Looking to Turkey


*Originally published in Pakistan Today. Slightly edited version below:

Lenin is reported to have said, There are decades where nothing happens—and there are weeks where decades happen.” 2016 appears to be one of these weeks. Spanning a number of events, from attacks on European soil in Belgium and France, the occurrence of Brexit, to the looming specter of a Trump presidency in the United States, this year has been marked by several waves of shock, and further ripples were added to these when Turkey dramatically foiled a coup attempt on the 15th of July.

A Dark Moment in Turkey

As news of the coup was revealed, Turkish people flooded outside to mount a challenge, in what was perhaps the most remarkable moment of the botched coup.

People poured out on the streets and roads, blocking the way of rolling tanks, pushing them back, protesting, resisting.

More than two hundred and fifty lives were ultimately lost but history is sure to record the bravery of Turkish protesters as an incredible act of tremendous courage, rendered in the name of defending democracy. Around the world, people were watching—some more intently than others.

Pakistan and Turkey both share phases of history deeply pockmarked by a series of coups and military regimes. Any upset in the civilian-military relations in Turkey thus inevitably evokes interest in Pakistan’s political and public sphere. And while one must always tread carefully and cautiously in pulling parallels between peoples, histories, countries, and events, the recent developments in Turkey do offer something for Pakistan to consider.

Turkey, Pakistan, and the Military

Turkey’s main opposition parties, the Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), the Republican People’s Party (CHP) and the Nationalist Movement Party (M.H.P) have been vehemently critical of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan . Due to the tensions which collapsed the peace process between the AKP government and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in 2015, the relationship in the case of the HDP, whose members Erdogan has previously called to “face prosecution, accusing them of being the PKK’s political wing”, has been even more strained.

Despite these tensions, it is important to note that within hours of news breaking that a coup was being attempted, all three parties strongly denounced the coup and voiced unequivocal support for the democratically-elected government of Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP).

In contrast to Turkey, Pakistan’s political parties are known to have distributed mithais (sweetmeats)  on the occasion of coups ousting   rivals; a display of petty opportunism at best. Such a political attitude may be attributed to the nature of Pakistan’s political culture which has historically been stunted by decades of military dictatorship and repression; and subsequently disadvantaged by the denial of an uninterrupted, smooth, and gradual . The prospect of gains from collaboration with military governments also propelled this political expediency.  However, this attitude was, appeared for the most part, on the decline following the Charter of Democracy of 2006 which was signed between the late Benazir Bhutto and now-Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. The CoD formed an alliance between the Pakistan’s People’s Party and Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz to end General Musharraf’s military regime, and enshrined a collective pledge to the principle of civilian democratic rule and its restoration in Pakistan.

More recently, a maturation of political attitudes was witnessed during Imran Khan and Tahir ul Qadri’s PTI-PAT sit-in of 2014 in the capital.  The public protest was organized by Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf and centered on claims of widespread rigging by Nawaz Sharif’s party in the general elections of 2013. The sit-in, which lasted from August 2014 to December 2014, was eventually joined by the Pakistan Awami Tehreek, led by Canada-based Islamic cleric Tahir-ul-Qadri. Together the parties and their gathered supporters exerted pressure upon what they called the “illegitimate” PML-N government, calling for the prime minister’s resignation and fresh polls across the country.

In wake of this sit-in, political temperatures in Pakistan rose alarmingly. However, they ended up fostering a welcome climate of political unity, solidarity, and practicality by bringing together an entire spectrum of parties under the umbrella of protecting Pakistan’s nascent democracy from imminent danger.

Similarly, the galvanization of masses in Turkey against the coup was also an answer to the surreal call given on a mobile-video app by a Facetiming  Erdogan on CNN Turk for the people to take to the  . While large segments of Turkish society mobilized in defense of democracy alone, the public’s support for Erdogan’s AKP – which helped it garner half of the vote in the elections of 2015 – was also clearly significant in terms of the witnessed mobilization.

