Peccavistan

I am currently re-reading Shame. Last I read it, I was maybe 17 or 18. I remember liking parts of it and not understanding any of it. It is an insider novel, drowning in in-jokes, self-allusions, winks and sad nods. I never realized how sad it is – Rushdie pokes into the narrative (in a rather laborious and “showing the seams” kind of way) and just laments those that made this country of shameless religiosity possible. A number of times, he mentions that it isn’t Pakistan but a country set at an angle to it. Evoking the sin or shame in the apocryphal Peccavi, Rushdie tagged shame itself as the generative force at the heart of Pakistan.1 That conceit holds, for a while, but falls apart in the middle of the novel, and it has fallen apart outside of it. I don’t think shame or honor appear in public or private discourses, as the driving cultural forces in or about Pakistan. That takalluf generation, which sparked Rushdie’s imagination, is not around much these days.

The pun Peccavi – I have Sind/Sinned – works with an understanding of shame coupled with the acquisition of a particular piece of geography (of the state of Sindh that contains Karachi in current day Pakistan). This pun of conquest has long been attributed to Charles Napier, but in fact he never said it. Indeed, the notion of sin did not enter into the emotional registers which informed his actions. Charles Napier (1782-1853) was a hermit-turned-warrior, heady with the crusading spirit that afflicted some of the veterans of the European wars of early 19th century. He was clear that the common people of Sindh (Hindus or Muslims) had to be “saved” from the despotic Muslim Mirs of Talpur. Whether there was just cause or not, Sindh had to be taken by the East India Company (EIC), and redemption – for him, as a great General, for the EIC, as a civilizing force, and for Sindh, as a country rendered anew in the Faith – awaited.

I made up my mind that although war had not been declared (nor is it necessary to declare it), I would at once march upon Imangurh and prove to the whole Talpur family of both Khyrpor and Hyderabad that neither their deserts, nor their negotiations can protect them from the British troops. The Ameers will fly over the Indus, and we shall become masters of the left bank of the river from Mitenkote to the mouth; peace with civilization will then replace war and barbarism. My conscience will be light, for I see no wrong in so regulating a set of tyrants who are themselves invaders, and have in sixty years nearly destroyed the country. The people hate them.2

In Napier’s view, a particular violence and terror haunted the valleys of Sindh. It was the Muslim menace in power – the Mirs were the “greatest ruffians,” “imbeciles,” possessing “zenanas filled with young girls torn from their friends, and treated when in the hareem with revolting barbarity,” and even prone to enjoying the occasional human “sacrifice”. His civilizing mission, for which he invented a casus belli, was to counter this terror and violence. The East India Company, and later the Raj, clung to this reading of the Sindh principality, declaring several “Wars On” dacoits, thugs, criminal tribes and the like – the terrorism of Pir Pagaro’s Hur being a late example portrayed in the former British administrator H.T. Lambrick’s novel, The Terrorist (1972).

This violence which was projected onto and into the Sindhis by the colonial voice masked, however, the colonial violence itself. The violence of breaking treaties established since 1801, of invasions, the killing and capturing of a principality on false pretenses (the Mirs were accused of seeking a conspiratorial connection with the Russians or the Afghanis against the EIC). The terror is clear in the dispatches of the Mirs – plaintively begging for some credence from the British for their legitimacy, for their rule. They know that they cannot do anything to stop the British troops and their appeals to past treaties and past promises are all couched in the voice of honor, respect (and shame). “We” had a treaty, will you not honor it? The Mirs had already seen the violence.

To give just one example: In March 1839, British fleets Wellesley and Algerine under the command of Rear-Admiral Frederick Lewis Maitland were approaching to dock at the harbor of Karachi. As the ships neared, a cannon-ball splashed into the water in front of the ship. It came from the garrison of the Manora fort. A welcoming blast. Maitland unleashed his 74 guns on the fort and the city of Karachi, reducing the fort to rubble and raining destruction on the civilians. The terror felt by the community from this bombardment is aptly captured in the memoir of Seth Naomul Hotchand. Afterwards, the harbor, and the city, were promptly seized, and nothing more threatening than a few dozen sword-bearing dead troops were discovered at the fort. The port of Karachi became a permanent harbor for colonial ships, until 1947.

So even though Napier, who landed in Sindh in 1841, saw terror and violence everywhere, he failed to see it as his own violence. He believed that the oriental despotism of the Mirs, in his view, could only come via such implementation of raw power. The Mirs had no such powers to exercise – they held a carefully negotiated shared political stage with various ethnic tribes, landed elites and powerful sufis in 19th century. This is not to deny that there wasn’t any “native” violence but that violence – the one inflicted on peasants trapped in a feudal setting was not the concern of someone like Napier. The violence and terror which played a rhetorical role in Napier’s imagination of Sindh – he used it to construct a rationale for invading Sindh – was not the feudal violence, it was the wholly imagined atrocities (on “young girls”). More broadly, such hyperbolic invocations of local violence have played a substantive role in colonial imaginations of frontiers, in general (hello, Africa). Now, it plays a rhetorical role in our present day imagination of Pakistan.

‘Peccavi’ was a phrase that was never uttered about an event that never occurred. Rushdie’s coinage of ‘Peccavistan’ takes the myth and runs with it, using the notion of ‘sin’ in the original Latin to resonate with his construction of Pakistan as a place dominated by the affective response of shame. He did so by invoking a class, a literary heritage, a particular politics and a particular poetics. But, as we learn from the actual history of Napier’s conquest of Sindh, at the root of the story lies not shame, but something else – terror and violence – constructed with a rhetorical force to justify colonization and control. ‘Peccavistan,’ with its rich history of misattribution and disjuncture, is a worthy banner to stake atop modern constructions of Pakistan. Nowadays, Peccavistan has become a bastion of terror and violence. Where Rushdie saw shame as an endemic value which clouds every interaction – social or political – I want to argue for Peccavistan as the phenomenon of observing Pakistan as endemically violent and terrorist. When Rushdie uses Peccavistan to argue for alternatives to history, to the way things could have been, I want to show that Peccavistan is perceived reality – the only way things make sense to a certain, shall we say, dominant perspective – an alternate emotional construct constituting discourse about the region.

