Qunfuz

Robin Yassin-Kassab

Archive for the ‘Pakistan’ Category

Deconstructing the War on Terror

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Here’s a link to my talk on Afghanistan and Pakistan. Forgive the screwed-up face. It’s the fault of those Palestinians that took me dancing –
http://www.truveo.com/Deconstructing-the-war-on-terror-robin-yassin/id/3953073108

I wrote the following for a Norwegian newspaper to introduce “Deconstructing the War on Terror”, a seminar at Chateau Neuf (Storsalen), Slemdalsveien 11, Oslo, from 12-7pm Sunday 22nd February. George Galloway, Massoud Shadjareh, Yvonne Ridley and Dr Erik Fosse will speak. I’m giving a talk on Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Did the terrorist attacks of September 11th 2001 provoke an unprecedented rupture in American relations with the rest of the world, specifically the Muslim world? Was that day really the day everything changed, as much of the media tells us?

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Written by Robin Yassin-Kassab

February 18, 2009 at 6:55 pm

Two Reviews

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Two reviews, one harsh and critical, one brief and bright.

I met Nadeem Aslam in Southampton, and spent an evening and a morning having wonderful conversations with him. When I told him I’d written a bad review of his latest book (half of it is bad) for the National (in Abu Dhabi) he was not in the least bitter, not even for a moment. I am not such a successful human being. I would have been convulsed with rage and venom for at least three hours, and then ill with it for weeks. He just wanted to know why I didn’t like the book. Well, it’s partly the politics, and quite a lot to do with characterisation. Then my review may be fierce precisely because I think he’s a major writer, and therefore fair game. (But I don’t think he’s fair game after meeting him, such a lovely man he is; I hang my head in shame). The negativity of the review may also have something to do with me responding to my own perceived failures as a writer.

And damn, they pay you to squeeze out an opinion, so opinionate is what you do.

The problem with writing a book review after you’ve had a book published is that it seems as if you’re suggesting you could outwrite the writer you’re criticising. Ironically, now that I should be more qualified to write about novels, I feel less qualified. Or at least worried that I’m setting myself up. Anyway.

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Written by Robin Yassin-Kassab

September 23, 2008 at 12:08 am

“Maps for Lost Lovers” and writerly responsibility

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Update 2015: With the passage of time, much of this review embarrasses me. So people and perspectives change. My current view is better summed up by my words at the 2015 Shubbak festival, which Brian Whitaker reports:

There is a beautiful novel called Maps for Lost Lovers by Nadeem Aslam who is Pakistani-British, and I would recommend that everybody reads the novel as a work of literature because it is beautifully, beautifully written and characterised. 

It works as a novel, but there is no good Muslim character in it. They are real characters and you can sympathise with them even when they are doing horrible barbaric things. But they are all doing horrible barbaric things from the moment they get up in the morning, and its the kind of horrible barbaric things that British Pakistanis do that you read about in the Sun newspaper.

So of course there is an issue, but we cant tell Nadeem Aslam that he’s a representative British Pakistani writer and therefore he has to write a nice version of British Pakistanis in order to educate the white population that some of them are all right. He’s writing what he wanted to write about and what was real for him, and he did it really well. I think the critique should focus on the social context. It’s not Nadeem Aslam’s fault so much as the Sun newspaper’s fault.

And here’s the thing I originally wrote:

I’ve recently read Nadeem Aslam’s finely-constructed and richly metaphorical novel “Maps for Lost Lovers”, which portrays a British Pakistani community and its rigid boundaries over a year of daily life and crisis. Save for some occasionally unconvincing dialogue, the writing is beautiful and poetic. Unlike, for example, Martin Amis, Aslam respects his characters, who are well-rounded and complex enough to evoke sympathy even when they behave badly. He shows them busy with gossip, work, poetry – and plenty of murder. For example, a book shop owner is murdered for money by his relatives in Pakistan. At the heart of the book, Chanda and Jugnu are murdered by Chanda’s brothers for ‘living in sin.’ Chanda wants to divorce her husband so she can marry her lover, but her husband has disappeared for years, and she doesn’t know where to. Another girl is murdered by a ‘holy man’ during exorcism-beatings. And so on: a litany of crimes motivated by ‘honour’ and superstition.

One subplot revolves around a woman being forced by sharia law to marry another man before returning to a husband who has divorced her once while drunk. The actual regulation is this: if a man divorces his wife THREE times he cannot remarry her unless she has been married to someone else and that marriage has also collapsed. This is generally understood as a warning to husbands not to divorce their wives without considering the consequences. Furthermore, a divorce announced when the husband is angry or intoxicated is not recognised. As for the stranded Chanda, sharia would automatically grant her a divorce if her husband disappeared for a day longer than a year. Fair enough, Aslam is writing about uneducated people’s partial and skewed understanding of their religion, or of their confusion of tradition and religion, but this point will be lost on non-Muslim readers.

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Written by Robin Yassin-Kassab

February 6, 2008 at 4:23 pm

Dysfunctional State – Dysfunctional World

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The assassination of Benazir Bhutto, although it happened across the Gulf of Oman, feels remarkably close, for both personal and public reasons. On a personal level, the event strikes up sparks of memory. As a very young man I worked for The News, an English-language paper, on the Murree Road in Rawalpindi. I loved that office and all the great people in it, the long late chaotic nights through which we typed and laughed and drank tea. I remember Liaquat Bagh just a little down the road, the park named after Pakistan’s first prime minister Liaquat Ali Khan, who was assassinated there, and where Benazir was killed last December 27th. I remember People’s Party supporters firing shots into the sky outside the office on the night when Benazir was appointed prime minister, for the second time, in 1993. When I read about bombs and sectarian mayhem in Karachi, Islamabad, Swat or Gilgit I remember the immense beauty and carnivalesque energy of Pakistan, the music I heard there, the Sufi festival I visited, the wealth and poverty I saw, and the intelligent, enthusiastic people I met.

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Written by Robin Yassin-Kassab

January 5, 2008 at 1:35 pm

The Islamism of Not

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One of my correspondents has suggested that islamist economic policy cannot improve the dire social conditions of Muslim countries. I think it is being overly generous to islamism to think that it has an economic policy, or any kind of policy at all. Beyond vague promises to implement sharia law (and there’s a concept that means very different things to different people), islamism is best understood by what it is not. It is a rhetorical function rather than anything of substance.

Of course, there are as many different islamisms as there are contexts in which it thrives. Sunni and Shia islamism, right and left islamism, peaceful and violent, macho and feminist, and so on. Perhaps one good way to divide islamisms, however, is into two kinds: islamism to protect established power and islamism to challenge it.

Islamism which protects established power is the older form. The West complained less about it, because the West was happy with the status quo. The classic manifestation of this kind of islamism is the Wahabism of Saudi Arabia, which takes Ibn Taymiya’s anti-Shia, anti-Sufi, anti-innovation discourse to ever more puritan lengths, and which designates the Al-Saud family as guardians of the doctrine. So long as the Sauds suppress religious diversity, demolish shrines, allow full rein to the religious police, they are free to make whatever decisions they wish on the country’s oil wealth and foreign alliances. The king is ‘wali al-amr’ and it is part of religion to obey him.

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Written by Robin Yassin-Kassab

September 13, 2006 at 1:12 pm