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Monday, June 20, 2011

Tinderbox: The Past and Future of Pakistan

One of the best sections in MJ Akbar’s brilliant Tinderbox: The Past and Future of Pakistan is a unique interpretation of the Khilafat Movement as the Mahatma’s non-violent jihad.

It’s a thesis Akbar first developed in The Shade of Swords: Jihad and the Conflict Between Islam and Christianity (2002).
It was audacious interpretation because when Akbar first made it – soon after 9/11 – jihad evoked visions of radical Islam, fanaticism and terrorism.

Only Akbar – with his erudition, scholarship and chutzpah – could link jihad to the Mahatma, and then marshal historical facts as a lawyer in support of his argument.
In the new book he traverses the same terrain but uncovers new facets.

To any rational student of the history of Indian independence movement, Gandhiji’s Khilafat Movement was a gamble guaranteed to fail. Its achievements were dubious, chimerical.
But for a brief three years, the Mahatma achieved the impossible – unite the Hindus and Muslims and coalesce them into a potent political force.

Notes Akbar, “Words can hardly do justice to the transformation that Gandhi achieved in making the masses a part of India’s freedom movement. British officials who had no reason for sympathy, documented moving eyewitness accounts of Hindu-Muslim devotion to Gandhi, particularly in villages."

The chapter (The Non-violent Jihad) ends with a comparison between Mustafa Kemal Pasha Ataturk and Gandhiji.
Akbar writes:

“Gandhi and Ataturk (Father of the Turks), both anointed fathers of their nations, make a fascinating comparison. Ataturk eliminated an obsolete caliphate from nationalist space and released politics from the embrace of religion. Gandhi used the caliphate to stir a dormant community by infusing religion into politics. Ataturk defeated the West, but welcomed its script, clothes and lifestyle, serving alcohol in public and dancing in immaculate tie and tails. Gandhi was more prohibitionist than any mullah and his battledress was a homespun cotton loincloth. He used khadi as an economic weapon and dress code...Ataturk banned Islamic veil and Ottoman fez and promoted skirts and suits. Gandhi welcomed the veil and fez, signature apparel of the Khilafat Movement...Ataturk and Gandhi used the same slogan between 1919 and 1922: ‘Victory or Death’ cried Ataturk; ‘Do or Die!’ demanded Gandhi. But while Ataturk’s battlefields did not offer a third option, Gandhi believed that a final confrontation could always be postponed on India’s minefields. Gandhi always lived to fight – or fast – another day, until 1947 broke his country and 1948 took his life.”

Akbar’s seemingly unbridled pessimism about Pakistan’s future clearly didn’t have too many takers in January when the book was released. But since then, the United States found and hunted Osama Bin Laden in Pakistan.

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