ritual social discriminations that bogged India down. China also fared better than India in equality of the sexes, particularly in female labor force participation. Aiyar argues that there is "a greater measure of the medieval in India and a dash more of the modern in China". (p 135)

    Aiyar visited the manufacturing miracle towns of the southern and eastern coast that rendered "Made in China" into a global household phrase. The entrepreneurial genius of Zhejiang province was in full bloom in the contemporary regime of "red capitalism". From socks and shoes to lighters and garments, the province advertised tales of tiny start-ups morphing into giant world market-dominating industries. Aiyar tributes enterprising local bureaucrats who pursued capitalist profits in the name of socialism and enabled businesses to expand into international players. Frenetic development of world-class highways and railways also gave a competitive edge to Chinese producers

    On the question of spirituality, the author observed a major comeback of officially-proscribed religion. The masses were turning to faith to counterbalance the country's pervasive Mammon-worship and corruption. The CCP itself was actively encouraging a revival of Buddhism and Confucianism to undergird President Hu Jintao's goal of a "harmonious society". The party set strict parameters within which religion freedom could breathe. Catholics and Uyghur Muslims were subjected to tight controls while informal Protestantism and the Falungong were harshly prosecuted. Aiyar quips that "people were free to believe, but just not too much". (p 184)

    At the Zen Buddhist Shaolin temple in Henan province, the author met the "party pet" abbot who was an exemplar of the phenomenon of "religion playing second fiddle to politics" (p 188). In the Muslim Ningxia Hui region, the author noticed that all imams had to be licensed and all mosques registered with the government. In Yunnan's Tibetan monasteries, she found lamas who concealed their India connections for fear of landing in "trouble". Aiyar doubts whether the CCP's shepherding of religion into quietist channels is sustainable, given the inequalities of access and opportunities afflicting the country.

    Aboard the maiden Qinghai-Lhasa train in 2006, Aiyar reconfirmed the "less than polite" Han attitudes towards China's fifty-odd ethnic minorities. In the Han imagination, minorities were reduced to "tourist attractions with quaint folk customs" (p 224), caricatured as unfit for modern society or economic development. Tibetans, in general, were "treated by Beijing as suspect and excluded from the policymaking that would shape their own future". (p 231)

    On the "roof of the world", Aiyar met Tibetans seething under Chinese colonialism and spotted instances of silent resistance. Modernization, which got a rousing response in Han areas, had proven inadequate for buying loyalty in China's restive western frontiers. Aiyar contrasts this with India, which had superior "mechanisms for negotiating large-scale diversity". (p 242)

    In the concluding chapter, Aiyar draws attention to the impact of new technologies on the ruler-ruled equation in China. The rise of the legal consciousness movement (wei quan) to defend property rights and the environment was predicated on the spread of the Internet and mobile telephony. Yet, the CCP had enough policing prowess in the communications sphere "to keep the flame low enough to avert an explosion for a while to come" (p 256). To the author, Deng Xiaoping-bequeathed pragmatism and openness to "pilot project" innovations guarantee regime survival in China.

    Smoke and Mirrors emerges as the best comparative narrative on China by an Asian in recent times. After the mountains of statistics-laden works by economists matching China and India, and the cornucopia of strategic prognoses by policy wonks on China's threat to the West, Aiyar's debut book comes as a fresh breeze with a special human touch that retains objectivity

    Smoke and Mirrors. An Experience of China by Pallavi Aiyar. Harper Collins, New Delhi, 2008. ISBN: 978-81-7223-746-2. Price: US$ 9.50, 273 pages
  5. fatman17


    Apr 24, 2007
    +47 / 25,880 / -0


    shuja nawaz's study is as definative as we r likely to get. no other book has penetrated so deeply into the army and so carefully examined this poweful institution in the context of pakistan's history and polictics.
    Last edited: Jul 14, 2008
  6. fatman17


    Apr 24, 2007
    +47 / 25,880 / -0
    Benazir at close quarters


    A first-hand account of the career of a celebrated politician of the subcontinent from the cradle to the grave

    GOODBYE SHAHZADI — A Political Biography of Benazir Bhutto: Shyam Bhatia; Roli Books Pvt. Ltd., M-75, GK II Market, New Delhi-110048. Rs. 295.

    The purpose that journalist Shyam Bhatia sought to achieve in writing Goodbye Shahzadi is not discernible. Unless, of course, Bhatia wanted to tell his readers that he knew Benazir Bhutto very well personally. The reader would expect a professional who writes mainly for western newspapers to produce a book that offers new information. A person of Indian origin, more attuned to the South Asian psyche than people from elsewhere in the world, should have been able to provide more insight into the mind of one of the subcontinent’s most celebrated political characters. This book fails to satisfy in both respects.

    The author claims that the book contains one major revelation. In a conversation with him in Dubai in 2003, Bhutto is said to have confessed that on one occasion she was directly involved in the nuclear-secrets-for-missile technology deal between Pakistan and North Korea. The story is that early in her second term as Prime Minister, she had carried on her person computer disks with nuclear secrets that were handed over to her hosts in Pyongyang. Bhatia might have got this information in 2003 but he was beaten to the scoop by the authors of Deception — Pakistan, the United States and the Global Nuclear Weapon Conspiracy, who had put this information out in the public domain in 2007.

    Some discrepancies

    There are some discrepancies between the two versions. Unlike Bhatia, the authors of Deception, Adrian Levy and Catherine Scott-Clark, claim that the disks were carried in a bag and not inside the pockets of a newly bought overcoat. The two books also differ in terms of the direction in which Bhutto performed the courier service. Levy and Scott-Clark say that the Pakistani leader took the missile blueprints home with her rather than convey the nuclear secrets to Pyongyang. Whatever might have been the cloak-and-diskette stuff, the fact is that the information about Bhutto’s involvement is not such a unique revelation.


    It is not just a matter of Bhatia being upstaged in terms of the timing of the revelation. In fact, the timing might have actually helped him since his book, which was released after Bhutto’s assassination, ran into controversy when the Pakistan Peoples Party’s spokesman denied the “allegation”. What is irritating is that a snippet of conversation between two friends that was buried for six years is now being held up as a journalistic coup when a far more detailed enquiry into the clandestine nuclear trade is already available.

    That is the problem with much of Shahzadi. The book might serve as a handy primer for those, especially in the West, who began to take an interest in Pakistan’s late Prime Minister only after her assassination. For anyone who had followed Bhutto’s career for a bit longer there is almost nothing. She had put out her version of what drew and kept her in politics in her autobiography Daughter of the East. Bhatia adds nothing to the mass of material available in the archives of Pakistani newspapers about the PPP leader’s two terms as Prime Minister. The corruption charges, the ways in which Bhutto defended herself and her husband, the difficulty of arriving at an objective assessment of the civilian governments of Pakistan when they are forced to operate within parameters defined by the permanent establishment —all these have been written about at length.

    Missed opportunities

    As a friend of Bhutto from her Oxford days, Bhatia was better placed than most others to draw out information on topics of real importance. How does a woman politician who needs to be rooted in the traditional societies of South Asia strike a balance between her private and public life? Do equations between the spouses change in these circumstances or if they did not in her particular case, does it say anything about her inability to control Asif Ali Zardari? Bhatia tells the reader what Bhutto felt about Zia ul Haq obsequiousness or Pervez Musharraf’s surface charm. But, the reader would have surely benefited more if the author had been able to throw light on the ways in which the permanent establishment stymies the civilian leadership. That would certainly have been more useful than the information that “Pinky” could do a very good impersonation of “Cobra Eyes”.

    All in all, this is a disappointing book especially since the author had better access than most Indian journalists could ever have to Bhutto’s associates. With opportunities wasted, this narrative of the author’s encounters with Bhutto becomes little more than an example of the peculiar hubris that journalists acquire just because they hobnob with the famous or powerful. Anyone who wants something more than a frivolous study of Pakistan and the Bhuttos would be well advised to look elsewhere.

    The Hindu : Front Page News : Tuesday, July 15, 2008
  7. muse


    Oct 26, 2006
    +0 / 12,511 / -0
    ‘Empires of the Sea’A dramatic retelling of the 16th-century clash of Christian and Muslim armies.

