Posts Tagged ‘Jihad’

Kamila Shamsie’s Home Fire: A Modern Antigone

September 23, 2017

By Kabir Altaf

Imagine what Antigone would be like if the action was transported from ancient Greece to today’s London and the main characters were British-Pakistanis.  This premise forms the basis for Kamila Shamsie’s most recent novel Home Fire, which updates Sophocles’ tragedy and sets it in the contemporary context of the War on Terror and the struggle of European countries to deal with their citizens who join the “Islamic State”.  Though ultimately a derivative work—one that doesn’t stand alone without reference to the original—the novel has some interesting insights on what it means to be British and on Islam’s place in today’s UK.

Sophocles’ tragedy centres around the conflict between Antigone and Creon, her uncle and the ruler of Thebes. Antigone desires to bury her brother Polyneices according to religious law while Creon refuses to grant permission since he considers him to be an enemy of the state. In Shamsie’s update, Polyneices becomes Parvaiz Pasha, a young Londoner who becomes radicalized and leaves to work in the “Islamic State’s” media unit in Syria. His sister Aneeka (Antigone) first tries to enable him to return to the UK without facing charges and later to bring his body back to London. Her opponent is Karamat Lone, the British Home Secretary, himself of Pakistani and Muslim origin.  The equivalent of Creon’s refusal to allow Polyneices’s body to be buried in Thebes is Karamat’s order to rescind British citizenship from those dual nationals who act against the interests of the UK.  Thus, after Parvaiz’s death in Istanbul, his body is sent to Pakistan instead of the UK.  Aneeka then travels to Karachi to sit in protest outside the British Consulate until the government allows the body to be returned to the UK.  Her sister Isma (Ismene), on the other hand, attempts to distance the sisters from their brother’s actions.

Shamsie’s characters are all three-dimensional and none are entirely heroic or villainous.  Unlike Antigone, Aneeka uses sex to try to achieve her objectives, becoming involved with Karamat’s son Eamonn (Haemon). In the original play, Antigone is engaged to Haemon, but she sacrifices this relationship to fulfill her obligations to her brother.  Aneeka, in contrast, seduces Eamonn as part of a plan to bring her brother home. Though she does eventually fall in love with him, her initial actions cast her in a manipulative light—she prays and wears the hijab yet doesn’t seem to have problems with premarital sex.

Like Aneeka, Karamat is also a complicated character.  He is an integrationist who distances himself from his Muslim background and marries an Irish woman. He gives his son an Irish name, Eamonn, rather than the Arabic Ayman. Yet, he confesses that in times of stress he often finds himself unconsciously reciting the ayat al-kursi.  Asked in an interview to respond to the accusation that he hates Muslims, he replies “I hate the Muslims who make people hate Muslims” (231).  Shamsie heightens the dramatic conflict by giving the Creon character a Muslim background and depicts that type of Muslim and British-Pakistani who believes that in order to advance in mainstream society, he has to distance himself from his religion and be more loyal than the King.

One of Shamsie’s most interesting departures from Sophocles is providing a bigger backstory for the Polyneices character.  Sophocles begins his story after Polyneices is already dead, so we never learn what drove him to become an enemy of Thebes. In contrast, Shamsie shows the reader the process by which Parvaiz is radicalized, and thus highlights how lost and vulnerable young men are often exploited and brainwashed into waging jihad.  In Parvaiz’s case, he is a young boy who has never known his father, himself a jihadi, a fact that Parvaiz’s mother and sisters never discussed, fearing the negative consequences for the family.  When an older man comes along and asserts that Parvaiz’s father was a hero, Paraviz is naturally drawn to him and led down the path to radicalization.  In Shamsie’s narration, even the jihadi is a somewhat sympathetic character. His motivations are understandable though his actions are reprehensible.  

One of the main themes of the novel is how Britain treats its Muslim citizens.  The story begins with Isma at the airport, enduring a lengthy interrogation that causes her to miss her onward flight to the US, where she plans to pursue her Ph.D.  The interrogation is particularly fraught because of her family background, though the experience of being questioned at Western airports is one familiar to many Muslim travelers.  More problematic is the media’s demonization of British Muslims. As Isma recalls a conversation she had during college: “The 7/7 terrorists were never described by the media as ‘British terrorists’. Even when the word ‘British’ was used it was always ‘British of Pakistani descent’ or ‘British Muslim’ or, my favorite, ‘British passport holders’, always something interposed between their Britishness and terrorism.” (38).  Later, Aneeka refers to the perils of “Googling While Muslim”, a nod to state surveillance of Muslims for any sign of extremism.

Diametrically opposed to the sisters is Karamat, who tells students at a Bradford school: “You are, we are, British. Britain accepts this. So do most of you. But for those of you who are in some doubt about it, let me say this: don’t set yourselves apart in the way you dress, the way you think, the outdated codes of behavior you cling to, the ideologies to which you attach your loyalties. Because if you do, you will be treated differently—not because of racism, though that does still exist, but because you insist on your difference from everyone else in this multi-ethnic, multi-religious, multitudinous United Kingdom of ours” (88). While telling Muslims that they shouldn’t freely express their religion is problematic, there is something to be said for greater assimilation into the societies in which Muslims find themselves.  Karamat’s most problematic action is the rescinding of British citizenship from those dual nationals who act against British interests.  Rather than dealing with why some young British Muslims are alienated from the larger society, this action simply ignores the problem by retroactively defining them as un-British.

Home Fire makes an interesting companion to Antigone though most of the power of the novel comes from seeing how Shamsie has updated that great work of world literature.  Without the literary resonances, the novel would simply be another work that attempts to deal with jihad and the place of Islam in the West, themes worked and reworked by many Pakistani novelists writing in English.

Kabir Altaf graduated from George Washington University with a major in Dramatic Literature.

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Nowhere to Go

May 4, 2017

By Anjum Altaf

I am intrigued by the thought that for an ambitious youngster, passionate about the arts and with a compelling belief in himself or herself, there may be no place in Pakistan to run away to.

The thought occurred to me on reading the biography of Naushad, one of our great music directors. Born in Lucknow, he became fascinated with music early in life. Told by his father to choose between home and music Naushad ran away to Bombay at the age of 18. The rest, as they say, is history.

The Bombay of those times was the place to run away to for the passionate young. Naushad was not the only one. There were literally hundreds of others from cities as far away as Peshawar and Madras and towns and villages scattered across the subcontinent. It was a magnet not only for those interested in music but in dance, theater, films and writing – a mecca for aspiring artists whose talents and ambitions were either thwarted or had no prospects of fruition in the milieus in which they were born and raised.

Bombay was a magnet because it also had the ecosystem of peer groups, mentors and patrons in which a young runaway could hope to find a niche and be accommodated. Naushad, after sleeping on footpaths for a while, found Ustad Jhande Khan (himself from Gujranwala) who became a guide and a link to others who could recognize, appreciate and nurture a precocious talent.

Thinking along these lines brought home to me that such artistic meccas exist in many countries. New York City is the quintessential example. Reading the biographies of celebrated American artists one is struck by how many of them gravitated there from small towns, rural districts and depressed areas thousands of miles away and how the city provided the nourishment for their talents to be realized.

London, Paris and Vienna are well-known examples from other countries. It is cities like these that keep culture alive and vibrant within countries and serve as beacons of hope for those who feel the overpowering urge to become a part of that culture.

One might wish such ambitions to find nourishment for their fulfillment anywhere in a country but that is an impossibility because of the economies of scale and agglomeration. Much like clusters of industry there are clusters of the arts where nourishing ecosystems become established. Some countries have more than one. In the US, for example, one can consider New Orleans and Los Angeles in a similar light. Young people attracted to jazz head to New Orleans while those hoping to make it in the world of film are drawn to Los Angeles.

Does it matter that there is no such place for the young to run away to akistan? Is the artistic culture of the country being impoverished or not being rejuvenated sufficiently or being confined to those who have privileged access to it by being born in the right home in the right place?

Young men from Charsadda and Skardu and Turbat do move to Karachi for jobs but does one know of budding musicians or artists or actors heading there from similar places with a hope that a nurturing haven would be found in the metropolis.

Lahore could have been considered a mini-Bombay in the decades when it had its major film studios and the Pak Tea House as the abode of writers. But that seems no more the case. Even then, at the Tea House it was only local students who could become part of the intellectual circle. There is no evidence of a regular influx of outsiders turning up with burning ambition and the hope of learning enough to make a living from their passions.

I hope I am wrong and wish someone will identify such places in the country. Perhaps some shrines, especially in Sindh, serve a similar function though I wouldn’t put them in the same category as a place like New York where something new is always in the process of being born.

I am also sobered by the thought that over the last few decades places to run away to in Pakistan might have emerged for the young moved by religious fervor. Depending on preference they could head to Raiwind or Akora Khattak or Karachi with the knowledge that they would find a haven with refuge and nurturing.

Some of these havens have acquired international recognition and youngsters have started streaming to them from the far corners of the globe. In a sense they have attained the stature of the Paris between the two wars when it became the destination of choice for aspiring artists from the world over.

Could this be a reason that Pakistan has become known in the world as the center of Jihadi culture while its artistic evolution continues to shrivel?

This opinion appeared in Dawn on April 30, 2017 and is reproduced here with permission of the author.

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The Jihad Movement – II

September 24, 2013

By Ahmed Kamran

With the departure of Raja Mahindra Partap and Maulvi Barkatullah and others from Kabul, the Provisional Government of India was now almost solely entrusted to Obaidullah Sindhi and some of the Lahore students, including Zafar Hasan Aibak, Allah Nawaz Khan, and Mohammad Ali who tried to infuse a new life in it. However, under severe pressure from Britain, the Provisional Government was made totally restricted after conclusion of the Third Anglo-Afghan War in August 1919. Eventually, under the instructions of the Afghan Government, it was formally disbanded in 1922. Obaidullah Sindhi and his colleagues quietly left for Tashkent. They reached Termiz in Soviet Union in Oct 1922.

