[Following up on his earlier essay that traces the development of contemporary rap productions in Pakistan, Khwaja Hamzah Saif profiles two Pakistani rappers, a Sindhi and a Punjabi, rhyming to preserve language and reinvigorate ethnic traditions. This essay was first published on Ajam Media Collective.]

Shahzad Meer (right), who goes by Rapper Meer Janweri, with fellow Thatta artist Wahab Rocx

Shahzad Meer (right), who goes by Rapper Meer Janweri, with fellow Thatta artist Wahab Rocx

Shahzad Meer, or Rapper Meer Janweri, grew up in Thatta, a city in south-eastern Sindh famous for its ancient necropolis,. Once a Sindhi cultural capital, it is now among the smaller cities of a Pakistan bifurcated into the mega-metropolises of Lahore, Karachi, Islamabad and Peshawar, and everything else. Meer’s parents are from Dadu, a comparably sized Sindhi city about 300 kilometers north of Thatta. Shahzad’s Sindhi is accented with the twangs of Dadu and the crispness of Thattai Sindhi. “Northern Sindhi,” he describes it.
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Mirages of the Mind

MAY The early books of famed Urdu satirist Mustaq Ahmed Yousufi (b. 1922), Chiragh Talay (1961) and Khakam-e Badhan (1969), functioned in the college space for us in Lahore as cigarettes function in a prison camp – a currency, a momentary respite, a surge, and a day dream. We used to crack jokes from his oeuvre claiming them as they were uttered. He was not very well liked by my elders, however. They found him a poor replacement for the other satirists at play, Pitras Bukhari or Mustanssar Hussain Tarad or often Ibn-e Insha. Yet he was beloved by us near-adults as a rock star.
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Fifteen Years After Eqbal Ahmad: A Call

eqbalahmad Today marks the fifteenth anniversary of the passing of Eqbal Ahmad (1932 – 1999). Who was Eqbal Ahmad?

On 10 Feb, 1971, a letter appeared in The New York Times titled “Eqbal Ahmed: A Defense” signed by faculty at Princeton.

To the Editor:

Leaders in the movement to end the prolonged, cruel and useless violence against millions in Indochina have now been indicted by the Justice Department for conspiracy to blow up a heating system and kidnap a Presidential adviser. As Fathers Daniel and Phillip F. Berrigan have already right said, such a plot would be a “grotesque” response by “deranged” people – a “caricature” of the dedicated mass action still required to end the war.

We are writing about one of those indicted – a former student at Princeton and a good friend, Eqbal Ahmad, now a Fellow at the Adlai Stevenson Institute of International Affairs.

Everything we know about Dr. Ahmad is contrary to that of which he is accused. He is a scholar in political science who has established an international reputation with his published work on revolution. He has also translated his analysis into action.

He was one of the first to denounce romantic revolutionaries for substituting personal heroics for truly difficulty task of fashioning new links among the exploited, the powerless, the excluded and those who know what sustained work is required to transform individuals and society.

His writings have analyzed the disadvantages of conspiracy and terror when used by revolutionaries and emphasized the need to concentrate on isolating all unjust regimes morally and politically. A group of extreme leftist students last year stormed into the Adlai Stevenson Institute and deliberately destroyed Eqbal Ahmad’s research notes.

In our view, Eqbal Ahmad understands well the underlying social forces that impel rulers to persist in runious wars, and allow revolutionaries with deep roots among their own people to succeed despite the might brought against them by great powers. This among other things has made him a first-rate teacher and analyst and also one of the most persuasive opponents of the Vietnam war on campuses in this country and abroad.

Eqbal Ahmad’s public record of scholarship and advocacy makes the accusation appear highly implausible to us.

Henry Bienen, Kathyrn Boals, Henry H. Eckstein, Richard A. Falk, Manfred Halpern.
Princeton, N. J. Feb. 1, 1971
The writers are members of Princeton University faculties

Edward Said, when remembering Eqbal Ahmad, did so with such love and grace that every single time I have read those words, I have found myself transported to those conversations Said notes – with Darwish, or Faiz or Paley.

Yet, Said left unsaid what Ahmad would mean to the future, our present. The Harrisburg Seven are now forgotten. I rarely find Ahmad cited in contemporary scholarship and I rarely see his figure evoked in a genealogical manner to the many critical thoughts on empire or global south. He did not leave behind “the big book” I guess. Perhaps most critically, I have rarely heard young scholars of Pakistan incorporate his work into their own.

