9/11: The day that changed our world

Published on The Express Tribune Blog

Original Link

“The real hell of life is that everyone has his reasons.”   – Jean Renoir

Like many others, I remember September 11, 2001 quite vividly -the day the world changed.

It was an ordinary day like any other while we were blissfully unaware of what was about to happen. Flipping through the channels in the evening, I saw a woman crying on CNN in a way that made me pause and concentrate. Then I watched the unbelievable, seemingly unreal, video footage of the planes crashing into the Twin Towers. Back then, I did not know much about the United States of America (except for what I heard from my relatives living there) and I understood nothing about the political significance of such an event. I just knew that an extremely shocking incident had taken place and innocent people had been killed. It was hard to believe that any human being could do such a thing on purpose.

The tragic event, amongst other things, sparked a lot of debate. In the last 9 years, there have been many debates on the subject: Who was responsible? Why did this happen? What does this mean for the future of the world? Is the War on Terror justified?

9/11 has become the subject of books, articles, talk shows, interviews, films, blog posts.

I remember initially engaging in numerous debates on international websites, defending Islam, telling people that true Muslims are not terrorists and all Muslims are not fundamentalists. I remember arguing with some people in Karachi who failed to recognize the inhumanity behind the act. But during these debates and while researching on the subject, I realized that religion was simply being used for political ends. Given the way events have unfolded since then, and the increase in terrorist activities, I wonder why many people still fail to see this.

The terrorists behind the 9/11 attacks had a political agenda and with the US response to the attacks, they succeeded.  The terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and other incidents of terrorism in the rest of the world, carried out in the name of Islam, not only hurt innocent non-Muslims but also innocent Muslims, who have continued to suffer.

The entire issue is political. It has really nothing to do with any religion. But there seems to be no end to the exploitation of the issue; evoking religious sentiments for political purposes. For instance, nowadays there is an intense debate going on regarding the building of a mosque at Ground Zero. While I may not agree with everything in the article, I completely agree with author and blogger Peter Clothier when he says:

“It became an issue only once it was recognized for its political potential — when those who stood to gain politically from its exploitation seized upon it and inflated it beyond all reason.”

Meanwhile, a pastor in Florida plans to memorialize the Sept. 11 attacks with a bonfire of Korans. This has really nothing to do with Christianity. These are neither the first nor the last problems to arise after 9/11. Terrorists and extremists have their own selfish interests (political and economic gains) at heart. They do not belong to any religion or community.

People in general, be they Muslims, Christians, Hindus, Jews, Americans or Pakistanis need to realize that. Otherwise they will continue to debate over smaller issues, make fun of each other’s religion and fail to put an end to the real problem, that is, terrorism.

‘…a unique perspective on the events that transpired after 9/11’ – H.M. Naqvi

Published in Slogan (July 2010)

A conversation with H.M. Naqvi at Roadside Cafe in Karachi - Image © Slogan

H.M. Naqvi is a keen observer and a master with words. A graduate from Georgetown and the creative writing programme at Boston University, his novel, Home Boy, is based on the life of Pakistani immigrants in post-9/11 New York. Currently based in Karachi, Husain shares his experiences and thoughts with Ayesha Hoda on creative writing, literature and his first novel.


How was the experience of writing this novel?

While writing Home Boy, I learnt to develop a routine, a rigorous routine that required working for three sessions a day, the last stretching to six in the morning. I learnt to take it day by day. Otherwise the project would not have progressed. I learnt to manage my head, to contend with doubt and contend with failure.

Why the title Home Boy?

Home Boy can be translated into Urdu as ‘langotia yaar’ and this novel is about three home boys. In the west, it has a different resonance. It is slang and since it is an immigrant’s novel, one of the things that immigrants have to contend with is mastering the language and slang. There is confusion on the part of the narrator regarding what home boy means. That confusion defines the story.

Then there is another, much more interesting reason for the name Home Boy, which can only be learnt by reading the last line of the book.

The book has received a wonderful response. How does it feel? Did you expect so much popularity?

