The Bokhari Brothers and Lionell Fielden

December 25, 2016
This summer on a visit to the
grave of Patras Bokhari, I spent some quite time at his grave.  I
reflected about the lives of two Bokhari brothers and an amazing character of his
times Lionell Fielden.  This piece was the outcome of that exercise. 
 Good time to pay tribute on the death anniversary month of December of AS
Bokhari and birth anniversary month of January of ZA Bokhari. 
Shah Bokhari and Zulfiqar Ali Bokhari were scions of Peshawar.  Both
brothers were very talented, had multiple interests and excelled in their
chosen fields.  Bokhari brothers are associated with the history of
broadcasting in India. 
service in India was started in July 1927 as a private and amateur venture when
Bombay radio station was established.  This was the birth of Indian
Broadcasting Company (IBC) about seven months after establishment of British
Broadcasting Company (BBC).  This private venture ended in a failure and
company was liquidated in 1930. 
August 1935, Lionell Fielden arrived in India on loan from BBC to start Indian
broadcasting.  When radio arrived in India, no one knew about the
importance of this new invention. In 1935, Marconi Company offered a radio
transmitter and fifty radio sets to Indian government but no one was interested
in it.  Central government asked provincial governments if anyone was
interested in the offer.  Governor of North West Frontier Province (N.W.F.P.)
Sir Ralph Griffith accepted the offer.  He chose a young recent Oxford
graduate Muhammad Aslam Khan Khattak in-charge of this project.  Later,
Fielden organized Indian broadcasting on a professional level and soon radio
became the main instrument of information and entertainment.

Shah Bokhari (25 October 1898 – 05 December 1958)
Shah Bokhari was educationist, writer, broadcaster and a diplomat.  He was
born in a lower middle class family in Peshawar city. He completed his early education
in Peshawar.  He learned English by reading old English newspapers
collected from soldiers stationed in Peshawar.  After completing his
maters in English from prestigious Government College Lahore, he started
teaching at his alma mater. He went to Cambridge and returned back to
Government College.  In 1936, he was offered the job of Deputy Controller
Broadcasting of All India Radio in New Delhi.  In 1940, he became the
Controller (in 1943, the designation was changed to Director General) and served
at this post until 1947.  In Delhi, towering personalities of the time
were frequent visitors to his house.  Ahmed’s guest list included
Jawaharlal Nehru, Sarojini Naidu, Abul Kalam Azad, Zakir Hussain and Faiz Ahmad
Faiz.  In 1947, he became principal of Government College Lahore. His
residence in Lahore attracted famous writers and poets. M.D. Taseer, Imtiaz Ali
Taj, Sufi Tabassum and Ghulam Abbas frequently visited his house in
Lahore.  In 1951, he was appointed Pakistan’s permanent representative to
United Nations (UN). In 1954, he became Under Secretary Information at UN and
served at this position until his death in 1958. His simple small house in New
York was full of books and he had a wide circle of friends from diplomatic and
literary society. 

Shah and American poet Robert Frost (Picture from Website about Ahmad Shah
is buried at Kensico cemetery at Valhalla New York.  This summer when I
visited his grave, I was gratified that he could not be buried at a better
place.  He is buried at a picture perfect serene place and surrounded by
graves of numerous artists.  Many stage, television and film actors, opera
singers, writers and poets including famous composer Sergei Rachmaninoff are buried
at Kensico cemetery. On his tombstone are inscribed words of his American poet
friend Robert Frost, “Nature within her innermost self divides to trouble
man with having to take sides from iron tools and weapons’

Bokhari’s grave at Kensico cemetery New York.  Photograph by Hamid
Hussain, 14 August 2016.
wrote Urdu prose with pen name of Patras Bokhari and is known by his pen
name.  He published a small collection of short stories but it was a
masterpiece and gave him a place in the ranks of famous Urdu writers.
Ali Bokhari  (01 January 1904 – 12 July 1975)
Ali Bokhari popularly known as Z. A. Bokhari was younger brother of Ahmad
Shah.  He was the rebellious one and didn’t attend college.  He
completed oriental courses of munshi fazil and adeeb alim
He was employed in the office of board of examiners in oriental languages of
General Staff branch at army headquarter at Simla. Board of examiners evaluated
British officers who completed native language courses.  In Simla, Bokhari
became friend of ADC to Governor of Punjab.  When Lionell Fielden came to
India to start broadcasting, this ADC referred Bokhari to him.  Lionell
appointed him assistant station director at Delhi. In 1937, Bokhari went to
England for training.  In 1940 Malcolm Darling of BBC hired Bokhari at the
recommendation of Fielden.  Bokhari was in charge of Indian section of the
eastern service of BBC in London.  He covered Second World War in Europe
and returned to India in December 1944 to become station director at
Calcutta.  After independence in 1947, he served a long career in
broadcasting in Pakistan.  He served as director general of Radio
Pakistan.  In 1967 he became general manager of Karachi television
station. He was also a poet and also wrote a book on classical music. 

