There are articles/essays that I find myself repeatedly returning to. They stand the test of time and in this age of throw-away journalism and me-too punditry, these masterpieces are reminders of why real writing and engaged journalism holds such an appeal and how it can cut past prejudices and indifference. I will continue to link to others in this post as I think of them.
Ken Silverstein’s Parties of God is perhaps one of the clearest and most honest pieces written about the emergence of popular democracy in the Middle East and in particular within Islamic political institutions. Its appearance in a mainstream American magazine was surprising, and necessary. Favorite paragraph:
Talking about political Islam, or Islam at all, is difficult for Americans because our stereotypes are so strongly held. Islamists are imagined as poor, uneducated fanatics who, having turned to God for comfort and sustenance, are particularly prone to irrationality and violence. They do not allow their women to drive (when in fact women drive in every Muslim country except Saudi Arabia); indeed, every woman in a veil is seen as a victim of male oppression. When Islamists in Indonesia attack Playboy or Muslim Brothers in Egypt denounce racy Lebanese dancers, it is a sign not only of backwardness but of sexual repression, which is smugly asserted to be a root of Islamic terrorism. (It is doubtful that Osama bin Laden, who has at least three wives, turned to terrorism out of sexual frustration.) Fear of appearing sympathetic to movements that are frankly hostile to the U.S. government is, I suspect, another barrier to frank discussion of Islamic movements, as is the media’s clear bias in favor of Israel.
Pankaj Mishra’s 3 part essay on Kashmir – Death In Kashmir, The Birth Of A Nation & Kashmir: The Unending War, about the conflict there remains amongst the best primers on the situation ever put to the news/magazine page. A must read for anyone trying to figure out what is going on in Kashmir, even though it was written in 2000 at the height of the militancy, it still remains relevant and honest and insightful. There are too many favorite paragraphs but here is one that reminds us that life in this so-called ‘heaven on earth’ was very difficult and cruel even before partition:
The oldest among Kashmiris often claim that there is nothing new about their condition; that they have been slaves of foreign rulers since the sixteenth century when the Moghul emperor Akbar annexed Kashmir and appointed a local governor to rule the state. In the chaos of post-Moghul India, the old empire rapidly disintegrating, Afghani and Sikh invaders plundered Kashmir at will. The peasantry was taxed and taxed into utter wretchedness; the cultural and intellectual life under indigenous rulers that had produced some of the greatest poetry, music, and philosophy in the subcontinent dried up. Barbaric rules were imposed in the early nineteenth century: a Sikh who killed a Muslim native of Kashmir was fined nothing more than two rupees. Victor Jacquemont, a botanist and friend of Stendhal who came to the valley in 1831, thought that “nowhere else in India were the masses as poor and denuded as they were in Kashmir.”