The wonderful response was, well, very pleasing. I had inhabited my head, inhabited my novel for such a long time that it was good to meet others who were privy to what I was privy to: a pressing story populated by animate characters that remain with you after you’ve put the book down.

I didn’t expect popularity. My objective was to complete the book (it took four years) and I was trying to make a living out of writing. I liked to think it was a good story, an important story but I like to think many things.

How was the response different across various audiences?

I think different audiences process the book in different ways. I expected that certain readers would not appreciate the project and am surprised that all audiences – be it Pakistani, Indian or American – have responded very well to the book. It has received very good press. Major papers like The New York Times have given good reviews and local bookstores are having a hard time keeping the book on the shelf; copies are being sold out quickly.

What are the best comments you have received so far?

I met Zulfiqar Ghose at Karachi Literature Festival. He is one of the first few Pakistani writers in the English language. I was delighted by his appreciation as he is a literary predecessor.

At the Jaipur Literary Festival, Urdu writer Shamsur Rehman Farooqi told me that he had picked up a copy of my book and really liked it. This again was very unexpected and flattering because his work and aesthetic sensibilities are very different from mine.  

You have been teaching creative writing at Boston University and writing stories. Tell us something about the art of storytelling and what it means to you.

We all tell stories. We tell stories everyday. When we talk to others, for instance – friends, family, acquaintances – at the end of the day somebody inevitably asks: What did you do today? We tell stories about ourselves, some truthful, some false, because our identities are contingent on this mode. Writing a story, however, is a qualitatively different exercise. There is form; there are technicalities. Something needs to happen to somebody.

In teaching creative writing, I have made my students cognizant of the form, of certain technicalities. I have taught them how to read differently. I have taught them how to critique. I have taught them how to edit themselves. But there are things that can’t be taught, things that one has to feel viscerally. There are things that you can only have developed in the womb.

What are your views on South Asian literature in general and the works of Pakistani writers in particular?

South Asian literature has become a vast genre, spanning decades, if not a century and continents. South Asian writing now emanates from Canada, Australia, even Norway. There are some great writers; there are mediocre ones.

The explosion of Pakistani literature in English is an exciting development. Although writers like Mumtaz Shah Nawaz, Zulifkar Ghose, Adam Zameenzad, Bapsi Sidhwa, and the peerless Sara Suleri have been at it for decades, there is frenetic momentum now. And though many have achieved prominence, many remain under the radar. There’s Azhar Abidi, Imad Rehman. And the great Urdu writer Abdullah Hussain recently published an excellent novel entitled Émigré Journeys.

In a way, implicitly or explicitly, we are all in conversation with each other.

Any comments on fiction based on 9/11?

I think every great historic event leads to a body of literature, like World War I and II, Partition and the Holocaust. 9/11 is one such tragedy which will continue to produce a body of work. Home Boy is not the first or the last work on this but it is a unique perspective on the events that transpired after 9/11.

‘Pakistani media will never be on the right track’ – Ardeshir Cowasjee

Published in Slogan (May 2010)

Renowned columnist Ardeshir Cowasjee shares his wisdom, experiences and humour, in an exclusive interview with Ayesha Hoda.

Ardeshir Cowasjee at his home in Karachi - Image © Slogan

Surrounded by nature – calm and collected (as always) – Ardeshir Cowasjee welcomed me to his beautiful and artistic home in Karachi. Relaxed but observant, he effortlessly engaged me in a light conversation, with often surprising and frank responses to my questions.

From shipping to writing – how did the evolution come about?

If one works for shipping, one can write as well, can’t they?

How did you start?

Well, in Bhutto’s time nobody would print what I wrote. In Zia’s time, if I remember correctly, the first article I wrote was a reproduction of a letter I had written to an ombudsman, complaining about Zia ul Haq.