A. Bokhari as BBC Home Guards at Bedford College, 1941. (Picture from Imperial
War Museum).
Fielden had great influence on the lives of both brothers.  Fielden is an amazing
character for his time period.  He was member of British aristocracy, a
relative of Viceroy Lord Linlithgow and personal friend of British Prime
Minister Stanley Baldwin.  He was raised on a Surrey family estate and
educated at Eaton but became rebel at a very early age. He was closely
associated with E. M. Forster and J. R. Ackerly.  His experience in First
World War when he fought at Gallipoli made lasting impression on him.  He
was intelligent enough to see the gross negligence of military high command and
developed disdain for authority.  He passed the civil service examination
but was so irked by his interview at Foreign Office that he denounced the
Balfour Declaration and told his interviewers that Britain had sold out the
Palestinian Arabs to Jews.  In 1927, he landed at BBC when it was
established.  In 1935, he came to India on loan from BBC to start
broadcasting service in India.  He was an outsider and frequently clashed
with authority.  He settled in Italy where he was involved in renovating
old buildings damaged during Second World War.  He died in 1974 in Italy.
was lot of speculation about relationship between Lionell Fielden and his young
Indian protégés.  The relationship was not a normal superior and
subordinate or even a friend.  Lionell was a homosexual and though he
admitted this fact later in his memoirs, there was enough evidence from his
behavior that this subject was talk of social circles in India and
London.  Lionell was member of a group of young British men and women disillusioned
with the slaughter of First World War.  Many were writers, intellectuals
and a number of these men and women were homosexuals.  It is an open
question whether they were naturally inclined or this was one of the symptoms
of rebellion against an established order.  Official British circles and
traditional aristocratic elites called these folks having ‘loose morals’. 
In India, Indian police special branch was keeping a tab on Fielden.  One
police official brought some intercepted letters to show to Fielden what was
being talked about him.  True to his character, Fielden refused to look at
the letters stating that it was inappropriate to look at private
is important to understand social conditions of India in 1930s to comprehend
why Fielden generated controversy both among British and Indians.  British
interaction with Indians was mainly in official context.  There was not
much social mingling between two communities although there may be few
exceptions.  British would unwind only in the presence of fellow
countrymen at exclusive civil and military clubs.  Fielden crashed on the
scene breaking all the rules.  He avoided British social circle and
interacted with Indians of different social backgrounds.  Indians had not
interacted with British in such informal, friendly and relaxed
environment.  Many Indians developed genuine respect and admiration for
Fielden even if there was no sexual aspect to the relations. Official British
circle was aghast at Fielden’s non-adherence to social norms as well as
personal indiscretions. 
also faced criticism from Indian circles.  Fielden had personal relations
with Congress leaders and polarized politics of the time meant that some Muslim
League leaders were critical of his work.  Fielden had surrounded himself
with newly educated urban Muslim youth.  These young men saw Persianized
manners of old Mughal court and Urdu as a refined cultural heritage.  This
prominence of Urdu in emerging broadcasting arena aroused anger of Hindu
nationalists who saw old Indian Hindu cultural heritage as true beacon for
emerging nationalist India.  They constantly criticized Fielden for giving
preference to Urdu as the expense of old Sanskrit arts and literature.
Fielden’s five year stay in India was full of all these clashes at different
Bokhari’s own memoirs in Urdu provide enough evidence that he had special
relationship with Fielden.  Bokhari was close to Fielden and took care of
his personal chores and in charge of his household.  Bokhari went to meet
Fielden at Cecil Hotel in Delhi for the interview. He narrates his first
meeting with Fielden that when he entered the room, Fielden was naked only in
his underwear.  Fielden told him that it was too hot and that he should
also take off his coat. Bokhari states that ‘this meeting was like love on
first sight’ and that ‘after few minutes it felt like we knew each other for
long period of time’. Fielden hired Z.A. Bokhari but Bokhari’s boss a Colonel
at army headquarters at Simla refused to let him go to Delhi.  Fielden
wrote to Viceroy Lord Willington to remove all hurdles and brought Bokhari to
Delhi.  Fielden then took Bokhari to his house and summoned his own tailor
to measure Bokhari and ordered six suits for him.  When Bokhari went to
London for training, Fielden’s tailor in London stitched Bokhari’s suits. 
Bokhari describes Fielden’s dress on his first day of work ‘silk pants, half
sleeve open collar see through shirt’.  Bokhari was seriously injured
after a fall in a blind well.  When he woke up, he saw his room filled
with flowers and Fielden crying.  Later, Fielden took him to the hill
station of Almora to recuperate where they spent a lot of time together and in
the company of famous scientist Boshi Sen.  Bokhari writes about that time
together at Almora that ‘my heart was attracted towards Fielden like a
magnet’.  Fielden had gout problem and Bokhari narrates that while in
London at one time Fielden suggested to him that ‘let’s resign and settle down
in an Italian city’.  