    By M.M. Bennetts

    Empires of the Sea
    By Roger Crowley
    Random House
    315 pp.

    Often histories of 16th-century Europe focus on the unfolding dramas of Northern Europe: the religious ferment of the Reformation or Tudor England, that romping Renaissance soap opera featuring the ever-recognizable Henry VIII and all those wives, and his fiery daughter, Elizabeth I, patron of Shakespeare.

    Yet curiously, simultaneously, a sequence of tumultuous power struggles was convulsing the southern regions of Europe: A series of battles for military, religious, and economic domination was being played out across the shimmering waters of the Mediterranean. Empires of the Sea: the Siege of Malta, the Battle of Lepanto, and the Contest for the Center of the World, is Roger Crowley’s neatly encapsulated history of this defining epoch.

    After taking Byzantium (Istanbul) in 1453, the Ottoman Turks looked west. They consolidated their power and set their sights on Rome. They had a young and energetic leader in Suleiman, eager to prove his military might. He conquered Hungary, then turned to Rhodes where the ageing relics of the mediaeval world, the Knights of St. John, held sway and succeeded in driving them out.

    Over the next decades, the velocity and brutality of this power struggle between the Christian West and the Muslim East mushroomed, pitting Catholic rulers Charles V and Philip II of Spain, the Pope, and the Knights of St. John against ever-increasing armies and navies of Suleiman the Magnificent and his son, Selim, ably abetted by their allies, the Barbary pirates.

    To those unfortunate enough to be living along the coasts of southern Spain or Italy or upon the islands of the Mediterranean, it was an age of unrivalled terror. At any moment, the savage forces of the pirates, Barbarossa or his brother, Dragut Rey, might bear down in a lightening strike.

    Whole towns and villages were sacked, the inhabitants slaughtered or enslaved and taken aboard galleys bound for the markets of North Africa. Despite the appeals of the pope, the response of the European rulers was invariably dithering, incoherent, or occasionally, apathetic.

    In 1565, the Ottomans sent the largest fleet ever assembled to lay siege to the island of Malta, the conquest of which would give them control of the whole of the Mediterranean. The Knights of St. John prepared to meet this assault as best they could. And somehow, despite their smaller army and the failure of aid to reach them, they held out over several months of terrifying attacks in a dramatic display of courage, grit, and great leadership.

    Victory celebrations were held across Europe.

    The Turks did not acknowledge defeat at Malta, and by 1570, they had recovered enough to send a navy and siege engines to Cyprus. Yet the final conquest of that island with its acts of unparalleled barbarity was to have unforeseeable consequences. It both horrified and energized the Venetians and unified the Christian powers, bringing them together for a final decisive battle to defeat the Turkish fleets at Lepanto in October 1571.

    But while this hardly signaled the end of either Turkish expansionism or the Barbary Pirates, the religious and cultural boundaries of Europe were now fixed and never again would East meet West in such a conflagration.
    From the outset, Crowley’s research is thorough and exact. He liberally provides key Christian eye-witness accounts from the period, detailing the royal and diplomatic uncertainties, and underscoring the huge anxieties of the age.

    Crowley also offers exquisitely delicate insights and undulating descriptive passages. Yet in his descriptions of the battles, his prose is so taut and tense, it is impossible not to be caught up in the harrowing action. Though he never revels in gore, the unadorned facts invariably produce cover-your-eyes, heart-thumping moments. Had Dick Francis turned his hand to history rather than racecourse thrillers, this would have been it.

    It is rare that a book comes along which requires us to reconsider our verdicts on the past. Crowley’s “Empires of the Sea” is an honest history of an underestimated and oft-neglected subject and it is certainly one of those rare books.

    M.M. Bennetts is a freelance writer living in Hampshire, England.
  8. JK!


    Nov 15, 2006
    +1 / 415 / -0
    Jason Burke- Al Qaeda

    The Prophet and the Pharoah- Gilles Keppel

    Jihad: The rise of Political Islam- Gilles Keppel

    The crisis of Islam- Bernard Lewis

    I used these for my A level history project on the rise of radical Islam in the 20th century and found them to be quite useful. The latter is a good focus issues found in the muslim world today.
  9. muse


    Oct 26, 2006
    +0 / 12,511 / -0
    Muslim future in India by Khaled Ahmed

    Living with Secularism: The Destiny of India's Muslims
    Edited by Mushirul Hasan
    Manohar India 2007, Pp306; Price Rs 750 Indian
    Available at bookstores in Pakistan

    In 2004, the elections in India have brought a new hope for Muslims but the BJP is still strong in opposition and continues to echo Golwalker, the founder of RSS who had said in 1947 that non-Hindus in India must learn to glorify only the Hindu religion. NC Chatterjee of Hindu Mahasabha had said in 1949 that Muslims must accept Mahabharata and Ramayana as their own instead of Arabic and Persian classics

    In 2004, Indian scholar Mushirul Hasan had challenged Indian secularism under the BJP dominance and its doctrine of Hindutva with his book, Will Secular India Survive?, but the general election the same year brought the Congress-led UPA government to power as a people’s response to majoritarian communalism of the BJP and its ‘family’ of organisations.

    This selection of essays presents a more satisfying analysis of what India is doing to its Muslims. After 2004, Hindutva has not gone away. It threatens the Muslims more than the other communities because: 1) Muslims are the largest religious minority in India and the second largest Muslim population in the world; 2) Muslims are erstwhile rulers of India and the memory presents them as a threat to Hindu majority; 3) Muslims are considered as members of a settler colony by Sangh Pariwar; 4) Muslims get excluded by majoritarian nationalism with Pakistan as the ‘other’ and Indian Muslims as a separatist population; 5) Muslims are targets of all communal riots; 6) Muslims serve as instruments of Hindu unity under Hindutva because India is presented as being under threat from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Kashmir; 7) Muslims are steady targets of communal riots; and 8) Muslims spoil the Indian monolithic identity as a Hindu Rashtra and are an obstacle in India’s unification.

    American scholar Theodore P Wright Junior gives us a projection of what might happen to the Muslims of India in the coming days. First he tells us how a group becomes subordinate: voluntary or involuntary immigration, ritual pollution, religious conversion, changing boundaries, differential of birth and emigration rates, group status reversal, relations with the majority group. Subordination occurs if the population is on the border and the border is next to a population of the enemy state of the same religion.

    Fear of Muslims is aroused by the fact that their population, although only 13 percent of the total, has grown to this number in fifty years more quickly as compared to the Hindus. Is this fear comparable to the Christian fear aroused in Lebanon of ethnic supersession by Muslims through birth rate after 1943, ending in the civil war of 1975-88? There is Muslim majority in Kashmir and large Muslim minorities in West Bengal and Assam near the border of an adjoining Muslim state that equally arouse fear and loathing. Then there is the memory of Muslim rule for three hundred years which puts off the upper caste Hindus.

    [The following states have Muslim minorities as indicated by percentages: Assam (28 percent), Kerala (23 percent) West Bengal (23 percent), Uttar Pradesh (17.3 percent), Bihar (16 percent) and Karnataka (16 percent). Needless to say the largest number live in the UP where the total population is more than that of Pakistan.]

    Southern and coastal India doesn’t hate the Muslims as much as the Indian north and northwest, but may begin to have communal riots as BJP and its friends spread their influence there. It is possible that Muslims may actually be squeezed into the coastal areas in the South to join the non-threatening “middlemen Muslims”: Memons, Khojas, Bohras, Navayats, Marakayyars, Lebais, Rawthors and Mapillas. They pose no threat to the majority dominance. Muslims in Hyderabad, Bhopal and Junagadh are humorously equated to past elites but they are in fact local poor Hindu converts who can never challenge the Hindus unless they step out of poverty and acquire education.

    If India and Pakistan proceed on their hostile course and threaten each other with nuclear weapons, the Muslims in India will face the possibility of subordination, expulsion and genocide. This is gleaned from the history of what happened to such minorities elsewhere in the world. But if things remain normal the Muslims of India will face the following four options: assimilation, pluralism, secession and dominance. The experience of the Palestinians vis-à-vis Israel is a pointer because the Israeli population seems to have arrived at the consensus of expulsion.