A small group of us, wish to mark today, the anniversary of Eqbal Ahmad‘s fifteenth year, and raise a call for submissions. We wish to create a small print ‘zine to be published in Fall 2014. We ask for reflections on Eqbal Ahmad’s work and the ways in which it intersects with your own practices and theologies. Please contact me or leave your contact information in comments, if you are interested. We would also like you to read Eqbal Ahmad, if you have not encountered him before. We recommend The Selected Writings of Eqbal Ahmad (2006).

You can also look at the archivization project at our beloved SAADA on Eqbal Ahmad.

We thank you.

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Waziristan, U.S.

Drones and the Obama Administration

I gave the following remarks on 26 March 2014.

There currently exists a limit in the liberal critique of the drone program: there is a discussion about the efficacy of the program – and with it an emphasis on collecting numbers of casualties, of some matrices of sorting the dead into militants and civilians; there is a discussion of the legality of the program – with it the implications for state capacity to fight terrorism or to punish individuals; there is a historicizing of drones within imperial histories of violence upon colonized spaces –and with it a linking of US regime to earlier British or European regimes. In any of these cases, there is an assumption that the critic is making a moral case against the usage of drones for imperial over-reach or against blowback, but which stops at not knowing the precise numbers of civilian casualties and hence in suspension.

Priya Satia’s recent essay on the history of drones links British and later US regimes of power and is highly critical of imperial outreach and in an exemplary fashion. Yet Satia concludes: “Only intense public pressure can force lawmakers to have a conversation about what drones should be used for, as has been true of the limits we want to impose on other technologies, from computers to land mine.”1 Satia’s reversion to an idealized liberal democratic politics is incongruent to the critique of lawmakers from the long twentieth century that Satia herself thoroughly documents in her work. What Satia does not do is question the very gaze that allows lawmakers to constitute a space of exception for a vast swarth of subaltern subjects and reject the premise in the first place.

It is not an advisable position to take: after all, the drones ostensibly target a group of individuals (al- Qaeda or Taliban) who as well make no distinction between civilian and military and who have carried out a long string of horrific violence against various states. Being deemed outside of Reason, of History and, markedly, of Time, the only option is to eliminate them with force, and in this particular chain of calculations, the drone program, however flawed, represents the best case scenario.

What I would like to do is point out a particularly US based history (not British or European) both for the targeting of a space as one out of civilization and with categorizing violence on that space as righteous. In an earlier essay, on the question of technology and the act of “seeing” that governs the technical sophistry of drone warfare (“Adam’s Mirror: The Frontier in the Imperial Imagination“) I made a particular argument for us to consider the history of US regimes of power. My argument today furthers that claim by stating that drones do not represent any paradigmatic shift. Rather, the drone program is a continuation of a long history of risk minimization and political marginalization of people-as-population whose presumed opacity helps the US polis imagine the worst. In this regard, the particular spatialization of violence enacted in the drone strikes has been at-home in the foundational ethos of US state-hood.

First, the question of space itself – the un-goverened or semi-governed space, which is thought to lie at the borderlands or at the frontier. It is a site of anxiety, a source of disruption, a place where inclement forces gather to plot, and to attack. It is the space which orients our actions (“Wild West” or “Tribal Areas”) away from civitas to jus bellum. It is regularly invoked elsewhere in contemporary discourse, but it is rather closer to home.
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  1. Priya Satia, “Drones: A History from the British Middle East,” Humanity 5 (Spring 2014): 1-31. []

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Ten Years Ago Today

Very first first

Very first first

Today marks the tenth anniversary of this particular blog. A decade of my life is now invested in a virtual space which itself has nurtured my mind, my writing, my friendships, my community and my making sense of the world. Yet, “I” have been only a subset of what “CM” is. This is the fact that prompts me to write today and mark this occasion. CM became, very early, a communal space of a very particular kind: engaged, irreverent, awkward with looking at itself, steady. Many of my closest friendships came into this space and emerged from it. CM was not ideologically driven, it was not geographically situated, it did not have a political agenda. It was a way of seeing the world. CM published, and was published by, a number of individuals who continue here: Farangi, Lapata, Patwari, Sanyasi, Dacoit, Bulleyah and then many, many readers and guest posters and commentators (nearly 11,000 comments!) and friends who came, who left, who came back.