I had written that I was very sad of living under a president who is always apparently under shock and grief. If a bus falls down a river, we see the headline “Zia Shocked”. If a child dies, “Zia is grieved”. If there is a riot, Zia is shocked. If Zia’s wife breaks her leg, he is grieved. That is what he used to say to the people: Zia shocked, Zia grieved, Zia shocked, Zia grieved. And then we had a headline which said, “Zia shocked and grieved!”

How long can you tolerate a person when he is sometimes in a state of shock and some times in a state of grief? He better take some action!

And the poor ombudsman, a good friend of mine, said you are not serious. I said I have a number of complaints which I’ve sent to you. So if you like, do something about it. He asked me to tell the press to stop writing, ‘Zia Shocked, Zia Grieved’ or let him live in peace. So that was my first article.

Corruption, nepotism and incompetence of various governments have been the focus of your columns. Any particular reason for this?

If you want to write about the government, what else can you write? How good they are at thumping the table… ours is the only assembly in the world which does this.

The other day while I was flipping through channels, I saw Zardari and company entertaining all the ambassadors. Zardari was making a speech. You should have seen the ambassadors’ faces. They were half asleep.

Why do you write so much on environmental issues?

I don’t want to die! We have the highest mountains in the world. All the glaciers will soon be melting. Do you think anyone is concerned? They write about water disputes. It seems as if all the taps are in the hands of the Indians. They have only two; we have seven taps. Does anybody tell that?

I am going to suggest the military should have environment protection plans as well. Because like it or not, a time will come when we will have military ruling us again, one way or another. It seems to be the only disciplined party. They have good training.

You also write on animal rights. Are you a vegetarian?

No. Thank God no. I don’t eat dogs but I am not a vegetarian.

How do you decide on the subject of your column every week?

There are fifteen things to write about. And around 30 people call me or email me on what I should write. So there are plenty of issues.

Is a week enough to write on a subject and have you ever experienced the writer’s block?

I write once a week. It is an exercise of the brain. I have to churn out about a 1,000 words. That is enough for exercising my brain.

How do you conduct your research?

I read the papers everyday.

A lot of people complain that you quote long passages from other sources in your columns which minimises your own writing. Do you agree?

Sometimes I do. If I have to reproduce something which is 1,000 words long, what can I do? And I want the whole passage to be read. If I were to reproduce what Bhutto wrote in a note, I have to.

You know, if I started listening to what some people say, I wouldn’t be able to write. First of all, how do you gauge the intelligence of the people who say this?

Do you run into problems when you write against people? Do you get threats? Are you afraid?

What do I say? Somebody has to tell them, whether they listen or not. Do they not know what they are?

Plus, this is a nation of bullies. Every second man is a bully. Everyday on the front page you can read news stories of target killings. So everyone is under threat.

Have you ever run into any serious problems with the land mafia?

The land mafia keep on telling the courts that I am a blackmailer. The courts don’t listen to them. Why should I blackmail them? They think they can break all the laws. I took a stay order on the Glass Tower and it worked actually. Sometimes it works.

How do you feel when feedback on your columns is negative or contains a different viewpoint? Does it influence your future pieces?

Some people give constructive feedback. I say thank you. Some people are rude. I say thank you.

Most constructive criticism I get is from Indians abroad, in Canada and America. By name I can tell if someone is from Madras or from North India. And when I am intrigued by a man, I ask him where he is and what he is doing. And most of the time he is abroad and likes to read and write on different issues. Our charyias don’t write.

What is that one element that has made your columns so popular?

Who says they are popular? Well, people find them interesting to read, whether they do anything or not. I write for Dawn but sometimes the Urdu papers translate my work and more often than not, they republish without asking.

Have your ever been offered a ministership, ambassadorship or other high position? How did you respond?

Yes, I have been many things. It was fun. I was Minister of Tourism in Bhutto’s time. Everybody wanted to sack me the day I was appointed. Then Zia appointed me as the Advisor on Ports & Shipping. He wanted to sack me in 48 hours.

I was also Chairman of Port Qasim twice. When Bhutto wanted to sack me from tourism, this was the other job he could offer me.

Who are your favourite authors and columnists?

