At Sea


Rudolph says to the sheriff,
“For five long years you’ve tried.
And you can search as long as you like,
you can try with all your might,
but I’ll see you in the sweet bye and bye.
I’ll see you in the sweet bye and bye.”

Sheriff says to Eric Rudolph,
“Through caves and abandoned mines,
We’ll search through scraps and the old feed sacks.
In every old place you could hide.”
– Ballad of Eric Rudolph, Michael Holland (2008)

For a time, Mr. Rudolph’s success as a fugitive reframed the conflict, from criminal vs. the law to local boy vs. federal intruders. It made him a celebrated underdog, with T-shirts being sold bearing the phrases “Run Rudolph Run” and “Hide and Seek Champion.”
– New York Times, April 9, 2005

Eric Rudolph disappeared for five years in the United States. He planted bombs and killed civilians at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, family planning clinics, and a gay club in 1998 and then, went on the run. It was hard to believe, sitting in the States, that someone can disappear like that. We were all in the known universe. I don’t believe at his capture, much was made of him. John Ashcroft called him “the most notorious American fugitive”. This was in 2003. The coverage, which I followed, didn’t make any connection between Rudolph and terrorism or between the plausibility of local help and Rudolph’s long evasion. Rudolph belonged to some other America – not the one where on May 1st, 2003 George W. Bush had declared “Mission Accomplished” and where John Ashcroft was busy busting potheads. Rudolph was some lingering story – one about battles long over. His acts, his flight, his evasion or his capture had little to offer us.


Long before, he had become a hero in much of the Islamic world
– New York Times, May 2, 2011.

It is wrong to claim that Osama b. Laden was irrelevant long before he was killed. He wasn’t. He represented, and represents, hundreds of thousands of lives lost since December 2001 when US forces reportedly failed to capture or kill him. He disappeared for the next decade but that absence was filled with wars in Iraq and Pakistan – wars waged on the heads of civilians, among urban centers, and at the cost of trillions. Just the technological developments of killing from the skies accomplished in this decade are mind or moral numbing. No, Osama b. Laden was never irrelevant and he was never off the script. Sure, George W. Bush or Pervez Musharraf told us that the battle was now bigger, the stakes higher and the cost greater, but they were empty words. The deaths of September 11th, 2001 and the destructions that followed hold us accountable – to remember that the cost of those lives began in a bid for this one life. So, we must deal with that life and the narratives it spawned. NYT claims that he was a “hero in much of the Islamic world”. The obituary moves on, and we are left with that “fact”. What are we to make of it? Heroes, after all, were gods and immortals.


The code name for Bin Laden was “Geronimo.”
– New York Times, May 2, 2010.

I recently spoke at a conference in Chicago about teaching South Asia critically and I concluded with:

To tell the story of America’s entangled history with South Asia is the first and most basic step in teaching South Asia critically. Elihu Yale, who lived and worked in India for nearly three decades with the British East India Company from 1670 to 1699 donated to the Collegiate School of Connecticut three bales of goods- Madras cotton, silk and other textiles from India – laying the foundation of their first building. The first seated chair of Sanskrit emerged at Yale. In 1800 when Alexander Dow negotiated yet another treaty with the Sindhi Mirs to establish ports and harbors on the Arabian Sea, he specifically noted that Americans were to kept out of Sindh. The1856 Guano Islands Act passed by Congress claimed for the United States any “unclaimed” island with sufficient supplies of bird waste (to be used as fertiliser by American farmers) by any American entrepreneur, and this annexation to be defended by the US Navy. The list of island territories annexed, claimed or contested – Cuba, Puerto Rico, Guam, Hawaii, the Philippines, and so on – is long and scattered around the globe. But that act of Congress is also part of the legal framework that created Guantanamo Bay and that enables drone assassinations in “remote frontier” regions of Pakistan where there “is no rule of law”. The opium trade network which sustained the East India Company coffers in the mid-19th century by supplying Bengal-raised opium to China was remitted through American cotton and that money seeped right into the Southern slave economy.

These entanglements disrupt the teleologies of postcolonial study in the United States, and they complicate the relationship of the academic to the funding bodies, to the region, and to the student. The politics of provincializing Europe are all too evident but the necessity to provincialize America bears laying out. We must look at the American state-war on the Native American populations – decreed explicitly by the post-Civil War Congress. We need to look at the barbary Muslim pirates in whose encounters American power first went ashore. We need to look at the American imperial gaze that stretched out towards the West and called it the open Frontier and sought to settle it, sought to categorize its people, its histories, build ethnographic portraits of the good Indians and the bad Indians. It is of utmost importance to our understanding of the American engagement with the Tribe post 2005 that we recall the work of John Wesley Powell and the Bureau of American Ethnology. We need to pay as much attention to Locke, Jefferson, Whitman, Turner, Wilson as we do to Hegel or Heidegger or Bentnick or Curzon.

The “Indians” or the “hostiles” as they were once named remain an indelible part of our national myth. The myopia we extend out to the caves of Afghanistan and Pakistan exists in North Carolina, Alabama and Oklahoma. We have programmed forgetfulness in our civic and political lives. We have enabled our academic lives to non-entities in the public sphere.


I go myself, as agent of the British Government, to a Court of the language and manners of which I am utterly ignorant, and to accomplish that of which the most sanguine have no hope. It is simply a matter of duty .
– James Abbott, Narrative of a Journey from Heraut to Khiva, Moscow and St Petersburgh (1843)

Abbottabad was named to memorialize the service of Sir James Abbott, commissioner of the Hezara region. One can say that he became immortal.