Little doubt exists about Erdogan’s increasingly autocratic ambitions and his bid for greater power, evidenced by the sharp streaks of authoritarianism he has exhibited without inhibition when “running roughshod over political rivals, tossing enemies into jail and intimidating the media.” His heavy-handed tactics to repress the Taksim Square protests of   also proved to be ample evidence of his shriveling sense of restraint in dealing with opposition. Erdogan’s oppressive and intolerant tendencies have been emboldened after the coup attempt; most sharply demonstrated by the recent purges, which The New York Times aptly characterizes and reveals as being of an “unprecedented scale” and comprising the dismissal of 9,000 police officers, 21,700 officials of the Ministry of Education, the forced resignations of 1,500 university deans, the suspension of 21,000 private school teachers, the detention of 10,012 soldiers and 2,745 members of the judiciary, and the shutdown of more than 100 media outlets.

So, how has Erdogan been able to consolidate power? In part, the AKP government has overseen solid economic and national development in Turkey during its tenure, while positioning itself as the representative of a large constituency in Turkey , comprising Muslims who have long felt ignored and marginalized by the secular elites and the state, and the segments of society which benefitted from the economic policies of the AKP government. But its greatest asset is the same force that allowed the government to resist the coup—the loyalty of the state police and a large contingent of the military.

It is now clear that the loyalty of the state police and a split within the Turkish military itself, with the acting chief of staff Umit Dundar against the audacious initiative to topple the government, also enabled the failure of the coup.

In her interview with Isaac Chotiner of Slate magazine, Professor  Jenny White, of Stockholm University’s Institute for Turkish Studies, spoke about the supremacy of the military at the time of the AKP’s assumption of power in 2003 and the systematic program of defanging it by the government:

“Initially, when Erdogan came to power in 2003, the army was still all-powerful. They still had a position above the government…together with the Gülen Movement, they [the AKP] initiated a series of high-profile court cases against the generals. They put a lot of the high-ranking officers in jail. All of the heads of the different forces eventually resigned. And at that point, Erdogan reached back into the chain of command and promoted someone up. The end result of that was that the military chief of staff was loyal to Erdogan. After that there was no more uppity-ness. They were demoralized.”

Since its creation in 1947, Pakistan has seen three military coups in 1958, 1977 and 1999, and in the sixty-nine years of its existence, it has been subjected to three decades of military regimes. The last of these was headed by General Pervez Musharraf who resigned in 2008 succumbing to immense political and public pressure and protests which grew after his controversial imposition of emergency on 3rd November 2007 and the ensuing measures.

Pakistan has been under two different democratically-elected governments, one after the other, since 2008. Yet even as the popularity of democratically elected governments waxes and wanes, there appears to be no end in sight to the popularity of the military as an institution in Pakistan. The poster-boy for this traditional reverence for the army is the powerful Chief of Army Staff General Raheel Shareef today, who is often the subject of frequent and curious #ThankYouRaheelShareef hashtags and trends on social media which heap appreciation on his efforts against terrorism, and hail him as a  strong and upright general who has nothing but the best interests of Pakistan at heart. And while Nawaz Sharif and his government may have ostensibly survived the political crisis of 2014, posed by the impasse engendered by the Khan-Qadri protest sit-in, most believe the crisis was staging ground for the army to launch a soft coup; as a result of which the government ceded power over main matters of the state, such as foreign policy and security issues, to the army in exchange for the security and stability of their tenure.

In 1995 the late Eqbal Ahmad penned an article titled “The Signals Soldiers Pick”, offering an incisive analysis of the civil-military imbalance in Pakistan and the environments conducive to tilt that in either’s favor which still resonate. He emphasized that the end of military intervention in politics hinges upon the legitimacy of the civilian system of power [being] established over a period of time.” He also stated that, ‘We [Pakistan] have been lacking both the political framework and leaders capable of investing the civilian system of government with authority, and taming the warrior class.’