Amongst who? I read a lot on the internet as one has to keep abreast of international news and views.

Have you ever thought of writing a book?

Who will buy it? Everyone will ask for free copies.

Have you ever thought of compiling your columns?

They are all current and timely. These issues may not be relevant in the future.

Is Pakistani media on the right track?

Pakistani media will never be on the right track.

You have always criticised the people who have ruled Pakistan, whether civilians or military men. What do you think of the present lot?

Nuisance. Zardari is an accidental president or imposed; but he is there.

Have we lost Jinnah’s Pakistan forever?

Oh yes, yes. A long time back. They censored his speech of 11th August, 1947. They don’t want people to read what he said.

Please tell us about The Cowasjee Foundation and its activities.

We do charity work mostly for hospitals and schools that need it. It’s a small family foundation. We never accept money from other people.

How would you rate the following in terms of governance, on a scale of 1 to 10 (1 being the best, 10 the worst):

         Khawaja Nazimuddin

         Hussain Shaheed Suharwardy

         Iskandar Mirza

         Ayub Khan

         Zulfikar Ali Bhutto

         Zia ul Haq

         Benazir Bhutto

         Nawaz Sharif

         Pervez Musharraf

         Asif Zardari

The cleverest amongst this lot was Hussain Shaheed Suharwardy. On 10 would be Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto. Amongst our politicians, he has done the maximum harm.

Musharraf did well for the first three years.

Under which government do you think Pakistan progressed a little?

Ayub Khan. They all started well, be it Ayub Khan or Musharraf.

How do you see the future of Pakistan?

Dismal! It’s a dying country. That’s what I feel. In my lifetime, the state won’t disintegrate. But the way we are going, there will be no Pakistan on the map of the earth, in the years to come.

Reason for hope

Published in Books & Authors (Dawn) on April 26, 2009

Original Link

Reviewed by Ayesha Hoda

Courtesy: Indiaclub.com

Storm in Chandigarh, like Nayantara Sahgal’s other works, revolves around the political change, value systems and feminist ideas in India and how all these had an impact on the upper strata of Indian society.

A well-known political journalist and an Indian author writing in English, Sahgal has won several accolades for her work. Politics is the focus of her writings as it influenced her personal life from a very young age. She is the daughter of Jawaharlal Nehru’s sister Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit, who was also India’s first ambassador to the United Nations. Sahgal’s father was also an Indian freedom fighter.

Hence, an in-depth understanding of politics and history comes naturally to the author and her writing reflects the fact that she is strongly attached to her roots.

Storm in Chandigarh, her third novel, was first published in 1969. As the name implies, it is based in Chandigarh, the city that serves as the capital of two Indian states, Punjab and Haryana. The novel is set after 1966, when the state of Haryana had been newly created out of the eastern part of Punjab, dividing the Hindi-speaking population from the Punjabi-speakers.

‘It still seemed grotesque that a metaphoric line had been drawn through the Punjab, that millions who had till yesterday been Punjabis had suddenly become Haryanavis, sanctifying another language and spouting another nationalism.’

This division on the basis of language led to disputes over boundaries and water and electric power sharing between the two states. ‘The centre had allowed the Punjab to be re-divided 20 years after the gruelling Partition of 1947. Why had this new mess been created?’

This is what the protagonist Vishal Dubey wants to ask. A civil servant in Delhi, Dubey is assigned the task of relocating to the joint capital of Punjab and Haryana. His role is to act as a liaison officer between Delhi and the two state governments.

Gyan Singh is the chief minister of Punjab while Harpal Singh is the chief minister of Haryana. Throughout the novel Dubey endeavours to understand these two characters and to resolve their conflict.

‘Between Gyan and Harpal, he now realised, there was more than a political battle. It was a battle of philosophies. The juster but vaguer range of possibility could seldom hold out against violent immediate claims supported by the obvious.’

This main plot is interwoven with glimpses of Dubey’s married life and tales of the other characters linked to him: Gauri, Mara and Jit, Saroj and Inder. Their stories are primarily of unhappy marriages and dysfunctional relationships.