This brings us to the terror and violence which permeates Granta:Pakistan – a special issue of the literary magazine covering the same geography that Rushdie and Napier did. Please see lapata’s thorough treatment at Bookslut, where she teases out the issue of translation and linguistic diversity. In my reading, the fiction quickly became a homogenous blob – female infanticide, honor killings, terrorist beheadings. The writing seemed monotonous, the violence peeking through exactly when I expected it to, terror permeating every interaction. Sure, there was truck art on the cover, some poems, and a few artists who did attempt to show other facets – but the conversation, the literal conversation, is dominated by Mohsin Hamid and Declan Walsh – each in their own, specific ways situating a primordial violence within Peccavistan. This was jarring because I remember an avowed commitment, on the part of Granta‘s publicity campaign, to show a different side of Pakistan.

The editor of Granta, John Freeman, was recently interviewed:

Q. There’s a lot of militancy and fundamentalism and violence here. In fact, the only two prose pieces that don’t include at least one of the above are located outside Pakistan. Are we saying it’s not possible to write about the country without writing about these things?

A. I was worried about making an issue that would fall into all the representational traps that Pakistanis feel and that you see in the media. On the other hand, when we ask people to write we don’t always tell them what to write about, and in some ways I feel that’s the way to get the truest representation of the country. And literature is not a direct representation of life or reality, it’s a refraction. It magnifies the anxieties of people who live in a country beyond what they actually are, but it’s a way of turning that into narrative and drama.

Also, the situation is deathly serious. And what’s very exciting is that Pakistan now has a generation of writers up to the task of writing about that in a way that’s interesting as literature, that makes for good short stories and novels and is not just politically or socially concerned. That’s the big reason we did the issue. I found Mohsin’s piece particularly powerful because it’s about violence but also about his desire to avoid it, about what it means to write about it and the fear that it puts inside of him, what the costs of it are.

It’s a catch 22 for many of them because it is in some ways what makes them marketable. I think they write about it because they’re deeply concerned, but to be marketed based on something that’s very close to your heart and very serious raises all sorts of questions. That’s why we didn’t want a cover with a Kalashnikov or a mullah. Because as much as this issue is addressing things that are of deep concern, it’s also a chance to celebrate all this talent that’s coming out of the country.

Freeman’s slippery response – and his rather risible equation of the “deathly serious” situation with “very exciting” possibilities – seems appropriate to me. Yes, Pakistan – as an object of consumption – is marketable only via its violence or its failure [pdf]. Freeman, however, carrying the standard of Granta bestows a literary credibility to this particular selling that has evaded the editors of Foreign Policy. Note that the very reason Freeman wants to focus on Pakistan’s artistic or literary voices is because a) he is told but b) he noticed the New York Times Magazine cover-story on the country from 2009. A cover story which imagines Pakistan descriptively as “perilous, anarchic, broke, violent, splintering, corrupt, armed, governable?”. Those were the parameters within which political Pakistan could be understood and those were the parameters within which literary Peccavistan was to be sold.

What I found endearing was that some of the fiction contributors to the issue – Mohsin Hamid, Mohammed Hanif, Daniyal Mueenuddin and Kamila Shamsie – decided to expose their own culpability by showcasing what they did so brilliantly in the issue. They released a co-written “How to write about Pakistan” on the Granta website. Endearing, because theirs are among the only voices heard globally on Pakistan, so if any clichés exist, it is from them. Nadeem Aslam’s Where to Begin was a more mature defense of violence in his short-story but perhaps just as limiting as the paeans by mango farmers. Aslam does believe, inherently, in the embodied violence of the spaces he recreates in his work but is that all those spaces can hold?

Let me be frank: every individual author has perfect freedom to craft her voice as she wants and on whatever she damn well prefers. Clearly, Daniyal Mueenuddin or Kamila Shamsie’s literary output has nothing distinctly about terrorism or militant Talibans. But insofar as they are allowed to make public statements about Pakistan, those metrics are pre-defined. The making of literary Peccavistan is, then, slightly different from an individual artist’s output – it is about a collective conversation, an editing of a particular narrative on Pakistan which partakes profitably in the ways that the market has pre-determined. Even that is, of course, inherently defensible. The problem, insofar as I am trying to locate a problem and not just providing a gloss, is that there is no counter, in public or political or literary discourse, to Peccavistan. There are no other histories, no other voices, there are no reflections on other constitutive qualities – hospitality, savviness, familial bonds, the cultural affinities. I say this not as an apologist or a nationalist but as a cultural historian who is all too aware of the power of framing discourses, which set up their own regimes of what is allowable and what is unmentionable and constrict all possibilities except those that have been pre-articulated. I should add that, as a reader, it is disheartening to see the Pakistani Englishsprache elite contribute so whole-heartedly to the construction of only that reality.

That this Peccavistan is constructed in a particular way is much clearer in the non-fiction inclusions in the issue. It is amazing to contemplate that John Freeman couldn’t find a single Pakistani journalist who can write knowingly about her own country. Not a one. Declan Walsh and Jane Perlez must have been chafing from their constant appearances in Guardian and New York Times and needed the exposure. It seems to me that an editor with the avowed intent of finding the Pakistani voice may have noticed that the last 10 years have produced a veritable explosion of smart, young journalists – any of whom could have provided a long-form piece and benefited from the exposure. Why does it matter, you ask? Walsh and Perlez are remarkable journalists by all accounts – even if they don’t have direct linguistic or social access to the communities they cover. It matters because the framing of the violence becomes all-too-distant. Take the matter of drones – the only times the subject of drone comes up in the non-fiction entries, it is uttered from the mouths of avowed terrorists. To the reader there remains little doubt that there cannot be a debate on the drones, and their rhetorical usage are so much empty strategies of deceit employed by the evil-doers. Yet, little can be further from the truth. The violence and terror of drones is just as much as framing device for Pakistan’s social pulse as the violence of Taliban or misogynist husbands. That Walsh or Perlez are not attuned to this is not surprising. And again, this is not a nativist argument. I am not criticizing Walsh or Perlez because they are outsiders. The one piece which I thought was sensitive, nuanced and a fine job of reporting was Lorraine Adams’ reportage on Faisal Shahzad. (Strangely, though Ayesha Nasir is billed along with her, the piece contains no reporting from Pakistan. I am not sure what happened there.) What I am pointing out is that Walsh or Perlez, and their work, fit perfectly both the type of narrative the market wants to read about Pakistan and the type of persona best suited to bringing it to the market.