In comparison to the AKP, it is patent that Pakistan’s democratically elected governments have not only been unable to enjoy hardly any period of uninterrupted power, most of which were cut short by instability and coups, to establish a democratic foothold – it was only in 2013, after 66 years, that the country had its first ever transfer of power from one democratically elected government to another. When in power, they have been beset by charges of corruption and incompetence, and the threats of military intervention have always hung dangerously close to them. Democratic governments in Pakistan have also continually manifested a complete lack of political vision in terms of their quality of performance and governance, which invest the democratic system with credibility, popular support and legitimacy; that firmly confer upon it the empowering authority it often lacks. This is a challenge further compounded by their lack of imagination, will and courage to take on the military and establish ascendancy of the civilian democratic set-up in the Pakistani state’s equilibrium of power.

Evidently, smooth democratic continuity; a solid establishment of government credibility and stability; and the political will and vision to subdue unbridled military encroachments on the domain of state power are pivotal to democratic durability and authority in Pakistan. The road to it, however, remains rocky.

Lessons for Pakistan from Turkey

The failure of the coup in Turkey owes a great deal to democratic fervor. London-based British and Turkish writer and academic Ziya Meral was quick to praise the “many amazing journalists, academics, activists who are fierce critiques of AKP consistently spoke against the coup attempt.” According to Mustafa Akyol, this occurrence underscores “…that Turkish society has internalized electoral democracy, and Turkey’s secularists, despite their objections to the Erdogan government’s Islamism, seek solutions in democratic politics.”

Many Pakistanis took to social media during the coup attempt, praising the perpetrators and encouraging Chief of Army Staff General Raheel Shareef to lead a similar coup. The existence of this pro-military rule sentiment accentuates the flakey faith some segments of Pakistanis feel towards democratic governments, and the persistence of the military’s age-old, and well-crafted, popularity among the people as the “most trust-worthy institution” in the country – as was also revealed by a survey held last year – especially in contrast to political actors and leaders.

In response to a tweet stressing Erdogan’s authoritarianism, Al Jazeera’s Mohammad Alsaafin replied with, “[Erdogan is] not champion of democracy, but democratically elected.” Alsaafin’s comment contains a principal point; that it is essential to protect, improve and strengthen democracy as the institutional framework for the state and its citizens, despite its imperfections and problems.

As Erdogan unleashes his purges and pillory, the impression that he will entirely squander the support and goodwill he has garnered after the attempted coup, rather than use it for a moment of sensible reflection, is increasingly being lent weight. Nevertheless it is evident that unequivocal political support, the support of the masses and the allegiance of state organs to the belief in democratic civilian supremacy are key to a worthy effort and solid fight, if not bulwark, against the audacity of military adventurism. It is also important for Pakistan to understand that democracy means much more than a current government or a certain crop of leaders. To borrow the idea from Mustafa Akyol’s analysis, the solution to democratic problems must be sought in democratic politics.

Turkey may have had more coups than Pakistan, a gulf of different dynamics, and more turbulent experiences to reach this point, but it is never too late for Pakistan to pick a lesson or two.

-Hafsa Khawaja

You, Pakistan


INTERVIEWER

Yes, before 1968, you said, “I love America.”

JAMES BALDWIN

Long before then. I still do, though that feeling has changed in the face of it. I think that it is a spiritual disaster to pretend that one doesn’t love one’s country. You may disapprove of it, you may be forced to leave it, you may live your whole life as a battle, yet I don’t think you can escape it. There isn’t any other place to go—you don’t pull up your roots and put them down someplace else. At least not in a single lifetime, or, if you do, you’ll be aware of precisely what it means, knowing that your real roots are always elsewhere. If you try to pretend you don’t see the immediate reality that formed you I think you’ll go blind.”

You break me often, into pieces, into shards, into tatters and tears.

There are times when I want to escape you, perhaps not physically, but certainly emotionally. There are times I want to close my eyes, my ears, my mind and my heart to your suffering, for my own sanity and survival; only to wake up with seething pain realizing that your suffering and mine are inseparable and one.

Each gash and each scar you have is mine, because your soil is my skin. I feel it, I live it. How can I rid myself of my skin but crush my soul? How can one ever disentangle from one’s roots?

