Written in the aftermath of September 11, 2001, Mahmood Mamdani’s 2005 book Good Muslim, BadMuslim historicizes the violence of terrorism. It extricates terrorism from the narrow morality that arises from the convergence of ethics and national interest, and instead locates terrorism “first and foremost as unfinished business of the Cold War.”1 “Good” and “bad” Muslims, terms borrowed from former U.S. President George W. Bush,2 are descriptions not of religious adherence, but of utility to U.S. foreign policy. As yesterday’s allies become today’s antagonists, the labels change to morally denigrate American foes.
Reintroducing history to the violence, the book begins by tracing the broad contours of the relationship between nation-state modernity and violence. Mamdani rejects violence as a pre-modern phenomenon, asserting instead that there is an inextricable relationship between violence and modernity.3 This is the book’s central theoretical framework: violence is political, not cultural.
The first chapter builds on this history of violence, and offers an alternative account of political Islam. It exposes the caricatures of Muslims and Islam that are deployed to provide a moral veneer for expansionist imperialism. The subsequent three chapters offer a chronological account of the violence of U.S. imperialist policies, beginning with post-Vietnam American support for anti-nationalist militancies, and through the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. Today’s terrorism, the book asserts, is a direct consequence of these policies. The final chapter of the book offers closing thoughts, exhorting a review of American policies that “consistently seem to erode support and generate opposition.”4
On February 28th and March 1st 2013, the Department of Middle Eastern, South Asian, and African Studies at Columbia University will be hosting its annual graduate conference. Titled “Paradigmatic Conflict and Crisis,” the conference seeks to showcase the work of emerging scholars whose research is concerned with the spaces between conflicting, emerging, and established paradigms, and with new possibilities for our understanding of paradigm as both a discursive formation and a set of practices.
The recording is now available for the public conversation between Prof. Hamid Dabashi and Prof. Ashis Nandy.
The two eminent scholars raised crucial questions revolving around the theme of “state, culture, and human imagination.” Professor Dabashi and Professor Nandy brought to this discussion their respective conceptions of these central ideas. Of particular interest was the nature of the modern state and its viability within the context of changing epistemological, discursive, and temporal spaces. Professor Nandy suggests that the advent of the modern state has wreaked devastation upon societies by imposing the necessity of a cultural homogenization project. Building upon this idea, Professor Dabashi questions the viability of the modern state, in the Weberian sense, suggesting that the amorphous state has a greater tolerance for critical thinking than a totalitarian nation-state. The public conversation between Professor Dabashi and Professor Nandy is crucial to Baraza’s own work, which seeks to imagine – and create – a space that not only facilitates engagement within the geographic and disciplinary boundaries of Area Studies. It also encourages the production of new discursive modes around which these engagements can be centered.
The renowned writer, journalist, director, and producer, Khwaja Ahmad Abbas narrates an important encounter that took place between Gandhi and Hakiman, an elderly weaver woman from Panipat. The story provides important insight into the atmosphere during the fight for freedom from colonial administration that took place on the Indian sub-continent during the first half of the 20th century. Abbas’ story illustrates the function of Gandhi’s persona in South Asia during this period. In his autobiography, Abbas recounts his impressions of Gandhi’s visit to the historic town of Panipat. He notes that Gandhi travelled the country extensively. This was the primary manner in which Gandhi was able to spread his message.
Though images, newsreels, and reports of Gandhi and the freedom struggle were splashed across global media from the 1920s onwards, the British administration did their best to limit his visibility on the subcontinent due to his incredible popular appeal. In India and abroad, Gandhi’s charisma was unparalleled. His celebrity was certainly profitable for news agencies. Yet, while he became a household name abroad, in his own home all references to Gandhi in the public space were subject to absolute censorship.Even foreign films that featured Gandhi and his struggles were banned and confiscated in India by the British administration. For the common men and women of the subcontinent, Gandhi was not an image or an everyday presence, but he was a man who stood for a familiar system of values and a set of ideas.
He caught up with me as I turned the corner in Connaught Place (C.P.), the shopping hub in central Delhi where I had been running some errands. He was fair-skinned and wearing a checked shirt, jeans and bright sneakers–the basic uniform of young men in urban India. He was probably one of the Kashmiris who hang around C.P. waiting to chat up lost, sweaty tourists. He asked me where I was from, what I was doing in India. I gave the short answer, that I am an American who lives in Delhi for part of each year and that I am a student.
“I am also a student. My subject is English. You study which subject?”
“I study Farsi,” I said, using the name for Persian more commonly understood in India.
“What is… Farsi?”
“It’s a language.”
Our impromptu meeting ended there because I had to catch the metro. In any case, these conversations typically continue with “Would you like to see some shawls?” or “I can sell you cheap tickets to Kashmir—lovely place, where kings used to stay.”
Satyagraha, loosely translated as noncooperation, was a non-violent “alternative to conventional rebellion,” that Mahatma Gandhi constructed in response to discrimination against Indian expatriate communities in South Africa. In Gandhi’s own words, “it is a movement intended to replace methods of violence and a movement based entirely upon truth” (Gandhi & Non-Violence, 19). The term was developed in South Africa in 1907. Gandhi, founder and editor of the local Indian publication Indian Opinion, announced a small prize for an alternative to the English phrase noncooperation, which described his unique methodology and distinguished it from similar methods of Passive Resistance organized elsewhere. His nephew, Maganlal “won with his suggestion of ‘sadagraha’ or ‘firmness for the good.’ Gandhi altered the prize-winning entry to ‘Satyagraha,’ or ‘firmness for the truth’” (Gandhi, 124).
Haji Habib was, in all likelihood, the world’s first Satyagrahi (practitioner of Satyagraha). On another September 11th in 1906, the Jewish-owned Empire Theatre in Johannesburg, South Africa, was overflowing with South Asians. The crowd had gathered to plan resistance to new regulations, mandatory registration, finger printing, and papers that were to be produced on demand for all Asiatics eight years and older. Habib, a long-time elderly resident, stood up to a crowd of eager activists to make a passionate plea for faith: “We must pass this resolution with God as witness…. In the name of God, [we] will never submit to that law.”