Peccavistan is just as real as Pakistan.Granta: Pakistan is a selling of Peccavistan. It is a bundling, an explaining, a framing, a means of de-mystification when the mystery is itself a reflection of paucity of sources not of intelligibility. Peccavistan sells because Peccavistan takes away complexity, it reduces our mental and emotional commitments to Pakistan. Pakistan, though 180 million strong, ravaged by floods and suicide bombers, continues to carry on. Apocryphally speaking.

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  1. btw, I have since that long-ago post solved the mystery of who said it, and where. Exposé soon []
  2. William F. P. Napier, The Life and Opinions of General Sir Charles James Napier vol. 2 (London: John Murray, 1857), 275. []

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sepoy

what is the vertiginous chapati saying to me?

49 thoughts on “Peccavistan”

  1. Yes, I’m new to this blog, so I cannot speak to what it has or has not contributed. The pieces i’ve read have all been thoughtful and interesting. I was speaking in general about a culture of critique among academics and political activists around Pakistan related issues.

  2. @AK: “Unfortunately, I think that in general, those that are sympathetic to our position (challenging Western representations) are better equipped at critiquing Western narratives and stereotypes (Orientalism, if you will) than they are at explaining phenomenon in Pakistan.”

    Not to be too pedantic, but this blog here has been offering explanation of phenomenon in Pakistan, rightly or wrongly, since about 2004. I urge you to begin at the Tour CM or just peruse the Homistan category.

  3. I think this is an excellent critique of the Granta: Pakistan and really drives home issues about how Pakistan is being framed as a place that needs to be contained and managed, and that too by people who, like Mr. Freeman, seem to be genuinely well intentioned. I agree that what we need to do is break out of the thick web of stereotypes about Pakistan floating around these days, but what we don’t debate enough is how to go about doing that. The few suggestions that Sepoy makes are good, but I do wonder if they are enough to break out of this frame. Granta could have solicited pieces from the many talented journalists in Pakistan rather than just relied on two mainstream foreign correspondents, but is there any guarantee that these journalists would have broken out of the dominant frame? It’s possible, but I’m not convinced given what I’ve seen here among journalists. Of course Granta could have explicitly selected for themes that are outside of the dominant narrative, maybe stories about family relations or night cricket or the thrill of loadshedding when you’re a kid, but I’m not entirely convinced that that would do much to displace the dominant narrative about Pakistan. I guess what I’m getting at is that issues like terrorism/talibanization/violence etc. are indeed what are most captivating about Pakistan to Western audiences, possibly even to Pakistani audiences, and maybe what we need is to appropriate these themes for other ends. We need to present alternative stories about them. Now, I have not read Granta: Pakistan nor do I intend to, so I don’t know what the authors actually say about these issues, but the goal should be for us to figure out ways to reframe these issues without recourse to shallow stereotypes about the Taliban, without essentializing Pakistani culture, without hackneyed ideas about Islam.

    Unfortunately, I think that in general, those that are sympathetic to our position (challenging Western representations) are better equipped at critiquing Western narratives and stereotypes (Orientalism, if you will) than they are at explaining phenomenon in Pakistan. Now, these are not mutually exclusive issues because Western stereotypes and narratives are themselves at play in Pakistan’s realities, inflected in complicated ways in Pakistani lives, but the point is still that it’s hard to really find anyone that can say anything interesting or substantially different about the Taliban or Jihadism or other issues like corruption in Pakistan. I believe most of our critiques of the West fall on deaf ears (like Mr. Freeman’s ears), because we have no alternative explanation, and when we reach for one, it seems we only recenter the West as the source of these problems. Now, I am not denying the West’s role in creating our current realities. What I am saying is that we rely too heavily on generic statements and empty categories about Western imperialism, which do not actually explain the specificity of Pakistani realities, and these explanations are not particularly convincing to anyone that does not already think like us. It is an uphill battle, but I think that when we are able to say something substantial and interesting about Pakistan, we will have a fighting chance. Until then, our critiques will fall on deaf ears.

  4. Phil, I apologise for upsetting you with my muddy posts. I will have to get back to this later, but I will quickly make a couple of points:
    1. Arguments on the internet are frequently full of misunderstandings on both sides. Since we dont know each other at all, we base our arguments on assumptions based on very thin data. To some extent, this is unavoidable.
    2. I stand by my attempt at pointing out that orientalism and islamophobia do not carry the same meaning and significance for everyone. They are linked to other prior assumptions about human beings, human society, history and the nature of communication. People who know me well may have a very different view of some of my attempts at muddying the discussion.
    3. My main disagreements with Edward bhai include: 1. the degree to which “orientalism” is a conscious effort to support a colonial project. 2. the significance of such efforts whether conscious or unconscious. 3. The uniqueness of this effort (i.e. do similar trends apply in all cases of conquest and material superiority of one culture over another). 4. The degree to which the book is a polemic, a work of propaganda, not an attempt at honest appraisal (i.e. use of sweeping statements, oversimplifications, generalizations, unsupported statements, exaggeration, outright mistakes/incorrect statements and so on).
    Check out http://www.washington.edu/uwpress/search/books/VARREC.html

  5. P.S. On Said:

    May I suggest an alternative way of looking at the popularity of Said in the academe and on how everyone HAS to know his work:

    His influence has indeed become so widespread that no American etc researcher can say something about people of the global South without being haunted by (being haunted by) the specter of imperial power. This is a GOOD thing, because it has disrupted the sheer authority with which European/ American colonial powers or their agents could make statements about the inherent inferiority/ backwardness/ irrationality/ what-have-you of the Orient.