Kamel Daoud wrote, “How he must have suffered, poor man! To be the child of a place that never gave you birth” but I wonder, how much does one suffer, to be the child of a place that did give you birth; a place tormented and tortured.

Yet there is no other music to which my heart beats as strongly, to which my heart celebrates and aches, but that of your turmoil, triumph and tumult’s rhythms and rhymes.

You, Pakistan, are my pride and my pain.

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I can’t help hoping about you, because to let go of hope for all that one has is too big a risk to take.

And so I hope and pray today, may fate and future heal your many wounds and that of your many children.

Today I think of Edhi, NFAK, Eqbal Ahmad, Faiz, Habib Jalib, Malala, Ardeshir Cowasjee, Gulgee, Jahangir Khan and countless others who shone brightly upon the world, with their truths and talents, with your name. I celebrate them.

But today I also remember the irreplaceable Sabeen Mahmud, the courageous Shuja Khanzada, the incomparable Amjad Sabri, those taken in the Quetta attack, the 144 that perished in Peshawar, and the 50,000 souls that were usurped from you. Today I think of the Shia, the Ahmedi, the Christians, the Baloch, the people of FATA, the poor, the deprived, the marginalized; all those who seek your justice, your peace; who seek that you to own them as yours. Today I remember them, I mourn them and I honor them, and I pray, I plead: may you be kinder to your people, and may your people be kinder to you.

Against all your afflictions and misfortunes, may you, Pakistan, forever and always prevail.

Faithfully yours.

Remembering Edhi: Let Us Be His Legacy


“So many years later there were many who still complained and questioned, “Why must you pick up Christians and Hindus in your ambulance?” And I was still saying, “Because the ambulance is more Muslim than you.”

“The Holy Book should open in your souls, not on your laps. Open your heart and see God’s people. In their plight you will find Him.”

“There is no such thing as an illegitimate human being” [On the issue of infants and children being abandoned because they are illegitimate].

Edhi & Bilqees Edhi also take care of the small daughter of the thief jailed for burglary of the foundation in 2014.”

“Day after day, for decades, Edhi and his wife rescued abandoned babies, drug addicts, and victims of political and gang violence. He did God’s Work.

No matter how worse things took a turn for in Pakistan, Abdul Sattar Edhi was one individual, one icon, one saint who gave me, and all, strength and hope. Hope, that there is good in Pakistan, that there is good in this world. And strength, that in him resided the embodiment of all that Pakistan could be. The best Pakistan could be.

I saw in him the Muslim I wish to be, the human I wanted to be. I saw in him the magnificent beauty and purity of humanity.

I knew for every Mumtaz Qadri, there was Edhi. For every Malik Ishaq, there was Edhi.
There was never need for another human being, for he was enough. He was no man, he was an institution.

As we writhed in the pain of our wounds, he healed us.

But he was no hope for the helpless, the beggared, the oppressed, the lowest of the lowest. For the poor laying on the footpaths in the scorching heat, for the beggar limping his way amid traffic, for the infant abandoned for no crime but his birth, for the addicts ostracized, for the victims of a cruel society and an apathetic state -for those who had no one – he was there, he was their everything. He had no education, no riches but he was their food, their clothes, their shelter, their parents, their dignity; their salvation sent from God. 

Edhi healed.

All and everyone.

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(My apologies for lack of credits to whoever this image originally belongs to, I found this on the internet years ago and haven’t been able to trace its owner)

He was Pakistan’s soul and heart, a soul and heart unblemished by hate and division. A heart and soul that did nothing but give kindness and love; and that gave generously and selflessly.

He was one of the greatest Pakistanis, if not the greatest alone. And certainly one of the greatest human beings. To walk the same land as Edhi, what an honor it has been. To breathe the same air as Edhi, what a privilege it has been.

Pakistan is infinitely poorer today. Pakistan is orphaned today.
God knows how this void will ever fill, how this void will ever heal. More than ever, it was today, at this moment in time marked by bigotry, distrust and hate that we needed Edhi Sb’s unblemished humanity and love, his unparalleled courage, his matchless integrity and honesty, his radiant humility and dignity, and his towering principles.