I have used this space to rant, be informative, be lethargic, be angry, be disgusted, be snarky, be all of the above. I have, barring one occasion, never invoked my personal life, never launched personal attacks on others, never participated in group-think, never self-promoted. I used this space to write – differently, effectively, in sync with my academic turns, and not enough. The CM slow-burn has been in effect for a few years, and somehow sustained itself. Blogging seems so old-fashioned now that people can just post updates on facebook but I predict it will make a comeback. Just you wait.

On behalf of everyone who wrote for CM, I want to thank all who are reading this today, and all who have read it over the years.

CM will go on.

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Announcing my new novel, Taste

Excited to announce that my new novel, Taste, will be out from Foxhead Books in early April. Here’s the amazing trailer directed by Carl Sprague and edited by Brett Marty:

You can pre-order the book here.

A vimeo version is in the works for those of you outside the YouTube frontier.

And here’s the vimeo!

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Concluding installment (part 1 here) of an essay by Prashant Keshavmurthy.1 on the radical disruption of scholarly speech in India.

In 1892, Maulana Shibli Nu’māni, an internationally celebrated Indian Muslim historian, (Urdu-Persian) literary critic and theologian of his day, traveled by sea from Bombay to the Ottoman Empire, journeying through Cyprus, Istanbul, Syria and Egypt. Of this journey he kept a journal that he later published under the title of Safarnāma-i rūm va misr va shām (A Travel Account of Turkey, Egypt and Syria).2 He claims that he had not intended to write a travel account but that European prejudices with regard to the Turks had led him to do so. Even well-meaning Europeans, he observes, remain bound by the Islamophobic prejudices they are raised with. His aims in writing it are therefore corrective and pedagogical: to correct prejudiced European travel accounts of Turkey that form the basis for European histories, and to instruct Indian Muslims by documenting exemplary “progress” among Turkish Muslims.

The Turkey or Ottoman state of Shibli’s time, we must remember, was the only one of the three great early modern Islamic states – the other two being Safavid Iran and Mughal India – to still be extant. Moreover, its emperor, Abduḥamīd II (1876 – 1909), had only recently achieved radical advances in the movement to modernize or “reorganize” – “reorganization” or tanzīmāt bespeaking the bureaucratic character of this modernity – of his state on European models. Shibli intends therefore to focus on the “developments and reforms” of the Muslim world, especially Turkey.

The turn of the century preoccupation with lost Mughal sovereignty among North India’s Reformist Muslims – a sovereignty they understood as Muslim in the wake of the formal end of the Mughal state in 1857 – led them to regard the still regnant Ottoman empire with special attention: in it they saw a Muslim empire that was modeling itself through technological and institutional reforms on Europe, the very ambition of Sayyid Aḥmad Khān, the founder of what became Aligarh Muslim University, and his colleagues like Shibli Nu’māni. Shibli thus discusses formerly Ottoman Cyprus, when he passes through it, in terms of the history of its political sovereignty under Muslim and then British rule. Furthermore, everywhere in his travels he singles out educational syllabi, technology, and such empirical aspects of a society as clothing and food, treating them as indices of a polity’s development.

Shibli desires and is at pains to discover signs of a continuous Muslim world. That he conflates all Arabs in the Ottoman territories with Muslims and vice versa signals this desire. The historical motivations for this desire lay both in the Pan-Islamism adopted as a policy against European meddling in Ottoman affairs by Abdulḥamīd II as well as in the sense of shame at their civilizational “decline” (inḥitāt) pervasive among intellectuals and literati in the Arab world of the time. From Bombay to Aden, writes Shibli, he had been “longing to see a Muslim” and, in Cyprus, when he hears a boy in a seminary recite from the Qur’an he is filled with an emotion of wonderment: “At the priest’s signal the boy recited a few verses from the Qur’an. It affected me strangely. It occurred to me: what was the affecting power in these holy words that, becoming electric power from East to West, shot across from the distant deserts of Arabia to the far-flung islands of the Mediterranean and still survives?” The “affecting power in these holy words” became “electric power” in its rapid global spread: the metaphor succinctly formulates the Muslim Reformist goal of a modernity for a single if heterogeneous global Islam that would validate and include Western technological inventions.
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  1. Prashant Keshavmurthy is Assistant Professor of Persian Studies in the Institute of Islamic Studies, McGill University. He spends his days biting his finger in wonderment at the strangeness of pre-19th century Indian and Middle Eastern literary cultures and his nights disentangling the dreadlocks of his affections. []
  2. Shibli Nu’māni, Safarnāmā-i rūm va misr va shām (Ā’zamgarh: matba-i ma’ārif, 1940). All the translations from Urdu in this essay, unless otherwise indicated, are my own. []

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