  6. Omar:

    Since we began this conversation your side of the pool has gotten muddier and muddier still. You refuse to engage with any of the rather specific, careful, laborious arguments I have made. But anyway. Here is me, trying to keep things clear once more.

    – On definitions: I do not subscribe to a terribly specific or particular definition of either Islamophobia or Orientalism. The World Wide Web defines Islamophobia as “prejudice against Muslims,” and for my purposes, this definition works. I’m curious to know, how would one have to twist and bend this definition so that we can save Rushdie from this label? My use of the word ‘Orientalist’ is in line with Said’s work on the subject, I am not ascribing to a different ‘interpretation’ of his work. Since he devoted an entire book on the subject, I would counter the idea that it doesn’t really ‘mean anything’ specific.

    – You seem to be implying that Islamophobia can sometimes be a good thing? Please show me how. You have also argued previously that Rushdie is not an Islamophobe. Are you suggesting now that maybe he IS an Islamophobe and that’s not a bad thing? I’m only asking because this discussion stemmed from a very specific disagreement and maybe we should stick to that.

    “And I think orientalism may mean something, but after Edward Bhai deployed it as a weapon against the Western world, it has become a term of abuse, an identity token for westoxicated immigrant intellectuals eager to impress the western academy with their devotion to modern western norms, and an irrelevant distraction from any meaningful discussion of history.”

    Just to be clear, who is this comment directed at exactly? The only way it would be relevant in this conversation was if it were directed at me. So either you are being totally irrelevant or a total ass. In case it is the latter, I think it is shoddy blog-commenting when people start making personal attacks, or referring to personal attributes of the commentator as a response to an argument. I am open to being contradicted and provoked, but I dislike personal attacks. This comes after you have intellectually name called me ( “no better than FOX news”). You have also said that i am quoting things out of context and putting words into rushdie’s mouth etc. After I demonstrate pretty clearly that Rushdie was saying what i think he was saying, you throw the social climber card. Yes I am a goddamn immigrant. Westoxicated? I’ m not sure what that means, where it’s coming from, or how it applies to the current discussion, given that your use of the term Westoxication has nothing to do with the context in which Rushdie used it. But of course, you’re not one for specifics. Let’s all just throw around words that assimilated apologists for western racism conjure, they are so much cooler than these dumb, ahistorical wannabe intellectual first generation F-1 visa FOBs. My tax-return-from-special-agreement-between-US-and-Pakistan two-cents: it would be a good idea to refrain from passing judgements on people before you know full well their politics and life experiences, and maybe not even then.

    You say that the only reason that people use the word ‘Orientalist’ is because they are brown immigrant intellectuals eager to impress those in the Western academe. You clearly have NO idea how the Western academe (not unlike western liberalism at large), even in its social science disciplines, even in the most liberal areas, is incredibly racist and how postcolonial studies has provided SOME measure of resistance to that. I also think you are doing a MASSIVE disservice to the intervention that Said made in the academe by problematizing the manner in which the ‘West’ studies/ manages/ colonizes the ‘Orient’ by saying that it is nothing more than a social climbing tool for us lesser ‘brown immigrants’. [On a side note, I don’t know that many people who identify as ‘brown’ or like being referred to as ‘brown’. I’ve heard the term ‘person of color’ but not ‘brown’. It sounds kind of racist frankly, for the reason that most south asians and arabs that I know at least don’t self-identify as ‘brown’.]

    – On echo chambers and the academe. Sure the academe is a profession, just like any other, (yours for instance,) and forms part of capitalism just like any other industry . Postcolonial scholars will be the first to point that out. To conclude from that that all postcolonial scholarship is damaged goods is a gross oversimplification.

    I have thus responded to all the tangential detractions you brought up in your last comment, which if I may say so, had nothing to do with the very specific conversation we were having, which you backed out of, perhaps because you could not refute the substantiated allegations I made against Rushdie. (In case you need a reminder, our conversation was about Rushdie and his comments about Islam and Muslims, spinning off of Qalandar’s comment that Rushdie does not have the requisite empathy for Muslims that he has for Bombay.)

  7. salman, Funny, but a bit long. I am guilty of going on and on myself, but this one could be shortened.
    Seriously, I have read Edward Bhai’s “Orientalism” and while i find it a source of good information on many topics, I do think he has done more harm than good. We can get into that a little more someday. In this case, I mentioned him because Phil mentioned orientalism and his name is so closely associated with that whole notion.
    About standing in echo chambers, I absolutely agree with you. Its always good to try and step out of them, there being more things under heaven and earth and so on….
    About being anti-western and westoxicated at the same time, you surprise me with your lack of devotion to “nuance” and complexity. I think Edward Bhai did mean to attack Western imperialism, which he blamed in particular for the plight of the Palestinians. At the same time, this attack and its aftermath are very very popular in sections of the western academy. People who want to impress those sections of the academy and become its devotees are indeed westoxicated, just not toxicated with the same toxins as, say, Ibn ul Warraq or Kamal Ataturk. It is, of course, a stereotype, but since we hardly know each other, what else would we deal in but stereotypes?
    Don’t take it too hard. I love this blog, why else would I read it every day?