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We needed Edhi now, desperately, but we also needed him forever.

 

As per his wishes, his healthy organs will be donated. Even in death, he has given, he has helped. He has served right till the end, and beyond.

The only befitting tribute to him would be our realization of the humanity he espoused and practiced; a humanity higher than the petty matters of race, ethnicity, class, gender, religion, sect, politics and prejudice. A humanity higher than the flimsy divisions we have constructed between ourselves; on maps, in borders, in our minds and in our hearts. There is no better tribute to him that our espousal of his principles and his ideals; it is no tribute, it is a duty and a responsibility owed to a man to whom we will forever be indebted.

Raise your voice, stand up, work and act for a tolerant, humane and peaceful Pakistan and world.

For if only we would all strive for even a speck of the incredible humanity he personified and possessed, Pakistan would be a much better place.

Let our actions, not our fortune, lay claim to Abdul Sattar Edhi and his life. Let us be his legacy.

Let us mourn but let us also honor him. Let us be his legacy, in words, actions, in life and in spirit.

Thank you and farewell messenger of humanity, farewell Edhi Sahab.

—–

Side Note:
I do not wish to write about anything other than the great man and the great loss we have been faced with today, but I find it difficult to sidestep the growing set of comments condemning the Nobel Peace Prize in wake of Edhi Sb’s demise.

You are doing no service to Edhi by reducing his life & work to the trifling recognition of a prize he never sought; he sought nothing. Edhi was in no need of any prize or recognition, and especially not validation. If you want to recognize him, carry the spirit of his work forward. Do not reduce the man and his legacy to some prize or reward, he was above all of these. Do not project the smallness of our minds and hearts onto the greatness of the man. Do not dishonor him like this, please.

—-

Also:

Let us not forget the role Dr. Adeeb Rizvi and SIUT have played in caring for Edhi. Dr. Rizvi is a man in the same league as Edhi’s, he is an incredible human being, an institution and a living legend.

Original Link: https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10154226167180915&set=a.10152469851790915.1073741828.642145914&type=3&theater

Photo Credits: Usman Ali on Facebook. “Dr Adeeb Rizvi, the doctor who looked after Edhi Sb for last 10 years came to Edhi Sahab’s Janaza without any protocol. He sat down on ground and didn’t make any attempt to move to front rows. People shook hands with him and took pictures. He was so easily accessible. The man whose stature is close to Edhi Sb was sitting like a common man. If there was anyone who deserved VVIP protocol today, Adeeb Rizvi Sb was the first person who should have been considered for it.”

A pity he isn’t known much (although known very well to those who threaten him) but he has been aptly called “Pakistan’s Miracle Doctor” and has saved thousands of lives while ushering in a new era for Pakistan’s healthcare system with SIUT.

Below are excerpts from BBC’s coverage of his work:
“But one public sector hospital in Karachi provides free specialised healthcare to millions, led by a man whose dream was inspired by the UK’s National Health Service. Now the hospital says it has the distinction of performing the highest number of successful renal transplants, dialysis sessions and treatment of kidney stone disease anywhere in the world.
He could have opted to set up his own private hospital. He could have built up his own lucrative empire while keeping his day job at the poorly run government hospital – a path taken by many highly qualified physicians in Pakistan.”

 

~ Conversation


 

Drowned from the crowd,


Delivered from the clamour,
 

A moment of peace,

Between You and I,

Not a sound,

Head to ground,

The world at a stop,

Blurred and withered,

The soul spills and scatters to the Will,

Nothing else matters,

Still. Silence. Submission.

For the heart is in conversation with the Creator.
                           ~ H.K

Book Review: Eqbal Ahmad: Critical Outsider and Witness in a Turbulent Age by Stuart Schaar


*Originally written for and published on Eqbal’s Ahmad’s fanpage:

Note:

In the “intellectual indolence” that has reigned in Pakistan, Eqbal Ahmad has been a flare of exception. Although I became acquainted with his life and work long after his demise, his intellectual honesty, courage and brilliance has taught me to think, to learn, to question and to speak up; inspiring me never to dim the dream of a progressive and peaceful Pakistan and world; to stay true to the pursuit of this vision. My admiration for him knows no bounds and I am truly indebted to his work that has educated and awakened the importance of an intellectual consciousness in me. And I would like nothing more than to consider myself but a student of his.

