Al-Biruni on India

January 31, 2010 § 1 Comment

M. Shahid Alam

Painting - Ajanta Caves

Speak the truth,
even if it were against yourselves.

Quran (4:134)

It was my master, Abu Sahl, who led me on to it.
“Write what you know about the Hindus,” he said,
“There are people who want to converse with them,
To understand their religion, science and literature.
We only have hear-say, a farrago of materials never
Sifted for accuracy. Give us facts with analysis.”

And so I put my heart to it, starting with Sanskrit.
This wasn’t an easy undertaking, without grammar
And dictionaries. I traveled through their country
Quite a bit, talking to learned Brahmans, and spared
Neither trouble nor money collecting manuscripts.
Often I invited their scholars from far-away places–
Kashmir and Kashi–to come and work with me
In Ghazni. I have endeavored in writing this book
Not to be polemical. I intend this account of India
To be nothing but a simple historic record of facts,
At once comprehensive and objective. I present
To you the theories of the Hindus, exactly as they
See them, supporting my explanations of them
With ample quotations. If any of this strikes you
As heathenish, then try to understand that such
Are the beliefs of the Hindus, and they themselves
Are best able to defend it. This book should suffice
Anyone who wants to understand the Hindus,
And discuss with them their myths, metaphysics,
And mathematics; their astronomy, arithmetic,
And astrology; their codes, customs, and conceits
On the very basis of their own civilization.

First published in Swan, 2004

–M. Shahid Alam is professor of economics at Northeastern University. He is author of Israeli Exceptionalism: The Destabilizing Logic of Zionism (Palgrave Macmillan, 2009). Write to him at alqalam02760@yahoo.com.

What Comes Next

January 31, 2010 § 8 Comments

This is the extended version of a piece published in today’s Sunday Herald.

Erdogan reacts to his war criminal neighbour

A strange calm prevails on the Middle Eastern surface. Occasionally a wave breaks through from beneath – the killing of an Iranian scientist, a bomb targetting Hamas’s representative to Lebanon (which instead kills three Hizbullah men), a failed attack on Israeli diplomats travelling through Jordan – and psychological warfare rages, as usual, between Israel and Hizbullah, but the high drama seems to have shifted for now to the east, to Afghanistan and Pakistan. The Arab world (with the obvious exception of Yemen) appears to be holding its breath, waiting for what comes next.

Iraq’s civil war is over. The Shia majority, after grievous provocation from takfiri terrorists, and after its own leaderhip made grievous mistakes, decisively defeated the Sunni minority. Baghdad is no longer a mixed city but one with a large Shia majority and with no-go zones for all sects. In their defeat, a large section of the Sunni resistance started working for their American enemy. They did so for reasons of self-preservation and in order to remove Wahhabi-nihilists from the fortresses which Sunni mistakes had allowed them to build.

The collapse of the national resistance into sectarian civil war was a tragedy for the region, the Arabs and the entire Muslim world. The fact that it was partly engineered by the occupier does not excuse the Arabs. Imperialists will exploit any weaknesses they find. This is in the natural way of things. It is the task of the imperialised to rectify these weaknesses in order to be victorious.

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She

January 31, 2010 § 3 Comments

She
sits on the smaller square gravestone
throwing tiny pebbles of fine firestone
at me as she recites Quranic quatrains
after a pause that follows each throw.

She
looks at the azure horizon in the West
whispering of the agony in her hearts
one under her breast another in womb
after my plea for a midnight flight fails.

She
draws mud circles on the graveyard soil
calling each by a hundred names of God
each an invocation for my safe passage
after night falls and death comes for us.

She
leaves me standing on the grave of hope
moving towards a distant cliff in the dark
to end the two lives and a love despised
after she opts for shame rather than him.

JKS Makokha is a Kenyan writer living in Berlin, Germany. He is the author of Reading M.G. Vassanji: A Contextual Approach to Asian African Fiction (2009).  His poetry has been published in the Atonal Poetry Review, African Writing, The Journal of New Poetry and the Postcolonial Text and Stylus Poetry Journal.