    In India under Nehru, autonomy and pluralism were the tools of treatment for Muslims. This pluralism compelled the Congress to refuse to impose a uniform Civil Code on Muslims. What followed was the escalation of communal riots targeting Muslims and the decay of Gandhian ideals in the post-Nehruvian period after the 1960s. Now Hindu nationalists want the Muslims to assimilate into a Hindu-defined nation. Behind this came coercive notions finding their physical fulfilment in the Gujarat pogroms in 2002.

    In 2004, the elections in India have brought a new hope for Muslims but the BJP is still strong in opposition and continues to echo Golwalker, the founder of RSS who had said in 1947 that non-Hindus in India must learn to glorify only the Hindu religion. NC Chatterjee of Hindu Mahasabha had said in 1949 that Muslims must accept Mahabharata and Ramayana as their own instead of Arabic and Persian classics (p.289). But if India develops as a modern state as evidenced already in the metropolises then the Muslims will get by without being persecuted. They will be visible but their maltreatment will not be allowed by the modern Hindu.

    It is useful in some regions to have become invisible, that is, without the markers that announce a Muslim as a separate identity. Since there is racial similarity the names are a usually a giveaway, but in some states the names are becoming uniform, for instance in the case of A Premjee, one of India’s big names in electronics. A stands for Azeem. Even in America where the Jewish people are generally not persecuted many Jews have named themselves away from their Semitic origins: Lewis Libby, John Bolton and Bernard Lewis are Jews.

    In big business, like the entertainment industry, big Muslims names have become iconic and this is the location where the rare Muslim can hope to survive normally. But the final solution according to the author lies in Indo-Pak relations.

    The crunch comes when the Indian states include Muslims in the “affirmative action” programmes aimed at providing relief to the very poor in India. Laws exist to correct the social imbalance between the accepted castes and those that don’t get mentioned as castes. The non-scheduled castes or untouchables in India outnumber even the Muslims and are frequently given protection through reservation of jobs.

    Commissions set up to recommend reforms have included Muslims in the category of other backward classes (OBCs) since they are not untouchables. They are 8 percent of the OBC which itself comprises 27 percent of the population. That makes half of the Muslims of India backward.
  10. muse


    Oct 26, 2006
    +0 / 12,511 / -0
    The City of Love
    By Rimi B. Chatterjee
    Penguin Books, India
    Available with Liberty Books, Karachi
    ISBN: 0-14-310381-4
    321pp. Rs590

    REVIEWS: Matter Of Destiny
    Reviewed by Akbar S. Ahmed

    Rimi B. Chatterjee, in this novel, explores journeys, drifting and the way in which humans, and humanity in general, ‘want answers’, and will go to near impossible bounds to seek them. It is a tale where spiritual salvation and material gains are intertwined and juxtaposed, ultimately claiming characters, moments and events as their own, in their struggle against and with each other.

    Set five centuries ago, the novel is a tale of Bengal at the height of her glory as a much-vied-over center for the maritime trade which was the lifeblood of global commerce at the time. It is as floating platelets in this coursing circuit that we are introduced to two of the main characters. We first meet the desperate, inquisitive Fernando Almenara, a Castilian trader fleeing persecution by the Inquisition and its midwives, the Medicis. However, it is seemingly all in vain, as he is captured and held captive in the port of Malaka. We next meet Daud Suleiman Al-Basri, a smart, savvy player in this cut-throat world, who is seeking not just social mobility and wealth, but also answers to the religious questions that abound in his mind.

    The narrative moves quickly, as Fernando is ‘rescued’ from his captivity by Daud, who is intrigued by his possession of a probing text deemed heretical by the paranoid Church. He is taken to the ship of the pirates Daud owes allegiance to. Here we meet the crew of the Shaan-e-Dariya, a captured ship re-rigged to suit the channels and intricacies of the Bay of Bengal, captained by the loud and domineering Alamgir. While it seems that Fernando is simply moving into a tough life, we soon find Daud befriending him, and, as they dock at Chittagong, treating him as an equal.

    Fittingly enough for this tale of curiosity and prying, it is through an act of spying that we are introduced to the other main plotline of this book: the tale of the harsh, closed-minded priest of Shiva, Bhairavdas. Judgemental, blinkered and only marginally concerned for his effect on those around him, from his servile brother Shankardas, too weak to stand up and demand freedom of thought, to his bitter, ‘bag of bones’ wife Indrani, this character is used effectively to show the adverse effects of closed-mindedness. Soon after this, Indrani at long last gets her son (and a boost up the social ladder), and an heir for her husband. Even during this birth, Chatterjee strengthens her comment on gender inequity by showing that even in the throes of ecstasy Indrani does not forget to show her daughters their place – to facilitate the coming of the male, and ensure the purity of the priest’s household. What she does miss, however, is the enigmatic washergirl who brings her son into the world. This pagan girl from the jungle, Bajja, is bright, experienced and hardened, and cares little for either the pomp of the temple or the petty victories and losses in the home of its guardian.

    Through the development of these characters, and the vehicles of the two spiritual guides, benevolent Pir Baba and beautiful, quick Dhumavati, who slip in and out of the tale to usher, guide and warn, Chatterjee plays out vastly different spiritual journeys, against the background of a region trying desperately to maintain its position and ward off foreign invaders from both the sea and the land. Her rich descriptions and fascinating accounts of different ceremonies, trials and triumphs, make her writing dazzle at places. Chatterjee is not afraid to let harsh truths and difficult times take their toll, and yet her characters remain human, even in the face of ascetism and commerce, dance and battle. They live, they die, they seek answers. And that’s what makes her story compelling, and moves along the narrative. Yet, even as it moves, one cannot help but get the feeling that this movement is inexorable, unstoppable – it seems a movement of destiny, whether Jewish, Catholic, Hindu or tribal. At the end of the day, we are left with intricate, intelligent characters, one of whom has ‘come to the conclusion that Europe deserved the Church’ to another for whom ‘life itself had taken too much of her attention’.

    There are, however, flaws, and this novel is by no means perfect. While the tale flows easily and steadily later on, it is with a heavy heart that this reviewer slugged through the first few chapters, often giving up and then restarting. Chatterjee’s writing may be excellent at times, but it can also heavily disappoint at others. For the reader, this is a book that may be tough to get into, but it is undoubtedly worth carrying on with. While her style may seem, at times, too arcane, and her characters slightly ethereal, Chatterjee does manage to keep us grounded and eventually, reach the fabled, much-imagined City.

    In today’s world, where religion, obscurantism and persecution are more or less vital fixtures on the world stage, this book resounds with a clear and important message – it is not the shape of one’s symbol that matters, be it crescent, Star of David or ‘linga’, nor the innumerable articles of one’s faith. Open-mindedness is the true path to serenity, nirvana, jannat, whatever you want to call it. And so, in a sense, Chatterjee conveys an important message. The City of Love is enjoyable and interesting, and rings true on a globe where, far too often, we find ourselves blinkered and led on
  11. Neo


    New Recruit

    Nov 1, 2005
    +0 / 3,916 / -0
    Book review: Some new insights into Kashmir

    By Khaled Ahmed

    Demystifying Kashmir;

    By Navnita Chadha Behera;Brookings Institution Press 2006; Pp359; Price $28.95;Available at bookstores in Pakistan

    Author Behera is ‘impartial’ on a subject on which Indians and Pakistanis can’t shake off their nationalist positions. Pakistanis have lost the international community on their cause and nothing they say is considered right; the Indians used to present a closed mind to what they thought was a world convinced of the Pakistani case, but now they can feel easy looking closely at the Indian warts. The logic of losing and winning has emphasised realism and the Pakistanis are lost when their nose is rubbed into it. The book still looks anti-Pakistan but what can one do if Pakistan has been mostly wrong?

    The book begins by taking account of India’s aim to gobble up the hundreds of states left unrealistically behind by the British in 1947. Pakistanis worked on the principle of ‘Muslim majority’ contiguous areas that could be roped in to swell up the territory inside Pakistan. India threatened the states with the label of hostile states till 551 of them acceded in three weeks. VP Menon and Sardar Patel pulled off the coup, but Kashmir remained on the brink, with a Hindu maharaja ruling uneasily over a majority Muslim population. Nehru was personally involved there because of the great Kashmiri Sheikh Abdullah who was close to the Nehruvian ideal of secularism.

