Capsule Review: The Tankies by Ennis and Ezquerra

“The Tankies” is a set of three linked comics from Dead Reckoning Press about a crew of the Royal Tank Regiment (whose motto  “From Mud, Through Blood, to the Green Fields Beyond.” gets regular play in the comic); in the first comic a British tank crew led by corporal Stiles in a Churchill tank fight their way out of Normandy on D-day, outgunned by German Tigers (who they outnumber many times over, but who are not going to give the Brits an easy victory). There is a great cast of characters, including a bird watching colonel, a priest who recovers bodies from destroyed tanks and will not let the tankies help him because he knows how terrible and demoralizing the sight of a tank crew roasted alive inside their tank can be, and corporal Stiles himself, the archetypical “old hand” who knows a trick or two and will not be beaten.

The same crew (now in a Sherman Firefly) star in the second comic in February 1945 as the allies roll across Germany but continue to face more resistance than the circumstances would suggest. This one is a classic one-on-one tank duel as the British crew hunt a King Tiger led by a fanatical SS officer who is still shooting his own men if they refuse to fight on; but the biggest emotional impact comes when German civilians get caught in the middle and a child loses his mother to the British crew while collecting firewood.

The final comic has Stiles (now a Sergeant) commanding a Centurion (at last a tank better than the competition) in Korea as the Chinese attack in the battle of the Imjin river. There is no tank versus tank combat here, just masses of Chinese infantry swarming over the tanks trying to destroy them with primitive pole charges and sticky bombs while the tank crews hunker inside and “de-louse” neighboring tanks with their machine guns.

The comics are fabulously drawn and very well written. And there is an excellent afterword that gives more background about the battles where these comics are set and discusses how and why the Germans fought so hard so late in the war. It also describes the real life events that inspired some of the more unbelievable or strange things described in the comics (the colonel taking a walk in the open under fire, the priest who recovers bodies, the shell down the barrel, the swarming Chinese infantry being “de-loused” off tanks and suchlike). I had not read “war comics” since my teen years, but am thoroughly enjoying the ones I have seen from Dead Reckoning in the last few years. This set by Carlos Ezquerra (a late-great titan of the comics industry) and Garth Ennis captures the horrors of tank warfare in a way that mere prose rarely can. If you are interested in tanks, world war two or just a good war comic, this is well worth a look.

  • Publisher : Dead Reckoning (March 15, 2021)
  • Language : English
  • Paperback : 256 pages
  • ISBN-10 : 1682475972
  • ISBN-13 : 978-1682475973
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Browncast: Sri Thiruvadanthai on the Indian Economy etc

Another BP Podcast is up. You can listen on LibsynAppleSpotify, and Stitcher (and a variety of other platforms). Probably the easiest way to keep up the podcast since we don’t have a regular schedule is to subscribe to one of the links above!

In this episode Srikant, Akshar and I talk to Sri Thiruvadanthai, who goes by @teasri on Twitter and is a very erudite finance and economics guy with much to say about the Indian economy, reforms, China, etc.. Well worth listening.

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Zulfi Bhutto of Pakistan; the dark side chronicles

An old post written by Dr Asif Javed (who has also included this in his book, an interesting collection of articles published as “The Doctor from the East”

Bhutto Legend: Myth and Reality
By Dr Asif Javed
Williamsport, PA

“I feel that your services to Pakistan are indispensable. When the history of our country is written by objective historians, your name will be placed even before that of Mr. Jinnah.” The writer of this infamous piece of consummate flattery was a young Z.A. Bhutto, and the recipient, Sikander Mirza, who should be in the political hall of shame, if one were ever to be erected in Pakistan.

Balawal Zardari has recently made a lot of noise about Z.A. Bhutto’s trial and demanded apology for the unjust verdict handed out to his grandfather. It has become very fashionable lately to call it a “judicial murder”. This writer is not a lawyer nor am I a politician; I do, however, belong to the unfortunate generation that witnessed the events of his grandfather’s time in power, and fall from it. It is said that legends ossify over time; in Bhutto’s case, certainly that appears to be so. Bhutto worship has become a relentless train that shows no signs of slowing down; instead, it keeps gathering speed. In the process, the established historical facts are being denied or distorted, and myths are being created. KK Aziz may easily write another volume of Murder of history based upon what we have seen recently.
Z.A. Bhutto was widely admired for his genius. Henry Kissinger may not have been way off the mark when he remarked, “Elegant, eloquent, subtle. . . .I found him brilliant, charming, of global stature in his perceptions. . . .He did not suffer fools gladly.”It is however, the other side of ZAB—the dark one—that needs to be revisited. In the process, perhaps we, as a nation, may learn some lessons and see things in the right perspective. Khalid Hasan, a life long admirer, who knew ZAB first hand, and worked as his press secretary, may have written the most balanced and insightful short biography of ZAB. He has summed it up eloquently: “ZAB had all the makings of a classical hero, carrying the seeds of self destruction in him—he was a flawed genius, a god who turned out to have feet of clay. . . .ZAB had many personal failings, including an inability to trust others, a congenital suspicion of friends and high sensitivity to personal criticism.”

