Ghazal

by M. Shahid Alam

A night reading Rumi fills ancient wineglasses.
By day speed & freeway suck God out of me.

I have stayed up all night thinking of you.
Wall Street & City leech love out of me.

Who is my brother if the world is a village?
Jet and internet pluck my roots out of me.

If earth goes toxic, let’s move out to Mars.
This devil optimism takes the heart out of me.

When blue sky and sun wrap me in their arms,
Shähid, this friendship takes the dread out of me.

M. Shahid Alam teaches economics at Northeastern University in Boston. He is the author of Israeli Exceptionalism (Palgrave, 2010).  His poems and Ghalib translations have appeared in Kenyon Review(forthcoming), Critical Muslim (forthcoming), Clapboard House, Prairie Schooner, Chicago Review, Beloit Poetry Journal, Paintbrush, Black Bear Review, West Coast Review, Marlboro Review, Journal of South Asian Literature, Kimera, Sufi, Swan, Chowk, Blanket and Pulse.

Has Imran Khan’s Political Tsunami Hit Pakistani Shores?

by M. Shahid Alam

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I have never had the patience for long-winded novels, and much less for memoirs, but I am glad I persuaded myself to read Imran Khan’s Pakistan: A Personal History. Now that Tehreek-e-Insaaf , the political party founded and led by Imran Khan, gathers momentum – after many years in the political wilderness – and may yet grow to challenge the established political parties in the next elections, it is time to take a closer look at the man who leads this party, and promises to restore justice and dignity to Pakistan’s long-suffering but mostly passive population.

Once I had gotten past the Prologue – which I thought did not belong at the beginning of the book – Khan’s narrative never lost its power to sustain my interest. The book takes the reader through many unexpected shifts in the protagonist’s life – from cricket to charity work, from charity work to politics, from the life of a celebrity to a life of piety, from disdain for Islam to a deepening respect for its richness and depth, from contempt (a colonial legacy common to Pakistan’s elites) for ordinary Pakistanis to a growing concern for their tormented lives, from wilting shyness before audiences to a determination to face the glare of public life, from growing anxiety about Pakistan’s problems to an unshakable resolve to do something about them; etc. In short, the book takes the reader through the life of an extraordinary man, at first fully immersed in the privileges of his class and his cricket celebrity but slowly turning inwards, questioning the colonial mindset of his own privileged class, angry at the limitless corruption of Pakistan’s rulers, and, finally, reaching resolution in his commitment to take Pakistan back from its corrupt elites. A politician with Imran Khan’s record would be rare in Western ‘democracies.’  In a country like Pakistan, mired for decades in the corruption of rapacious elites, he is an anomaly – an outlier. Should the Pakistanis embrace Imran Khan, should they give him the chance to pick and lead the nation’s political team, this could be a game-changer for their country.

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Shahid Alam’s Destabilising Logic of Zionism

This review of Shahid Alam’s indispensable book was written for Holy Land Studies.

M. Shahid Alam’s latest book “Israeli Exceptionalism: The Destabilising Logic of Zionism” is a fascinating historical analysis, densely detailed and referenced, of the nature and trajectory of Jewish nationalism. It is bracingly honest, dispensing with the usual Western pieties to describe three elements of what Edward Said called Israel’s “ideology of difference.” These are, firstly, the notion of Jewish chosenness and divine right to Palestine; secondly, the ‘miraculous’ creation and survival of the state; and thirdly, the uniquely tragic history of the Jewish people.

Many studies have deconstructed the first two myths. Less attention has been lavished on countering the third, the “lachrymose historiography” of the Jews (in Salo Baron’s words) and its employment to neutralise criticism of the Zionist project. Alam argues persuasively that Zionism was not simply a response to virulent anti-Semitism but also, crucially, the result of Jewish power.

Until the rise of fascism, the trend of Jewish involvement in modern Europe was one of phenomenal success. This is despite recurring episodes of anti-Semitism, particularly in the east. The European Jewish population increased more than tenfold in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries (the general population increase was by a factor of 3.3). In the same period, Jews moved into the West’s urban power centres. Ironically, anti-Semitic discrimination had “endowed the Jews disproportionately with those assets that would give them vital advantages in Europe’s emerging capitalist societies.” By the early 19th Century, Jews owned 30 of 52 private banks in Berlin. In Vienna in 1900, 62% of lawyers, half the doctors and over half the journalists were Jews. An important strata of Jews now had both money and access to political and cultural elites.