The Hijrat Begins

Ironically, at this time when, on the one hand, Indian nationalist revolutionaries in Kabul were being expelled or leaving it in disgust, and on the other hand, the Turks now led by Mustafa Kamal were taking measures to wrest all political and secular powers from the institution of Caliphate in Turkey, Muslim Ulema, quite naively, helped develop a highly emotional and explosive situation for Muslims in India.

During the Third Anglo-Afghan War, the Muslim Urdu press created another sensational and emotionally charged atmosphere among Indian Muslims. Muslim prayer leaders and some of the leading Ulema again senselessly declared India as Darul Harb (an abode of war; a place where Muslims must either wage a war or migrate from) and encouraged Muslims to leave India for a Darul Islam (an abode of peace; an Islamic country) in Afghanistan and fight for the restoration of old glory of the Muslim Caliphate. It is, indeed, a moot point whether these nationalist Ulema did all this deliberately to mislead people, knowing full well the implications of the situation abroad, or they did it, albeit foolishly, but in good faith. I, for one, am inclined to believe that, probably, it was more of the latter than the former.

However, clearly, not having a clue of the international situation and the current alignment of forces and their respective strengths, some pious and well-meaning sentimental Muslims, unwittingly, fell prey to the deceptive situation. They started undertaking migration to neighboring Afghanistan. Initially, a slow trickle, it gained strength and, soon, turned into a torrent.

In fairly large numbers, Muslims sold or gave away their houses, shops, chattels, and personal belongings and undertook en mass Hijrat (migration) to Afghanistan and Turkish lands. Barrister Jan Mohammad Junejo organized a special train of Muhajirs from Sindh to Peshawar. This was the second major Hijrat movement of Indian Muslims after Syed Ahmed Barailvi’s first, albeit limited, movement in early 1830’s. Starting from about June 1920, Indian Muslims from all walks of life in their hundreds started leaving for Afghanistan without even bothering to find out how and where they would be staying in their new adopted country. As if in a trance, they believed in a hazy dream of an ideal Muslim state that was supposed to be waiting, with open arms, to welcome them. Young and old, people from Punjab, Sindh, UP, Bihar, Kohat, and Hazara, together with their women and children were heading for the Afghan border in the NWFP, in droves by train, oxen carts, tonga, and on foot.

The migration started with a trickle. Initially, a few hundred arrived in Peshawar, the first camp on their way. Then it soon grew into an almost uncontrollable torrent. Amir Amanullah Khan also, perhaps unwittingly, provided impetus to the movement by issuing a thoughtless statement that ‘the whole country of Afghanistan would welcome Indian Muhajirs’. Probably, it was intended more to score a few rosy points by a new emerging leader of the Muslim world than to expect a real migration in significant numbers. Certainly, he had underestimated the zeal of some pious Indian Muslims.

Though initiated by the religious leaders of Deoband by issuing a Fatwa, a religious edict, and supported by the eminent Muslim scholar Maulana Abdul Bari Farangi Mahli of Lukhnow, the movement grew rapidly without a central leadership or proper guidance. It was, probably, one of the biggest spontaneous movements in the history of India in recent times. Towards the end, large groups of up to 1,000 people were arriving at the border in one day. It is estimated that in all about 40,000 to 50,000 people left their homes and hearths to undertake this Hijrat.

Notable people among those who reached the border for Hijrat included a young Khan Abdul Ghafar Khan from Charsadda, Abdul Qadir Sehrai from Peshawar, Abdul Aziz and Waris Butt from Amritsar, Shaukat Usmani from Bikaner, Rajputana, and Fazal Elahi Qurban and Firozuddin Mansoor from Punjab. Others included Fida Ali Zahid, Iqbal Shaidai, and Murtaza Ahmed Khan Maikash. Most of them were educated urban youth, belonging to the middle class families of Punjab, UP, and CP. During the fervor of initial heady days of the Hijrat, some notables of Peshawar including Haji Jan Mohammad, Syed Maqbool Shah, and few others made camping arrangements for Muhajirs, after getting many inns and living quarters vacated in the Namak Mandi of Peshawar. Volunteers of ‘Hijrat Committee’ distributed food and water among tired Muhajirs. Curiously, the British government didn’t stop anyone from crossing the border. The Government officials were, however, quietly observing the movement of people.

A Dream Turns Sour

But soon the bitter reality started to dawn upon the unsuspecting Muhajirs. After crossing over into Afghanistan, the conditions were quite harsh and much different from what these enthusiastic Muhajirs had, perhaps, imagined. It was highly rugged terrain, with almost no agriculture or commercial life. There was hardly any sign of modern built infrastructure in the border areas of Afghanistan. The tribal people were illiterate and living in most primitive and savage conditions, compared to what these Muhajirs, mostly from urban areas of British India, were used to in their fairly developed and civilized towns. Raising slogans of Allah-o-Akbar on their way, when Muhajirs started arriving near Jalalabad, there was no one to receive them or make arrangement for their stay. People were staying overnight in the open fields. They were like sitting ducks before birds of prey. Soon, armed bands of the local tribesmen started looting and plundering the bewildered Muhajirs, and abducting their young women. While situation was rapidly deteriorating in Afghanistan and Muhajirs couldn’t find an escape from the cruelty of the armed tribesmen, more and more groups of Muhajirs were pouring in. The initial shock and a sense of shame and humiliation prevented these Muhajirs to quickly retrace their steps and return to their homeland.

Unfamiliar with the rough terrain, many Muhajirs took flight in whichever direction they could find an escape from this calamity. Many perished in their endeavors for finding a safe way back home. Some managed to reach Kabul. They were temporarily provided with some shelter by the Afghan Government But soon, the number of Muhajirs arriving every day was beyond the limited capacity of the nominal government of Afghanistan. A panicked Amir Amnaullah Khan tried to stem the tide and urged Obaidullah Sindhi to stop the train of people arriving at the border with India. But the movement was clearly without a central leadership and planning. It was no longer possible to put a lid on it.

It took a few months before the shocking news of the plight of the Muhajirs in Afghanistan started reaching back home and the flow of the new groups slowed down, eventually stopping it in large measure by September 1920. The Hijrat Movement grew rapidly like a balloon and was deflated as quickly in a few months.

Its weaknesses and total lack of planning notwithstanding, it was an enormous human tragedy, which, usually, does not even find a brief mention in our history books. We may not, perhaps, doubt the intentions of the religious leaders and some of the prominent Ulema. But, undoubtedly, these religious leaders apparently had no clue of the dimensions and the implications of what they were exhorting equally uninformed people to undertake. It was not a forced Hijrat undertaken under some compulsion. It was, on the contrary, a deliberate and voluntary action undertaken without any homework.

This huge Hijrat movement, in a strange way, however, played an important role on the future course of events. Many of the more ambitious and determined people from these Muhajirs persisted in their efforts and moved forward in spite of difficulties.

But even this great human tragedy was used by the Afghan Government as a bargaining chip in its rounds of negotiations with the British Government at Mussoorie and Kabul, following the Third Afghan War. Sardar Mohammad Tarzi, the Afghan foreign minister and father-in-law of Amir Amanullah Khan managed to obtain from Obaidullah Sindhi a few confidential letters addressed to notable Muslim leaders of India including Mohammad Ali Jauhar, and Dr M.A. Ansari asking them to incite Muslims to rise in revolt against the British Government. Sardar Tarzi made Obaidullah Sindhi to believe that these letters will only be used in the event British Government did not agree to meet Afghanistan’s just demand for acknowledging it as a truly independent sovereign country and agreeing to home rule in India. Sardar Mohammad Tarzi, however, without even raising the issue of home rule in India, showed Maulana Sindhi’s letters to his British counterparts, with a view to push them for obtaining maximum concessions for himself and Amanullah Khan. The British conceded many Afghan demands but, in return, upon information provided by the Afghan delegation, widespread arrests of the Indian revolutionaries were made, multiple conspiracy cases were instituted, and many revolutionary workers were executed and jailed.

By now Obaidullah Sindhi had also seen through the duplicity of Afghan leaders and started looking for help towards the newly established Soviet Union for the independence of India. He allowed Lahore student Khushi Mohammad to leave for Tashkent for seeking help. Khushi Mohammad reached Tashkent in mid 1920 and there he met M.N. Roy and others. He entered into the ‘Communist University for the Toilers of the East’ and studied communist ideology.

Jihad Revolutionaries

At the beginning of the Hijrat movement of 1920, probably, the first to arrive in Afghanistan was a young man of 22, Rafiq Ahmed from Bhopal. He reached the Afghan border together with his elder brother Kabir Ahmed. Kabir Ahmed, being a government employee in Bhopal, was not allowed by the British border security officials to pass without government authority. His repeated passionate requests could not buy him passage. Kabir Ahmed returned home disappointed and Rafiq Ahmed moved ahead. He reached Kabul and met Amanullah Khan. This was a little before Muhajirs in large numbers started arriving in Afghanistan. Soon, few more young men arrived in Kabul. These were Mohammad Akbar Khan, Gohar Rehman1 and Sultan Mehmood from Rihana, Haripur Hazara, and Mian Akbar Shah from Noshehra. They met Obaidullah Sindhi, Abdul Rab2 of former Berlin Committee, and the group of Lahore students who were already there for few years.