  8. Well, you know, Phil, now you’ll argue that racism means something specific. Many would argue, successfully I might add, that since (even) the concept of “race” is a fiction, hence there is no such thing as “racism”. The moral status of “racism” is also debatable. It may be a good thing or a bad thing or both. For instance, if, since I’m brown, I’m considered, say, smart with numbers/computers and it helps me get a job in the U.S., then it’s a good thing. If I am discriminated against, for example, in a work-situation and it dents my financial prospects — well, then it’s a bad thing. Sometimes it is both a good thing and a bad thing. For example, it is bad for Blacks that that they are disproportionally incarcerated in the U.S, hinting that there might be some racial practices or dynamics at play, but it is good because that kind of law enforcement keeps the rest of us safe. And the biggest plus is that I am not the target (I think/hope they can tell I am lighter than black). So you see, racism can be both good and bad, it just depends (on who the target is). If only they could just pull the bearded ones out, and quit bothering me, I would see more and more good in “Islamophobia” and how morally wonderful that it is. Doesn’t it keep us safe?

    And also, you cannot draw conclusions by making arguments, because you assume that everyone understands what your broad abstractions and terms mean — which is not true. I mean what if I choose to cover my ears or refuse to look/read. That would put you in an echo chamber of your own making.

    Oh and you said Orientalist or Orientalism. And that’s a book by Edward Said … that he used against the Western world … like a weapon. And now other non-Western Westoxicated (not me, of course) brown people use it against the Western Academy to impress them and to bow down in front of them. I mean it’s still a weapon used against the Western world but in a way that it impresses the Western world and the one doing that violence against the Western world is actually totally submitting to them. Or may be the Western academy is kind of anti-Western and the brown guy is just submitting to the academy but not the West, however the brown guy is still Westoxicated. Or for serious discussion of history, you shouldn’t look towards the Western academy. No wait, you shouldn’t look towards the brown “part” of the Western academy. Or may be the Westoxicated brownies use Said to tell the Western academy how bad the Western academy really is and that impresses the academy because that’s what the academy likes to hear since they are a bunch of whinny fatalists. Anyway the brownies are just deploying Said’s anti-Western weapon against the academy to win over the West, or may be win the academy over. Or something. I mean these terms are self evident because, you see, they mean something in my head and their meaning may not be the same as the one you have in your head. But, either the meaning in my head is the correct, or the one in your head is definitely wrong.

    Well, let me explain. You see, I dislike Edward Said so much that I will never read him (but I bring his name up at every opportunity I can get), because even if I do, that will be just confirming the conclusions I have already reached about him and whatever he might have said. People that I disagree with, throw his name around A LOT. So, what they say that Said might be saying in his book(s?), is what I think Said has said. And so I don’t agree with Said and dislike him A LOT. In fact I think that everyone I disagree with, must worship Said and whatever I think Said might have said.
    The point is, Phil, that you need to make sure you are not standing in an echo chamber.

  9. Phillistine, just a quick note to further muddy the waters. You seem to be under the impression that “islamophobia” and “orientalism” mean something very specific and everyone agrees about that meaning AND its moral implications. I would suggest to you that all these assumptions (and your actual assumptions may vary a little from my mind-reading, so adjust accordingly) are on shaky ground. I think islamophobia is not a very useful term and in the rare cases where it means what it seems to mean something, its moral status is debatable (i.e., it may be a good thing or a bad thing or both, but in any case is open to question).
    And I think orientalism may mean something, but after Edward Bhai deployed it as a weapon against the Western world, it has become a term of abuse, an identity token for westoxicated immigrant intellectuals eager to impress the western academy with their devotion to modern western norms, and an irrelevant distraction from any meaningful discussion of history.
    I offer these (somewhat provocative) statements simply as a way of showing that outside of our own world, things sometimes do not mean what we thougth they mean. Let me illustrate with an example: on my school email group it is very common for some statement to be labelled as “blasphemous”. When that happens, the writer almost invariably seems to assume that all the people on that group agree that blasphemy is bad; the only argument is whether THIS statement actually constitutes blasphemy. On some occasions I have tried to interject the view that I dont care if it IS blasphemous. This interjection has been met with shock and with multiple emails that I should have my head examined since “everybody” knows that blasphemy is the doorway to every imaginable disaster. My point is that within your echo chamber (and i have absolutely no idea what echo chamber you proudly belong to, but am guessing you belong to at least a few; we all do) the words “islamophobic” and “orientalist” seem to have similar connotations. I just wanted to take advantage of Mannan’s devotion to free speech to point out that this assumption may not hold in the wider world…..

  10. Apparently, my (and Mahmood’s) reading of Rushdie is incorrect because it is both not literal enough and yet too literal at the same time.

    Ajit: you refuse to engage with any of the arguments (several paragraphs worth) that I have presented above to defend my colloquial paraphrasing of Rusdhie’s sentiments. You have also failed to show me how those arguments are incorrect, or specifically HOW I was misrepresenting Rushdie.

    Bridbeast: I’m not sure if the best use of poetic license is to make thinly veiled Islamophobic remarks. I also don’t appreciate the high brow, literature-appreciating elitism that is being invoked here.

    I don’t understand how anyone can fail to see Rushdie’s Islamophobia when the TITLE of his article reads “Yes, this is about Islam”.

  11. Rushdie writes – and perhaps talks – in a more poetical way that the more literal-minded academic might find tough to deal with.

    Anyone who can read Rushdie’s proclamation and then write:
    “The rhetoric works something like this: a society in which women can’t wear mini-skirts is also against adult suffrage; an equitable distribution of wealth demands kissing in public; eating bacon sandwiches (that is, pork) equips one to enjoy literature and movies.”
    has not fully appreciated what Rushdie is up to.

  12. Philistine, it would be an interesting exercise to compare our respective understanding of what Rushdie is trying to say in the various different extracts you have reproduced here.

    But honesty demands that we begin by agreeing that you completely misrepresented him in your first reference. None of the quotes from him says anything about “all Muslims” – let alone that they are “backward democracy haters”.