With rare insight and objectivity, KH writes: “There is no evidence that US government or any of his agencies played a role in the overthrow of Bhutto—the time has come for us to accept that much of what has happened to our country and our leaders has been the result of our own mistakes. . . .ZAB believed that a country should have only one central figure as leader and all power should flow from him. It is a tragedy that a man of Bhutto’s intelligence, education and sense of history did not appreciate that Pakistan could only survive as a federal state with the provinces enjoying the maximum autonomy. Bhutto could not abide rival claimants to power even if they were elected to their office. He could not work with the opposition run provincial governments in Quetta and Peshawar and squeezed them out; that was his undoing. Bhutto forgot that power in order to be kept, must be dispersed.” KH also notes that it was Bhutto who revised ISI’s charter to include domestic political intelligence.

It is widely believed that Bhutto was hanged for a crime that he did not commit. It is rarely, if ever, asked, who then was the real perpetrator? Continue reading “Zulfi Bhutto of Pakistan; the dark side chronicles”

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Browncast: Frank: a well informed Indian talks about India

Another BP Podcast is up. You can listen on LibsynAppleSpotify, and Stitcher (and a variety of other platforms). Probably the easiest way to keep up the podcast since we don’t have a regular schedule is to subscribe to one of the links above!

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This episode is somewhat unique in that the guest is anonymous. “Frank” tweets on twitter as @Frankisalegend1 and has a background in business and finance. He is well informed and well read and we had an interesting chat about Indian politics, recent history and his fascination with Steve McQueen.

 

 

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Browncast: Dr Seema Anand, author of “The arts of seduction”

Another BP Podcast is up. You can listen on LibsynAppleSpotify, and Stitcher (and a variety of other platforms). Probably the easiest way to keep up the podcast since we don’t have a regular schedule is to subscribe to one of the links above!

 

Details

In this episode Mukunda and guest-host Shahada talk to Dr Seema Anand. Dr Anand according to her Times of India intro is “a London-based mythologist and a practising storyteller. She lectures on the Kama Sutra and Eastern erotology”.

Check it out.

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Blasphemy and blasphemy laws in Pakistan

This was on old post about blasphemy laws that I wrote in 2015. It is on the site, but hard to search for, so i decided to repost it now that blasphemy is again in the news with protesters in Pakistan demanding the French ambassador be expelled, the country in lockdown and several people including policemen already killed in riots. It is possible that the main driver of this particular episode is something else entirely (for example, cracks in the ruling junta or between GHQ and Imran Khan) but the blasphemy meme-complex provides the fuel for this fire, even if it is being cynically used by some oversmart idiot in the ruling elite/intelligence agencies.

Most of this is picked out of a past post about the cruel blasphemy execution (by being burned alive) of a Christian couple in Pakistan. I am reposting because blasphemy is in the news again and I cannot count the number of times someone has managed to say “colonial era blasphemy laws in Pakistan” in a misleading manner. I wanted to have a post handy where I could direct them, so here it is, a quick overview of the blasphemy issue in Pakistan

A blasphemy law was part of the 19th century Indian Penal code as section 295.. It was not a bad law at all and the lazy habit of blaming it for later blasphemy law crap in the Indian subcontinent is just that: a lazy habit.

Here is section 295 of the Indian Penal Code of 1860:

 Injuring or defiling place of worship with intent to insult the religion of any class.—Whoever destroys, damages or defiles any place of worship, or any object held sacred by any class of persons with the intention of thereby insulting the religion of any class of persons or with the knowledge that any class of persons is likely to consider such destruction, damage or defile­ment as an insult to their religion, shall be punishable with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to two years, or with fine, or with both.