Soon, with the arrival of increasing number of Muhajirs in Kabul, it became difficult for the Afghan Government to keep an eye on them. With the Afghan-British negotiations already underway, Amanullah Khan’s support for the Indian revolutionaries had also started cooling off. The Muhajirs, including Obaidullah Sindhi, Abdul Rab, and Rafiq Ahmed were once again shifted to Jabalul Siraj, a camp about 75 Km north of Kabul. There were now about 180 Muhajirs placed at the camp and were, for all practical purposes, forgotten and ignored by the Afghan Government The Muhajirs had no other choice but to either return to India in humiliation or to advance further ahead. They split into two groups. One was led by Mohammad Akbar Khan of Hazara, and the other was led by Mohammad Akbar Jan of Peshawar. The first group proceeded around July 1920 to Mazar Sharif for crossing Jaihun River (Oxus or Amu Darya) to enter into Russian Turkistan near Termiz (in present day Uzbekistan) to reach Anatolia in Turkey via Turkmenistan. At Termiz, Muhajirs were welcomed by a small contingent of soviet army posted there. The local governor of Termiz tried to persuade Muhajirs to abandon their journey to Turkey in the rapidly changing situation on the war front but they were highly enthused with the idea of joining the Turkish army in defense of Muslims.

Haji Shahabuddin and Shaukat Usmani, both heavily imbued with Islamic revolutionary fervor, addressed Muhajirs, passionately exhorting them to move forward without wasting time and for realizing their dream of fighting the British and European powers alongside their brave Turkish brethren. With shouts of Allah-o-Akbar, the Muhajirs were fired up to immediately proceed ahead. From Termiz, Amu River runs as a border between Afghanistan’s Balkh province and present day Uzbekistan for about 100 Km before it enters into Turkmenistan. Acting against the Soviet military officers’ advice for waiting for a steamer boat for undertaking upward journey from Termiz, the Mujahidin boarded country sail boats for their next destination at Kirki in Turkmenistan via Amu River.

Mujahids’ Miseries

After this it is a horrible and tragic story of these enthusiastic Muhajirs’ long ordeal. The untold stories of these adventures have been well recorded in many memoirs and autobiographies of those people who survived the rigors and eventually returned after many years to play notable roles in the larger struggle of the independence of their country.3

The Muhajirs were captured by savage Turkmen Basmachis (Basmachi is derived from Uzbek word Basmak, which means armed robber and highwayman) shortly before reaching Kirki. These Turkmens robbed Muhajirs depriving them of their money and last material possessions, and cruelly beating them on one pretext or other. Riding on horses and with lashes in their hands, they made the Indian Muhajirs run barefoot on the rugged terrain under a burning summer sun. The Muhajirs’ pleadings and appeals to their Muslim brotherhood with repeated recitation of Quranic verses and Kalma-e-Shahadat (an avowed declaration of being Muslim) all fell on deaf ears. After entering into Turkmenistan, another group of about 28 Muhajirs was attacked by Turkmen Basmachi. Their belongings were looted, and all but one was killed. The only survivor was Ghulam Rasool, who managed to escape with fatal injuries, barely reached Termiz to tell the story, before dying the next day. Of this unfortunate Muhajirs group, he was the only one who got a burial and a grave. The dead bodies of all others remained scattered in desolate grounds and were consumed by scavengers.

These Turkmen were the soldiers of the former Amir of Bukhara who were banded together, financed, and supplied with weapons by the British agents to rise in revolt against the newly established Soviet Revolutionary government. The legends of these savage armed brigands’ exaggerated piety, bravery, and heroic fight against communist Bolsheviks was widely propagated during those days by the British and European journals among unsuspecting Muslim population of India and the Middle East. The Amir of Bukhara, Syed Salimuddin had been defeated only weeks before and a Soviet Peoples Republic was founded with Usman Khwaja as its first President. Bukhara had long degenerated into a centre of decadent and stagnant reactionary interpretation of Islam. According to 1911 census, there were 1,440 religious schools and 1,320 Madrassas where about 200,000 religious students were enrolled. Teaching of not only natural and social sciences but even Islamic history was prohibited in the religious schools of Bukhara, lest the young and simple students get misguided. It was a similar story, a kind of déjà vous that was to be repeated seventy years later in Afghanistan when the Islamic Mujahidin were fighting a guerrilla war, financed and managed by the American CIA and Pakistan’s ISI against Russian army in 1990’s.

Finally, the Turkmen elders and religious leaders declared all captive Indian Muhajirs as Jadeedis (The Modernists) and ordered their killing. The group of about eighty Muhajirs was made to stand in a circle waiting for execution by a firing squad. Moments before the execution was to be carried out, fortunately, a Red army contingent arrived there and attacked the Turkmen positions. After a pitched battle for few days, the Turkmen militants dispersed in haste. Exhausted and impoverished due to extreme hardship and hunger during about two weeks of captivity, the Indian Muhajirs were finally rescued by the Bolsheviks.

After a little rest and recuperation under the protection of Soviet army unit, the Indian Muhajirs finally reached Kirki. Here a Soviet army contingent welcomed them and provided shelter for taking rest. At Kirki camp, some of the Muhajirs also participated, shoulder to shoulder with soviet army, in a battle against a week-long raid of a large contingent of Basmachis on the Soviet post. Others, under Haji Shahabuddin, however, remained confined to the barracks during the fighting.

Muhajirs who had lost their communication links with the outside world for some time, received news of Turkey and other countries after a long time at Kirki. Here they came to know that the Turks under Mustafa Kamal have already declared establishing a Republic at Smyrna that did not recognize the Ottoman Caliph. The Turkish forces were fighting for their own country’s survival against occupying armies of the West and that Turkey, in its current situation, was in no position to help India win its freedom. Not willing to take further risks of again falling into the hands of Basmachis, Muhajirs proceeded from Kirki to Charjui by a Russian steamer. They were given a warm send off with a military band by the Soviet army.

New Horizons

After reaching Charjui, the group was split into two opposing groups. One group still wished to proceed to Turkey to join the war while the other group by now had a change of heart and was of the opinion to go to Tashkent to seek help from the Soviet forces. Shaukat Usmani4, who had been a staunch supporter of Haji Shahabuddin and thus far had been solely guided by his Islamic religious motivation, also had seen through the harsh reality of the situation. He also parted ways from Haji Shahabuddin. One group that finally left for Tashkent via Bukhara by train was led by Mohammad Akbar Khan of Hazara and included Firozuddin Mansoor5, Mir Abdul Hamid, Sultan Mehmood, Shaukat Usmani, Rafiq Ahmed, Masood Ali Shah, Gohar Rehman, Mian Mohammad Akbar Shah, Abdul Qadir Sehrai, Fida Ali Zahid, and Ghulam Mohammad. It reached Bukhara by end September 1920.

The other group under the leadership of Haji Shahabuddin included Fazal Elahi Qurban, reached Baku at a time when an intense battle between Turks and the Greeks was being fought at Smyrna (now Izmir). Baku was an important military station from where regular materials and weapons supplies were being dispatched in support of Turkish army. The Mujahidin arrived in Baku to join the Turkish war at Smyrna. But Turkish military officers at Baku were in no mood to let these Mujahidin from India to join. These Indian volunteers were suspected to be British agents. Unfortunately, at the same time news of the arrest of a British Muslim agent Mustafa Saghir (from Muradabad in UP) in Anatolia reached Baku. Arriving from India in the guise of a Muslim volunteer on his mission to assassinate Mustafa Kamal, Mustafa Saghir was arrested by Turkish army. The British secret police had planned to assassinate Mustafa Kamal to demolish Turkish war efforts against Greeks. Captured with ample documentary evidence of his assassination mission, Mustafa Saghir was tried in a military court and was executed. With the breaking of this news, the fate of the newly arrived contingent of enthusiastic Indian Mujahidin was completely sealed. In fact, now they were viewed as highly suspect in Baku.

There was a large number of Indians, mostly belonging to trading communities, who were long settled in the Central Asian towns, including Bukhara, Baku, and Samarkand. They were primarily engaged in trading and commerce. Many of these Indians had formed Indian nationalist association with branches operating at Samarkand and Baku. The Baku branch of an Indian group used to bring out a fortnightly paper under the name of Azad Hindustan. While Indian Muhajirs were still at Baku, a news item was published in the paper providing details of Rehmat Ali Zakaria (from the Indian students stationed with them at Jabalul Siraj) addressing the Third Congress of the Communist Party at Tashkent. Zakaria had arrived in Soviet Union in November 1917. He had presented the case of India’s revolutionary struggle for its independence from the British colonial rule to the Congress in Tashkent. Khushi Mohammad of Lahore students (who had changed his name to Mohammad Ali) had arrived in January 1920.

Frustrated with the denial of access to Turkish war and after interaction with the members of the Baku branch of the Indian revolutionaries, the Indian Muhajirs again split into two groups: one was of the view to proceed to Tashkent to join other Indian revolutionaries in their continued struggle, while the other larger group wanted to quit and leave for their homes in India.

The larger group led by Haji Shahabuddin that set out for returning to India, unfortunately, met with yet more disasters. Only a few managed to reach their homes. Most of them perished on their way or were brutally killed by Turkmen Basmachis. Those who were killed by Turkmens included the group leader Haji Shahabuddin.

Life in Tashkent

The first group heading for the Soviet Union reached Tashkent in October 1920. Abdul Rab received them and arranged for their stay at the India House. Next day, M.N. Roy6, Abhinath Mukerji7, and Mohammad Shafiq arrived to meet them. The second Muhajirs group arrived in Tashkent via Ashkabad and Samarkand by the middle of Ocobert 1920. It included Fazal Elahi Qurban8.