hired a number of young and handsome Indian men in their early twenties when he
came to India to start broadcasting service.  Fielden in his autobiography
recounts the disappointment when faced with choosing his personal bearer from
two old men.  He wrote, ‘Had I not pictured to myself something so vastly
different?  Slim, intelligent youth, with eyes of gazelles, worshipping me
with silence but so effective service’? In his memoirs, Z.A. Bokhari describes
the physical features of his colleagues.  He calls Sajjad Sarwar Niazi
‘dashing’ and goes on to describe him having ‘fair skin, sharp features and
thin rose petal like lips’.  Israr-ul-Haq Mejaz is described as having
‘long black hair, salty complexion and thin waist’.  Agha Ashraf (grandson
of famous Urdu writer Maulana Muhammad Hussain Azad) had ‘salty complexion and
white teeth that were blinding the vision’. These are unusual expressions for
male colleagues and suggest special attraction. 

Aslam Khan Khattak who was in-charge of first radio transmission project in
N.W.F.P. narrated in his memoirs that he was offered the post of deputy
director general in Delhi under Fielden.  He states that ‘I went to Delhi
for a look and found the people, who had taken over broadcasting, nauseating’. 
He didn’t elaborate what he found ‘nauseating’ but he may be referring to
twenty something youths in matching silk suits surrounding Fielden. 
Khattak instead opted for Indian foreign commercial service.

Bokhari with Risaldar Major Muhammad Ashraf Khan IOM, IDSM of RIASC  in
England 1940
Bokhari was an educationalist, broadcaster, writer and diplomat.  Z. A.
Bokhari was an amateur theatre actor, poet and broadcaster. Bokhari brothers
were a very talented duo who excelled in their chosen fields and left a mark on
the pages of history of India and Pakistan.
  • Z. A.
    Bokhari.  Sarguzhust (in Urdu). English translation of
    extracts used in the article is by the author.
  • Khalid
    Ahmed.  Pakistan Behind the Ideological Mask (Lahore:
    Vanguard), 2001
  • Raza
    Rumi.  Reclaiming the Legacy of ZA Bokhari.  The Friday Times,
    14 October 2014
  • Joselyn
    Zivin.  Bent: A Colonial Subversive and Indian Broadcasting.  Past
    and Present
    , No: 162 (February 1999), pp. 195-220
  • Lionell
    Fielden.  Natural Bent (London: Andre Deutsch), 1960
  • Kanchan
    Kumar.  Mixed Signals.  Economic and Political Weekly,
    May 31, 2003
  • Mohammad
    Aslam Khan Khattak.  A Pathan Odyssey (Karachi: Oxford
    University Press, 2004), p. 32)

December 23, 2016

PIA’s Black Goat Sacrifice

Genesis 8:21. And the LORD smelled a sweet smell; and the LORD said in his heart, I will not again curse the ground any more for man’s sake; for the imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth; neither will I again smite any more every thing living, as I have done.

A few days ago a PIA ATR-42 aircraft crashed while on a routine flight; as a result, all ATR aircraft were grounded while PIA carried out some tests and made sure they were good to fly. Having conducted whatever testing PIA engineering considered necessary (and I have no doubt they did whatever testing is standard in the industry; they are a well established airline with many competent engineers), they resumed flight operations. But the engineering department at Islamabad international airport felt they should take some extra precautions before they sent off their first flight. They decided to sacrifice a black goat to ask for Allah’s blessings on this occasion. Pictures of this (necessarily blood-stained) ceremony went viral on the internet and excited considerable interest.