    Jinnah was not really confused by the phenomenon of Sheikh Abdullah; he had been faced with a similar kind of situation in Punjab where a majority Muslim population was ruled over by secular Muslim leaders who wanted Punjab to be multi-religious and independent. Nehru could dump the Maharaja and lean on Abdullah; Jinnah could do neither of the two things, but he could wait for the religious feeling to come up on top, as happened in Punjab. As opposed to Nehru, his policy on the states was declaredly non-coercive, aimed at getting even Hindu rulers to opt for Pakistan. But after 1947, only Junagarh, Hyderabad and Kashmir were out there to be claimed. The three may have been attracted to Jinnah, but India invaded and annexed.

    Pakistan has a strong case when it reports that Mountbatten helped by making Kashmir contiguous to India through a tweaking of the boundary and awarding a Hindu tehsil of a Muslim-majority district Gurdaspur to India. Alastair Lamb thinks that Nehru coerced the Maharaja into acceding before landing troops in Kashmir to counter the ‘tribals’ rushing in from Pakistan. The book says Nehru regretted listening to Mountbatten’s advice to go the UN against Pakistan’s interference. After getting negative resolutions from the Security Council he turned back on all promises made for a fair deal on inclusion of the state of Jammu & Kashmir into India. His pledge of plebiscite today haunts India as Kashmiris demand it as their right.

    Later India blundered in Kashmir many times. Nehru lost Sheikh Abdullah and had to put him in jail because he now wanted independent Kashmir. Indira Gandhi signed a clever deal with him and began to manipulate Kashmir to bring about a social engineering that would ease annexation. Nothing worked. Pakistan tried war and lost. The 1971 one it lost in East Pakistan changed the minds of the Kashmiris decisively away from Pakistan. The book records the Indian blunders honestly till it was time again for Pakistan to put Kashmir on the boil. It was a long way away from that moment in November 1947 when Sardar Patel offered a swap between Hyderabad and Kashmir and got a refusal from Jinnah. Behera thinks Jinnah should have agreed, given the slim odds in the Valley, but Jinnah may have thought of the impossibility of maintaining a Hindu-majority province smack in the middle of an annexation-happy India.

    The book contains two nuggets on the mind that produced Pakistan’s losing wars against India. The first one is critical, and it is Altaf Gauhar’s verdict on ‘cultural discounting’ in the 1965 war that he handled so well as a the PR man that most Pakistanis still think it was a victory: ‘Pakistan’s for wars were conceived and launched one assumption: that the Indians are too cowardly and ill-organised to offer any effective military response’ (p.75). The other comes from General Akbar Khan, the raider in Kashmir, who thought ‘our people possess a self-confidence and ready willingness to march forward into India — a spirit the equivalent of which cannot be found on the other side’. He believed like General Hamid Gul of Jalalabad fame that India was exposed to ‘disintegration and emergencies’.

    This race-based theory of military superiority became religion-based when Pakistani generals thought of unleashing the mujahideen on Kashmir in 1990. This time the rout was terminal — terminal for Pakistan — because the jihadis created centres of power inside Pakistan’s civil society, and jihad finally destroyed the state of Pakistan by taking away from it its monopoly of violence. When General Musharraf as army chief was delivering the final blow to Pakistan’s status as the revisionist power at Kargil in 1999, his close associates were all Islamists who answered all questions of tactics and strategy with recitations in Arabic. The miracle didn’t happen and Pakistan felt the humiliation it had not felt after past defeats.

    All the assumptions made at Kargil were wrong and had earlier been rejected by army chief Jehangir Karamat and prime minister Benazir Bhutto. The defeat was military and political, as Behera says that Pakistani soldiers found dead by Indians had grass in their stomachs. Soldiers made to perch on heights were not supplied food after the Indian counter-attack materialised. This is confirmed by Shuja Nawaz in his excellent definitive study of the Pakistan army Crossed Swords: Pakistan, its Army and the Wars within (2007). His book also tells us that General Musharraf had briefed prime minister Nawaz Sharif and got his approval for the foolhardy operation. Giving his go-ahead, Mr Sharif had said: ‘This is a military operation. All I can say is that there should be no withdrawal, no surrender of any post because that will greatly embarrass us’.

    After Kargil, Mr Sharif is a greatly embarrassed man, disenchanted as far as the army is concerned. So is the rest of Pakistan. And Kashmir, the source of all intellectual dislocation in Pakistan, is no longer the jugular vein of Pakistan. We have discovered rather late in the day that it is Karachi that is our jugular vein and that we have been living upside-down all our lives. And that we’d rather protect Karachi from terrorism and provincial sub-nationalism than try and grab Kashmir.

    Daily Times - Leading News Resource of Pakistan
  12. muse


    Oct 26, 2006
    +0 / 12,511 / -0
    Rebranding 9/11
    The Second Plane by Martin Amis

    Reviewed by Julian Delasantellis

    Son of the witty chronicler of English postwar cultural decay, Kingsley Amis, Martin Amis' first book, 1973's The Rachel Papers - the diary of a very methodical young man's attempts at romantic conquest - just screamed rebellion and disrespect for authority. The jacket cover's author photo had him as a veritable Mick Jagger with a pen, shaggy haired, dark-eyed, brooding, intense, fairly thick lipped-in other words, he looked, and wrote, as if the purpose he had been selected and designed for by evolution was to be a fornication machine.

    Following up the success of The Rachel Papers - for which Amis was awarded the Somerset Maugham prize for best writer under the age of 35 - Amis built a noted career as an expert and exquisite craftsman of the English language, with about 20 more novels and non-fiction books, most notable among them 1978's Success, 1984's Money and 1989's London Fields.

    Once a clear and dedicated polemicist for the political left - his 1987 book of essays Einstein's Monsters was basically a jeremiad about the dangers of nuclear weapons and proliferation - Amis' most recent work The Second Plane: September 11, Terror and Boredom, indicates, that much like his father, Martin Amis' outlook is ranging far afield from where he started as a youth. One wonders if he has but one last fit of youthful rebellion against the British literary and cultural elite left in him; these days, what could be more infuriating to that establishment than writing as if who you wanted to be when you grew up was George W Bush?

    Amis certainly didn't sound like one of those multicultural loving/diversity respecting morally relativistic British intellectuals when, in 2006, following the revelation of the plots to blow up trans-Atlantic airliners, he told the Times of London, "There's a definite urge - don't you have it? - to say, 'The Muslim community will have to suffer until it gets its house in order.' What sort of suffering? Not letting them travel. Deportation - further down the road. Curtailing of freedoms. Strip-searching people who look like they're from the Middle East or from Pakistan ... Discriminatory stuff, until it hurts the whole community, and they start getting tough with their children."

    Amis' seeming turn to the right did not start with The Second Plane; his two recent works on the evils of Soviet totalitarianism, 2002's non-fiction, Koba the Dread: Laughter and the Twenty Million and his 2006 novel House of Meetings, prepared the way for his current line of thought.

    But as that those dealt with an evil, Stalinism, gone at least a half a century now they raised little fuss among the cognoscenti, after all, following the publication of Alexander Solzhenitsyn's The Gulag Archipelago in 1973, it wasn't even chic to be a Stalinist in Knightsbridge or Notting Hill anymore - it was another story in the faculty lounges of England's red brick universities.

    However, with the 13 essays and two short stories in The Second Plane offering a full-throated defense of the justification and manner of which the Anglo/American alliance of Bush and premier Tony Blair alliance has prosecuted the "war on terror" since September 11, 2001, Amis surely must have realized how devastating an incendiary he was tossing towards the English language's literary and political vanguard in its unending daily exile at Starbucks. Like rebels throughout time I'm sure that prospect did not displease him in the least.

    In the essay that opens the book The Second Plane , first printed on September, 18, 2001 in The Guardian, you can see the true appeal of this, or any other Amis product - his finely crafted sentences.

    "It was the advent of the second plane, sharking in low over Statue of Liberty: that was the defining moment. Until then, America thought she was witnessing nothing more serious than then the worst aviation disaster in history; now, she had a sense of the fantastic vehemence ranged against her ... That second plane looked eagerly alive, and galvanized with malice, and wholly alien. For those thousands in the South Tower, the second plane meant the end of everything. For us, its glint was the worldflash of a coming future ... The message of September 11 ran as follows: America, it is time you learned how implacably you are hated. United Airlines 175 was an Intercontinental Ballistic Missile, launched in Afghanistan, and aimed at her innocence. That innocence, as it was here being claimed, was a luxurious and anachronistic delusion."