About 40-50 Muhajirs arriving in Tashkent were mainly divided into three groups. Dejected and disappointed, the majority wished to return home, while, some wished to stay in Tashkent and continue their struggle for the independence of India with the help of the new Soviet revolutionary government, and a few others, albeit in very small numbers, still insisted on proceeding to Turkey. Those who wanted to return home were facilitated to go back to India, and those heading for Turkey were helped to push on but they were soon turned back by the Turkish authorities at the border, denying them visa, most likely, on the suspicion of them being the ‘British spies’. The others returning home gathered in Kabul by the summer of 1921 and undertook their journeys to India.

The Indians in Tashkent formed an Indian Revolutionary Association that was headed by Abdul Rab. Its branch in Baku had Fazal Qadir as secretary and Mohammad Farigh as treasurer. Most members of the association were Punjabi and Pathan soldiers who had deserted from the British army after refusing to fire upon Muslim Turkish army. Some of these soldiers stayed in Tashkent and others proceeded to Samarkand and Baku.

About 26 of the Muhajirs staying back in Tashkent joined the political and military training school, Indusky Krus, set up by the Communist International under the guidance of M. N. Roy. They were put up at the ‘India House’ set up in Tashkent. Later, they were sent to Moscow to continue their training at the newly established ‘Communist University for the Toilers of the East’. At Tashkent and Moscow, the Indian Muhajirs met other Indian revolutionaries of the Ghadar Party and the Berlin Committee who had by now gathered together there. The convergence and fusion of these three independent streams of Indian nationalism – the Ghadar Party, the Berlin Committee, and the Hijrat Movement – produced a group of revolutionaries who became the founding fathers of the Communist Party of India in September 1920 in Tashkent.

Ever since the first group of students from Lahore had gone to Afghanistan in February 1915, the British secret police was alert and keeping track of the movements of different groups of Muhajirs and of the members of the Indian Provisional Government From the intelligence reports reaching from Kabul, Bukhara, and Tashkent, the British Indian secret police was already aware of the gradual return of the Indian Muhajir groups. Most of them returned to Peshawar via Kabul and some took the Pamir route via Chitral. A few also arrived at Quetta via Kandahar. Most of them were intercepted and interrogated at the border by Mr. Ewart, the officer-in-charge of the British Intelligence Bureau at Peshawar. The first batch of the returning Muhajirs arrived at Peshawar in June 1921.

Barkatullah – a True Revolutionary

Maulvi Barkatullah and Virendranath Chattopadhia9 and other Berlin Committee leaders lived in Soviet Union for a while. Barkatullah and Mahindra Partap met V. I. Lenin and gained his personal confidence. From Moscow, Barkatullah was sent with the Soviet delegation at the end of 1919 to Geneva for participating in the talks between Soviets and the Allies. He was instrumental in building strong working relationships with, and diplomatic support for, the Turkish delegation at the Peace Talks. He returned to Moscow and stayed there till 1922 before, he eventually returned to Berlin to continue his mission from there. He brought out a journal Al Islah from Berlin and lived in a small, dark cell-like room.

While in Soviet Union, Maulvi Barkatullah had said in one of his interview to Petrograd Pravda in 1919, ‘neither am I a socialist nor a communist. My political mission is to expel the British and other imperialists from Asia. I am strongly opposed to the European capitalism in Asia that is represented by the British. In this struggle I am a staunch ally of the communists and I consider them as necessary allies for achieving my political objectives. I think today without their practical support winning freedom from the imperialists is a pipe dream’.

Later, in another interview to the newspaper Ishtrakyon (Socialists), in Tashkent, he had again said, ‘I am not a communist. I am an anti-imperialist revolutionary. But I respect communist ideology from my heart. Communism or Bolshevism is a social and economic system that I, as a Muslim scholar, find much closer to Islam. Islam is a religion for poor and oppressed. And communism is an ideology of those who are downtrodden and oppressed for centuries and it seeks guarantees for their basic and democratic rights. The imperialist robbers and Zamir Farosh [Conscience Seller] Mullahs and so-called religious leaders who are stealing the fruits of labour of workers and peasants in collusion with the imperialists are living a luxurious life. One day I must return to my creator, and today, I make my Allah as witness to say that these Mullahs and religious leaders who are opposing Bolsheviks and communists have sold their religion and faith’.10

It was a cold evening with snow softly falling on the streets of Berlin in February 1924, when the small creaky door of Barkatullah’s room was knocked. Barkatullah, now 70, was deeply absorbed in reading; he slowly got up and opened the door. A man of medium height, with ‘neat black hair and dark eyes expressing something biting and cruel’, stepped inside. His lower lip drooped deeply and he was too slick in a demonstratively elegant suit. Everything in his manner expressed something haughtily indifferent to his surroundings’11. He was the British super-spy, Lieutenant Sidney George Reilly, a Jewish Russian born in Odessa, Ukraine, an adventurer and killer secret agent employed by the British Secret Intelligence Service (SIS). He was alleged to have spied for at least four nations. His notoriety during the 1920s was created owing to his key role in a thwarted operation to assassinate V. I. Lenin and overthrow the Bolshevik regime in 1918. It is strongly believed that British author Ian Fleming’s popular character James Bond was inspired by Reilly’s exploits12. Calmly, Barkatullah inquired from Reilly whether he had come to murder him. With a mischievous sly smile, the hardened ace spy told Barkatullah that Lenin was his prime target and he had already died the previous month on 24 January in Moscow and that he (Barkatullah) was too old and weak to be killed by him.

Reilly called into the room four tall, rugged men of Central Asian origin, with long thick beards and high caps who were still waiting outside; these men were Mustafa Jarullah, Mullah Shakoor Khan, Mustafa Chowkhif, and Mullah Ibrahim. These people had been recruited by the British agents from Bukhara and Samarkand region to organize an anti-Soviet campaign in the Muslim lands for inciting rebellion in the Central Asia. Sidney Reilly offered Maulvi Barkatullah to join and head the Turkistan Ulema delegation to India and the Middle East to speak against Bolsheviks and narrate horror stories of their cruelty and the strict ban on Islam and the Muslims in the Central Asia. Advising Barkatullah that he was now too old and feeble to continue in his hopeless struggle for the independence of India, it was high time for him that he should accept the British offer and live his last days in comfort and official respect in his own homeland. In return Barkatullah was offered an estate worth Rs. 200,000 in India, in addition to a comfortable pension of Rs. 60,000 per annum for life. He indicated that the stakes could be raised, provided Barkatullah was willing to talk.

Maulvi Barkatullah looked at Sidney Reilly’s face and said, ‘I have been sincerely struggling all my life for the independence of my country. Today, I regret that my attempts did not succeed. But at the same time I am also satisfied that hundreds and thousands of others who have followed me are brave and truthful. With satisfaction I will place the destiny of my beloved nation in their hands13. I have no desire to go down in history as a traitor to my country. You may easily find others who will gladly join you. Leave me alone.’ He firmly rejected the offer, saying to the Turkmen Ulema,

Qahba chun peer shawad, paisha kunad dallali
(When a whore gets old, she turns into a pimp)

Sidney Reilly and Turkmen Mullahs quietly left the room.14

Diabetic and suffering from many illnesses, Maulvi Barkatullah continued in his struggle till he breathed his last. Jawaharlal Nehru met Barkatullah in Berlin and again at Brussels Conference in 1927 and was visibly impressed as is recorded in his Autobiography. Together with his long time friend, Raja Mahindra Partap Singh, Barkatullah visited US in July 1927 at the invitation of Indian revolutionaries in India. On 15th July 1927, he was given a reception by the Indian community at Ceylon Indian Inn on 49th Street in New York. He also met the Pan-Africanist Marcus Garvey, founder of the Universal Negro Improvement Association and African Communities League. The two also spoke at a joint gathering of African-Americans and Indians. Barkatullah travelled to Chicago, Gary, and several other cities of the Midwest renewing his links with the Indian and Irish communities among whom he had many friends.

He arrived at the Yugantar Ashram, the Ghadar Party’s headquarters in San Francisco. He then proceeded to Marysville where he gave his last public speech. Barkatullah died in San Francisco on 20 September 1927. His body was taken from San Francisco to Sacramento where he was buried in the Muslim Cemetery with the promise that after the freedom of his country, his body would be transported to his own motherland for burial in Bhopal. His remains, however, still lie buried in Sacramento City Cemetery, California15.

Faiz phir kab kisi maqtal meiN karen gay aabad
Lab pe veraaN haiN shaheedoN ke fasaney kab se

Notes

1. Gohar Rehman from village Rihana, Haripur Hazara was to be a brother-in-law of Muhammad Ayub Khan, later a General and the President of Pakistan.

2. Abdul Rab from Peshawar had been a senior officer in the British Consulate in Baghdad. After WW1 started, the British Consulate was closed and the entire staff left Baghdad. Abdul Rab, already influenced by Wahabi religious movement and of Pan Islamism, stayed back in Baghdad. As the influence of Pan Islamic movement grew on him, he became more and more anti British. He was taken on board by the Berlin Committee members in their endeavor to raise war efforts and had arrived in Kabul with Raja Mahindra Partap and Maulvi Barkatullah. Later, he also moved to Tashkent.