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Violent Logic: A Review of M. Shahid Alam’s Israeli Exceptionalism: The Destabilizing Logic of Zionism

People have been against both the idea and practice of Zionism since its inception.  Zionism is an ideology that has never earned the support of all Jews, and one that has never been accepted by the vast majority of Palestinians, Arabs, and Muslims.  Zionism has likewise failed to achieve significant support in the so-called Third World, and has been almost uniformly rejected by black nationalists inside the United States.  Yet Zionism has been successful insofar as its desire to create a Jewish-majority nation-state has been achieved.  Despite its discursive self-image as a liberation movement, Zionist practice is colonialist and brutally violent.

In his latest book, Israeli Exceptionalism:  The Destabilizing Logic of Zionism (Palgrave Macmillan), M. Shahid Alam explores these paradoxes with great skill and insight.  Israeli Exceptionalism takes its place among a series of recent books that question the logic of Zionism.  Most of these books argue in favor of a one-state solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict; inherent in that argument is a rejection of Zionism.  Alam takes a slightly different approach in his rejection of Zionism, one that is global in scope.  He points out that “[a]s an exclusionary settler colony, Israel does not stand alone in the history of European expansion overseas, but it is the only one of its kind in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries” (14).  Israel, in other words, is an anomaly:  a settler colonial society still in thrall of the ideologies and racism of the nineteenth century.  As with the European colonization of North America, Zionism conceptualizes itself as an exceptional force of good in history.

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Elaine Hagopian Reviews Israeli Exceptionalism

Israeli Exceptionalism: The Destabilizing Logic of Zionism (Palgrave Macmillan, November 10, 2009). Publisher’s link.

by Elaine Hagopian

Cover Image GIFFor those unfamiliar with the extraordinary evolution of Israeli exceptionalism emanating from its Zionist narrative and assuring Israel’s incredible success as a colonial settler state, M. Shahid Alam’s book is the one to read.  He has recorded a compelling, uniquely comprehensive and enlightening historical analysis of the inherently destabilizing dynamic of Zionism.  Of particular note are his detailed Chapters Nine and Thirteen.

In Chapter Nine, he documents the constellation of Jewish factors that came together in the 19th century which assured Zionist success: the spread of Jewish intellectuals and professionals across major cities in Europe; Jewish population growth to 16.7 million in 1939 which could root a nationalist movement; business acumen and ownership of major banks and a strong media presence; growth of interchange with other Jewish leaders contributing to a sense of community – important considering that Jews had not previously formed a sense of nation according to Alam; and as European nationalism grew, Jews were affected by the idea though they had no majority presence in any one state which could be claimed by them.  Historical anti-Semitism prodded the Jewish elites toward formulation of the Zionist project even as Jews were moving out of the ghettos of a liberalized Europe.  Given their distribution throughout Europe and without a territorial base of their own, the Zionist sought and captured the needed “mother” country to implement their colonial settler state in Palestine.  This they found in the U.K initially and then in the U.S. with periodic support by other countries such as France.

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Zionists Against Zion?

By M. Shahid Alam

Zionists have worked hard and cleverly for their successes, but their cause has been greatly advanced at each stage by the logic of their colonial project aimed at the creation of a Jewish settler state at the very center of the Islamicate.

Most importantly, Zionism created a geopolitical realignment of great importance. It brought together two strands of the Western world, previously at odds – Christians and Jews – to join their forces against the Islamicate.

At every stage in its history, Israel has ratcheted its power by unleashing forces, even negative forces, that it has then turned to its advantage. Power, intelligence and luck have played into this.

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Sam Bahour on Shahid Alam

We are publishing a series of reviews and responses to PULSE contributor M. Shahid Alam’s latest work, Israeli Exceptionalism: The Destabilizing Logic of Zionism. I would recommend this clear-sighted book to any student of the origins and trajectory of Zionism. Here, Sam Bahour describes his own provocative engagement with Israeli Exceptionalism.

Israeli Exceptionalism: The Destabilizing Logic of Zionism peels the onion of Zionism to reveal how deeply flawed this ideology was and is and how it has become a destabilizing factor which puts people of the region — and arguably beyond — in serious jeopardy.

Israeli Exceptionalism is not only a must read, it is a must-think-about book. To add intellectual spice, every chapter starts with a few quotes of prominent individuals related to the topic at hand. Reading these quotes alone speak volumes of the human tragedy that Zionism evokes.

Continue reading “Sam Bahour on Shahid Alam”