    Many literary voices have claimed Amis' sentences are currently the best being produced in the English language, and I have no problem with that. In a long review of the book in The New Republic, Leon Wieseltier claims that the prose is so well constructed and eloquent that it takes away and diminishes the actual terrorist horrors that the prose is actually referring to. For me, a person who likes to turn the occasional clever and witty axiom, reading Amis is like a middle aged weekend basketball player watching the US Olympic Dream team. Oh, if only I could play the game like that. It is only when you stop savoring the text rolling around on your palette and try to swallow that it becomes so problematic.

    Like other current British voices such as Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins, along with American Sam Harris, Amis has little respect for religion and religious believers -very, very little respect.

    One of the pieces in book, Terror and Boredom,:The Dependent Mind, was first published in September 2006 by The Guardian.

    "Today in the West there are no good reasons for religious belief - unless we think that ignorance, reaction and sentimentality are good reasons ... the time has come for a measure of impatience in our dealings with those who would take an innocent personal pronoun (which as just minding its own business) and exalt it with a capital letter. Opposition to religion already occupies the high ground, intellectually and morally. People of independent mind should now start to claim the spiritual high ground, too."

    Amis seems to want to elevate a worship of reason into the pulpit in religion's place. That's not exactly a new concept - enlightenment types have been trying to sell this idea to the human race for about three centuries now.

    In September 11, first published in The Times of London on September 11, 2007, Amis claims that religious belief automatically means "the rejection of reason - the rejection of the sequitur, of cause and effect, of two plus two. Strikingly, in their written works and their table talk, Hitler and Stalin - and Lenin - seldom let the abstract noun 'reason' go by without assigning a scornful adjective to it: worthless reason, craven reason, cowardly reason. When those sanguinary yokels, the Taliban, chant their slogan, 'Throw reason to the dogs,' they are making the same kind of Faustian gamble: crush reason, kill reason, and anything and everything seems possible-the restored Caliphate, for instance, presiding over a planetary empire cleansed of all infidels. To transcend reason is of course to: transcend the confines of moral law; it is to enter the illimitable world of insanity and death."
    It is interesting here that Amis classifies the 20th century's doleful experience with state socialism as the rejection of reason - other philosophers, notably William Irwin Thompson, Andre Glucksmann and Bernard Henri-Levi write about the Gulag and the Khmer Rouge's killing fields as nothing but reason's fullest flowering.

    But here, you can see Amis begin to make the leap from contempt for religion in general to his seeming hatred of Islam in particular. All religions are bad, but since Islam now seems to have the most devoted and fervent proponents, it must be the worst

    In Terror and Boredom, Amis states that "all religions, surprisingly, have their terrorists: Christian, Jewish,Hindu, even Buddhist. But we are not hearing from those religions. We are hearing from Islam."

    Proponents of the "war on terror" vigorously attempt to affirm that it's not the entirety of Islam that the West is fighting, only Islamic extremism. Amis makes no such distinction.

    "Until recently it was being said that what we are confronted with, here, is 'a civil war' within Islam. That's what all this was supposed to be, not a clash of civilization or anything like that, but a civil war within Islam. Well, the civil war appears to be over. And Islamism won it. The loser, moderate Islam, is always deceptively well represented on the level of the op-ed page and the public debate; elsewhere, it is supine and inaudible. We are not hearing from moderate Islam. Whereas Islamism, as a mover and shaper of world events, is pretty well all there is."

    In The Voice of the Lonely Crowd, first published in The Guardian in June 2002, Amis further develops the point that, as the terror of September 11 originated in religious faith it only reinforces the tragedy's horrific irrationalism.

    "September 11 was a day of de-enlightenment. Politics stood revealed as a veritable Walpurgis Night of the irrational. And such old, old stuff. The conflicts we now face or fear involve oppressed geographical arenas, but also opposed centuries, or even millennia. It is landscape of ferocious anachronisms: nuclear jihad on the Indian subcontinent, the medieval agonism of Islam; the Bronze Age blunderings of the Middle East."

    Do you want more commentary on how "Islamism" has led its followers down a hopeless path of irrationalism and destruction? There's plenty of that here.

    "Like fundamentalist Judaism and medieval Christianity, Islam is totalist. That is to say, it makes a total claim on the individual. Indeed, there is no individual; there is only the umma - the community of believers. Ayatollah Khomeini, in his copious writings, often returns to this theme. He unindulgently notes that believers in most religions appear to think that, so long as they observe all the formal pieties, then the rest of the time they can do more or less as they please. 'Islam,' he frequently reminds us, 'isn't like that'. Islam follows you everywhere, into the kitchen, into the bedroom, into the bathroom, and beyond death into eternity. Islam "submission" - the surrender of independence of mind. That surrender now bears the weight of well over fifty generations, and fourteen centuries."

    Of course, if there is a denial of the joy of life, it must follow that there exists the embrace and longing for the sweetness of death exemplified by the September 11 hijackers.

    "For the Islamists, death is a beginning. What is worldly life, after all, but," here Amis quotes Ayatollah Khomeini, "the scum of existence?"

    How did Islam start down this tragic path? Amis' answer is pretty familiar to anyone who has read neo-conservative favorite Bernard Lewis.

    "Following the defeat of 1948 [the first Arab-Israeli war], and following the defeat (in six days) of 1967, Islam, or its militant vanguard, was finding that it had arrived at a crossroads-or a T junction. The way to the left was marked 'Less Religion,' and meant a journey to the future. The way to the right was marked 'More Religion (Islam is the Solution),' and meant a journey to the past. Which direction would lead to the return of God's favor? On their left, a stretch of oily macadam, perhaps resembling one of the unlovelier sections of the London orbital, scattered with windblown trash, and, of course, choked and throttled with traffic. On their right, something like a garden path at the Alhambra, cleaner, simpler, and-thanks to the holy warriors and their 'smiting of necks' much, much emptier."

    According to Amis what sin is committed by those who try to establish some sort of counterstory, some manner of dialogue and conversation between Islam and the West? They become "the appeaser of an armed doctrine with the following tenets; it is racist misogynistic, homophobic, totalitarian, inquisitional imperialist, and genocidal."

    Winston Churchill once said "jaw jaw over war war," but Amis appears to feel just the opposite. He throws in a few obviously half hearted and obligatory criticisms of the Iraq War - what writer could not resist throwing a few barbs at that unique set of middle American malapropisms now known as Rumsfeldisms - but his main problem with the endeavor seems to be that it was a mistake even to try to impose democracy on a Moslem nation, even a secular one like Iraq.

    There are about six reviews of other recently published works on the subject of the Islamic threat; most of these fail to rise much above the discourse one might hear on an American right wing radio talk show, with hosts ranting about "Islamofscism." Two pieces are vignettes of Amis at the centers of power, one, on a visit to the White House - where Karl Rove gave him a chocolate, what a nice guy! - and one on the campaign with Tony Blair in 2005, where he essentially gets Blair to admit that Britain's participation in the Iraq War was nothing much more than an attempt to create a US-UK alliance to act as a counterweight to the Franco-German/Chirac-Schroeder axis then dominating continental Europe. The point of both these pieces seem to be simply "look at me; I'm Martin Amis at the center of power

    There are two short stories in the book. One is an internal monologue about 9/11 ringleader Mohammed Atta's last morning on earth. Amis postulates that Atta was massively constipated during the final months of planning for the operation, a condition that only righted itself, to Atta's joy, in the seconds before his plane hit the World Trade Center- surely Amis can do symbolism better than that.

    The other short story In the Palace of the End, is pure Amis skill and finesse. It is a 2004 first person account of a day in the life of a body double of one of the sons of Saddam Hussein, employed at one of the former Ba'ath regime's torture centers. By day he participates in the gruesome breaking and killing of the bodies of the regime's opponents; by night, he performs marathon oral sex sessions on innocent young women, apparently to assure that the word of the Hussein family's continued virility and skill in pleasing women spreads far and wide through the nation. It was here, in the juxtaposition of pain and ecstasy, of torture and orgasm, of the horrifying terror of the victims and the suffocating boredom of the torturers, can be found classic Amis fiction, like an electrically charged knife cutting through butter, this was worth plowing through all the blather of his polemics.

