Politics / 12.05.2011

By Anjum Altaf The thought of any connection between Osama bin Laden and Gandhi would not have occurred to me were it not for a remark in the much talked about biography of the latter by Joseph Lelyveld. At one point in the book, I am told, Lelyveld writes that “it would be simply wrong, not to say grotesque, to set up Gandhi as any kind of precursor to bin Laden.”  The remark piqued my curiosity especially given the fact that it was written before the recent discovery and elimination of Osama. Clearly, Lelyveld was not cashing in on a coincidence. So what was it that provoked the comparison even if it were to be dismissed? Let me state my conclusion at the outset: the personalities bear no comparison but the contextual similarities highlight major political issues that bear exploration and attention.
Analysis / 03.07.2009

We have gone back and forth on the issue of American intervention in developing countries and I wish to return to the topic to broaden the terms of the discussion. Reader Tahir had raised the issue in defense of Imran Khan’s position that was the subject of three earlier posts (here, here, and here). Let us see if a wider perspective improves our understanding and helps us think of better responses, both intellectual and practical. The evidence of American interventions is not in dispute. In his Cairo address, President Obama conceded American involvement in the 1953 coup in Iran that toppled a democratic government. And this is only one of many, many instances well known to all except, perhaps, a majority of American voters. Imran Khan is part of the multitude that sees through the American rhetoric of high morality.
Religion / 05.06.2009

I did not watch President Obama’s address in Cairo because I did not wish to be influenced by his obvious oratorical skills. But I have the speech in cold print and would like to highlight ten weak points from the perspective of a non-Western audience in order to start a discussion on its wider implications. The reason for this approach is that every audience brings with it a different baggage of history, a different template for interpretation, a different metric of credibility, and a different set of expectations. Thus the reaction of an American audience is likely to be quite different from that of a non-Western audience especially one that has been at the receiving end of America’s pursuits of its national interests.
Education / 08.03.2009

Lewis Lapham, Mohan Rao, Mohammad Iqbal. It’s odd how unrelated pieces from across time and space sometimes fall into place as if they were intended for each other. I began with Lewis Lapham’s brilliant take (Achievetrons, Harper’s Magazine, March 2009) on President Obama’s “Christmas shopping for cabinet officers.” These are the ‘Achievetrons,’ members of the ‘valedictocracy’ who got double 800s on their SATs and graduated from the top of the Ivy League. And then Lapham, in his inimitable style, pours a bucket of cold water on the prospects: For the past sixty years the deputies assigned to engineer the domestic and foreign policies of governments newly arriving in Washington have come outfitted with similar qualifications – first-class schools, state-of-the-art networking, apprenticeship in a legislative body or a think-tank – and for sixty years they have managed to weaken rather than strengthen the American democracy, ending their terms of office...