Naim Sahib, one of my teachers at Chicago, has a must-must-must read “rant” (as he puts it) in Outlook India. I really think it is one of his best and critically lays bare a key disconnect between the intellectual engagements within Urdu and English presses when it comes to matters of Muslims and Islam. I think almost everything he writes, holds true for the case of Pakistan. Please read, print, and frame it.
C. M. Naim, “The Deadening Silence of Good Intentions“, Outlook India, Nov 18, 2011
Let me put my argument this way. In Kerala, for example, local Muslims at all levels of the society not only speak the language of the region but also think, argue, and communicate—with each other as well as their non-Muslim peers—in that language. The same can be said to be true for the Muslims of so many other states. A Muslim professor of sociology in Bengal will not only be conversant in Bengali but also very much aware of what was being said or written in Bengali on the issues that should be of concern to him. Likewise, a Muslim intellectual in Gujarat would not hesitate to jump into some cultural debate in the Gujarati press because she would most likely be a part of its readership. These persons of my examples are unlikely to be entirely circumscribed by the English media in their regions. That situation, I aver, does not exist in Delhi, U.P., and Hyderabad. (I leave out Bihar and Madhya Pradesh since I know nothing about the Urdu press there.) Over the last five or six decades, the educated Urdu-speaking Muslim elite in Delhi and U.P., particularly those equipped with higher education in social sciences and thus expected to hold and express considered views on socio-political and economic issues, have become cut off from the Urdu-medium discourse around them. Those who seriously read and write on contemporary issues do so almost exclusively in English. That disconnect does not affect their wellbeing either professionally or personally. Most remain oblivious of it, and a few cheerfully so. Many of them, in my experience, express a little disdain when Urdu press comes up in conversation. Of course, that is to their loss. But, more importantly, it is a greater loss to the general Muslim population of the region.