Westernized Pakistanis (and Indians for that matter) were almost universally derisive about the event. Some common themes included:

1. That this is rank superstition and shows us in a bad light, as it seems that PIA is relying on superstitious mumbo-jumbo instead of good engineering practice. 
2. That while quasi-religious or religious rituals (even this one) maybe OK for someone to do in his or her private life, a state owned corporation should not be indulging in them. 
3. That it looks gross and unsanitary and is a horrible image to put out there. 
And so on. 
There was also some comment from orthodox Muslims saying that sacrificing a black goat is “not our tradition” and is a form of “bidaa” (innovation); there was some discussion that this is a Hindu practice and not “really Islamic”
I had the following thoughts on this and wonder if people have any comments. 
1. We are obviously not the only people who perform some rituals to obtain divine favor, good luck or simply honor tradition, on such occasions. As the following pictures make clear, this kind of thing is nearly universal and most societies seem to have some rituals that are performed when any new or hazardous undertaking is begun. Airlines may not always perform any complicated ritual when clearing a fleet for operations, but it all seems to depend on how routine you feel your undertaking happens to be. In this case, PIA seems to have felt it was important enough. You can disagree with that, but it is not totally outside the realm of normal human practice to ask for divine favor at such a time. 

2. Nor is the shedding of blood that far outside traditional practice. Mary and Joseph offered two doves (Luke 2:21-24) for the birth of the prince of peace. Muslims offer two sheep for the birth of a boy and one for a girl (Sunan Abu Dawood 2836). If the clearance of an aircraft for flight sounds a bit less significant, consider that the hadith literature includes a hadith about the holy prophet advising a man to sacrifice a sheep to help get rid of head lice (the man was also advised to shave his head, so the sheep was NOT the only intervention) (Sahih Bokhari 71:604) . And of course, we sacrifice millions of animals on Eid every year. And of course, there are goat sacrifices (and chickens, and other animals) in Shaktist Hinduism and the horse sacrifice was a famous part of ancient Indo-European religion.

So, while many people may consider animal sacrifice outdated or cruel, it it neither uncommon, nor outdated, certainly not for Muslims (considering how many animals are sacrificed every year for various reasons).

3. I take it as a given that we all agree that rituals per se are an important part of any shared culture and no culture can really exist without any rituals. Whether a particular ritual is good or bad is another discussion.

4. So I propose that the opposition to this particular ritual really reflects something else about our culture. That it is not, in fact, a culture where there is wide agreement about what constitutes our culture. No culture has universal agreement on such things, and all cultures are hybrids and are constantly in transition, but ours is perhaps more so than most. Are we Indians? Ex-Hindus who retain some Hindu features? Arabs (or rather, neo-Arabs)? Westerners? Something else entirely?

When the PIA engineers sacrificed this goat, they thought they were doing something well established and even standard in our culture: i.e. sacrificing a black goat to ward off bad luck. They felt so easy about this that they did it in public and probably made videos and took pictures as they did it with no fear that they will be ridiculed and insulted for doing so. They turned out to be wrong (i.e. they were widely ridiculed). Now, there can be no doubt about the fact that many people in Pakistan do think sacrificing a black goat to ward off evil is not a bad idea. The ex-president of Pakistan, Asif Ali Zardari, is said to have sacrificed one every day of his presidency (and it worked, he completed his term). But equally clearly, there are many neo-orthodox Muslims who are convinced that his is, in its origins, a Hindu ritual (they may be right). These orthodox Muslims clearly do not approve of it. And then there are many Westernized Pakistanis (whether “moderate Muslim”, secretly atheist, semi-secretly agnostic or vigorously rationalist) who find this superstitious, distasteful and even laughable.

I am not too concerned in this post with “who is right”, but mostly with just bringing it up that we have very sharp divisions on this topic. If President Obama pardons a Turkey or Queen Elizabeth smashes a bottle on the Royal Navy’s few remaining ships, almost nobody finds it objectionable. Even rationalists will go along with it as a “harmless ritual”. Our culture is more conflicted. And when it comes to animal sacrifice, things start to get even more complicated. In a Muslim country, this is not yet a topic on which there can be strong public disapproval of ALL animal sacrifice as such; the practice is too firmly supported by classical Islam for anyone to risk a blasphemy or apostasy charge by going too far in their opposition, whatever their private feelings. But it is increasingly likely that animal sacrifices outside of Aqeeqa and Eid (two occasions on which the classical Islamic position is crystal clear, so no opposition can go too far) will become increasingly controversial. Those (like sacrificing a black goat) that can be accused of pagan roots will become less and less likely in official settings, though private use will likely continue for generations.
What do you think?

Is Islam the rock on which the liberal order broke?

(Triggered by this article about “Global Democracy in Danger“)

Back in 1992, Fukuyama wrote his (much maligned, frequently misunderstood) book about the End of History and had this to say:

What we may be witnessing is not just the end of the Cold War, or the passing of a particular period of postwar history, but the end of history as such…. That is, the end point of mankind’s ideological evolution and the universalization of Western liberal democracy as the final form of human government.

