on the railway

a long long time ago, a palmist told me that everything in my life will be hard, but i will achieve whatever it is that I wanted. just nothing will come easy. and then another person told me the same thing. No wonder I used to day dream about being a station manager of a railway station that was the last stop of a train into the himalayas.

that would be the easy life that i can never have.

in my day dream, i had two rooms in the railway station. and here, i do not embellish my young self. one room would be filled with books. the other room would be filled with mangos.

during that phase, i would often sneak out of the house at night. and hop trains. i know, it was dangerous and insane. but i was in thrall with the sound of the train as it rolls over the gap in the rail.
and the night.

i wanted that clanking silence.

if that makes any sense.

Sunday Reading for Chee Malabar

The revelation was Chee Malabar. I know, and knew, that Yogi B will be global. They are way too talented and ferocious, live – to not force themselves into every iPod on the block. They are also incredibly genuine and warm. But, it is Chee, for whom I must evangelize. Though, I had heard a few tracks before, read a profile or two – I had never talked to him. And now I have all the zeal of the newly converted. Read these lyrics and discover it too – this is one poet, artist, writer and rapper who needs your support. In fact, all my gentle readers need to go buy the albums – himalayan project and oblique brown – and then seek him out when he comes to your neck of the woods or better still, invite him to your neck of the wood. Ok go.

  • First off, a sunday reading link to myself! Nathanael Robinson and Manan Ahmed had a conversation about memory and history and they put it up for you to read. It is not anything special (if only to see how badly I write when I write ‘academic’).
  • However, I can spot excellent writing from a mile away. Wendy Doniger’s essay in the LRB, The Land East of the Asterik is profound, funny, comprehensive and just an all around must-read on IE, PIE and horses. She really is a beacon of shining light in our dim academic world.
  • Also in the LRB is Zizek’s rather merde-y letter on China and Tibet. He seems to be ill-informed about a lot of things in there – including Fareed Zakaria’s brilliance.
  • A nice overview of Palestinian cinema by Nicholas Blincoe in the Guardian.
  • MQM must be stopped from terrorizing the citizens of Karachi.
  • Finally, it appears that bloggers and netizens can now link directly to Encyclopedia Brittanica. Let’s test it: al-Ḥajjāj al-Ḥajjāj ibn Yūsuf ath-Thaqafī

Below the fold, another number from Yogi B and Natchatra from Hiphopistan.
Continue reading “Sunday Reading for Chee Malabar”


The rhymes were flowing and beat was strong. And I had a big, huge, grin through the whole night. It was the first night of Hiphopistan. I skipped the panel – as each panel skipped, adds 10 weeks to my life span – and showed up in the middle of Kabir’s set. I got to meet Yogi B and Natchatra – what great, genuine, and nice guys. Che Malabar was superb – and his Postcards from Paradise was the highlight for me. Things were political, things were tight. At one point, the taste at the back of my mouth and the incessant beat in my left ear, and I was transported to another place, long ago, in East L.A. when I went to my first hiphop concert. Ice Cube, who began the set with Assalamalaikum, mfers. Respect. Tonight, I will take pictures, and update this post. I am just happy. Long Live Desi Hiphop!

update: We will talk soon about this. Until then, enjoy the pictures and, below the fold, a couple of videos in crappy youtube (I will put up nicer streaming verisons on the hiphopistan website):
Continue reading “Hiphopistan”

Devji’s Red Mosque

The Winter 2008 issue of Public Culture covers “The Public Life of History” and has an intriguing piece by Dipesh Chakrabarty on the practice of history writing and the lessons from India. It is something that I will want to return, in the near future, for a thorough discussion. But, right now, I want to vent a bit about Faisal Devji’s Red Mosque, also appearing in the same issue. Faisal Devji has a thought-provoking style of “speculative scholarship” that hints and highlights ways of getting out of the discursive box that hems in every other analyst of our various pre and post postcolonial conundrums. I happen to mostly disagree with what he writes, but I always appreciate his unique sensibilities. One of these days, I will try and underline my entanglements with his Landscapes of Jihad: Militancy, Morality, Modernity. But, for now, let’s look at his piece in PC.

There are a string of factual mis-readings, the most egregious one being that the Red Mosque was a “co-ed” compound which “not only included large numbers of women but also put them in close proximity to men,” and that in this unique madrassah, there was “the militarization of women…and their deployment shoulder to shoulder with men.” Let me answer this, briefly: No, wrong, Nope, and Absolutely off-the-wall. And, I just got off the phone with an erstwhile female student at the seminary, just to make sure I wasn’t all confused and wrong. Jami’a Hafsa, the female seminary, was completely separate from Jam’ia Faridia, the male seminary. They had separate buildings. They were never in contact with each other; no combined rallies; no annual picnic; no campus sports day. Do you remember seeing the pictures of the ninja-warriors-for-islam? Um, did you see any men next to them? Check out this GIS and let me know when you find them fighting shoulder to shoulder. In addition, Devji argues, based on a few last interviews of Abdul Rashid, that the madrassah was not ‘conservative’, nor explicitly anti-Shi’a. Again, if one has any, even remote, understanding of the history of Jami’a Hafsa/Faridia and the connection with Darul Ifta Jamia Benori, Karachi, or if one visits the forums of the Jamia with threads such as Shia Exposed, one wouldn’t make such claims. These are not simple errors since the “mixing of gender and geneologies,” is more or less the fulcrum on which Devji’s entire argument rests. Hence, the classic blunder of “speculative scholarship” – facts are constructed after the “theory” has been solidly established – facts be damned, in fact. I will focus, some other day, in some other venue, on an examination of the “expert on jihad” phenomenon which is currently sweeping the field of South Asian history and political theory. For now, let us disentagle Devji’s convoluted logic a bit more.