  13. Omar, I think the point (an important one) in the passages above was that Rushdie is setting up a definition of what a fundamentalist is, and the way he does that is highly problematic and paints all Muslims who are not secular and ‘westernized’ in a particular light (not just fundamentalists). It is important to trace how he develops this definition of fundamentalists:
    (1.) fundamentalists/killers are the people who attacked the US on 9/11;
    (2.) he gives a ‘brief list’ of the characteristics of fundamentalists – they hate bacon and they hate multi-political party systems, as if the the two things have anything to do with each other, and yet that is his whole point, that there is a (much longer) list of things associated with ‘such people’, and that there is concordance between them, i.e. if I don’t like bacon then I probably don’t like evolutionary theory or PDA either; that there is a group of attributes that can be find together among a certain group of people. Dietary preferences, political opinions and sexual mores have all been collapsed into each other. Needless to say this is extremely essentializing, and as Mahmood et al point out, given widespread profiling/racism against Muslims in the US today, really messed up.

    But you don’t have to take my word for it. One of the articles under discussion here is titled ‘Yes this is about Islam’ where he is explicitly arguing that there is something wrong with Islam, that Osama & co are not an aberration or unique, that most Muslims are similarly fucked up. From the horse’s mouth:

    ‘For a vast number of “believing” Muslim men, “Islam” stands, in a jumbled, half-examined way, not only for the fear of God — the fear more than the love, one suspects — but also for a cluster of customs, opinions and prejudices that include their dietary practices; the sequestration or near-sequestration of “their” women; the sermons delivered by their mullahs of choice; a loathing of modern society in general, riddled as it is with music, godlessness and sex; and a more particularized loathing (and fear) of the prospect that their own immediate surroundings could be taken over — “Westoxicated” — by the liberal Western-style way of life.’

    I think it’s pretty clear what his argument in this article is. You can agree with Mahmood et al or disagree with them, but to say that they are misrepresenting Rusdhie is I think unfair.

    Also, I’m not sure what you mean when you say that Saba Mahmood isn’t making an argument. She is making a claim about Rushdie’s writing, and references his work to back that claim. I don’t know if she is quoting Edward Said, but if she did I don’t see why that would be bad or weaken her argument.

  14. I think it is pretty obvious that he is talking about “fundamentalists”, not “all Muslims”. The distinction would seem to be important, unless we have decided that “all Muslims” are fundamentalists and vice versa.
    About the fundamentalists, the statements listed above certainly seem to be true. Whether that reflects a justified or expected response to this or that imperial phallic intrusion into the subaltern is open to debate, but FOX news could not have put it better than your paraphrase of that article as “all Muslims hate democracy”..
    And yes, I recognize as well as the next person that my sarcastic comments are not evidence-based arguments (neither, in my opinion are the ones proffered by Saba and others here…to quote Edward Said is not the same as presenting “evidence”). Such arguments are not going to change anyone’s mind. We first have to agree about a lot of things and then we may change our mind about some details as a result of mutual argument. These arguments are either means of self-expression or they are aimed at innocent bystanders. Hardcore believers will stick with their group.

  15. He also makes pretty explicit comments about the backwardness by referring to Muslim societies as something other than modern (which is what they should ostensibly become). You don’t need to play it backwards etc, but just take it for what it is – a typical, run of the mill Orientalist take on the Muslim world. If you think I am reading something into it which isn’t there, you could perhaps give me an argument to show how this is the case (with reference to his quotes above). Relying on an actual argument instead of mere sarcasm might make your case stronger.

  16. It wasn’t a direct quote obviously. The point is that for Rushdie, Islam entails anti democratic politics, which is amply demonstrated in the extracts above.

  17. I scanned the quoted extracts for anything approaching “All Muslims are backward democracy haters”. Do I need to play it backwards at high speeds or perform some cryptographic transform ?

  18. P.S. Mahmood and Hirsckind are referencing the following two articles by Rushdie:
    – Salman Rushdie, “Fighting the Forces of Invisibility,” The Washington Post, October 2, 2001.
    (Quote in my previous comment is from this article)
    – Salman Rushdie, “Yes, This is About Islam,” New York Times, November 2, 2001.

    Apparently Rushdie also thinks the Muslim world exists in a parallel, non-modern dimension, which I suppose is in line with his idea that Muslims hate democracy:

    “The restoration of religion to the sphere of the personal, its depoliticization, is the nettle that all Muslim societies must grasp in order to become modern….If terrorism is to be defeated, the world of Islam must take on board the secular-humanist principles on which the modern is based, and without which Muslim countries’ freedom will remain a distant dream.” (Rushdie in the NYT article listed above.) Please see the Mahmood article for a really good critique of this.

  19. @omar and ajit:

    The reference was to the article “Feminism, the Taliban and the Politics of Counter-Insurgency” by Saba Mahmood and Charles Hirschkind in Anthropological Quarterly, 2002. Here is a long quote from the article, pointing out the ways in which Rushdie conflates Islam with anti-democratic sentiments (p.349-351).
    ———————-
    “Rushdie has recently written two essays on the current crisis that are worth quoting from, particularly in light of the moral authority he has been accorded in Europe and the US as a defender of liberal freedoms. Referring to those who carried out the attacks on September 11, Rushdie writes:

    ‘Whatever the killers were trying to achieve, it seems improbable that building a better world was part of it. The fundamentalist seeks to bring down a great deal more than buildings. Such people are against, to offer just a brief list, freedom of speech, a multi-party political system, universal adult suffrage, accountable government, Jews, homosexuals, women’s rights, pluralism, secularism, short skirts, dancing, beardlessness, evolution theory, sex.” He continues later, “The fundamentalist believes that we believe in nothing. In his world- view, he has his absolute certainties, while we are sunk in sybaritic indulgences. To prove him wrong, we must first know that he is wrong. We must agree on what matters: kissing in public places, bacon sandwiches, disagreement, cutting-edge fashion, literature, generosity, water, a more equitable distribution of the world’s resources, movies, music, freedom of thought, beauty, love.’