Book Review:

Political scientist, activist, writer, thinker and intellectual, Eqbal Ahmad (1930-1999) was a man beyond his times. Writing his obituary in 1999, the late Edward Said described him as a ‘Companion in arms to such diverse figures as Noam Chomsky, Howard Zinn, Tariq Ali, Ibrahim Abu-Lughod, Richard Falk’, and ‘perhaps the shrewdest and most original anti-imperialist analyst of Asia and Africa.’ Eqbal has rightly been called ‘the astute alarmist’  who uncannily foresaw future trends that later came to develop into concrete realities marking the world. And it is with six incredibly significant examples of this prophetic perspicacity, including the fallout of the Afghan War and that of a possible US invasion of Iraq, that Stuart Schaar begins his book on Eqbal Ahmad.

Professor Emeritus, Brooklyn College of the City University of New York, Schaar was friends with Eqbal since 1958 when they were both at Princeton. He carefully traces Ahmad’s journey from a little boy in Bihar who was an early witness to violence, a participant of the Partition, student at the Forman Christian College and Princeton University, one of the notorious Harrisburg 7 (a conspiracy case during the era of the Vietnam War in which the defendants were accused of a plot to kidnap Henry Kissinger), professor at Hampshire College in the US, to his return and final years in Pakistan. Each stage steering him towards the distinguished public intellectual and thinker he came to be; a transformation unveiled by light the book sheds on his personal, political and intellectual evolution.

Schaar writes, “The combination of originality, intelligence and fearlessness in confronting power, drew some of the major intellectuals on the Left towards him, including prominent figures in a variety of fields in the US, Western Europe, Africa, Latin America, and South Asia,. He socialized with writers from around the world and learned from them. He corresponded with leaders of the international Left and in the Indian/Pakistani subcontinent he knew and befriended some of the most gifted intellectuals, while political figures and military leaders courted him for advice.”

Indeed Eqbal Ahmad’s brilliance and numerous travels led to his contact and correspondence with countless people, both those within and outside the realm of power, including Yasser Arafat, Ayatollah Khomeini, Frantz Fanon’s widow and Osama bin Laden, and various activists, diplomats, politicians, leaders, journalists, writers, revolutionaries from all over the world. The book makes sure to deal with this important aspect of his life. One of the instances, related to this, mentioned involves Habib Bourghiba’s attempts to get Ahmad to write his official biography while he stayed in Tunisia for his PhD thesis. Ahmad also came to be acquainted with various struggles, especially the liberation movement in Algeria against France.

As his friend, Schaar was able to gain insights not only from his own memories but also from the access he gained to the latter’s family, friends, colleagues and students. Their anecdotes and recollections paint a fuller picture of the person that Eqbal was in each of his relationships: as a father, teacher, friend, colleague and thinker.

[the book even sheds light on the gourmet chef Ahmad was, also including a whole recipe of his at the end]

One of these is dealt with in detail in the book: Eqbal’s friendship with Edward Said, a relationship of immense respect, admiration, solidarity and affinity between both. Regarding which the book holds some wonderful insights in the form of excerpts from the email correspondence between both and the letter of recommendation by Said when Ahmad applied for a job at Hampshire College.

Moreover, the book goes beyond illuminating Eqbal Ahmad’s words and ideas by engaging with his efforts and encounters through which he channelled his ideas and social and political activism; such as his role in organizing and establishing people-to-people Indo-Pak cultural exchanges back in 1980s, which Schaar writes, [they] intended to build a social movement which would….help create a groundswell to move both countries towards reconciliation and peace.”, and his plan to establish a liberal-arts university in Islamabad by the name of Khaldunia (named after the Arab polymath).