People jumped on Fukuyama for all sorts of reasons, but I don’t remember any broad feeling that the Western liberal project had failed. Its most visible Western critics at that time tended to be postmarxists and postmodernists, whose entire existence (from their university appointments to every detail of their lives) was itself an appendage of Western liberal democracy and had no meaning or safe existence outside of that system; and whose real-life ability to bring down Western liberalism was insignificant (i.e., if and when it falls, it will not fall to these clowns).

Another kind of opposition came from the “Confucian authoritarians” (or postmarxist fascists, or whatever you want to call them) in China (and in smal but influential exemplars, like Singapore). But while these groups had power and economic success, they had no great legitimizing ideology. They are may appear to be winning as long as they provide more and more goods to more and more of their people. But even while they do so, these same people are watching “Friends”, picking up liberal memes and dreaming of making Shanghai “better than Manhattan”. It is hard to them as a coherent alternative ideology. It was far more common (even WITHIN those systems) to think of them as authoritarian way stations on the long winding road to Western style “mature” liberal democracy and capitalism.

Some Right-wing opposition did come from people who rejected Western liberalism more deeply on religious or cultural-nationalist grounds. But currents like Great Russian Fascism or scattered illiberal Western ideologies (from the “almost inside the Overton Window” Pat Buchanan to Christian identity folks and a few hundred actual fascists) tended to be fringe affairs, or at least they were treated as such by most public intellectuals and the media. Triumphant liberal ideology had internal divisions and weaknesses (including the above-mentioned defection of many university trained intellectuals to postmodern/postcolonial/critical theory crap) and lacunae, but apparently, no serious competitor; The way of thinking that puts humanity, rationality, freedom and the free individual at the center of the world; and which includes memes (not necessarily unique to it, not necessarily derived from first principles, but aggregating in a recognizable meme-complex) like legal equality, secularism, democracy and human rights, was so dominant, it was taken for granted.  These were the legitimizing ideas that all modern states at least paid lip service to. Democratic socialism is just a variant of this dominant post-enlightenment meme complex; even Marxist socialism is a variant of the same complex (Marxist revolutionaries, for example, idealized the same memes of equality, liberty and rights, but claimed that mainstream liberal Democracy failed to match its ideals and was a sham, a betrayal of these very ideals, and so on).

The place where this whole meme-complex really hit a solid rock was in the Islamic world. It was not immediately apparent that this was so. Many Western post-enlightenment ideals were popular among the Westernized intellectuals of the postcolonial Muslim world. But the grip (and even the personal commitment) of these intellectuals was shallow. This was not easily visible to liberal contemporaries (and of course, to Muslim liberals themselves; it is doubtful whether someone like Jinnah ever really understood the illiberal nature of his demand for Pakistan for example). The difference between Muslim and non-Muslim intellectuals,whether in the third world or the first, if it was noticed at all, was seen as one of degree; i.e. Muslim and non-Muslim intellectuals both had older loyalties, ideas and identities that belied their liberal ideals, and any apparent difference was a difference of degree…but as it is easier to see now, the difference of degree was always in the same direction, and in fact, it was significant enough that it could be described as a qualitative difference; not just a quantitative one. But this was not the common intellectual view (and exceptions like Samuel Huntington just proved the rule, with their “problematic” status in mainstream discourse)

THIS challenge in fact proved most difficult for Western liberalism to process; the fact that large numbers (probably clear majorities) of Muslims simply did not accept the most fundamental assumptions of the post-enlightenment Western liberal worldview was hard to see because it was so hard to imagine. This was such an alien thought (especially to those on the Left side of the liberal spectrum) that it was repeatedly obfuscated under other categories (“poverty” , “colonialism”, etc). It was not seen because it seemed to undermine the universal validity of the whole liberal project. Better to not see it…But it continued to be inconveniently resistant to liberalism… And as events and examples multiplied, they evoked rethinking in other groups. Ultimately, the emperor started looking ragged, if not completely naked.  

One striking problem, for example, was the resistance of Muslim populations to joining the mainstream in countries they migrated to. SOME resistance to assimilation is certainly not unique and has been exhibited by many groups of immigrants, but it does seem that Muslim resistance remains greater than that exhibited by contemporary Hindu, Sikh or Buddhist migrants. Once is happenstance, twice is coincidence, but when the same thing happens again and again, people start looking for explanations. Unfortunately, not necessarily for good explanations..). 

Anyway, the point is that as Muslim resistance refused to go away, all the other alternatives to late-Western liberalism (many of them much stronger in material terms than any Muslim country or party) like Great Russian Nationalism and its Orthodox Christian backstop, Chinese nationalism with Confucian and fascist characteristics, nascent Japanese nationalism, Hardcore Hindutva in India; all of them became stronger because Islam had already wedged the door open and thrown open the possibility that the liberal project itself may be incoherent; may be hollow at the core; may not map to the real world; and may even be dangerous to non-Muslim groups who try to stick to it..