    By now, it is very hard to distinguish what was once known as the "war on terror' with the war in Iraq, although when the war started, Iraq was just about the; least fundamentalist Moslem, the least, as Amis puts it, "Islamist" country in the Islamic world.

    At the time the war was being pitched to the American and British publics, you saw a strange phenomenon, the rise of the left wing Iraq War supporter. In Britain this was centered around Tony Blair's "Third Way" Labour Party centrists, but in America, where the Bush Administration quickly realized that 9/11 could be utilized to totally drive the left's influence from power and decision-making, the caucus of left wing war supporters - outside of the Democratic Party legislators such as Senator Hillary Clinton and current Vice Presidential nominee Joe Biden, who only supported the war out of craven political opportunism, so as they wouldn't be labeled "soft on terrorism" by Fox News - basically consisted of two people, former Clinton era National Security Council official Kenneth Pollack, author of 2002's "The Threatening Storm: The Case for Invading Iraq", and New York University Professor Paul Berman, author of 2003's "Terror and Liberalism

    Pollack and Berman make arguments somewhat along the lines of Amis, that Iraq and the Islamic world were so trapped in ignorance and backwardness as to represent a threat to the liberal; values Western intellectuals cherish - tolerance, pluralism, the liberation of women, diversity and respect.

    If only it was people like this, brave hearted secularists and intellectuals committed to free inquiry and reason, to toleration of all faiths and creeds, which America sent to Iraq. It wasn't. The army the US sent to Iraq was composed overwhelmingly of poor white boys and girls from rural America, places where the local Protestant, frequently Baptist, church was overwhelmingly the major cultural influence

    It was in the pews of these houses of worship where the future soldiers and their families heard that Islam was evil and under the control of Satan, that the Koran advocates and celebrates the slaughter of non-believers, that the Prophet Mohammad was a bloodthirsty pederast, indeed, that the entire conflict in the Mid-east is nothing but the first stages of the "Left Behind" tribulations that will precede the second coming. Maybe in London, or in New York, where Amis now spends much of his time, the conflict between Islam and the West, between America and its foes in Iraq, looks like a titanic, Manichean corrival between reason and madness, between freedom and darkness. As one who recently lived in Red State, flyover America, to me it looks a lot more like the mild madness of places where you get a "God bless you" along with your change at the gas station convenience store versus the virulent madness of the jihadis strapping explosives wrapped in nails to their children's bodies.

    As for the Amis values of respect for religious and cultural diversity, pluralism, tolerance, and respect for reason and rationality, all you have to do is cast your mind back to the madness of 2005's Terry Schiavo case in the US to realize that both sides could use a whole lot more of these than they currently think necessary.

    In the words of former US Air Force officer and Reagan-era Pentagon official Mickey Weinstein, the founder of the Religious Freedom Foundation, "We are facing a national security threat in this country that is every bit as significant in magnitude, width and breadth internally as that presented externally by the now-resurgent Taliban and al-Qaeda. And it is the destruction of the US constitutionally mandated wall separating church and state, in the technologically most lethal organization every created by humankind, which is our honorable and noble military. I'm here to report to you today that that wall is nothing but smoke and debris. We are facing an absolute fundamentalist Christianization - a Talibanization - of the US Marine Corps, army, navy and air force."

    In his review in The New Republic, Leon Wieseltier charged that Amis seems to consider himself a soldier in the "war on terror", as if his pointed, acerbic diatribes were bayonets, his sentences heavy with gravitas and warning veritable artillery barrages. Amis should know better than that. If, as World War I French prime minister Georges Clemenceau once said "war is too important to be left to the generals", it certainly must follow then that it's way too important to be left to the intellectuals and novelists.

    The Second Plane: September 11. Terror and Boredom by Martin Amis. Publisher Alfred A Knopf. ISBN: 978-0-307-26928-7 (0-307-26928-0). Price US$25, 212 pages.

    Julian Delasantellis is a management consultant, private investor and educator in international business in the US state of Washington. He can be reached at juliandelasantellis@yahoo.com.
  13. muse


    Oct 26, 2006
    +0 / 12,511 / -0
    The ashes of American morality
    The Dark Side by Jane Mayer

    Reviewed by Alexander Casella

    Has the George W Bush administration's "war on terror" been turned into a war on America's ideals of justice and the respect of basic human rights? For author Jane Mayer the answer is an unqualified yes.

    Indeed, the author makes a convincing case to the effect that the cumulative legislation and executive decision taken by Washington's governing establishment have seriously eroded some of the basic protections enjoyed by the American citizen. Increased surveillance, wiretapping and domestic spying have increasingly resulted from executive decisions rather than from the court system thus giving the government an unprecedented, and often uncontrolled leeway to interfere with the daily activities of the average American

    More seriously, the author documents cases in which American citizens, outside the United States have been subjected to detention and interrogation by their own government while being denied any due process. The deduction drawn by the author is that the United States under the Bush administration has seen many of its core values as defined by the constitution systematically eroded to the point of endangering the very principal of government on which the American society is allegedly based.

    To substantiate this claim the author draws both on the chain of events that led to the September 11 attack and to its aftermath.

    The depiction that the author gives of the buildup to September 11 and on the total unpreparedness to deal with an attack that was looming on the horizon is convincing. September 11 was not an isolated event but rather the last stage of a series of attacks that included the bombing of the destroyer Cole in Yemen and the attack on the US Embassy in Nairobi. The evidence gathered by the author makes it clear that the attack could certainly have been foreseen and perhaps even thwarted had the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA)and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI)done their job.

    That they failed to do so was due neither to a lack of intelligence nor to technical shortcomings. While the writing was on the wall, there was no one to read it and even more to draw the right conclusions
    . Granted, isolated figures both within the FBI and the CIA were aware of the existence of Bin Laden and of the threat he represented but the political mindset be it the Clinton or the subsequent Bush administration proved simply incapable of conceptually foresee the unexpected. This conjectural deficiency extended to the operational frontlines.

    On August 16, 2001, the FBI arrested a French citizen of Moroccan descent, Zacarias Moussaoui, who while attending flight school in Minnesota insisted on being taught only how to fly an aircraft and not how to take off and land. However, neither the FBI nor the CIA mustered the necessary clearances to open Moussaoui's hard drive and without them no one was willing to face the risk of doing so. Had the hard disk been accesses it is well possible that at least part of the September 11 attack could have been pre-empted.

    This lack of mental adjustment to the simple possibility that the US might one day be the target of a terrorist attack probably explains in part why America reacted as it did to what objectively was barely a pinprick of no substantive consequence. While Mayer does not address this issue, the damage done by the September 11 attack was essentially psychological. The US that day lost four civilian aircraft, had two major buildings destroyed and some others partially damaged for a total loss of some 3,000 civilians. Neither the American state as such, the security of the nation or the functioning of the economy was ever put in danger.

    In contrast, there were some 30,000 dead in one morning when the Germans bombed the defenseless city of Amsterdam. While the cosmetics of the attack played a major role in amplifying its impact on American society, if one reads through the lines of Mayer's book it is clear that America's reaction - not to say over-reaction - to the September 11 attack was inversely proportional to the nation's psychological unpreparedness to the assault

    What emerges is an American society that is prone to operate in a climate of extremes. Slow, painstaking, cautious undertakings, day after day and year after year are not part of the American way of doing thing things. Complacency and unpreparedness followed by overreaction are, hence the "war on terror", the world's most powerful nation mobilized to come to terms with a small terrorist group which at the cost of 19 dead and half a million dollars has succeed in inflicting on America a psychological and institutional trauma unequalled since Vietnam.

    The core of Mayer's book is a dissection of the Bush administration reaction to the attack, hence the so-called "war on terror"; a war which she describes in all its sordid details. Rendition, the secret transporting of suspects to countries where they can be held in indefinite detention and submitted to interrogation with no restriction; waterboarding, consisting basically of drowning a suspect but only to the point in which he can be revived for further questioning; administrative detention by administrative decree outside the framework of any legal restrictions.

