Fifteen Years After Eqbal Ahmad: A Call

Posted by sepoy on May 11, 2014 · 4 mins read

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.


Sohail | May 11, 2014

Nice one, Sepoy. I learnt just recently that Eqbal was a Formanite. I used to read his articles in the Dawn in the 90s - with little understanding, I think.

Bilal | May 11, 2014

Hi Sepoy--I would be very interested to write something for the zine concerning Eqbal Ahmad's conception of decolonization and his writings on Islam and politics. Please contact me via email. Very excited about this initiative, thanks very much for putting this together!

Zaheer Alam Kidvai | May 11, 2014

I was staying with Eqbal a couple of nights before he was rushed into hospital. Came to Karachi and heard ogf his death just an hour after it happened. Went back for the funeral. Have a couple of stories about him tat I remember from a zillion meetings and will write them for you if you want …

sepoy | May 12, 2014

Kidvai sahib, Please do write them up. Thank you.

sepoy | May 12, 2014

Thank you Bilal. We look forward to your submission.

asim rafiqui | May 13, 2014

i am a photographer and produced a 3-year long project that was inspired by an eqbal ahmed interview with david barsamian. the work - nearly complete, can be seen here: warscapes magazine recently published one of my pieces, along with photographs, from ayodhya, which was the first city i traveled to for the project. you can see that here: i would love to see if you would consider not just text but perhaps something from the project along with photographs? eqbal ahmed, whom i only read and never met, was a huge influence and the real voice behind the entire journey and exploration. asim

sepoy | May 13, 2014

Thank you, Asim. Shall be in touch.

Justin Podur | May 14, 2014

Me and a colleague, Dan Freeman-Maloy, refer to the Selected Writings of Eqbal Ahmed simply as "the bible". His influence is so pervasive that it's almost impossible to identify exactly how... but I will give it a try.

AM | May 14, 2014

Hi, I am a graduate student in Canada going on to doctoral studies. I would love to contribute something on Eqbal Sb. He was one of the first people who inspired me to study social sciences and introduced me to left/progressive politics.

tannin | May 14, 2014

What a pleasure it has been to read some of the writing of Asim Rafiqui. On to Eqbal Ahmad, and to much more written by Asim.

YChandrani | May 14, 2014

I would love to write and contribute a short piece on Eqbal. He was my teacher and mentor at Hampshire College and I am one of the coeditors of his Selected Writings. Please let me know details by email.

sepoy | May 15, 2014

That is terrific - please do try.

sepoy | May 15, 2014

Please do!

sepoy | May 15, 2014

That would be great - please send a note at

Fakhra Hassan | May 19, 2014

I taught at his niece Hajra Ahmed's school (Khaldunia) in its nascent years with high recommendations from Prof Pervez Hoodbhoy. There's a lot I would like to write about Eqbal Ahmed. May I have an email address and last date for submission?

sepoy | May 20, 2014

We are aiming for end of summer for submissions - my email is Shukriya.

Richard Falk | June 01, 2014

Thanks for this reminder of a cherished friend, who understood the world better than anyone I have ever known, and somehow found the secret formula for combining love with resistance to all that is evil in the world.

sepoy | June 02, 2014

Thank you Prof. Falk.