3. The Muhajirs’ tragic stories are told in great detail in various memoirs and autobiographies, including Peshawar se Moscow (From Peshawar to Moscow) and Main Stalin se Dobara Mila (I met Stalin Again), Shaukat Usmani, Swaraj Publishing House, Banaras, 1927; Unforgettable Journey, an autobiography of Rafiq Ahmed, MS, extensively quoted in The Story behind Moscow-Tashkent Conspiracy Cases, S.M. Mehdi, New Delhi, 1967; Mushahidat-e Kabul-o-Yaghistan, Maulvi Mohammad Ali Qasuri, Anjuman Taraqi-e-Urdu, Karachi, 1955;  Auraq-e Gumgashta (The Pages that Were Lost), Rais Ahmed Jafri; Reshmi Rumal Tehrik (Silk Handkerchief Movement), Zubair Ahmed Firdousi, Nigarshat, Lahore, 1988; Gumshuda Auraq (The Lost Pages), Shaukat Siddiqui, Riktab Publications, Karachi, 2011; Documents of The History of The Communist Party of India, Vol. Two (1923-1925), Ed. G. Adhikari, People’s Publishing House, New Delhi, 1974. Moreover, personal accounts of the Hijrat Movement have been provided in detail in the Autobiography of Zafar Hasan Aibak in two volumes, Sarguzisht-e Mujahidin (The Story of Mujahidin), Maulana Ghulam Rasool Meher; Mian Akbar Shah’s account was serialized in Monthly Sarhad, Peshawar in 1970; Dastaan-e Khanwada-e Mian Mehmood Ali Qasuri (Family Saga of Mian Mehmood Ali Qasuri), Abdullah Malik, Jang Publishers, Lahore, 1995; an Autobiography of Fazal Elahi Qurban was also published.

4. Shaukat Usmani was from Bikaner in Rajputana. His real name was Maula Bux and he was a student of Dungar College in Bikaner when he decided to undertake Hijrat. In his love for Usmani (Ottoman) Government of Turkey, he changed his name to Shaukat Usmani (Glory of Ottomans). Later, Shaukat Usmani was to become one of the early communist leaders of India and figured prominently in the well-known Kanpur Conspiracy Case, 1924 and Meerut Conspiracy Case of 1929, under which many of the leading members of the Communist Party of India were tried.

5. Commonly known as Dada Firozuddin Mansoor, together with Dada Amir Hyder and Fazal Elahi Qurban, was one of the earliest Muslim members of the Communist Party of India in Punjab and, later, a veteran communist leader of the Communist Party of Pakistan in its early days.

6. M.N. Roy, born in District 24 Parganna near Calcutta, studied engineering and chemistry. Joined Bengali revolutionaries and went to Java for raising arms from Germans. Disappointed, he went to Japan and met Chinese nationalist leader Dr Sun Yat Sen, the founder of Chinese Koumintang Party. Followed by the British police, he reached San Francisco via Korea. At Palo Alto he met and married Evelyn Trent, a young Stanford graduate. The couple moved to New York where Roy was first introduced to Marxist ideology and actively engaged in revolutionary activities. Haunted by the police, the couple escaped to Mexico where M.N. Roy became a founding member of the Socialist Party of Mexico (later converted into the Communist Party of Mexico) in December 1917, gaining the distinction of the first Communist Party outside Russia. Roy also provided support to the penniless Mikhail Borodin, a Bolshevik leader in exile. Upon Borodin’s returning home after Bolshevik revolution, grateful Moscow invited M.N. Roy to the Second Congress of the Communist International in Moscow in 1920. Briefed about his activities in the US and Mexico, V.I. Lenin warmly received Roy and was taken into the Presidium of the ComIntern, which he served for eight years. Roy was personally commissioned by Lenin to prepare the East – particularly, India – for the revolution. M.N. Roy founded the political and military training school for Indian revolutionaries in Tashkent and helped formulate Lenin’s Preliminary Draft Thesis on the National & Colonial Questions. Stalin appointed Roy as head of the ComIntern delegation to China in 1927 to help develop agrarian revolution. Later, owing to the internal party rivalries between Stalin, Trotsky, Zinoviev, and Bukharin, Roy fell from Stalin’s grace and managed to escape Russia with Trotsky’s deportation in May 1928. He was expelled from ComIntern in Dec 1929. Roy returned to India in Dec 1930 and was arrested in Jul 1931. He was sentenced for 12 years RI in jail in Jan 1932. The sentence was, however, reduced to six years. He was released in Nov 1936 in broken health, with lasting damage to his lungs and kidneys. Disillusioned with both Western democracy and communism, Roy devoted the last ten years of his life to developing an alternate philosophy which he called Radical Humanism of which he wrote a detailed exposition in his book Reason, Romanticism and Revolution. Finally, settled in Dehra Dun, Roy died in Jan 1954.

7. Abhinath Mukerji, born in Jabalpur was trained as a weaver in cotton mills in Ahmadabad. Sent for professional training in Germany and Japan, he was exposed to socialist ideas. Joined revolutionary movement in Calcutta and arrested in Singapore in 1915 while arranging for arms shipment to India. Escaped from prison in Singapore, he reached Dutch Java and joined the communist party. Travelled to Amsterdam, attended Second Congress of ComIntern in Moscow in 1920 and met Lenin and M.N. Roy. Together with Roy and his wife Evelyn, Mukerji wrote The Indian Communist Manifesto which was published in Glasgow Socialist. Stayed in Tashkent as in-charge of the Indian Military School. There becoming a formal member of the Russian Communist Party. Mukerji returned to India in 1922 and for a while worked in Bengal and helped forming Labour Kisan Party of Hindustan in Madras. Later, he returned to Moscow but broke away from Roy. He became an academician and Indologist at the Oriental Institute of the Academy of Sciences of the USSR, becoming President of the All India Association of Orientalists. Mukerji married Rosa Fitingov, of Russian-Jewish origin; she was a member of the Communist Party and an assistant to the Lenin’s private secretary, Lydia Fotieva. Mukerji eventually fell victim to the great purge in the Soviet Communist Party and was executed in October 1937.

8. Fazal Elahi Qurban was to emerge as a veteran communist leader in Punjab in united India. Later, at the time of the formation of the Communist Party of Pakistan in 1948, he was involved in an attempt to form a parallel Communist Party of Pakistan in defiance of the instructions of the Communist Party of India. He and few of his comrades scorned the CPI decision of appointing Sajjad Zaheer from UP as the first Secretary General of CPP. He was subsequently expelled from the party by Sajjad Zaheer after his assumption of office in Pakistan.

9. Viren Chattopadhia stayed in Soviet Union working at the Communist International with M.N. Roy. After developing differences with M. N. Roy, Viren returned to Germany in 1927 when Barkatullah died in San Francisco. He formally joined the German Communist Party (KPD) as its head of Indian section. With Hitler’s rise in Germany, he approached Krupskaya, Lenin’s widow and Georgi Dimitrov, ComIntern’s General Secretary for returning to Soviet Union. M. N. Roy, in the meantime, had been expelled from the ComIntern. Chatto returned to Soviet Union in 1934. He was last seen in Moscow in 1937, before he was arrested during Stalin’s ‘Great Purge’ in the party. He was sentenced to death and executed in Sep 1937. Jawahar Lal Nehru in his Autobiography writes about Viren, ‘a very able and a very delightful person… Of the few I met, the only persons who impressed me intellectually were Virendranath Chattopadhia and M. N. Roy’. It is believed that the British writer Somerset Maugham’s character in his story Giulia Lazzari and the character of Ananda in American socialist writer and journalist, Agnes Smeldey’s autobiographical novel Daughter of Earth were inspired by Virendranath. Agnes Smeldy met and got involved with Indian revolutionaries including Lala Har Dayal and M.N. Roy in New York. She met and lived together as his partner with Viren Chattopadhia in Berlin. Agnes also accompanied Viren in Russia and lived with him until 1929 when she left Viren in Berlin and went to Shanghai in China as a press correspondent.

10. Daily Ishtrakyon (Socialists), 29 Mar 1919 c.f. Shaukat Siddiqi, Gumshida Auraq (The Lost Pages), Riktab Publications, Karachi, 2011, pg175

11. Sidney Reilly’s description is based on the observations of Alexander Yakushev, one of the Soviet secret agents, who were instrumental in capturing Reilly after luring him into Soviet Union on the border of Finland in September 1925. Reilly was later tried and executed by the Soviet authorities on charges of attempted coup against the government of the Soviet Union.

12. Reilly’s friend, former diplomat and journalist Sir Robert Bruce Lockhart had worked for the British Secret Service with Reilly in Russia in 1918 in a failed attempt to overthrow Lenin’s Bolshevik government. He was also briefly detained in Moscow. Robert Lockhart was a close acquaintance of Ian Fleming for many years and had recounted to Fleming many of Reilly’s super spy adventures. Within five years of his disappearance in Soviet Russia in 1925, the British press had turned Sidney Reilly into a household name, lauding him as a master spy. Like Fleming’s fictional creation James Bond, Reilly was also multi-lingual, fascinated by the Far East, fond of fine living, and a compulsive gambler. Robert Bruce Lockhart had written an autobiographical book Memoirs of a British Agent in 1932, which was an instant success. His son, Robin Bruce Lockhart also wrote a book Ace of Spies in 1967 about the life of his father’s friend, Sidney Reilly. This book was, later, adapted for an award winning television mini-series, Reilly: Ace of Spies in 1983.

13. According to the account of Barkatullah’s long time colleague and friend Raja Mahindra Partap Singh in his autobiography, these words were, in fact, said by Barkatullah to him while dying in his hands during travel in San Francisco.

14. Shaukat Siddiqi, op cited.

15. The Bhopal University has been named ‘Barkatullah University’ in 1988 as a token of recognition of this great revolutionary, otherwise a forgotten hero of the Indian Independence movement.