In short, here is the thesis question for the day:

If  and when modern humanism and liberalism (broadly defined) crashes and burns (who knows, it may not), will future historians look back and say that Islam was the rock on which it first and decisively broke?

Is Islam the kid who asked about the emperor’s clothes with such naive determination and clarity, and such stubborn unwillingness to accept “the facts”.. that it opened the way to the future? (which looks suspiciously like the illiberal past)..

Inquiring minds want to know.

(100s of nuances are left unexplored in this very tentative and very over-simplified post. Argument and events may clarfiy).

PostScript 1: One quick note: I used the “emperor’s new clothes” analogy deliberately. The point is not that some extremely powerful force called Islam single-handedly sabotaged the late-Westsern liberal order all by itself; or that free-market capitalism and Western democracy was about to put a chicken in every pot if Islam had not resisted… The point is that the system may have been threatened by failure because of its internal contradictions and its own limitations anyway (as a friend put it: “just to be clear liberal order is broken because it doesnt take cognizance of the fact that humanity is broken“. Maybe, maybe not) but whatever deficiencies existed WITHIN liberalism, Islam forced them into the open…and it did so in such a way that it put the whole project in doubt in OTHER minds as well, leading to a vicious cycle of internal doubt, further decay, bad solutions, more doubt, more decay.. 

And I take it for granted that every order has defects, but not all possible histories lead to the defects being exposed and the system crashing down. In a way, civilization is about the “soft landing” of various defects; their quiet or not-so-quiet removal and replacement while faith in the overall system still holds.. And so on… The failure to “account for Islam” (for what Shadi Hamid may call “Islamic exceptionalism”) exposed the liberal order to other critics and other doubts. These doubts can reinforce each other, there can be self-fulfilling prophecies of inevitable conflict and violence..until Humpty Dumpty has a great fall.

I still hope this is not the case. That we will have a soft landing, not another world war and an age of revolutions. Because if the system falls apart, it will not be pretty; the interlude will be painful and nasty and brutish and not so short. Still, the fact is, it may fall; history is not over.

I also want to point out that I do not share the Islamists own optimism about their coming triumph. A great reordering and a general war may be here. But if it is, it is likely it will be nasty and violent and most of the dead will be Muslims. Maybe there will even be a “scramble for Africa”, as more capable powers divide up the Middle East. The great Sunni hopes (Pakistan, Turkey, Saudia) all seem shaky and none of them may be in a position to establish order if the empire falls.  In short, the collapse of the neo-liberal world order will have its winners and losers, but too many Muslims may end up as losers.

Of course, I could be wrong. I hope I am. We will see.

See some tweets around this topic here

Postscript 2: MANY people have raised the objection that Islam is really not that strong a force in the world, cannot defeat the West, etc. My second attempt at clarification follows:

That was not my point at all. As I tried to explain in the postscript, my thesis is not that Islam will defeat Liberalism. The thought process was more like this:

1.The weaknesses/incoherence/decay of the liberal world order are mostly internal to it. They may be simply a matter of the inevitable decay and corruption of any highly successful civilization (what may be called “catastrophic success”). Or they may be due to some blind spots in the world view, some failure to map adequately to human nature.  Whatever they are, they not caused by Islam.
e.g. the liberal order failed in Cambodia (as it did in many other places) without Islam playing any role, but that failure did not lead to any sudden collapse in self-confidence within the metropole, or even in widespread realization by those outside the liberal order that the emperor may be weaker than she looks)

2. But Islam/Muslims are a large enough phenomenon that their failure to line up and join the party, their almost naive refusal to accept the brutal facts (that they are weak, that the liberal order is very mighty, that the washing machines and iphones come from the modern world and everyone wants those, so how could large populations possibly consciously opt for alternatives that do not prioritize washing machines?) is harder to sweep under the rug. They are not killing the liberal order (at least not yet, probably never), they are making its blind spots visible to many others who can do more serious damage.
They are creating doubt in the minds of the citizenry, but even more so, in the minds of the clerisy itself. Of course, the clerisy tries/tends to ignore or obfuscate the problem. “It is about poverty”. “It is a reaction to microaggressions”. “It is a revolt against imperialism or colonialism”. And so on. As it is, all these explanations (except maybe the microaggressions crap) have some truth to them. But not enough truth. Something else is also going on. It may be that human beings are not the convenience-maximizing homo economicus we assumed. Or they are not naturally egalitarian when it come to gender. Or whatever..the particular doubts engendered vary from person to person and group to group.. But the recurrent eruptions of events that do not compute undermines confidence in the software.