The Veil, Again

January 30, 2010 § 66 Comments

Yes, some women who cover their heads smile, too.

Some strands of feminism have a long history of serving as adjuncts of Western imperialism. Today they also enable domestic prejudice. Gore Vidal once mocked George Bush’s idea of democracy promotion as being synonymous with: ‘Be free! Or I’ll kill you’. In a similar vein, some feminists today want to ‘liberate’ Arab-Muslim women by constraining their freedoms. These women can’t possibly know what they really want, you see. The European feminists, like Bush, know what’s best for them. What could my sister — who studied at a co-ed university (in Peshawar!) but turned to wearing the hijab after moving to Canada — know about her interests? She must be told by the enlightened Westerner. She must be liberated.

Ignorance and racism combine in this potent form of messianism to sanction prejudice which increasingly targets Europe’s immigrant communities. Like the Orientalists of yore, this brand of feminism insists on seeing the brown or black woman in the subordinate role, wistfully awaiting a Westerner liberator. They are childlike, they must be protected in the same manner that a responsible parent protects an unruly nestling. They must be saved from the hijab, or — God forbid! — the veil. To protect their freedom of choice, their freedom to choose must be revoked.

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Beyond the praise for Paul Kagame

January 29, 2010 § 3 Comments

Rwandan Tutsi leader turned President Paul Kagame is a popular man in the West. And why not? In his ten years in office he has lead his war-ravaged nation through a period of unprecedented economic growth which has turned Rwanda into a playground for foreign investors. At the same time, he emphasizes self-reliance and efficient government while supporting populist spending programs that could make Rwanda the only African nation to meet the UN Millennium Development Goals (not that he is a fan of the UN, which he frequently criticizes for its response to the 1994 civil war). His administration in Kigali has admittedly wracked up a deficit that would ordinarily draw frowns from World Bank bureaucrats but in the case of Rwanda, the organization that usually demands drastic budget cuts is underwriting a litany of government programs. It helps that some of Kagame’s greatest admirers are Bill Clinton, Tony Blair, and Starbucks magnate Howard Schultz (1). American evangelist Rick Warren (2) considers him something of an inspiration and even Bill Gates has invested in what has been called Africa’s success story. Yes, Western liberals, reactionary evangelicals, and capitalist carpetbaggers alike tout Paul Kagame as the herald of a new, self-reliant African prosperity.

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And they call this man eloquent…

January 29, 2010 § 5 Comments

‘The middle east is obviously an issue that has plagued… the region… for … centuries.’

It appears the word ‘occupation’ is not a part of this blathering milquetoast’s vocabulary. (Kudos to the courageous questioner, who, I am told, was Laila Abdelaziz of the University of South Florida.)

The person he reminded me most of was this:

Feeling the hate in London

January 28, 2010 § 1 Comment

The University of Exeter’s European Muslim Research Centre has published an important new study which claims that hate crimes are on the rise against Muslims in UK, encouraged by mainstream politicians and sections of the media. The study — ‘Islamophobia and anti-Muslim Hate Crime: A London Case Study’ (.pdf) — was carried out by Jonathan Githens-Mazer and Robert Lambert, a former Scotland Yard counter-terrorism officer. In the introduction, they write that their past research suggested that

the popular and pejorative notions of politically active Muslim Londoners as subversive and sectarian threats did not match the reality on the ground… the UK government’s strategy to prevent violent extremism has at times been undermined by advisors, most notably the Quilliam Foundation, who target mainstream London-based Muslim organisations as subversive threats when the evidence suggests they are often credible and effective opponents of violent extremism.

They add that the report provides ‘prima facie and empirical evidence to demonstrate that assailants of Muslims are invariably motivated by a negative view of Muslims they have acquired from either mainstream or extremist nationalist reports or commentaries in the media’.

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