Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Abbas Raza remembers Eqbal Ahmad

Starting in the early 90s, Eqbal's dream was to start a new secular university of the highest academic caliber in Pakistan, which he wanted to name Khaldunia after the famous fourteenth century Arab historian Ibn Khaldun. I only met Eqbal Ahmad once: after the screening of the BBC documentary about his migration to Pakistan (which I have mentioned above) at Columbia University. Akeel Bilgrami introduced me to him and we all went to dinner together. (I'm quite sure Robin Varghese was also present.) There, I asked him how the Khaldunia project was going, and he replied that he would tell me but first I must commit to teaching there for two years. Of course, I immediately and happily did, but alas, Khaldunia never came to be. The corrupt Pakistani bureaucracy put hurdles in Eqbal's path at every step and finally even rescinded the land grant they had given him years earlier. Still, Eqbal kept trying, and during these years also became a columnist for Karachi's largest English daily, Dawn. He wrote his last column on April 25th, 1999, and died two weeks later. Eqbal really was one the most widely beloved and respected men I can think of.

Among other noteworthy insights, Eqbal Ahmad could see that by encouraging Muslim extremism in Afghanistan twenty-some years ago, the United States was nursing the seeds of a modern resurgence of fundamentalism we now understand to be the source of what has been carelessly called the Global War on Terror. Hindsight is a terrible teacher, indeed.

...as he welcomed them to the white house in 1985, President Ronald Reagan actually called the Afghan Mujahideen (the future Taliban) "the moral equivalent of America's founding fathers." At the time, they were battling the Evil Empire, so no degree of hyperbole in their praise could be considered excessive. These "moral equivalent of America's founding fathers" are now, of course, terrorists. Speaking of which, in one essay, Eqbal brilliantly unpacks the term "terrorism." As Carolee Bengelsdorf and Margaret Cerrulo explain in their introduction [to the book Selected Writings of Eqbal Ahmad]:

"Terrorism" in [Eqbal's] analysis is a floating signifier attached at will to our enemies to evoke moral revulsion. The vagueness and inconsistency of its definition, he insists, is key to its political usefulness. Official discussion will eschew, indeed disallow, any search for causes or motives, to the point where former secretary of state George Schultz, asked about the causes of Palestinian terrorism, insisted "there is no connection with any cause. Period."

3 Quarks Daily is more than a blogging website. Here is a group of young people whose contact with some of the most influential intellectuals of our day gives them a perspective on current events that more people would do well to investigate. This week's Monday Musing by Abbas Raza is a case in point. I'm not able to tell the reader in this small space all he should know about these writers and their respective subjects. All I can do is point and say if you fail to check them out the loss is more than you will ever know. Timely information and ideas are not the same as news. What passes for news is often nothing more than a voyeuristic glance at whatever catches the popular imagination because it is visually impressive (television), mildly titillating (print) or downright salacious (tabloid television and press together).

If you're surfing, keep moving and come back to this piece later when you have time to read and reflect. This is the intellectual equivalent of a freshly-baked scone (which most people have never had the pleasure to enjoy). It is best you save it for a time to savor every crumb. Here is the link.

1 comment:

carlo*62 said...

Great article you have here on Eqbal Ahmad. It's very full of historical details and be sure that it is well received here on my part. These people may not be remembered by many but those who do are certainly glad that you made mention of these people in your site.