3. As the doubts spread, they lead to a search for alternative software. “Maybe the racists were right”. “Maybe the religious revivalists were right”. “Maybe the cultural nationalists were right”. Maybe even that ignorant conman from Queens is right.. Whatever, the point is, the liberal order is losing the confidence of its own people. This can become a self-reinforcing downward spiral.

By the way, the alternatives being considered are NOT necessarily correct. That is part of the point. The liberal order could fail, not because its failure was inevitable or because its enemies are better, but because it lost asabiya, coherence, confidence, public support, shared delusion. Something like that.

4. Future historians look back at WW3 (I am just making this up, it may not be WW3, it may just be a lot of decentralized violence and decay, whatever, let your imagination run wild)
Anyway, these imaginary future historians look back the fall of the Western enlightenment project, and one of them says “hey, you know, I think Islam was the rock on which this ship floundered. Not militarily or economically defeated by Islam, but exposed by Islam. Shown to be naked. 

5. Finally, I remain convinced that this is not the end. It is just another turn of the spiral. The enlightenment will be back. Ideologies not centered on man, on this world, on rationality, on empiricism, will not take over the world. But the mess of 2032 will be a topic of study. And the role of Islam in undermining confidence in the first matrix will be a topic of study.

6. This is supposed to be a kind of thought experiment. To be put out there to get feedback. To start a debate. To learn something. I hope. Not as the literal true description of the coming mess of 2032 and its aftermath. More like a tiny effort to figure out what is going on, as our honorable President likes to say. 😊

Lt Gen SK Sinha

From our regular contributor, Dr Hamid Hussain

Lieutenant General ® Srinivas Kumar Sinha (January 1926 – 17 November 2016)
Hamid Hussain

Lieutenant General ® Srinivas Kumar (S. K.) Sinha passed away on 17 November 2016.  He was member of a generation of Indian officers who joined Indian army during the Raj. He spent a long and successful army career and after retirement spent three decades writing about military affairs.

Sinha was born in a prominent family in Gaya, Bihar.  His grandfather Alakh Kumar (A. K.) Sinha served a long and illustrious career in police service.  He was the first Indian police officer to serve as Inspector General of Police (IGP) of Bihar.  Sinha’s father, Mithilesh Kumar (M. K.) Sinha also joined police service and rose to the rank of Inspector General of Police (IGP) of Bihar.  In 1946, M. K. Sinha was one of the two Indians to serve in Intelligence Bureau (IB).  The second Indian was G. Ahmad who later headed IB in Pakistan.  S. K. Sinha decided to join army during the tail end of the Second World War.  The early influence was from his father’s two orderlies.  Rahmat Shah and Babu Jan had served as cavalry sowars during First World War and Sinha learned about army life and stories of war in his early childhood from them.  His paternal uncle N. K. Sinha (later Colonel) was an army officer and this may have influenced Sinha to join army.  He joined Officer’s Training School (OTS) in Belgaum in 1944 and granted emergency commission on 10 December 1944.  After jungle training with 7/9 Jat Regiment, he was posted to 6/9 Jat Regiment in Burma. He embarked on a troopship at Calcutta that was taking a draft of 4/12 Frontier Force Regiment (now 6 FF of Pakistan army).  When he reached Rangoon, 6/9 Jat Regiment had gone back to India for a short relief.  He stayed with 4/12 FFR for about two weeks until 6/9 Jat Regiment returned to Burma.  He served with Punjabi Muslim company of 6/9 Jat Regiment.  War ended soon and Sinha found himself guarding Japanese prisoner of war camp.

Sinha’s emergency commission was regularized after the war and he spent next few years in different staff positions at the rank of captain. In 1950, he came back to regimental life when he was posted to 3/4th Gorkha Rifles.  After completing his staff college course, he joined 3/5th Gorkha Rifles. He went to England for Joint Services Staff College (JSSC) course and on his return appointed Commanding Officer (CO) of 3/5th Gorkha Rifles. He commanded 71 Mountain Brigade at Brigadier rank and GOC of 23 Mountain Division at Major General rank only for about a year when he was appointed Director Military Intelligence (DMI).  He was appointed GOC of 10th Infantry Division in 1976.  He was promoted to Lieutenant General rank and served as Adjutant General (AG), GOC of the Strike Corps at Chandimandar, GOC-in-C of Western Command and finally Vice Chief of Army Staff (VCOAS).