The aim of the law was to prevent/punish things like someone throwing a dead pig into a mosque or a cow’s head into a temple. An actual physical desecration is to be punished. This seems like an eminently sensible law  and cannot really be blamed for all the evils that came later. But in the 1920s there was a famous case in Lahore where a Hindu publisher was arrested by the colonial authorities after Muslims agitated against him for having published a book called Rangila Rasul (“merry prophet”). The British colonial authorities tried to prosecute him for hurting the religious sentiments of Muslims, but the high court in Lahore (quite properly) found him innocent because there was no law on the books against just publishing a book, no matter how offensive it may be to some religious group. Fearing future communal discord from such provocations, the British then had the legislative assembly add section 295A to the law in order to criminalize deliberate attempts to “outrage the religious feelings of any community”. This section states:

Whoever, with deliberate and malicious intention of outraging the religious feelings of any class of citizens of India, by words, either spoken or written, or by signs or by visible representations or otherwise], insults or attempts to insult the religion or the religious beliefs of that class, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to 4[three years], or with fine, or with both. 

But even with this new and expanded article 295A in place, prosecutions for blasphemy were few and far between until, in the 1980s, General Zia added two new sections to the law in Pakistan and really set the ball rolling.  These infamous sections are labelled 295B and 295C.

295-B:  Defiling the copy of Holy Qur’an. Whoever wilfully defiles, damages or desecrates a copy of the Holy Qur’an or of an extract there from or uses it in any derogatory manner for any unlawful purpose shall be punishable with imprisonment for life.

295-C: use of derogatory remarks etc., in respect of the Holy Prophet: – who ever by words, either spoken or written, or by visible representation, or by any imputation innuendo, or insinuation, directly, defiles the sacred name of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) shall be punished with death, or imprisonment for life and shall also be liable for fine.

Note that the law no longer requires that the offense be malicious in intent. Intent is no longer an issue. Insulting the Quran or the prophet, even unintentionally, is now punishable by death. To seal the deal, in 1991 the Federal Shariat Court of Pakistan struck down the option of life imprisonment and made the death penalty obligatory. 
And of course, the new amendments only apply to blasphemy against Islam, not against all religions (in this sense, the new laws are more “rational” and internally coherent, since all religions blaspheme against all other religions as a matter of course, so the original law was not coherent in principle, though still workable in practice). Between 1984 to 2004, 5,000 cases of blasphemy were registered in Pakistan and 964 people were charged and accused of blasphemy; 479 Muslims, 340 Ahmadis, 119 Christians, 14 Hindus and 10 others. Thirty-two people charged with blasphemy were killed extra-judicially during that time. More have died since. Eighty-six percent of all the cases were reported in Punjab.

Every time the shit hits the fan, many liberal people start hoping that this blasphemy law can be changed to finally stop or slow down this torrent of prosecutions and killings. Others have noted that the law is not the problem, free-lance enforcement of a broader blasphemy meme in the Muslim community is the problem and will likely persist even if the law is repealed. In my view the law is not the only problem, but it IS a very potent symbol of the surrender of state and society in front of the blasphemy meme. Repeal of the law will not kill that meme, but repeal of the law will be an equally powerful signal that things have changed and that state and society no longer approve of the killing of blasphemers. It will not end the problem, but it will be the beginning of the end. Repeal of the law is not a sufficient condition for this nightmare to end, but it is a very important necessary condition.

Unfortunately, I don’t think such repeal or amendment is actually likely in the foreseeable future. My predictions: Continue reading “Blasphemy and blasphemy laws in Pakistan”

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Review: Magic in Islam by Michael Mohammed Knight

This is an old capsule review I wrote a few years ago. I have been busier than usual and not writing at all, so I decided to post some old reviews..

26192917

A hot mess of a book, but still worth reading. Michael Knight is now a postmodern conventionally educated scholar, and that is beginning to show. He has obviously read VERY widely and the book contains countless extremely interesting tidbits about magic and magical ideas in Islamicate tradition. But all of this wonderful research is embedded within a curious postmodern framework that can be off-putting and irrelevant to the story. The story he COULD have told is the story of magic and related ideas in the history of Islam and Islamicate culture. THAT story would have been a fascinating and interesting tour through a history that is not well known, especially to outsiders and Western-educated Muslims (like us). And he provides some of that and that is why the book is worth reading. But he is also eager to “correct” our supposed misconceptions about religion and history and too much pleading takes up too much space in this book. Then again, many people seem to want that kind of “mandatory re-education/rectification of names”, so maybe you will like that part too. But personally, I would have preferred more historical details, fewer lectures about orientalism and “the clash of civilizations”.
Best new bit of information for me: that Ibn ul Arabi claimed he had sex with the Arabic letters in paradise. I wish i knew more about the context of that particular quote. But like many fascinating little details in the book, Michael mentions it and moves on. He has clearly read a lot, I wish he had spent more time presenting the information he has collected and less time lecturing us about how “opening space for new fields of knowledge potentially decenters traditions of jurisprudence, even forcing increased opening of an Islam outside normative Muslim legal traditions” and suchlike. Sure, that would be nice. But let us hear the story first, then we can figure out what it means for magic to be (as he describes it) “deconstructive”.
Not that I disagree with his project of “engagement and deep intersection”, just that I wanted more of the facts, less of the postmodern interpretation.