    The description she gives of this process is compelling and so are some of the questions she raises, the main one being whether torture actually works. In her view, it is a risky undertaking with the victim prone to say anything he believes his tormentors want to hear in order to alleviate the pain. More to the point, with many of al-Qaeda moved by faith rather than gain, a more differentiated approach might work where brute force will not. One of the cases she refers to is the one of Al Libi, one of al-Qaeda's main commanders.

    Captured by the Pakistanis and handed over to the FBI who interrogated him at Bagram air base in Afghanistan, he provided invaluable intelligence after his American interrogator, Russell Fincher, himself a devote Christian succeeded in establishing a personal rapport with him. All came to an end when the CIA literally kidnapped Al Libi from the FBI and on which he disappeared never to be heard again.

    If Jane Mayer's description of how the Bush administration created a new ill-defined setting for its "war on terror" outside any conventional legal norms, impervious to outside scrutiny and subject to no oversight is convincing, the perspective in which she views it is less so. Had she delved a bit deeper in America's recent past she would have found not so much an aberration but a trend.

    Shortly after Pearl Harbor, in 1941, by executive order 9066 some 110,000 Japanese-Americans living on the West Coast of the US, 62% of whom were actually American citizens, were put in detention camps for the duration of the war. It was only in 1988 that congress passed a resolution apologizing for the outrage that it recognized as resulting of "Race prejudice and hysteria".

    In Vietnam, torture and arbitrary detention were the rule rather the exception. In 1967, a three-man study team, which included Craig Johnstone, currently UN Deputy High |commission for Refugees, undertook an exhaustive study which included references to "interrogation methods". While most of the torturing was done by the South Vietnamese police, or by the so-called PRU teams working directly for the CIA, it was American-funded, supported and endorsed.

    And while waterboarding had not yet become part of the current vocabulary, former Liberation Front justice minister Tang, who, confronted by the excesses of the Hanoi regime later defected, gave a vivid description of what it felt to being submitted to it in a Saigon jail.

    Mayer is also on weak grounds when she states that in Vietnam - in her view probably as opposed to the "war on terror" - the "US gave the Vietcong the protection of the third Geneva Convention". Actually, it was all a sham with the North Vietnamese, who had signed the Convention, refusing to apply it to shot down American pilots, who by any stretch of imagination were unquestionably POW's, and the Americans using a more contorted mechanism which enabled them to deny its benefits to whichever Vietnamese of their choosing.

    The Dark Side is a book to be read but with two caveats. First, whenever necessity, real or imagined, demanded it, the United States has sidelined the vaulted principals it invokes so liberally in setting itself aside and above the other nations of the world.

    Second, it is doubtful that the shortcuts that the "war on terror" is taking with justice, basic human rights and the rule of law will have a direct impact on the doings of mainstream America. Nor are they liable to erode whatever moral leadership the US clan laid claim to. That is long since dead and buried

    The Dark Side: The Inside Story of How The War on Terror Turned into a War on American Ideals by Jane Mayer. Doubleday July 2008. ISBN: 978-0-385-52639-5 (0-385-52639-3). Price US$27.50, 400 pages
  14. muse


    Oct 26, 2006
    +0 / 12,511 / -0
    Muniruddin Ahmad: a life of learning by Khaled Ahmed

    Dhaltay Saey Zindagi Nama;
    By Muniruddin Ahmad;
    Qausain Lahore 2006;
    Pp599; Price Rs 600

    His narrative conveys the hardships of the penury he lived in, but his mental toughness seems to tell us to ignore it. His encounters after his doctorate on the educational system of medieval Baghdad and his subsequent life as an academic in Germany are definitely more memorable

    Muniruddin Ahmad lives in Hamburg, Germany, but is known in Pakistan for his five collections of short stories in Urdu: Zard Sitara (Lahore, 1988), Shajar-e-Mamnu’a (Lahore, 1991), Bint-e-Haraam (Delhi, 1999), Bichri hui Koonj (Delhi, 2001) and Lafaani Ishq (Hamburg, 2005). He has produced a memoir in his ripeness, which is good because he has lived most of his life away from his compatriots in Pakistan, has seen a lot that is worth telling, and most of what he tells is a biodata of struggle. He writes a realistic style in Urdu which produces a lot of irony and also expresses his personality. And he is a natural story-teller, extracting fiction from life by tinkering with it just a little to retain art as imitation.

    Munir was born in 1934 in Rawalpindi in a Potohari-speaking family that came from village Changa Bangial in tehsil Gujjar Khan. Poverty didn’t block high IQ, and religion got the benefit of it first, as was noted on these pages in the case of Abdul Karim Khalid, a cowherd from a village near Gujrat, member Revenue Board Punjab, whose knowledge of religion and his ability to stand first in exams, led to his writing a dissenting treatise on ushr. Somewhere along the line, Munir’s grandfather, a solid Sunni Naqshbandi, converted to Ahmedi faith and genetically programmed the vicissitudes of Munir’s life.

    Childhood spent in Rawalpindi, Qadian and Peshawar, following the peripatetic career of his father in military accounts, somehow cut all the romantic frills from Munir’s life and gave him the ability to see through the hazes we create to make our workaday adjustments. The book explains many occasions when he comes across humbug and cannot resist the urge to sift the fake from the genuine. As he grew up in Pindi his short stories began to be published in the local literary magazines. He obtained ‘first division’ in matriculation and later found it quite normal to score distinctions while passing difficult Arabic ‘fazil’ exams. (One is tempted here to comment on his beautifully naturally calligraphic handwriting which impressed the examiners all the time!)

    His narrative conveys the hardships of the penury he lived in, but his mental toughness seems to tell us to ignore it. His encounters after his doctorate on the educational system of medieval Baghdad and his subsequent life as an academic in Germany are definitely more memorable. One encounter is with Detlev Khalid, a German convert to Islam, whom he first met in the Rabwa seminary. Detlev Khalid, a dilettante in faith and a philanderer by nature, met him again in 1969 when Khalid was at Islamic Research Centre in Islamabad. He had been backed financially by Asia Foundation. Munir doesn’t say it but in Pakistan he was often referred to as a ‘CIA plant’.

    Khalid got into trouble with the police after he seduced a local lady and had to leave. Later his troubles with other women — mostly in the shape of marriages he couldn’t be serious about — in Africa are also faithfully narrated, but somehow the fact that he contributed a paper to the PPP parliament that apostatised the Ahmedis is missed out. Khalid ended up advising against apostatisation but no one listened. He was hounded out of the Islamic Research Centre, not so much out of prejudice as for his sheer lack of character. Munir thinks he actually had no faith but took on the faith of the country he visited.

    He found the same kind of thing in Annemarie Schimmel, not in terms of character, but in her avoidance of owning up to being a Muslim, or denying it, after the Islamic world became convinced that she was one. Munir thinks that if she had become a Muslim she should have owned up to it among non-Muslims too. He tells us that Annemarie had married a Muslim Turk in her youth but never revealed it, writing her name as a maiden, Fraulein. One wonders if one can blame the great lady for not labelling herself. She was a mystic and admired mystics; branding herself as a Muslim would have been spiritually unexciting.

    When the German rednecks were convulsed by her refusal to condemn Imam Khomeini’s fatwa against Salman Rushdie, she showed the kind of grit Munir admired. Munir himself showed the courage one expects from him as the anti-hero of his narrative when he went public with his disapproval of the Muslim ‘literary criticism’ of death on The Satanic Verses, and faced threats against his life from his expat friends. The problem with being a Muslim is that one keeps being pushed out of the pale by clearly unworthy co-believers. But one can’t even wave it away because one can die as a follower of this internecine faith.

    His predictable bad encounter was with the Pakistani ambassador in Bonn, Mr Sajjad Hyder, about whose tough conduct towards his colleagues he writes in some detail. He tells us about the famous Khairi Brothers, mentioned as pioneers of the idea of Pakistan by Pakistani nationalism’s historiography. Sons of Khan Bahadur Abdul Hamid Deputy Collector of UP and cousins of the famous Maulvi Nazir Ahmad of Urdu literature, Abdul Jabbar and Abdul Sattar became footloose and struck out in search of Islamic wisdom in the Arab world.