So I would have no objection if we picked out a country that is a likely suspect and bombed some oil fields, refineries, bridges, highways, industrial complexes, airports, military bases, and anything else that is of great value but doesn’t shelter innocent civilians. If it happens to be the wrong country, well, too bad, but it’s likely it did something to deserve it anyway. Or would in the future. And its leaders, as well as other troublemakers, would get the message: Terrorism is too costly a game.

President Clinton says we should be cautious about placing blame or taking action. OK. But when the time comes for punishment, it wouldn’t be an eye for eye. That’s just a swap. We should take both eyes, ears, nose, the entire anatomy. That’s how to make a lasting impression.
– Mike Royko, April 21, 1995, Chicago Tribune

Salman Rushdie wants Pakistan to be declared a terrorist nation and expelled from the “comity of nations”. To Rushdie a 6 ft 4in man wandering around a country of 5 ft 8in plebeians without getting noticed is inconceivable and, hence, the entire 180 million must pay the price. They were all in the know. Keeping mum even as drones kept killing their lots; even as the Taliban kept blowing up hotels, police compounds, intelligence agency offices, shrines and hospitals; even as the US kept endorsing and supporting dictatorial power over them; even as the US kept funding their military to the tune of tens of billions while “non-humanitarian aid” was pegged to a billion or so; even as an earthquake and a flood shook their geography loose. The millions of Pakistan kept their quiet, maybe giggling in anticipation of whenever Uncle Sam would catch them in the act. Now they have been caught! The ISI knew! This validates all the drones missiles! It means MORE DRONE MISSILES! Yeah. That is what it means. They were all in it, Rushdie. Every stinking lying one of them.

Royko wrote what I quote above after the Oklahoma City Bombing. I remember that morning. I was ironing my clothes for my night shift at the restaurant. I remember Connie Chung breathlessly telling me that men of Middle Eastern hue had been seen fleeing the scene. She was literally out of breath: The war in the Middle East has finally come to the United States. Royko was similarly shocked and convinced. It wasn’t important that almost immediately the call had went out to look for white caucasian suspects. Later, in October 2001, we kept hearing that Timothy McVeigh got his training or his weapon or something from Iraq. Royko’s wish came true – we got both ears, nose, the entire anatomy. Maybe Rushdie’s wish would come true as well. Who remembers Geronimo anyways?

27 Replies to “At Sea”

  1. Dear Dr Ahmed,

    Thank you for that very interesting mention of Elihu Yale and Indian cotton in the US.

    I’ve been reading up on the history of cotton cultivation in colonial south asia and have come across fascinating references to American cotton ‘engineers’ (people like Fenwick and Boyle and a few others) who were sent in by the East India company to experiment with varieties of cotton – the European and also the American varieties. Most of these experiments were unsuccessful but the one in Pegu (burma) turned out better. Cotton of course, is also inextricably linked to how the railways developed in south asia – esp western India.

  2. So you would like ‘One without sin to cast the first stone’!
    Why all such issues touch some raw nerve (I remember your post about Granta’s Pakistan issue). I can understand that it would really require a brave effort to survive this onslaught of media attention and surely most of them will go for sensational reporting but does that in any way take away the facts or they are to be discussed in living/drawing rooms of Pakistanis (outsiders are a.k.a. Orientalist and will never understands our culture!).
    It reminds me of a couplet (do not remember it completely) “Mein jo utaroon unki nakab, woh mera nakaab cheerna koste hain’

  3. Washington gave Pakistan the name of the courier in 2007.
    Don’t tell me you can’t find him or his property.
    How did the wife of OBL get to him from Yemen in 2005.
    The Courier was spotted by US on the Peshawar road.
    Mr. Rudolph was hiding in the jungles of carolina, if OBL
    was found in some cave then you would have a point.

    As for Salmon Rushdie, he is a pakistani citizen who tries to pretend he is Indian.
    His opinion amounts as much as Mr. Roy or Tariq Ali.

  4. I’m so grateful you share your thoughts with us. You’re an amazing teacher to students you’ve never met. Thank you Sepoy.

  5. I really wanted to say something amazing in gratitude, but I can’t. You used up all the great words, and all I am left with is awe.

  6. So your logic is that Mr. Rushdie shall not blame a suicide bomber for terrorism because he is also the victim of his own suicide bombing…
    Language & content are two diff things you shall marry them

  7. yar, karachikhatmal: kia kehne
    will, this qualify as a fan-boy comment? kia kehne, muqarar muqarar!

  8. you know what i just realised?

    there’s not enough fan-boy comments on this blog. i mean, genuinely fan-boy, not people writing complimentary comments only for the purpose of dealing with their thesaurus induced tourettes.

    perhaps they do this because the fan-boy comment is a fraught genre, as it immediately makes the intended recipient feel a bit weird and not sure how to deal with being treated as a celebrity when they don’t even have a sex tape out on the internet. and at some level, the fan-boy is aware of that problem, and seeks to gain transcendence from stalker-stereotyping by brandishing their comment with laboured and contrived adornments.

    well, not for me. here’s my comment.

    suck on that rushdie!

    (on an aside, if you ever manage that much speculated merger with Perez Hilton, can we have a nasty tell all using a Padma-as-Pakistan analogy?)

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