A Student of Pakistan

Some years ago, when I was at university, I enrolled in a small class on South Asian history. The class was in fact tiny for such a large subject — only five students — and was the first stand-alone course on the history of the subcontinent ever taught at my school. That awkward and surprising fact aside (the year was 1989, the Berlin Wall would fall and declarations of the end of history would soon abound) the other odd nugget was that the course was taught jointly.  Two professors, B— and J—, one focusing on the history of India and the other on the creation of the nation called Pakistan. Even stranger, I learned that the pair of professors were connected. They shared a home and lascivious rumor had it that they were lovers. Continue reading →


34,000 won’t do it, or, recycling can be bad

Getting old for me has less to do with my creaky bones and rigid beliefs than it does with recycling.  Tomorrow the President unveils (poor word choice) the latest strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan, and it already feels like recycling of a bad sort.  AfPak has been done before.  And before that.  And again before.  Juat check the speeches, and you’ll know.  You can’t help but think that while Obama has taken a good, long look at the options, there hasn’t been a real understanding of the region or of history.  Of the mindsets that accompany Pashtunwali, a country without the real idea of a country, and  faith — in this case, Islam.  Of course, there’s the challenge of politics complicating these matters, and by that I mean U.S. politics, but honestly, the Vice-President is closer to right this time around.  Jim Hoagland summed it up beautifully yesterday in WaPo.

So I find myself doing my own recycling, as if by fate. I came across this essay by the one writer who I continually seem to return to — V.S. Naipaul.  It’s worth reading and considering once again — perhaps as a way of stopping the simple recycling of bad ideas, or maybe going beyond statistics and numbers that military men provide.

Book Review: The Reluctant Fundamentalist

rf.jpg These days we’re all super-sensitive, particularly when we feel that we’re just a cog in a large, globalized wheel. The problem is, more and more of us take that kind of realization badly, and perhaps violently, and we find ourselves locked in conflicts off all kinds. Jabberwock, in his review of Mohsin Hamid’s latest novel The Reluctant Fundamentalist, points out the anger of that moment when blissfully ignorant old people “uninformed about the world outside their own backyards” ascribe their seemingly harmless stereotypes to you. It’s happened to most of us, and the truth is that people probably should know better, but really, maybe we could all be a little less thin-skinned.

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Just about 11 months ago, I moved out of the Marriott Hotel in Islamabad.  It had been my home for two months.  Today a suicide bomber tried to blow it up.  News reports say he attempted to enter the hotel through a nightclub entrance.  That entrance is on the side of the hotel, near the laundry entrance where the marriott staff laundered and pressed my clothes every day.  Including underwear.  Across the street is a gravel and dirt parking lot where the valets park cars, and where I parked my rental car when I didn’t feel like using the valet service.  You always had to keep an eye out for drivers drifting across lanes when you walked out of that parking lot — they habitually swerved around cars that were going to slow or turning.  In the mornings I checked underneath my car the first few times I parked it in the lot, even though the lot was guarded.  On those days, turning the key in the ignition sucked.

We are Danes…PBUH!

Peace Be Upon Him. The Grand Poobah. The Grand PBUH.
In our first draft of an Op-Ed regarding the cartoon controversy, we actually discussed whether if we referred to Mohammed (PBUH) we actually had to include the PBUH. After all, we weren't Muslims. But we would be writing to a Muslim audience. In the end, we punted and decided not to mention Mohammed (PB… – oh forget it) by name. Continue reading →