    The Khairis opened a seminary in Lebanon but escaped to Turkey when Lebanon broke free from Turkey, and then escaped to Germany when the First World War caused Turkey to be invaded by the British. They attended the Socialist International Conference in Stockholm where they claimed they had submitted a blue print for the freedom of the Muslims of India. Munir tells us that Socialist International has no record of Khairi Brothers proposing a resolution that India be divided between Hindus and Muslims. The Khairis lived in Berlin which was also home then to Pakistan’s great thespian, Rafi Peer. They attached prefixes of Prof and Dr to their names for which they were dragged to the court of law and had to pay fines.

    Rafi Peer married a German lady and an ‘irregular’ nikah was performed by Jabbar Khairi, which came to nothing anyway because Rafi Peer left Germany for India in 1930 and abandoned the wife he had thus acquired. His daughter now lives in Germany and has written a book on the great German humanitarian work Dr Ruth Pfau who became a saint in the eyes of many Pakistanis for looking after the lepers of Karachi. (Rafi Peer’s German daughter has good contact with his children in Lahore.) Jabbar Khairi had also a German wife who gave him three children. Munir has corresponded with one of them called Zainab. The Khairis returned to India after Gandhi interceded for them. During the Second World War the Khairis were sent to jail ‘as German spies’. Only Sattar worked for the Muslim League and died after release from jail in 1945.

    Munir has raised objections to the Ahmedi establishment too. One can’t go into that here because of the bad times — including the possibility of a pogrom at the hands of an entire population converted to Al Qaeda — the community is facing these days in Pakistan. But his first cousin Nasir Ahmad Khan alias Pervez Parvazi, who critiques memoirs, may have something to say in reply.
  15. Neo


    New Recruit

    Nov 1, 2005
    +0 / 3,916 / -0

    BOOK REVIEW: Khaled Ahmed

    How We Missed the Story:

    Osama bin Laden, the Taliban, and the Hijacking of Afghanistan​

    By Roy Gutman
    Vanguard Books Lahore 2008
    Available at bookstores in Pakistan

    The book brings clarity to the Indo-Pak war number four (or five?) relocated to Afghanistan with India firmly entrenched with the Northern Alliance and the Karzai government, and Pakistan with its proxies embedded in Al Qaeda

    Journalist Gutman has certainly produced the most comprehensive and revealing account to-date of the post-Soviet invasion Afghan war. He has moved from the written sources available to all to interviews that he was able to conduct with such key personalities as were involved in the internecine jihad of the triumphant mujahideen after the defeat of the Soviet Union. Everyone who went into the savage cauldron of Afghanistan today finds himself defeated, including the two states that most preened themselves over the victory: the United States and Pakistan.

    The story begins in 1988 with Pakistan in the driving seat, putting together a government in exile — Interim Islamic Afghan Government of the mujahideen — in Rawalpindi near the Pakistan Army headquarters. The 519-member shura that was to choose the government was nominated by the seven jihad militias located in Peshawar and was plied with $26 million from Saudi Arabia. Mujaddadi was chosen president but he travelled to Iran and promised the Shia leaders one hundred seats in the shura. Back in the councils of the Sunni seven, the view was different: one hundred was cut down to sixty after which the Shias boycotted.

    Bravery comes only with myopia and that was what was practised by the mujahideen. The government represented only 30 percent of the population of Afghanistan. Saudi money ensured that Abdul Rasul Sayyaf, the Wahhabi warlord the Arabs liked, was nominated prime minister, and Pakistan was able to get its favoured warlord Hekmatyar nominated defence minister with Saudi help although the rest of the militia leaders despised him for his tactics. The 1989 plan to attack the Najibullah regime in Jalalabad and establish the jihadi government there was set afoot with ISI chief Hamid Gul promising Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto that the Afghan government would fall in one week (p.28).

    The Jalalabad offensive was a fiasco. The great mujahideen suffered their first defeat after defeating the Soviets, one third of the 12,000 killed being theirs. Soon afterwards, the Massoud-Hekmatyar vendetta made its imprint, the latter’s commanders killing 30 of Massoud’s in an ambush. Mujaddidi denounced Hekmatyar as a criminal and Hekmatyar left the government as defence minister. Jamiat commander Massoud caught four of Hekmatyar’s guilty commanders and executed them. Defeats and killings were to have no moral impact on anything in Afghanistan after that. Those who backed the savages sustained all the damage and warded off punishment in Pakistan by the simple device of taking over power.

    The second lethal defeat for Pakistan was the Jalalabad-like offensive of Mazar-e-Sharif in 1997, organised by the ISI once again, based on the defection of a Rashid Dostam second-in-command, Malik Pehlawan, in favour of the Taliban. This was the offensive from the west of Afghanistan; another offensive from the south was mounted after buying the defection of a Massoud commander (p.102). Seeing Pakistan involved, Iran weighed in on the other side, training the troops of Jamiat’s other commander Ismail Khan and airlifting munitions and Hezbe Wahdat Shia warriors to them. Uzbekistan sought to make its own chess-move against Pakistan, conscripting Uzbeks to help despatch supplies to Dostam. Uzbek-dominated Tajikistan came down on the side of Massoud.

    Another ally of Dostam, General Abdul Majid Rozi changed loyalty in Badghis province and arrested Ismail Khan whom he handed over to Mullah Razzaq who proceeded to Mazar-e-Sharif to take charge of the city abandoned by Malik. Jamiat chief Rabbani fled to Tajikistan and Dostam sent his family away and made himself scarce too. The promise to Malik was that he would be made governor of Mazar, but soon Mullah Razzaq began to enforce the Sharia, beating up unveiled women and destroying shops selling ‘prohibited things’. He entered Malik’s room and tore down a painting of Omar Khayyam with a goblet of wine because that was ‘against Islam’ (p.104). All TV sets were smashed in the city and Malik was told to go to Kabul as a deputy foreign minister while his transport and other assets were simply taken over.

    At this point Pakistan recognised the government of the Taliban, but Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif didn’t know who had okayed the recognition because he hadn’t. Foreign Minister Gauhar Ayub followed orders that came from a source other than the prime minister but that was more or less routine in Pakistan by then (p.105). Then the defeat started. Mullah Razzaq went to the Hazara quarters in the city and asked them to disarm. They refused, and already scared by the ‘enforcement’ of Taliban sharia, began hunting for the Taliban under Malik’s command. They killed 350 of them including Mullah Razzaq. They ended up bagging 3,000 as prisoners. What followed was a massive war crime. The prisoners taken in war were all executed.

    The book says Pakistan was the dominant power behind the scenes, the ISI putting Malik in touch with Mullah Ghaus the foreign minister, telling the latter the Taliban could capture Mazar without a fight. But uncannily it also sent in Pakistani Kashmiri militants as military assistance. Hamid Gul told the author, ‘ISI brokered a deal but it was the wrong one’ (p.108). Col Imam, the ISI officer called Ruler of Herat, later denied that the Mazar defeat was a big fiasco and funnily also claimed that the Taliban who invaded Mazar were unarmed and were mostly traders! He also put the blame on Iran for asking the Hazara Shias to resist and start the massacre (p.109).

    Col Imam was really the American-trained Amir Sultan Tarar, the commando officer who trained the mujahideen in camps run by Pakistan and the US. He was sent into Kandahar in 1994 to keep the Taliban going in the right direction but he soon moved to the more ‘strategic’ location of Herat, which was to put Pakistan and Iran face to face when the Taliban finally got hold of Mazar in 1998 with a massacre to shame all massacres, including the killing of the Iranian diplomats in the Mazar consulate at the hands of the Sipah Sahaba boys sent in from Pakistan. The book says they arrested the officers but, after taking their cash, handed them over to the Taliban for the killing (p.137).

    This book is an epitaph for the doctrine of ‘strategic depth’, but the policy of playing proxies in Afghanistan was never abandoned after 9/11; so the war against India goes on while Washington thinks it is against NATO-ISAF. The book brings clarity to the Indo-Pak war number four (or five?) relocated to Afghanistan with India firmly entrenched with the Northern Alliance and the Karzai government, and Pakistan with its proxies embedded in Al Qaeda. The real epitaph will come later and it will be for a much bigger demise than just the fading of the doctrine of strategic depth. *