    This list couples, in bizarre fashion, the political principles at the heart of a liberal polity, on one hand, with those titillating icons of hetero-normative pleasure that trigger a warm feeling of self recognition and superiority among cosmopolitans. It is as if Rushdie worried that the staidness of the former could not convince without the sexiness of the latter (and here we would note that, among the multiple violences that have come to define Afghan women, it is an article of clothing that always appears at the top of the list). The rhetoric works something like this: a society in which women can’t wear mini-skirts is also against adult suffrage; an equitable distribution of wealth demands kissing in public; eating bacon sandwiches (that is, pork) equips one to enjoy literature and movies. In other words, those who have increasingly come to see Islam as important to their lives, their politics, and their forms of public expression-and therefore don’t eat pork, don’t kiss in public, and don’t subscribe to evolutionary theory-are destined to live within authoritarian, intolerant, and misogynist societies. The implicit suggestion is that any departure from Western cultural and political norms becomes a threat to all aspects of our lives, from our political system to our private pleasures. That this argument occurs today at a political moment in which Americans are being told to be on constant alert for “suspicious looking people” should give us some pause and provoke reflection.”

  20. Ajit, I have not read the article or the original quote, but I suspect that if you are determined to look for quotes that fit your narrative, you can find some from any public figure. Rushdie likes to talk and may well have said something like that or written something like that (in whatever context, but who cares about that) but whether that reflects his views accurately and completely seems unlikely to me too. At various times, Rushdie has even identified himself as Muslim, so the statement does not seem to reflect even his own views on at least some occasions.

  21. “whereas at the same time he says things along the lines of “all Muslims are backward democracy haters” (from a quote in an article by saba mahmood).”

    It is quite out of character for Rushdie to say such a thing. Do you have a reference for the article ?

  22. Philistine: Re: “I feel uneasy about making hasty generalizations about postcolonial countries.”

    I agree with you: my aim was to show that there was nothing specifically Pakistani about “shame” (and I used examples to make the point), not to set up a stable, homogenous category called “the post-colonial” (I do believe that to the extent we can speak of “shame” as a relevant category, societies whose self-image is at some level of having been “humiliated by the West” is a more useful generalization than Pakistan (i.e. than the notion that “shame” is some kind of constitutive condition of Pakistan– even as generalizations go, this one is weak; there are others I can think of that might IMO be more useful, but “shame” makes no sense as a historical or ideological matter)…

  23. Phillistine, Your unease is too subversive and dangerous. We are all fond of subverting the narrative, but lets not start with our own narrative….

  24. @Qalandar: I really, really like the point you make about Salman Rushdie. You’re spot on in saying that he has an empathy for bombay that he doesn’t have for karachi. I think this is reflected in the fact that he can make a fairly intelligent critique of Slumdog Millionaire as Orientalist fantasy (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reactions_from_India_and_the_Indian_diaspora_to_Slumdog_Millionaire#Response_from_scholars_and_authors), whereas at the same time he says things along the lines of “all Muslims are backward democracy haters” (from a quote in an article by saba mahmood).

    However, I feel uneasy about making hasty generalizations about postcolonial countries. Bear with me as I quote Anne McClintock on the term ‘THE postcolonial':
    “I am struck by how seldom the term is used to denote multiplicity…. the singular category ‘postcolonial’ may too readily license a panoptic tendency to view the globe through generic abstractions void of political nuance… Historically voided categories such as ‘the other’, ‘the signifier,’ ‘the signified,’ ‘the subject,’ ‘the phallus,’ ‘the postcolonial,’ while having academic clout and professional marketability, run the risk of telescoping crucial geo-political distinctions into invisibility” (from ‘Imperial Leather’).

  25. @Aniket: I ended with “Apocryphally speaking” which may be indirect and insinuating but protects me from your valid critique. I am glad you enjoyed the piece.

  26. Enjoyed the post. Your comments and critique of Granta is thought provoking, specially since you nuance it well. Even though I have not read the entire issue and just seen it briefly on the net, the points you raise are those which would resonate with every editor.

    What was also a bit unsettling was that you too ended with “Pakistan, though 180 million strong, ravaged by floods and suicide bombers, continues to carry on. ”
    This appears to encapsulate the violence of (a) demography, (b) dumb nature, (c) crazed militants, (d) unchanging Orient. (the last, i must admit, is indirect and insinuated, rather than direct and deliberate)

    How is this different from being a version of Peccavistan?

  27. I have a relatively simple question: are you claiming that the writers chose to write within your “Peccavistan” framework because *they* wished to subscribe to something that sold? Or that they were told to? Or that they are incapable of thinking beyond it? Because the first doesn’t make sense — if you’re part of a Granta collection, you don’t worry about saleability, the responsibility’s diffuse; the second doesn’t square with the claims made by Granta; and the third is interesting, but stretches credulity a bit far.

  28. Superb piece Sepoy. The premise of the issue sounded so promising but I was pretty disappointed to be disappointed.

    I disagree, Jonathan, when you imply in your interview that this literature is a refraction of the writers’ anxieties. It would be great if that had been the case. If anything, it seemed to be a refraction of their consumers’ anxieties about the subject. Maybe it’s because their own anxieties seemed so inconsequential in comparison to the grander, albeit more cookie-cutter anxieties of their consumers that they chose to write so, but the result is just uninspiring.

  29. Excellent analysis! The center pieces of Granta’s issue are either English-speaking Pakistanis who are already accessed globally or the same oft-heard-from reporters. It’s hardly a different frame for looking at Pakistan than the one we normally get from the MSM. In that context, the addition/ juxtaposition of translated pieces like Intizar Hussain’s mainly serves to bolster the legitimacy of the central narrative: to be able to say ‘Hey, we’ve got all kinds of Pakistanis. We covered the spectrum!’ -a sort of device to cover for the fact that the main thrust of Granta’s edition is the same as anywhere else.