Based on his spurious reading, Devji makes two theoretical points, one about Lal Masjid itself and the other about Islamic militancy:
1. Red Mosque folks were motivated by the desire to “occupy the arena of antigovernment struggle in Pakistan’s civil society” and that the “Red Mosque was linked more to the everyday and even secular practices of modern life in the region than to any religious or cult behavior.”
2. Red Mosque, particularly the case of Abdul Rashid Ghazi, is “an example of the gradual transformation or at least flattening out of Islamic militancy, which has in many parts of the world been weaned off its dependence on highly organized or institutional forms to become yet another kind of voluntary association that individuals join for their own reasons, often as part-time members rather than full time radicals”.

Devji misreads a lot of things – most importantly, he misreads the fact that the Red Mosque contingent knew P.R. and media relations; that they realized the power of spectacle. The somber force of rows upon rows of burqa-clad seminarians as an image of considerable impact does, in fact, mean that they were keyed-in to the global arena of anti-state, anti-secular, fundamentalist propaganda. But, it is a mistake to read their awareness of message politics with their fundamental cry: “Shariah or Shahadat” (Rule of Islamic Law or Martyrdom). The Message is the Message.

Red Mosque is, of course, a part of Pakistani civil society. To argue that they have “evolved” into a civil social organization is again a misreading. The operational context of any of the religious groups that have cropped up since Jamaluddin Afghani traveled down these roads is always social and civil. They don’t form a civil society organization, they are conceived in civil social terms – hence, the schooling component. Devji’s assertion that Red Mosque is a “mutation of Sunni militancy into the kind of mobilization that is neither nationalist nor in fact militant in any professional way but perhaps nongovernmental” is patently absurd. I don’t even know what and where to begin disputing that because the statement rests on his already factually inaccurate reading of Red Mosque’s history, ideology and operational structures.

However, leaving aside Red Mosque, I want to see if Devji does highlight a new development when he speaks about the “flattening out of Islamic militancy”. Devji, uses as evidence the failed suicide attacks in Glasgow and London in 2007. He believes that since these professional doctors1 concocted this scheme during their private time, hence, it must mean that they are absolutely amateurs engaging in “extracurricular” activity. This “amateurism” speaks to Devji of Islamic militancy entering a “pluralistic kind of civil society activism.” Well, now. The scholarship that I have read on Al Qaeda (admittedly not much, not my cup of tea) has always highlighted the fact that it operates on the distributed computing model with a host of quasi-independent functionaries operating in rigid, hierarchical organizations. Which is why, unlike other historical examples of anarchists and terrorists, AQ relies so heavily on coded but publicly accessible rhetoric. Their aims and ideologies aren’t “secret” but are disseminated as far as possible. Hence, the teams of experts on our end, trying to find the hidden messages in this or that released video from these terrorists. These videos get abundant airplay, easily discoverable on youtube; forums proliferate wherein folks can divine secret strengths from their sheikh. What I see is, then, the easy availability of mediating messages that functional, yet disturbed, individuals can glom onto and attempt their own interventions into global injustices against their perceived community. This points out only that there exist structural inequalities in societies that permit individuals to “disappear” and “re-emerge” in a new form. Or it may point towards major psychological damage. I don’t know. Was Seung-Hui Cho a case in Devji’s point?

The AQ remains just as much, or as little, professional as it ever was. The recent spate of suicide bombings in Lahore and the assassination of Benazir Bhutto, in fact, point to the very meticulous and professional nature of such militancy. These were sophisticated operations. Not civil society activism. Which, by the way, is a particularly offensive way of categorizing terrorism that has claimed thousands of innocents lives across the world.

I know that there should be a space for such “academic” and “psycho-theoretical” discussions. But do we really need to muddy these waters, even more?

  1. Devji writes, “Naturally some kind of relationship must have existed between the public and private lives of these doctors, perhaps based on the notions of altruism and self-sacrifice that are meant to inform medical as much as terrorist practices, but my point is that the latter remained distinctly amateurish in character”. I respond, “Huh??” []

About Edward Said

From Jane Kramer’s The Petition: Israel, Palestine, and a tenure battle at Barnard, New Yorker, April 21, 2008:

Hannah Temple, a MEALAC major who graduated last June, told me, “I left Columbia sorry to have had my academic experience in that department. You couldn’t get anything done; it was so bitterly divided. And then there was all the outside instigation, like the film. It didn’t resonate with me, but to some of my friends it did. I think now that it wasn’t really about Columbia, or even Massad. It was about Edward Said. It was as if all those forces had been waiting until he was gone to make a case against him.
[emphasis added]

Irwin, Robert. Dangerous Knowledge: Orientalism and Its Discontents. London: Overlook Press, 2006

Ibn Warraq. Defending the West: A Critique of Edward Said’s Orientalism. Amherst: Prometheus Books, 2008