Dubey is inflicted by the lack of communication with his wife and then by her sudden death. Gauri has a comfortable arranged marriage which lacks excitement. Jit wants to discover the source of unhappiness in Mara’s life, while Saroj is haunted by her husband’s rigid thought patterns, his insecurities and unpredictability. Through the protagonist Sahgal questions the stereotypical roles eastern husbands and wives are expected to play. Dubey also expresses concern over inflexible beliefs in Indian society regarding morality, the caste system and gender equality:

‘What people called morality touched their oldest and most cherished prejudices.’

And he attempts to define higher morality: ‘It’s a search for value, and an attempt to choose the better value, the real value, in any situation, and not just do what’s done or what is expected. ’

Despite the account of the political rift and the turmoil all the characters are entangled in, the narrative generally gives a feeling of hope. Simply written, it leads readers to the conclusion that things can change for the better, for a country as well as for an individual.

Storm in Chandigrah

By Nayantara Sahgal

Penguin Books, India

ISBN 0-14-310276-2 222pp.

Indian Rs250

International Trade Woes

Published in Books&Authors (Daily Dawn) on October 5, 2008

Original Link

Reviewed by Ayesha Hoda
‘It must be ensured that the WTO system subserves development and does not subvert it. Only then would this organisation have credibility in the eyes of the developing world,’ commented Shri M. Maran, a former commerce and industry minister of India.

This statement reflects the gains developing countries like India expect from the World Trade Organisation (WTO). India is a founding member of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade and its successor, the WTO, which came into existence in 1995 after the conclusion of the Uruguay Round of Multilateral Trade Negotiations.

India’s participation at WTO is geared towards more stability and predictability in international trade, which will ultimately lead to more trade and prosperity for the country and for other member nations of the WTO.

It is interesting to note that The WTO Deadlocked has been published at a time crucial for the world trade deal. The Doha Development Round of the WTO has yet again ended in deadlock as a result of the conflict between India and the United States. The collapse in negotiations came as a shock for many as representatives of WTO’s member states were satisfied with the progress of the mini-ministerial this year and expected an agreement after seven years of deadlock.

Observers will thus be curious to know more about India’s stance at the WTO throughout the trade organisation’s history and how the country will negotiate in the future. Will it continue to romance both the bilateral and the multilateral approaches? Will it continue to play the developing country leadership role in coming years?

This volume, co-authored by Debahis Chakraborty and Amir Ullah Khan, tries to find answers to these and other such questions regarding India and its role at the WTO. Chakraborty is an assistant professor at the Indian Institute of Foreign Trade in New Delhi and Khan is the director of the India Development Foundation in Gurgaon.

While reading the history of the subcontinent, one is bound to notice that India has always been a pioneer of trade across borders, as is also pointed out by the writers: ‘The rich heritage of Indian trade with the Roman civilisation, East and West Asian, and Red Sea countries, and its presence on the silk and spice route map…’

However, after 1947, India became an epicenter of trade barriers in order to protect its infant industries. There was complete absence of export promotion in its development strategy before the early 1990s. The country began trade liberalisation in 1991, four years before the WTO was formed. At that point, growing economies had started to realise that the restrictions placed on trade had become dysfunctional. The preface of the book tries to explain India’s complex position and approach: ‘As a founder member of the multilateral trading system, it has been a steadfast supporter of multilateralism even when it was at its protectionist best.’

India’s participation at the WTO underwent massive change when it realised that the presence of tariff peaks and tariff escalation hampered its export interests to a major extent and that silence at WTO meetings was not going to help.

It is interesting to note that The WTO Deadlocked has been published at a time crucial for the world trade deal. The Doha Development Round of the WTO has yet again ended in a deadlock as a result of the conflict between India and the United States. The collapse in negotiations came as a shock for many as representatives of WTO’s member states were satisfied with the progress of the mini-ministerial this year and expected an agreement after seven years of deadlock.