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Browncast: Chris Iwanek, India-analyst from Poland

Another BP Podcast is up. You can listen on LibsynAppleSpotify, and Stitcher (and a variety of other platforms). Probably the easiest way to keep up the podcast since we don’t have a regular schedule is to subscribe to one of the links above!

Krzysztof IwanekIn this episode Mukuna and Omar talk to Krzysztof Iwanek (aka Chris), who heads the Asia Research Center in the War Studies University in Warsaw, Poland. Chris also writes regularly for “The Diplomat” and is writing a book about the Ram Rajya Parishad Party (a small traditional Hindu party in India). We talk about Indian politics, his research and whatever else comes up..

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Capsule Review: Mythos by Stephen Fry

Mythos

I read this (or rather, heard this) as an audiobook and loved it. The audiobook is read by Stephen himself and as you may expect, is very nicely read. It is also very nicely written, covering a lot of the Greek myths (this is apparently volume 1, many of the myths and legends that have been left out of this one are likely to be in the second volume titled “Heroes”). Stephen does an especially nice job of outlining the successive layers of Chaos, Gaia, Titans and Gods and makes the exuberant (and confusing) mass of origin stories into a coherent overall narrative. His retelling of the myths is full of humor and shows off his vast erudition with a very light touch. Since polytheism is having a bit of a recovery moment thanks to the intellectual (but not demographic) decline of the big four monotheisms (Judeo-Christian-Islamic and Marxist), this retelling is also timely and likely to strike a chord with some people.

Stephen is clearly a fan and this is a great introduction to these stories. And while his style is humorous and light, he is faithful to the sources and this is not some sort of modern “re-telling” that changes stories and characters to make them more contemporary, though being gay himself, he is more than a little eager to point out that the Greeks and their stories include a lot of same sex stuff. But do note that these are only SOME of the Greek myths and many of the most famous stories are not in this book.  Fry tries to impose a semi-chronological order on the world of Greek mythology (from primal chaos to Gaia and Ouranos mating, to Titans, to Gods, to humans, with a minimal detour into the war of the Giants) so this volume mostly deals with the early universe and the first adventures of the Gods and the humans they created. Later stories (such as the ones in the Odyssey and Iliad) will presumably show up in volume 2.

He does make the mistake in the epilogue of claiming that we should read these myths because they are so unique (“no where else in the world“), which is not really true. The ancient Greeks were not uniquely gifted in this matter (Indians in particular will find it surprising to learn that this cultural package and its multifarious many-sidedness seems so unique to Stephen), but of course they ARE the myths that were best known and most influential in Western Europe, and via that, are the best known and most influential for many modern people.  And because, via Greek and Latin and the heritage of Rome, they are so central to the literary traditions of such dominant languages as English, French and Spanish, they will remain relevant for all people who use these languages, whatever their ethnic or geographical origin. So while I am woke enough to point out to Stephen that his beloved Greeks may not be as unique (in the matter of creating and using such stories to illustrate human nature and the nature of the world at large) as he thinks, I am not in the camp of those who think these should be “decentered” or even thrown away “because Whiteness”. For people from Europe and people who mainly read and write in European origin languages (so really, all of us), these remain must-read literature.
I look forward to volume 2.

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Brigadier FB Ali; the Man Who Removed Yahya Khan

From Dr Hamid Hussain. Brigadier FB Ali had an important role in two big events: the coup against Yahya Khan in Dec 1971 and a planned/imagined coup against Bhutto in 1973.. Details below..

Obituary of an officer & gentleman of a bygone era.

Brigadier Furrukh Bakht Ali

Hamid Hussain

Brigadier F. B. Ali (February 1929 – February 2021) passed away in Canada.  He was one of the last of the generation of Pakistan army officers commissioned right after the independence in 1947.  He was a highly respected officer of Pakistan army. Continue reading “Brigadier FB Ali; the Man Who Removed Yahya Khan”

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