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The Jihad Movement – I

September 8, 2013

By Ahmed Kamran

The Background

In the early decades of the 1900s, the international situation in Europe and the Middle East was getting tense, especially for the Indian Muslims. Their anxiety was increasing with the news of each new development taking place on the borders of a vast Muslim Turkish Empire. While the British Empire was still in ascendency in the late 1800s and early 1900s, the Turkish Empire was disintegrating bit by bit. Much of its possessions in the Eastern Europe had already been broken away or annexed by other empires in the last century.

Italy landed its army at Tripoli (in today’s Libya) in 1911, initiating the first War of Tripoli between Turkey and Italy. The Italian invasion of Tripoli was soon followed by the start of Balkan Wars in October 1912. Britain fully supported these European incursions into the areas of Turkish Empire. These invasions and gradual encirclement of the Turkish Empire, the last bastion of the so-called Muslim Khilafat, caused great unrest in the Indian Muslims. Dr Mohammad Iqbal, Shibli Naumani, Abul Kalam Azad, and Maulana Zafar Ali Khan in Punjab wrote fiery articles and poems in support of the Turkish Muslims. Iqbal read his well-known poem Shikwa in a rally outside Mochi Darwaza in Lahore in 1913. Shibli Naumani read his Sheher-Aashoob-e-Islam at Qaisar Bagh in Lukhnow1. Prominent newspapers like Comrade of Maulana Muhammad Ali, Al Hilal of Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, and Zamindar of Maulana Zafar Ali Khan created a great fervor among Indian Muslims and a longing for going out and participating in the action in support of Turks against flagrant and unjust European invasions.

Apart from their religious affinities, the Indian Muslims also shared a particularly strong bond and heightened feelings of a common cause with Turks because of their own sense of deprivation of their empire in 1857 and colonial oppression of the British occupation in India. But to raise support for Turkey, mainly Muslim’s religious sentiments were whipped up. Weekly Friday prayer leaders in the mosques in every town of India exhorted Muslims to help the Turks by every means, including generously contributing in Turkish Support Funds and physically going to the war front and participating in the holy war against aggressors. Indian Muslims contributed in the Balkan War Fund in a big way, women donating their entire jewelry and dowries.

A Medical Mission, under Dr Mukhtar Ansari was sent to Turkey as a gesture of goodwill and for treating the wounded soldiers. The delegation included Chaudhry Khaliquz Zaman, Shoeb Qureshi, and Dr Naeem Ansari and Abdul Rehman joining the delegation, immediately after returning from England, having completed their education. The fervour for support of Turkey was so much that, according to Maulana Syed Suleman Nadvi’s account, an eminent and highly respected scholar like Shibli Naumani was present at the Railway station at Lukhnow to personally see off the delegation. At the last moment, overwhelmed by his emotions, Shibli moved forward and, while weeping, he kissed the feet of Dr. Ansari that would tread the Turkish land.

By October 1914, Turkey declared joining WW1 against Britain as an ally of Germany and Austria. Turkish Sultan Muhammad V, in his position of Khalifa of Muslims, issued a religious edict (Fatwa) declaring it mandatory for all Muslims of the world to participate in the war against Britain and its allies. A Jamat-e-Mujahidin was also revived, somewhat following the tradition of the failed Jihad carried out by the Mujahidin of Syed Ahmed Barailvi in early 1830s, but this time the Jihad war was to be fought against a foreign power, Great Britain.

Many students discontinued their education and left their homes to join the Turkish war. A common tarana of the youth of that time was

Lutf marnay ka agar chahay tau chal Balqan chal
Who bhi kiya marna keh fitrat khud tujhay day day jawab

[Should you wish to die with some joy, let’s go to Balkans
Dying at the hands of Nature is not worth dying]

A Pledge on Ravi

In a cold misty evening, when the night was falling in Lahore on 16 January 1915, a group of students from few colleges in Lahore secretly gathered on board in a boat on Ravi River to discuss an idea. This was the time when preparation of the mutiny of second Ghadar was secretly underway in Punjab. These young men decided and each took an oath to perform the sacred act of Hijrat to Turkey via Afghanistan for taking part in active Jihad. These brave students included Khushi Muhammad, Rehmat Ali Zakaria, Abdul Majeed, and Shujaullah from the King Edward Medical College, Muhammad Hasan Yaqub from Islamia College, Abdul Bary, Sheikh Abdul Qadir, Abdul Majeed Khan, Sheikh Abdul Rashid, Zafar Hasan Aibak, and Allah Nawaz Khan from the Government College, and Abdul Khaliq from the Aitchison College of Lahore2. The travel and crossing of the Afghan border arrangements were made in secret with the help of Maulvi Fazal Ilahi and Maulvi Bashir of the Jamat-e-Mujahidin. The first batch of these students under the leadership of Khushi Muhammad left Lahore on 5 February, 1915 for Haripur as their first stop. Another group followed the next day. The student volunteers remained hidden in the residence quarter of Abdul Rahim, the Railway station master at Haripur who was sympathetic to the movement. Here they changed their dresses to wear common Pukhtun dresses and Peshwari Chappals. The students left British territory by crossing the Indus River from a small princely state of Amb, in the Hazara district south of Swat valley in present day Pakistan, to enter the buffer zone of the independent Tribal Area between British India and Afghanistan. Staying at some rag tag isolated camps of Jamat Mujahidin at Asmas and Chamarkand in the Pukhtun Tribal Area, these students, swinging in the spirit of Jihad, and now led by Abdul Majeed Khan, entered Afghanistan and arrived in Jalalabad on 29 March 1915. Here this group met with their first rude shock, when they were swiftly detained in their lodging quarters under the orders of a senior Afghan official visiting Jalalabad from Kabul.

By the time orders came to transport the detainees to Kabul after spending over two weeks in confinement without much food and facilities, one of the students, Abdul Majeed Khan fell sick with high fever. Without providing any medicine or care to the sick, the students were put on mules like prisoners and were taken to Kabul, under increasingly hot sun. By the time, the detainees arrived in Kabul around 13 April and were again instantly put into confinement, the health of Abdul Majeed Khan had seriously deteriorated. When the condition of Abdul Majeed Khan worsened, an Indian Doctor, Abdullah Joya, came to see him four days later. Dr Abdullah was also one of those who had in his anti-British spirit migrated to live in an independent Muslim country but was now in total despair. He could not do much for these young men.

Two days later, Abdul Majeed Khan, the 20 year old former student of the Government College of Lahore died during the night of 19 April in Kabul, remembering his mother in his last moments.  Abdul Majeed was the only son of his young widowed mother in Lahore, who that night must also be waiting for his son to return home. Zafar Hasan Aibak, the other detainee from the Government College, says in his autobiography that the detainees were shifted to another ‘house’ in Kabul with scant living facilities in June 1915 and there was no hope for their release. Apparently, no one in Kabul was worried or bothered about these ill-fated young men from Lahore.

A Jihad in the Making

This was the time when the first round of Ghadar Party workers arrested in the 19 February police crackdown were being tried and sentenced in Punjab. Maulana Ubaidullah Sindhi, as a part of Maulana Mehmudul Hasan’s delegation for organizing Jihad, was preparing to reach Kabul. Together with his colleagues, Abdullah, Fateh Mohammad, and his nephew Mohammad Ali, Maulana Ubaidullah Sindhi arrived in Kabul in October 1915.3 Ubaidullah Sindhi, originally born in Sialkot, was a convert from Sikh religion. Graduated from Darul Uloom Deoband, and an energetic student of Maulana Mehmudul Hasan, he went to live in Sukkur and established a religious school at Amrot, and later at Pir Jhanda, in Sindh (hence commonly known as ‘Sindhi’). In 1909, on the behest of Maulana Mehmudul Hasan, he returned to Deoband and, later, established a seminary at Fatehpuri Mosque in Delhi for teaching Arabic and Islamic studies. Maulana Sindhi had an ardent desire to build a movement for revolt against the British rule. With the support of Maulana Mehmudul Hasan, he was quietly working for this mission for some time.4

Finally, as per the agreed plan, a group of key leaders of the Darul Uloom, including Mehmudul Hasan and Ubaidullah Sindhi left India and reached Kabul in Oct 1915.

As many of the Kabul’s influential religious and other leaders were educated at Darul Uloom, Deoband, and had personally known Maulana Mehmudul Hasan and Ubaidullah Sindhi, they were received in Kabul with respect. Meeting highly placed Afghan influential officials and some royal family members, and presenting before them their plan for building a volunteer army in Kabul and invading India to liberate it and set up an Islamic government with an Afghan prince on the throne, Ubaidullah Sindhi won support of some key members of the royal family, including a brother and two sons of Amir Habibullah Khan.

While Maulana Mehmudul Hasan proceeded to Hijaz for performing Haj and meeting Turkish officials for obtaining their support, Ubaidullah Sindhi and some of his colleagues stayed back to make necessary further arrangements. Precisely, this was the time when members of the Berlin Committee and the envoys of Turkish and German governments had also arrived in Kabul and met with each other and joined hands. Getting to know about the unfortunate students from Lahore still held in confinement in Kabul, they approached Afghan officials and eventually had them released after about eight months of confinement.

Through their influential contacts, Ubaidullah Sindhi and Barkatullah met with Amir Habibullah Khan and with his consent, it was decided to establish a provisional government of the Independent India based in Kabul in December 1915. As discussed in the previous post, Raja Mehendar Partap Singh was appointed as the President, Maulvi Barkatllah was the Prime Minister while Maulana Ubaidullah Sindhi was appointed Interior Minister, and Maulvi Basher of Jamat Mujahidin was appointed the War Minister, Champakiramin Pillai was selected as the Foreign Minister, and Dr Mathra Singh, Khuda Bux, and Muhammad Ali were also appointed as ministers. Freed from confinement and restored to a respectable position in the Indian delegation, Khushi Mohammad, Rehmat Zakaria, Allah Nawaz Khan, Zafar Hasan Aibak, and Abdul Bari from the Lahore student group were also given official responsibilities in the provisional government.