With changes in its trade composition and the increasing need to be a significant part of the global economy, India has emerged as a major player in the negotiating dynamics of the WTO (specifically since the Seattle Ministerial).

The book provides a detailed overview of India’s negotiating strategies such as those concerning agriculture and non-agricultural market access. An analysis of the potential as well as the violation of various agreements, on the basis of WTO case laws, has also been presented.

The volume is both a factual account of what happened at the WTO negotiations and a study of India’s position as a result of changes in its economy, export basket etc. Provisions that should be considered for future reforms/talks have also been included.

The world is changing rapidly and so is the structure of international trade. The trading world is buzzing with a large number of relatively new terms such as preferential trade agreements, trade-related intellectual property rights, globalisation and contingency measures. Some of these and other issues are also included in this discussion as they form an integral part of world trade today. Readers get to know about India’s outlook when it comes to regionalism, intellectual property, anti-dumping, trade in services and so on, and are asked to consider what is next in line.

This book is not for beginners, that is, it supposes some level of understanding regarding the international trade scenario. It will assist those who are part of trade or industry and those interested in politics, economics or sociology. The language is simple though trade-related jargon has been used. Information has been gathered from a large number of sources, which may be referred to through the detailed bibliographical references and notes provided.

With its focus on India, the book promotes an understanding of what WTO has been able to achieve so far, what it stands for, and the positive and negative impact on developing countries of a global trade agreement.

The WTO Deadlocked
By Debashis Chakraborty & Amir Ullah Khan
Sage Publications, New Delhi
ISBN 0-7619-3606-0
327pp Indian Rs650

The good and the just

Published in SouthAsia (May 2009)

A prolific writer, brilliant intellectual and powerful activist, Dr. Eqbal Ahmad was admired by a large number of revolutionaries, journalists, activist leaders, students and policymakers around the world, writes Ayesha Hoda

“Artists and intellectuals are in the business of working with their minds. What distinguishes humans from animals is the manner in which people use the mind. And what distinguishes various levels of civilization – their literary and artistic achievement, economic prosperity, and moral outlook – is the extent and manner in which the resources of the mind are put to use. This is a profoundly complex subject. There are myriad aspects to it. I shall discuss only one which I deem important. It has to do with the notion, by no means uncontested, that it is the intellectual’s special responsibility to affirm the good and just and resist the bad and unjust,” opined Eqbal Ahmad on intellectuals’ role in society, in one of his articles for Daily Dawn.

Ahmad was a Pakistani writer, journalist and anti-war activist. Born in a village in Bihar in the early 1930s, Ahmad had witnessed violence at an early age. His father was murdered over a land dispute as a young Ahmad lay beside him. He therefore stood for justice and putting an end to violence throughout his life. He was instinctively attracted to liberation movements and to causes of the oppressed.

Edward Said, in his tribute to this great intellectual, after Eqbal Ahmad’s sudden death on May 11, 1999, wrote, “No one more than Eqbal Ahmad captured and understood the human suffering and distorted vision that produced the reckless violence of people or movements who, in his memorable phrase, were radical but wrong. Whether it was the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians, or India and Pakistan, he was a force paradoxically for a just struggle but also for just reconciliation…He was that rare thing, an intellectual unintimidated by power or authority, a sophisticated man who remained simply true to his ideals and his insight till his last breath.”

Eqbal Ahmad and his elder brothers migrated to Pakistan in 1947. He graduated in economics from Forman Christian College in Lahore, in 1951. After a brief stint as an army officer, Ahmad went to Occidental College in California as a Rotary Fellow in American History in 1957. He also studied political science and Middle Eastern history at Princeton, earning his PhD from there.

For a few years, Ahmad worked in North Africa, mainly in Algeria, where he joined the National Liberation Front and worked with Frantz Fanon during the revolt against the French. He was a member of the Algerian delegation to peace talks at Evian.

On his return to the United States, Ahmad taught at the University of Illinois in Chicago and then at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York. He came to be known as “one of the earliest and most vocal opponents of American policies in Vietnam and Cambodia.”