Sinha was at the center of a controversy when government superseded him and appointed Arun Shridhar Vaidya (Deccan Horse) as Chief of Army Staff (COAS) to succeed General K. V. Krishna Rao (2 Mahar Regiment).  Krishna Rao gave his version of the incident in his memoirs. He narrates that sometime before his retirement; Prime Minister Indira Gandhi called him and specifically asked him who should be his successor.  He asked for some time to review the files of senior officers.  He reviewed the files of officers and then recommended that Vaidya should succeed him. However, a careful evaluation of events of that time period raises many questions about this narrative.  Sinha and Rao were close friends for few decades.  Rao brought Sinha as Western Army Commander and according to Sinha told him that he would not only be taking over Western Command from him but also later take over from him in Delhi.  In January 1983, Sinha was brought to army headquarters as Vice Chief of Army Staff (VCOAS) to prepare him to take over from Rao.  Rao asked his Principle Staff Officers (PSOs) to work through Sinha so that he was in the picture.  Normal procedure is that COAS and VCOAS are not allowed to travel together outside of Delhi and one is to remain in the capital.  In May 1983, Rao asked for special permission to take Sinha for a special conference of senior officers on the grounds that next chief should be part of such discussion.  Rao even told Sinha that he should also hold similar conference next year after taking charge from Rao.  In mid May 1983, Rao’s daughter Lalita visited Sinha’s daughter Minnie in United States and told her that Sinha will be taking over from Rao.  Minnie called her father to congratulate him who responded that official decision has not been made.  At the end of May, government announced that GOC-in-C Eastern Command Lieutenant General A. S. Vaidya will succeed Rao.  This announcement surprised many in view of the tradition of adherence to seniority principle in Indian army.  S. K. Sinha put in his papers for pre-mature retirement on his supersession.

Vaidya was commissioned two months after Sinha. The argument for selection of Vaidya was that he had more combat experience than Sinha which was correct.  In Second World War, Sinha didn’t participate in combat and was guarding a POW camp, in 1947-48 Kashmir operations, he was serving as junior staff officer at Delhi and East Punjab command and during 1962 Indo-China war and he was instructor at Defence Services Staff College at Wellington. In 1965 war, Sinha was commanding 3/5th Gorkha Rifles in Calcutta far away from the theatre and in 1971 war, he was director of Pay Commission Cell of Adjutant General branch at army headquarters.  In 1971 war, Sinha asked COAS General Sam Manekshaw for a combat posting referring to an old association.  In 1946, Sam then Lieutenant Colonel was GSO-1, Major Yahya Khan (later General and President of Pakistan) was GSO-2 and Captain S. K. Sinha was GSO-3 at Military Operations (MO) directorate.  Sinha told Sam that ‘old G-1 is going to war with old G-2 and old G-3 is being left out’.  On the other hand, Vaidya commanded Deccan Horse in 1965 war winning MVC and commanded a brigade in 1971 war winning bar to MVC.  It was alleged that Vaidya was not medically fit as he had suffered a heart attack but Krishna Rao states that Vaidya was in A medical category. Some suggest that Sinha was not chosen by Indira Gandhi as he was not willing to launch an operation against Sikh militants.  Later, Sinha in an interview clarified that this was not the case but that he would have planned the operation differently.  As events unfolded later, Vaidya was COAS when army launched operation against Sikh militants in 1984.  In 1986, Sikh militants assassinated Vaidya who had just started to enjoy his retired life in Pune.  Sinha’s supersession gave him extra three decades of a very productive life.

In most countries selection of army chief is viewed as a prerogative of the government and one seldom hears about any controversy.  In India and Pakistan, there is lot of speculation and many a times controversies about the selection of army chief.  The normal promotion system in both armies is such that top five or six senior lieutenant generals are equally qualified for the post and it is the prerogative of the head of the government to choose any one.

After retirement, Sinha served as High Commissioner to Nepal and later governor of Assam and Jammu & Kashmir.  He wrote and lectured on military matters for few decades after his retirement.  He was well respected for his upright conduct and especially how gracefully he handled his own supersession.  There was lot of discussion in the media and even questions were raised in Parliament when he was superseded.  He gave a very short but appropriate statement that ‘I do not question the decision of the government.  I accept it.  I have decided to fade away from the army.  General Vaidya chosen to be the chief is a friend of mine and a competent general.  I am sure the Indian army will flourish under his able leadership’.  If any one lesson that senior officers of Indian and Pakistani armies can learn from the conduct of Sinha it is his conduct as an officer and a gentleman at the time of extreme disappointment in his life.  Rest in peace old soldier and he is now in good company of many proud Jats and Johnny Gorkhas who served honorably.


S. K. Sinha.  A Soldier Recalls (New Delhi: Lancer Publishers), 1992

Major General (R) V. K. Singh.  Leadership in The Indian Army (New Delhi: Sage Publications), 2005

K.V. Krishna Rao.  In The Service of the Nation – Reminiscences (New Delhi: Viking), 2001

Hamid Hussain
November 30, 2016