Furthermore, Schaar manages to focus on both Eqbal Ahmad’s personal experiences and his ideas and work; by blending both as complements for each other into the narration of his life. To add clarity to the book and lend lucidity to understanding Eqbal’s work, the book neatly divides several of his ideas, stances and polemics on particular issues: (i) Islam and Islamic History; (ii) Imperialism, Nationalism, Revolutionary Warfare, Insurgency and Need for Democracy; (iii) The Middle East and the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict; (iv) India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh: the Problem of Nuclear Proliferation and Views on Partitioning States; and (v) Critique of US foreign policy: The Cold War and Terrorism. Although these sections do not cover the vast expanse of Eqbal’s ideas in detail, which perhaps can only be accessed through his essays, they are nonetheless, a fair glimpse of his perspective and analytical eminence.

Despite being his friend, Schaar does not remain from revealing Eqbal’s occasional idealism and resulting follies, such as his criticism and attacks on then prime-minister Benazir Bhutto and Asif Zardari in his Dawn columns all the while hoping and expecting her government to endorse and support his Khaldunia project, which consequently faced many hurdles to its realization.

However, Kabir Babar sees the book as not without its drawbacks for students of Eqbal new and old:

“This book is not without its flaws. A drawback of the anecdotal style in which it is written is that Ahmad’s life is presented with neither chronological nor thematic consistency.

And while the book is revealing, it is by no means a definitive biography, for there are numerous aspects of Eqbal Ahmad’s life that are either ignored or glossed over in this work. For instance, no mention is made of Ahmad’s encounters with Malcolm X and Fidel Castro. Also, while much is made of the impact that Ahmad’s exposure as a boy to Mohandas K. Gandhi and Rabindranath Tagore had on his thought, there is no reference to Syed Abul Ala Maududi, to whom Eqbal acknowledged owing an intellectual debt. Ahmad is said to have directly participated in the Algerian revolution, but few details are provided. In his foreword to a collection of Ahmad’s essays, physicist Pervez Hoodbhoy states that, during successive martial law governments in Pakistan, there were warrants of arrest and death sentences put out on Ahmad. None of this is mentioned in Schaar’s book.”

Nonetheless, Babar is right to point out that, “The subtitle of this book is well-chosen: because he was ideologically difficult to pigeonhole and the scope of his activities and intellect was global, Eqbal Ahmad was an outsider everywhere.”

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All in all, Schaar’s book weaves a truly vivid portrait of the man about whom the late Edward Said said, “Knowing him has been an education”, and on occasion of his [Ahmad] retirement from Hampshire College, “..to paraphrase from Kipling’s Kim – a friend of the world.”. Eqbal was a friend who saw the future before its time, who was an ally of the oppressed and dispossessed all over the world and was an epitome of intellectual honesty and courage – a friend who, in today’s global moment of confusion, crises and clamour, is all the more important to revisit. A revisit for which Schaar builds an important bridge through this book, for there is no doubt that knowing Eqbal Ahmad even today would still be an invaluable education for anyone seeking guidance and direction in hope for a more just, progressive and peaceful world.

—- Hafsa Khawaja

~ On These Roads, Flowers Sell


To the beautiful children of Pakistan; a future forced to be spent on the roads of today.

Photo credits to Maryaa Sajjad on Flickr

          

Weary faces,

Crushed fragrances,

Shoulders small but burdens big,

Tiny hands, roughened and stiff,

Not a wink of sleep and undreamt dreams,

Wilted before they bloomed,

For on these roads, flowers sell.

~ Hafsa Khawaja

~ Tyranny of Everlasting Sorrow


On 16/12/14, to which it has been six months yet nothing has changed but the deepening of 141 wounds inflicted upon every single Pakistani till the end of time.

On the mother in a bloodied and tattered green and white.

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Oh beloved mother,

Bloodied and bruised,     

From the tyranny of misfortune,

Your children wished to nurse you tomorrow, 

Yet what trampled you forever, prevailed yet again;

The tyranny of misfortune triumphed,

Into the tyranny of everlasting sorrow. 

~ Hafsa Khawaja