In 1971, he was indicted along with six anti-war Catholic priests and pacifists, on charges of conspiracy to kidnap Henry Kissinger as a protest against US involvement in Vietnam. After fifty-nine hours of deliberations, the jury dismissed the case.

Ahmad was also strongly critical of the Middle East strategy of the United States as well as of nationalism and religious fanaticism in countries like Pakistan. In 1967, he addressed a group of students at Cornell about the Six-Day War between Israel and the Arab states. In his speech he argued that the conflict was more complicated than the media portrayals. However, this point of view was not popular and Ahmad became an outcast from mainstream academia.

Ahmad left Cornell and did some freelance work. For about a decade, he was Senior Fellow at the Institution for Policy Studies. He also founded and served as the first director of its overseas affiliate, the Transnational Institute in Amsterdam for two years.

In 1982, he joined the faculty at Hampshire College, in Amherst Massachusetts, where he taught world politics and political science till 1997. His wisdom and insights inspired two generations of students.

He was also an editor of the journal Race and Class, contributing editor of Middle East Report and L’Economiste du Tiers Monde, co-founder of Pakistan Forum, and an editorial board member of Arab Studies Quarterly.

Courtesy: Khaldunia.edu.pk

In the early 1990s, Ahmad was granted land in Pakistan by Late Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto’s government for his dream project. This was to build an independent, alternative and world-class liberal arts university, named Khaldunia after the 14th century Islamic scholar and historian, Ibn Khaldun. He was especially inspired by Muqaddimah, one of Ibn Khuldun’s great works.

Unfortunately his dream could not be realized although a respectable school named Khaldunia High School was established in Islamabad. Ahmad settled permanently in Pakistan in 1997, where he wrote weekly columns for Daily Dawn.

Eqbal Ahmad also became the founding Chancellor of the Textile Institute of Pakistan (TIP). As many of the ideals proposed by Eqbal Ahmad are considered the driving spirit of TIP, the institute organizes a series of lectures on Eqbal Ahmad Memorial Day and also presents the much coveted Eqbal Ahmad Award to the best graduate.

Poetry was also one of Ahmad’s passions. His interest in progressive Islamic traditions made him particularly fond of Ghalib and Faiz. He would recite their poetry and translate it for those around him.

Ahmad believed that religion and worldly affairs should be separated and that forced change “robbed the people of their soul, and that a backlash would come.”  He wrote extensively on the relationship between the West and the post-colonial states of Africa and Asia.

As he was always concerned about the welfare of people, he was completely opposed to war and violence, whether by nation states or by ideological, nationalist or fundamentalist movements. He was an expert at critical analysis which made him a valued counsellor, as well as a critic, of leaders and intellectuals in the Middle East, Pakistan, etc. His works and interviews have been compiled in several books i.e. Terrorism: Theirs and Ours, The Selected Writings of Eqbal Ahmad and Eqbal Ahmad: Confronting Empire.

His articles and essays also appeared in the New York Times, The Nation and other major newspapers and journals throughout the world. He believed that people should not blindly trust the way mass media portrayed issues. They should read and question. In an interview with David Barsamian, he stated, “For God’s sake, let us not be only consumers of information. Each person knows some truth – and I really think that almost anyone who is listening to you and to me right now has some knowledge, some truth, some understanding of the world, that is different from that of the dominant media institutions. The moment you find that your truth clashes with what is being peddled as their truth, intervene.”

Eqbal Ahmad truly had the courage to stand up for what he believed in even if his ideas were not appreciated by a great majority. He was always ready to answer questions and respected opinions which were different from his own. He worked endlessly to broaden the horizons of knowledge. His struggle for resistance against imperialism in different parts of the world and other services are an example set by very few Pakistanis till date.