Initially, Germany was scoring quick victories on the western front and did not expect a major threat from a weakened Russia from the east. Turkish army was also scoring initial victories against Britain, greatly raising hopes for its victory in the war. But Russia, in alliance with French, quickly built up its massive army and attacked Germany opening the eastern front.

Ghalib Nama, Golden Letter, and Reshmi Rumal

Meanwhile, in Hijaz, Mehmudul Hasan had succeeded in obtaining letters of support from Ghalib Pasha, the Turkish Governor of Hijaz province that included in addition to the present day Saudi Arabia, Yemen, and Iraq. It was also discussed that a Muslim army would be raised by Maulana Mehmudul Hasan under his command from Arabia and Turkey, with headquarter at Madina. The Turkish Fatwas and Ghalib Pasha letters asked for a general Jihad against the British and exhorted all Muslims to join war efforts. Copies of ‘Ghalib Nama’ were sent by Mehmudul Hasan by hand with Mohammad Mian Ansari to Maulana Ubaidullah Sindhi in Kabul for further building upon it. Copies of these Jihad letters, later more commonly known as ‘Ghalib Nama’, were distributed all over the Muslim lands.

After establishing the Provisional Government and armed with the supporting measures from Germany and Turkey, it was decided to send various delegations to Russia, Iran, and Japan approaching them for support on the assumption that they would be inclined to support an Indian liberation against Britain. Germans, who were abetting the Indian Provisional Government against Britain, did not think it was opportune time for approaching Russia for the support, however, Raja Mehendar Partap did not agree with German ambassador and expecting Russian support he relied mainly on the age old rivalry between Russia and Britain in their ‘Great Game’ for expanding into Asia and controlling India.

The Provisional Govt delegation to Russia included Mehendar Partap, Barkatullah, Dr Mathra Singh, and the Lahore student Khushi Mohamed. The delegation carried a letter to Czar written on a ‘Golden Plate’. But the Indian delegation was prevented from moving forward from Tashkent. The Czarist governor received the ‘golden letter’ with a promise to send it to Czar in Moscow. The delegation was asked to wait at Tashkent for the reply. Months passed and no reply was forthcoming. Eventually the failed delegation was sent back to Kabul in Feb 1916. Meanwhile, Amir Habibullah Khan had quietly informed the British agents about the Indian delegation to Russia. This was to put increased pressure on the British Indian government in his negotiations for more favours and higher ‘subsidies’. As a bribe the British Govt increased Afghan budget ‘subsidies’. The British Indian government was providing Rs. 1.8 million ‘subsidy’ to the Afghan government, most of which was spent on Amir’s extravagance and personal harem of over 100 women. Some spoils were distributed among other members of royal family and key tribal leaders. The Afghan people were living in utter poverty in mud houses, without any civic amenities, roads, schools or hospitals. They were still living in dark ages.

Ironically, on the other hand the Russian Czar was also playing the similar game. Using the Golden Letter as a bargaining chip, he provided its copy to the British ambassador. Panicked at this move, the British government taking France into confidence, immediately sent a high powered joint delegation to Moscow and entered into an agreement with Russia in May 1916 that is known as Sykes-Picot Agreement. In return for its full support, the agreement promised Russia attractive terms and parts of Turkish lands from the spoils of the Great War.

Meanwhile, Ubaidullah Sindhi prepared another detailed letter in the form of a report written on a large piece of Reshmi Rumal (silk cloth) in his own hand and was secretly sent to Sheikh Abdul Rahim at Hyderabad Sindh for arranging to send, or personally carrying it, to Maulana Mehmudul Hasan in Hijaz under the cover of Haj pilgrimage. The courier selected for the job of carrying the silken letter to Hyderabad was Abdul Haq, a trusted man of the Lahore student Allah Nawaz, with letter being stitched inside his jacket. Abdul Haq, later suspected to be on the roll of British secret police, instead of going to Hyderabad, went to Allah Nawaz’s father Khan Bahadur Rab Nawaz Khan in Multan, who happened to be a loyal subject of the British government. In spite of his own son being involved, Rab Nawaz promptly informed the British police and the letter eventually reached in the hands of Michael O’Dyer, the British Governor in Punjab.

British Counter Moves

By now having successfully neutralizing Afghanistan’s Amir Habibullah and blocking the potential support of the Russian Czar for the Indian provisional government and its plans for rebellion, the British Indian administration came down heavy on the revolutionaries in India and abroad. Widespread arrests were made. Maulvi Khalil Ahmed was arrested upon arrival from Arabia and was interned at Naini Taal. Haji Allah Bux was arrested upon reaching Hyderabad. Hearing of these arrests, Maulvi Masood and Maulvi Wali, about to return to India, stayed back in Arabia. Later, Maulvi Masood was arrested at Bombay, immediately after arriving from Jeddah. Thus the Reshmi Rumal Conspiracy together with the ‘Golden Letter’, and the Ghalib Nama was brought to public in Aug 1916. These were also made part of the notorious Rowlatt Sedition Committee report in 1919. Soon Sharif Hussain of Mecca helped arresting Maulana Mehmudul Hasan and others, including Maulana Hussain Ahmed Madani, in Mecca and handed them over to the British police. Maulana Mehmudul Hasan and others were interned, initially at Cairo, and later, at Malta, earning him the title of Aseer-e-Malta (the Prisoner of Malta), in addition to him being declared the Sheikhul Hind in India.

A second delegation headed towards Japan via Russia included Dr Mathra Singh and a Lahore student Abdul Qadir. Armed with prior information of their movement leaked from Kabul, Russians arrested and handed them over to the British who transported them back to India. Dr Mathra Singh who was already sentenced to death in a Ghadar Party trial in Lahore was immediately hanged. Abdul Qadir was placed in confinement, where he soon died, most likely succumbing to torture. The third delegation comprising of two students Abdul Bary and Shujaullah headed for Iran also met the same fate. They were, arrested at Mashhad in Iran, tortured, and sent back to India to face long terms in jail.  The arrests of these delegation members and the hanging of Dr Mathra were, however, kept secret to keep the provisional government in Kabul in the dark and to keep tracking their movements. Amir Habibullah was playing a double game and was waiting to see which side was winning in the WW1. On the one hand, he kept promising the Indian provisional government that he would, in his turn, declare war on India, as soon as the German and Turkish forces reach near Afghanistan in their march to victory, and, on the other hand, he was busy negotiating with the British for additional favours, using the Indian revolutionaries as the bargaining chip.

In the false hopes, the Indian provisional govt members tried to dispatch wireless messages to the Berlin Committee and the German and Turkish Governments to advance their forces via Afghanistan but Germans were too bogged down in Europe to pay attention to these desperate messages from a few Indian revolutionaries in Kabul.

Because of these conspiracy cases instituted in India based on the Ghalib Nama, Golden Letter, and the Reshmi Rumal being widely made public, Ubaidullah Sindhi also faced a difficult situation in Kabul. Together with the Lahore students, he was also interned in Kabul and, later, shifted to a camp at Jabalul Siraj, about 75 Km north of Kabul. Two Indian teachers employed with Habibia School (it was established for the children of Afghan elite) in Kabul, Maulvi Mohammad Ali Qasuri (a Cambridge University graduate and elder brother of NAP leader Mian Mehmud Ali Qasuri and the uncle of Khurshid Qasuri, the Foreign Minister of Pakistan 2002-2007, during General Pervez Musharraf’s reign) and Sheikh Mohammad Ibrahim who were sympathetic to the cause of Indian independence and were popular among Mujahidin were expelled from Kabul in June 1916.5 Both went to the Jamat Mujahidin base camps in the Tribal Area between Afghanistan and British India. Maulvi Bashir of Jamat Mujahidin and the War Minister of the provisional government also returned to the base camp. Sheikh Abdul Rashid of Lahore Government College and Mohammad Hasan Yaqub of Islamia College and few other students also moved to the Mujahidin base camp.

As a reward, Abdul Haq, the courier of Reshmi Rumal letter was formally employed by the British police service, and Khan Bahadur Rab Nawaz, the father of Allah Nawaz, was granted very large tracts of agricultural land as a gift for his loyalty6.

Sheikh Ibrahim, together with two Lahore students, went to Russian Turkistan via Badakhshan but all of them were reportedly killed by the British agents on their way and no trace of them was ever found. After spending few more years in trying to organize Mujahidin activities in the Tribal Area, Maulvi Mohammad Ali Qasuri managed to return to India in July 1918 and was pardoned due to influential contacts he and his family had with Sir Sahibzada Abdul Qayum and Sir George Roos-Keppel, the Chief Commissioner of NWFP7. Maulvi Mohammad Ali Qasuri, having married and settled down, entered into business and continued to provide financial support to the Mujahidin. He died in Lahore in 1956.8

At the Tribal Area base camp, the Amir of Jamat Mujahidin was Maulvi Naimatullah who was a highly eccentric, morally and financially corrupt, and autocratic person, ruling as Amirul Momineen over his personal fiefdom at the Mujahidin base camp9. One day, probably after getting frustrated with his own impossible situation and intolerable idiosyncrasies of Maulvi Naimatullah, in a fit of anger, Sheikh Abdul Rashid of Lahore spontaneously killed the Maulvi. The personal guards of slain Maulvi Naimatullah instantly killed Abdul Rashid in vengeance by throwing him alive in a burning oven10. Mohamad Hasan Yaqub, however, continued to stay with the remaining Mujahidin now under Maulvi Fazal Ilahi from Wazirabad at the Chamarkand camp. Yaqub Hasan never returned to Lahore and probably died somewhere in or around the Chamarkand camp.

