Terrorism / 12.10.2017

By Anjum Altaf Could it be argued that there are good and bad extremists just as there are good and bad Muslims? If so, the proposal to identify extremists in universities might be misplaced. Extremism has become conflated with violence and terrorism which is a partial interpretation. The dictionary defines extremism as “belief in and support for ideas that are very far from what most people consider correct or reasonable” which widens the scope for a more nuanced understanding. Put that neutral definition together with the observation of Bertrand Russell that “the tyranny of the majority is a very real danger” and that “it is mistake to think that the majority is necessarily right” and one can argue that almost all human progress has been due to extremists who have challenged the moribund ideas of majorities. Think of Galileo  or of the injunction to learn even if...

Politics / 04.06.2014

Early on in Ulysses, Joyce has Stpehen Dedalus harking back to Aristotle and thinking the following thoughts: Had Pyrrhus not fallen by a bedlam’s hand in Argos or Julius Caesar not been knifed to death? They are not to be thought away. Time has branded them and fettered they are lodged in the room of the infinite possibilities they have ousted. But can those have been possible seeing that they never were? Or was that only possible which came to pass? Weave, weaver of the wind. We are at that momentous point in South Asia where all of a sudden there is a burgeoning of potentialities only one of which will turn into reality – the actuality of the possible as possible in Aristotle’s formulation. I have no way of knowing which of those possibilities will become the reality we will look back on ten years from now....

History / 24.09.2013

By Ahmed Kamran With the departure of Raja Mahindra Partap and Maulvi Barkatullah and others from Kabul, the Provisional Government of India was now almost solely entrusted to Obaidullah Sindhi and some of the Lahore students, including Zafar Hasan Aibak, Allah Nawaz Khan, and Mohammad Ali who tried to infuse a new life in it. However, under severe pressure from Britain, the Provisional Government was made totally restricted after conclusion of the Third Anglo-Afghan War in August 1919. Eventually, under the instructions of the Afghan Government, it was formally disbanded in 1922. Obaidullah Sindhi and his colleagues quietly left for Tashkent. They reached Termiz in Soviet Union in Oct 1922. The Hijrat Begins Ironically, at this time when, on the one hand, Indian nationalist revolutionaries in Kabul were being expelled or leaving it in disgust, and on the other hand, the Turks now led by Mustafa Kamal were...

History / 08.09.2013

By Ahmed Kamran The Background In the early decades of the 1900s, the international situation in Europe and the Middle East was getting tense, especially for the Indian Muslims. Their anxiety was increasing with the news of each new development taking place on the borders of a vast Muslim Turkish Empire. While the British Empire was still in ascendency in the late 1800s and early 1900s, the Turkish Empire was disintegrating bit by bit. Much of its possessions in the Eastern Europe had already been broken away or annexed by other empires in the last century. Italy landed its army at Tripoli (in today’s Libya) in 1911, initiating the first War of Tripoli between Turkey and Italy. The Italian invasion of Tripoli was soon followed by the start of Balkan Wars in October 1912. Britain fully supported these European incursions into the areas of Turkish Empire. These invasions...

Reflections / 01.04.2011

By Ishtiaq Ahmed I am a long-time resident in Sweden where I have been living since September 1973. When the initial euphoria of living in a new place subsided and life assumed some sort of normality, it began to dawn upon me that I shared the distinction of longing for a very special place on earth which has a global following: Lahore, the city of my birth. It does not matter if the decision to leave was economic or political, voluntary or under duress and threat. For most old residents of this city, sooner or later, Lahore comes back in their lives as the centrepiece of a personal pride. The mystique of Lahore is special and grows on one with every passing year. In Stockholm, a core Lahore connection has served as the basis of a continuous monthly rotating all-evening social get-together since 1991. It began...

Behavior / 11.03.2010

By Anjum Altaf I attended a talk by Professor Vali Nasr where he presented the central argument of his new book Forces of Fortune: The Rise of the New Muslim Middle Class and What it Will Mean for Our World. Professor Nasr is an influential voice as senior advisor to Richard Holbrooke, the special Representative of the US for Afghanistan and Pakistan, which makes it relevant to summarize his views and to identify some areas of agreement and disagreement. Professor Nasr’s underlying hypothesis was quite straightforward: the middle class transformed the modern West and it can transform the Muslim world as well. The rise of trade, capitalism and merchant life is the most important trend at work and one that shapes the contours of culture and delimits the uses of religious belief. From this vantage point the prescription follows logically: if Islamic countries are integrated into the...

History / 29.09.2009

The past is political, which makes interpreting it very tricky. In this post we try and illustrate some of the pitfalls involved in thinking about the past. One common tendency is to look at the past from a position that is anchored in the present. If the anchor is political it nearly always leads to finding an interpretation of the past that helps to justify or strengthen the stance in the present. In The Idea of India, Sunil Khilnani puts it very plainly: “In India, as elsewhere, present politics are shaped by conceptions of the past. Broadly, there have been two different descriptions of Indian history…” We need not be concerned here with the details of the two descriptions. We only need to note that more than one interpretation of the same facts is possible and that the choice depends upon which political position in the present is being supported.
Cities/Urban, India / 23.05.2009

By Anjum Altaf Being a Tribute to Dr. G.M. Mehkri  The 2006 Sachar Committee report on the status of the Muslim community in India found that Muslims were amongst the poorest of the poor in the country. How do we square that with the fact that up until 1857 Muslims had ruled parts of India for over 800 years? I mention this fact because, in the minds of some people, Muslims had expropriated all the wealth of India during this period and oppressed all the non-Muslims. India has been independent for a little more than 60 years, so this transformation from being the owners of the land to being the poorest of the poor could not conceivably have occurred during this short period. So, did the decline of the Muslims occur during the less than hundred years of British rule between 1857 and 1947? If so, how? I don’t know.  I...

India / 04.12.2008

Continued from Hinduism – 3: Interaction with Muslims This series of posts has a limited objective – to understand the nature and impacts of the historical interactions of Hinduism with Muslims and Britons. In order to make our point we took the incursions of Mahmud of Ghazna around 1000 AD as an adequate starting point. However, this created the impression that the first Muslims in India came as raiders. This is an incorrect impression and in fact there is an extensive prior history of peaceful contact. Although this history is not directly related to the objective of this series, it is important to document it in order to avoid misunderstandings. Arab, Greek and Jew contact with the Malabar Coast of India had long existed on account of trade in spices and other articles and became predominant in the post-Roman period. Thus Arab contact with India pre-dates Islam....

Religion / 24.10.2008

Continued from Hinduism – 2: Getting to Terms with Religion It is time now to take stock of the encounter of India with Muslims. The first aspect that needs to be clear in our minds is whether this was an encounter between Hinduism and Islam or between Hindus and Muslims. This will make a significant difference to our understanding of subsequent events. We will argue that this was not a clash of religions, that it was an encounter of Hindus and Muslims. Of course, this encounter had an influence on both Hinduism and Islam, but the influence was indirect. As always, this is the starting point for a conversation. We are open to alternative interpretations that are cogently argued. Raiders or Crusaders? Frequent and repeated interaction of Hindus in India with Muslims from Afghanistan began around 1000 AD with the raids of Mahmud of Ghazna followed by those of Mohammed...