    @John Freeman – I don’t think the point here is that Granta’s editors were sitting around “rubbing evil editor hands together prepared to SELL Pakistan” as you say, – that’s a silly caricature anyway given sepoy’s careful critique – but that somehow the usual frame for Pakistan was reproduced in Granta. The editors made a series of decisions about what they thought was interesting, noteworthy, significant, and yes – marketable – and these decisions, unsurprisingly, dovetail with the MSM’s version of Pakistan. On what basis were those decisions made? What’s the stuff that got left on the cutting room floor? At the least, one can plainly see from the rundown that Granta preferred to spend its time chasing the usual crowd that speaks for Pakistan rather than digging up fresh voices.

  30. @anas: My understanding is that the presence of innumerable high quality bars and pubs in Berlin make it next to impossible for academics there not to get pickled, and quickly too. So right on with that comment!

  31. @Qalandar

    thanks for the response – i can’t really argue against any of it, and would agree with you. i was thinking more as to why pakistanis themselves would continue to propogate the peccavistan paradigm. it seems to arise out of a mixture of marketability, and perhaps a subconcious guilt towards their own contribution in constructing peccavistan (hence the need to try and provide reasons for why its exists) as well as shame towards what they see of the country. perhaps i am clutching at straws, but it seems to explain why so much of the ‘celebrated’ cultural output of late from pakistan, particularly that which gets reviewed in foriegn newspapers and screened on festivals abroad is so obsessed with showing a ‘different’ side to pakistan which ultimately is little more than a facsimile of what sepoy describes here.

    also, this is a killer observation: ‘Rushdie doesn’t “get” Pakistan the way he “gets” Bombay (this isn’t because he is or isn’t an insider, it is because he doesn’t have the requisite empathy).’

  32. “… there is no counter, in public or political or literary discourse, to Peccavistan.” So it’s clear now, what needs to be done. The Granta issue has brought that into sharp focus. Go for it now Pak!

  33. wonderful to get a critique from berlin from someone who has been out of tune with pakistan’s reality for over a decade. walsh and perlez have seen more of pakistan that this pickled academic in berlin!

  34. PS– I am not suggesting that no such master-key to Pakistan would be useful (although any such master-key is compromised by perniciousness), but shame/guilt doesn’t strike me as it. If anything, the sort of shame that sepoy cites in his opening paragraph seem to me to point the other way: moments like Jamila’s “Pakistan’s a dump” in Midnight’s Children, and Shame, raise the possibility of a rather different kind of shame: that of Rushdie’s own at being taken as a child from India to Pakistan; I suspect his Pakistani years are a source of abiding embarrassment to him (the theme recurs in multiple books, and is clearly discussed in one of the pieces collected in Imaginary Homelands, but one could be forgiven for missing it — the larger narrative of Rushdie’s life has been and continues to be constructed with virtually no reference to Pakistan). Perhaps armchair psychoanalysis is beyond the pale, but hey…

  35. Re: “however, even with the demise of the takalluf generation, shame or at least guilt still seems to reside at the heart of middle class pakistania. it seems to be the reason why so much of the things we need to debate get drowned underneath allegations of not loving/respecting the country/society/family.”

    karachikhatmal: but this is not true in a specifically Pakistani way. i.e., one could make this point about a number of post-colonial societies (heck, even ones that aren’t post-colonial but playing “catch up” in some sense: Pamuk’s “Museum of Innocence” has some lines to that effect), and it’s not clear to me what is qualitatively different about Pakistan (from other once-colonized societies) on that front: every time I encounter pride at the opening of a new shopping mall (recent BBC story on Algeria) or at the inauguration of a large fly-over (Bandra-Worli sea-link) or the announcement of the world’s largest super-computer (China, last week), I feel that I am in the presence of a little bit of that shame that you touch upon, the shame of not being _______ enough.

    Aside: Rushdie has a long history of writing extensively on subjects he doesn’t know much about. “Shame” is a good example: Rushdie doesn’t “get” Pakistan the way he “gets” Bombay (this isn’t because he is or isn’t an insider, it is because he doesn’t have the requisite empathy). “The Satanic Verses” (all in all my favorite Rushdie book) illustrates the point: consider how “off” Rushdie is on Bollywood, so off that it is immediately clear this man has probably not watched very many Hindi films, or certainly not for a long time — as opposed to how true Saladin Chamcha rings. Bollywood superstar Gibreel Farishta seems constructed third-hand, more a concept of a Hindi film star than the real deal. Shame’s Pakistan is to me the same way, not so much “good” or “bad” as oddly unpersuasive.

  36. it is daunting to enter into a CM debate, particularly if the opinion is mildly dissenting, but i’ll try nonetheless.

    i agree that rushdie goes OTT with his ” shame as the generative force at the heart of Pakistan” however, even with the demise of the takalluf generation, shame or at least guilt still seems to reside at the heart of middle class pakistania. it seems to be the reason why so much of the things we need to debate get drowned underneath allegations of not loving/respecting the country/society/family. admittedly, a lot of this analysis is of the mango farmer variety i.e. based on personal and limited professional experiences, but would appreciate your thoughts on the matter.

    other than that, yes.

  37. Thanks for this very thoughtful post, but I have to respond here to correct something. That interview you quote from is an edited conversation, and so I have to object to your portrayal that Granta put together a Pakistan issue because I was told to, and that the New York Times magazine had a special issue on the country. We’d been chasing nearly half the writers in this issue for some time, and when I had that conversation with Peter Carey we’d already begun discussing the possibility of the issue. The New York Times magazine special on Pakistan didn’t make me think it was more possible because clearly the country was newsworthy, as if I was sitting somewhere rubbing evil editor hands together prepared to SELL Pakistan, but rather because they hadn’t approached it from a literary perspective. As for your other comments, I wish you’d talked about Intizar Hussain’s piece, or Jamil Ahmad’s story, or Uzma Aslan Khan’s piece, or even Jane Perlez’s essay. I’m not sure how they fit into your theory.

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