Mehendra Partap and Maulvi Barkatullah were, however, not arrested in Kabul as their continued presence there was a useful bargaining chip for Amir Habibullah Khan. But, by now realizing its extremely difficult position, owing to the duplicity of Amir Habibullah, the provisional government had considerably scaled down its activities. Ubaidullah Sindhi was finally released, after about a year of confinement, with the help of Afghan General Nadir Khan (he later overthrew the next Amir Amanullah Khan and occupied the Afghan throne) who had some respect for him. But the release order from Amir Habibullah was obtained, only after detainees filing a mercy petition and admission of their mistakes.

By now, totally frustrated with the false hopes of support from the Amir of Afghanistan, the Indian revolutionaries in Kabul started making attempts to slip to Russia where Soviet Revolution under V.I. Lenin had already shaken the world. Lenin had publically rescinded all secret treaties and pacts signed by Czarist Russia with the imperialist powers and made public all secret agreements that the Imperialist powers together with Russia had signed to share the spoils of war. He had declared full support to the national liberation efforts and the wars of independence of all colonial people in the East. Soviet Russia was the first to recognize the national government of Mustafa Kamal in Turkey that was battling against the invading Imperialist armies in their attempt to dismember and divide parts of Turkey among themselves.

Rehmat Ali Zakaria and Abdul Razzaq, two of the Lahore students, were the first to escape from Jabalul Siraj camp in Nov 1917. Crossing over Russian border, they reached Tashkent in early 1918.11

Amir Habibullah Khan was assassinated in Feb 1919, near Jalalabad and his son Amanullah took over after some resistance from his uncle Sardar Nasrullah Khan. For a while, situation again turned favorable for the Indian revolutionaries. Ubaidullah Sindhi was restored and he became a close advisor to the new Amir Amanullah Khan. Other office holders of the Indian Provisional Government including Mehendra Partap, Maulvi Barkatullah, Acharya, and Abdul Rab were also given due respect by the new Amir. Amanullah Khan sent Maulvi Barkatullah as his special envoy to Moscow for negotiating a friendship treaty on behalf of the Afghan government. The visit proved very successful and the relations between Soviet Union and Afghanistan considerably warmed up. Maulvi Barkatullah left Kabul in March 1919 for Tashkent and proceeded to Moscow in May 1919. Mehendra Partap Singh, MPT Acharya and others also reached Moscow. They never returned to Kabul.

Notes

  1. Shaukat Siddiqi, Gumshida Auraq (The Lost Pages), Riktab Publications, Karachi, 2011, Pg. 195
  2. Ibid, Pg.193
  3. 3.      Raees Ahmed Jafri Nadvi, Karwan-e-Gum Gashta (The Lost Caravan)
  4. Zuber Ahmed Firdausi, Reshmi Rumal Tehreek, Nigarshat Publishers, Lahore, 1988, Pg.43
  5. Abdullah Malik, Dastan-e Khanwada-e Mian Mehmud Ali Qasuri, Jang Publishers, Lahore, 1995, Pg. 78
  6. Shaukat Siddiqi, op cited, Pg.235
  7. Muhammad Ali Qasuri, Mushahidat-e-Kabul-o-Yaghistan, Anjuman Taraqi-e-Urdu, Karachi, 1955, Pg 143-146
  8. Abdullah Malik, op cited, Pg. 80-81
  9. Muhammad Ali Qasuri, op cited, 108-110
  10. Shaukat Siddiqi, op cited, Pg.249
  11. Ibid, Pg.241

To be continued…

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More on Violence in South Asia and the Great Jihad

March 10, 2013

By Anjum Altaf

Why is there so much more political and ideological violence in South Asian countries compared to, say, France? This may seem like a simplistic or irrelevant question but the typical answers that it elicits could help uncover the complexities inherent in the phenomenon.

The discussion in this post is focused on the violence that is inflicted within a country by one set of individuals on another for reasons to do with differences in political ideas or ideological beliefs. We are sidestepping the type of violence that was covered in an earlier post, violence that has less to do with differences in ideas and beliefs and more with the exploitation, for personal gain or satisfaction, of an imbalance of power – violence against women, children, and workers being typical examples. (more…)

Culture Bypass: A New Paradigm – 5

September 24, 2010

From A’daabKhuda HafizAllah Hafiz – How cultural expressions are transformed?

By Ahmed Kamran

 

We have seen in Part 4 how by the time Pakistan was formed the die was already cast. Let’s see how we continued to sink further into intolerance and religious bigotry declaring more of us as Kafirs and non-Muslims. How the long journey that we collectively embarked upon on this Bypass is clearly leading us through barren and desolate cultural landscapes to eventual self-destruction. The question is: Is there an exit available on this Cultural Bypass?

After a long colonial occupation, India was declared independent and a new country, Pakistan, specially carved out of the majority Muslim areas of India emerged on the world’s map in August 1947 amidst human blood flowing in the streets and fires burning from the houses. (more…)

Culture Bypass: A New Paradigm – 2

September 3, 2010

From A’daabKhuda HafizAllah Hafiz – How cultural expressions are transformed?

 

By Ahmed Kamran

 

In Part-1 of this discussion we briefly traced how a highly tolerant Indo-Persian culture, a Ganga-Jamni Tehzib, emerged in India over many centuries of interaction between a Muslim Persian empire and a rich Indian civilization before the advent of European powers in India and the spread of their influence in our intellectual and cultural life. Let’s now see how particularly the Muslim thought process in this Ganga-Jamni culture responded to the disrupting influences of the English ascendency. (more…)

Good Muslims: A Material Theory of Culture?

March 11, 2010

By Anjum Altaf

I attended a talk by Professor Vali Nasr where he presented the central argument of his new book Forces of Fortune: The Rise of the New Muslim Middle Class and What it Will Mean for Our World. Professor Nasr is an influential voice as senior advisor to Richard Holbrooke, the special Representative of the US for Afghanistan and Pakistan, which makes it relevant to summarize his views and to identify some areas of agreement and disagreement.

Professor Nasr’s underlying hypothesis was quite straightforward: the middle class transformed the modern West and it can transform the Muslim world as well. The rise of trade, capitalism and merchant life is the most important trend at work and one that shapes the contours of culture and delimits the uses of religious belief. From this vantage point the prescription follows logically: if Islamic countries are integrated into the global economy, this trend would shape the cultural landscape of the Muslim world. (more…)

Do Devotion and Brutality Go Together?

September 17, 2008

First, let me quote a passage. Then you try and guess what it refers to. And then we will talk about it together.

A race absolutely alien to God has invaded the land of the Christians, has reduced the people with sword, rapine and flame. These men have destroyed the altars polluted by their foul practices. They have circumcised the Christians, either spreading the blood from the circumcisions on the altars or pouring it into the baptismal fonts. And they cut open the navels of those whom they choose to torment with loathsome death, tear out their most vital organs and tie them to a stake, drag them around and flog them, before killing them as they lie prone on the ground with all their entrails out. What shall I say of the appalling violation of women, of which it is more evil to speak then to keep silent?

On whom, therefore, does the task lie of avenging this, of redeeming this situation, if not on you, upon whom above all nations God has bestowed outstanding glory in arms, magnitude of heart, litheness of body and strength to humble anyone who resists you.

Let me pause here while you reflect on what this is all about.

Is this for real?  Is this some madman frothing at the mouth?

Hold your breath. The year is 1095; the place is Clermont, France; the speaker is Pope Urban II.

This was the speech that launched the First Crusade as Pope Urban “called upon Catholic Europe to take up arms and prosecute a vengeful campaign of reconquest, a holy war that would cleanse its participants of sin” with the promise “that those fighting as ‘soldiers of Christ’ would be purified by the fire of battle.”

Pope Urban’s impassioned description of the barbarity of savage Muslims propelled “some 100,000 men and women, from knight to pauper, to take up the call – the largest mobilization of manpower since the fall of the Roman Empire” – and march 3,000 kilometers to Jerusalem “leaving the air afire with their battle cry: God’s will! God’s will.”

This is the quote that begins the remarkable and highly acclaimed account of the First Crusade by Thomas Asbridge (The First Crusade: A New History, Oxford, 2004).

And here is Thomas Asbridge’s punch line on page 3 based on his meticulous research:

The image of Muslims as brutal oppressors conjured by Pope Urban was pure propaganda – if anything, Islam had proved over the preceding centuries to be more tolerant of other religions than Catholic Christendom.

And here is the psychological puzzle:

How could the crusaders demonstrate a capacity for “intense religious devotion” as well as “appalling brutality” at the same time?

Why are these things relevant for us today?

Because nothing much has changed except the geography. In an earlier post (How Far Behind is South Asia?) we had estimated that South Asia was about 150 years behind Europe as measured by material development indicators. But when we look at it from the perspective of mental attitudes could we say that the gap is as much as a thousand years.

Here we are almost 1,000 years after 1095 and we have Osama bin Laden telling the same types of exaggerated untruths about Christians and Jews and an army of believers willing to blow themselves up for the cause – intense religious devotion mixed with appalling brutality.

And what about the amazing happenings of the 1947 partition of British India? Neighbors who had coexisted for decades suddenly decided to demonstrate devotion to their faith by massacring those belonging to a different one. Is that how one shows devotion to the truth? (See the excerpt from Urvashi Butalia’s book in the post Ghalib- 8 and read Khushwant Singh’s Train to Pakistan.)

There is always someone inciting people to a holy jihad and there are always followers available to answer the call mixing intense religious devotion with appalling brutality.

Why are people so ready to be conned so easily? How come people see devotion in brutality? Any answers?

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