21 May 2009

Critical perspectives on global power

Nermeen Shaikh’s scholarly work of non-fiction The Present As History: Critical Perspectives on Global Power is probably not intended for non-scholars like me. The book is a selection of interviews with 13 leading contemporary thinkers from the social sciences... discussing how the social sciences affect global power. The interviews are erudite and require much concentrated reading. Moreover, the reader is expected to be (already) well-versed in subjects as varied as Islam, Economics, International Affairs, Anthropology, Human Rights, Feminism and Post-Colonial History. As you can guess, I’m struggling with it.

Meanwhile, on YouTube, I came upon a short interview of Nermeen Shaikh on News Weakly - a TV programme from Pakistan hosted by Sami Shah. The interview, while introducing Ms Shaikh’s book The Present As History: Critical Perspectives on Global Power, presents a perspective on how the United States and the West view a concept like ‘war on terror’... and how foolish and dangerous that view can be for the rest of the world.

19 May 2009

An end to war?

“State television showed hundreds of corpses scattered around the battlefield and floating in a nearby lagoon as the armed forces combed the ruins where the Tigers made their last stand.”
[Quote reproduced from an article in the Economist, 18 May 2009, titled An end to the war?]

As I read reports on the recent ‘end to conventional war’ in Sri Lanka between the LTTE and the Sri Lankan government in which God knows how many millions of Sinhalese and Tamil people have died over the past 25 years, I wonder… and I wonder… and I give up.

I give up because I cannot make sense of this ‘war’ we humans wage against one another. I give up because I feel ashamed of what I’ve become: a cold and callous observer of meaningless death and the politics that rules this world in the name of freedom and national security.

13 May 2009


There has been, and still is, so much talk and literature on the 9/11 WTC incident from the American perspective that one often forgets how that incident has affected others around the world.

To start with, there is a continuing American suspicion of Arabs and virtually anybody with a Muslim name or anyone who may look like an Arab – including, foolishly, Hindus and Sikhs from India – and the fear it generates both in the West and in Muslims. Then, there is America’s ‘War on Terror’ – an idea which is equally abstract and absurd, shifting strategies from Afghanistan to Iraq and back to Afghanistan, with no specific result in sight.

On the other hand, there is Islamic fundamentalism – a metaphor, at least according to the West, for old-world regressive thinking and practice, made acutely prominent by the deeds of the Taliban in Afghanistan and the Mutawas in Saudi Arabia. To these and many other Muslims around the world, there is a suspicion that America and the white Europeans are really the oppressors, while they are the persecuted lot.

This point and counterpoint of suspicion plays in the hearts of people from both sides of the ‘war’: the aggressors and the victims. Each living in their ‘reality’ of what the ‘truth’ is… while terrorism continues to take centre-stage.

12 May 2009

The Reluctant Fundamentalist

At a cafĂ© in Lahore, a bearded Pakistani man corners an American with a beseeching question, “Excuse me, sir, but may I be of assistance?”; and so begins Mohsin Hamid’s tale of The Reluctant Fundamentalist. Then, in the next 180-odd pages, we live through the Pakistani’s life as he pours out his heart, chapter by chapter, to the unknown American.

We learn that the Pakistani’s name is Changez; that, not too long ago, he was in America, studying in Princeton and then working in one of the most reputed management consulting firms there; that, he was in love with a beautiful white American woman; that, due to a series of events not in his control, and in spite of the loving support of his family and friends, his life comes crashing down to a bitter end… bringing him back to Lahore and to this meeting with an American stranger.

Does this sound real? You bet it does! And Mohsin Hamid weaves the tale of The Reluctant Fundamentalist admirably. The tale of The Reluctant Fundamentalist is a confession, written in first person in such polite, beseeching and convincing language that I can understand why the unknown American couldn’t walk out of this conversation with Changez. I certainly hung on to every word of his until I finished reading the book. I’ve seldom read a book that is so engrossing.

The Reluctant Fundamentalist is really a tale of an immigrant’s loss of love, hope and innocence. But, what’s also interesting about The Reluctant Fundamentalist is that author Hamid presents a unique perspective of a normal Pakistani’s response to the world’s response to global terrorism and how this ‘whole enchilada’ of global terrorism and retribution, and the fear that it envelopes us with, changes the lives of even those who are non-participants… forever.