A Partial Tale

Published on September 14, 2008 in Books & Authors (Daily Dawn)

Reviewed by Ayesha Hoda

Original Link

With rising interest (post 9/11) in Islam and what is termed as ‘Islamic fundamentalism’, several books have been written on the religion and current events revolving around it.What is Islam in its revised edition of the book (first written in 1990), also falls into a similar category and addresses some relevant religious/political issues. However, its primary focus is on imparting knowledge about the religion’s beliefs, history, laws or Shariah, sects and so on.

‘An Introduction to the Muslim World’ would perhaps have been a more appropriate title for this book by Chris Horrie and Peter Chippindale. Horrie is an award-winning former staff reporter, editor and author or co-author of around 10 books. Chippindale has written Mink and Laptop of the Gods.

The book discusses in-depth the Muslim world and the shape it has taken in the present century, rather than explaining what Islam is, as one would expect. The front cover states that the tome is a comprehensive introduction to Islam. However, this is not the first book you would recommend to someone to introduce them to the religion. Understanding of the religion and its philosophy is largely missing from the book.

The concise and simple style of writing is a positive aspect which makes it easy to grasp the details. What is also praiseworthy is that the book has been written in an unemotional manner; it is more of a factual account of what happened in Islamic history and what the basic principles of the religion are. However, at several places there are factual errors. This is disappointing, especially since the book has been rewritten and mistakes could have been noted and corrected in the revised edition.

The chapters have been divided into four categories: Faith, Islamic history, Islamic sects and The Muslim world. The section on faith comprises of brief explanations of the pillars of Islam, articles of faith, Islamic law, the Islamic calendar, universality of the religion and the life of the Holy Prophet (peace be upon him). The section on Islamic history provides an overview of the early Islamic Empire, the Ottoman Empire, and there is also a chapter on the rise of Islamic fundamentalism with discussions on The Wahabbi Revolt, The Muslim Brotherhood, Iranian Revolution and so on. A chapter called ‘A Clash of Civilisations?’ has been included in this section, which is basically a critical review of Samuel P. Huntington’s book The Clash of Civilisations and the Remaking of World Order. The authors’ personal viewpoint on the clash between Islam and the West is not really clear except that they think Huntington’s views are paranoid and extremist. A chronology of important events of Muslim history has been included and can be useful for quick reference.

The third section on Islamic sects discusses the various factions of the religion in some detail, right from the four schools of Sunni law to Mahdi’ist movements and the Black Muslim Movement in America. It recounts the differences between the Twelvers, the Seveners, the Assassins and other sub-groups within Shi’ite Islam. There is also a chapter on other Islamic groups such as the Sufis, the Ibadites, the Qadiriyah, etc. As a large number of people, including Muslims, are unaware of the various sub-sects that exist within Islam, the perusal of this section will prove to be enlightening.

The section on the Muslim world mentions some particulars of Muslim countries, their religious laws and brief political history. It does not mention countries with significant Muslim populations, where Islam is not the state religion (for instance India).The book is generally neutral. However, at some points, the authors seem to be rather biased and make statements without elaborating or providing substantial examples to validate their reasons for making them. For instance, they write:

‘The couple [the Prophet and his first wife Khadijah] had only one surviving child, a daughter called Fatima who in later life became a fanatical Muslim’. And referring to Islamabad, they call it the ‘new citadel of orthodoxy’.

Moreover, there are also several instances where the authors do not differentiate between what Islam actually teaches and what several Muslims might believe due to social, cultural, political and other influences. For example, they say that ‘Muslim women may take part in Hajj, subject to various restrictions. During it each must be accompanied by a male chaperon (mahram), who must be a man she is legally unable to marry – for example her father or brother’ and ‘Failure to carry out a fard obligation is both a sin and a crime punishable in Shariah courts.’

Topics such as Da’wah and Ijtehad are completely missing; they would have been relevant to current times. Overall, the book does not thoroughly cover all the aspects and may be read along with a number of other books on the subject in order to offer a better and more lucid perspective on Islamic history, culture and the faith itself.


What is Islam?
By Chris Horrie and Peter Chippindale
Virgin Books, UK
Available with Liberty Books, Karachi
ISBN 0-7535-1194-7
324pp. Rs695