Eqbal Ahmad: Critical Outsider in a Turbulent Age


Muhammad Idrees Ahmad in The National:

Shortly after the collapse of the Berlin Wall, the Balkans were plunged into a ruthless war that put the western left in a quandary.

Rhetorically it had always been committed to “people’s” struggles, but in practice “anti-imperialism” trumped other concerns.

The extreme nationalism of Slobodan Milosevic’s ethnic cleansers did not lend itself to easy identification so the left went to war against its opponents. Bosnians were painted as pawns of western imperialism, their shortcomings were amplified and any action to end their suffering was resisted. Humanitarian concerns were laid by the wayside.

There were few deviations from the party line. Notable among these was the influential Pakistani intellectual Eqbal Ahmad.

With decades of anti-imperialist activism and prolific dissents on western policy behind him, Ahmad’s credibility could not be gainsaid. But he discovered to his dismay that beyond introspective individuals like the late Edward Said, few were willing to deviate enough from dogma to demand timely action.

It would take three years and more than 200,000 deaths before the world would act to bring the slaughter to an end.

This humanist universalism, analytical acuity and resistance to orthodoxy were Ahmad’s distinguishing attributes. These are the features of his personality that radiate through the pages of Stuart Schaar’s essential new biography Eqbal Ahmad: Critical Outsider in a Turbulent Age. From the vantage point of personal acquaintance, and following years of research, Schaar has composed a compelling portrait of the dissident as a man of sense, sensibility and principle.

Ahmad lived an extraordinary life that brought him into contact with figures ranging from Gandhi and Rabindranath Tagore to Yasser Arafat and Osama bin Laden. United States president Richard Nixon’s justice department would charge him with planning to kidnap Henry Kissinger; Tunisian president Habib Bourguiba would try to persuade him to write his official biography; Pakistani dictator Ayub Khan would try to recruit him as the country’s foreign minister. Ahmad would build notable institutions in several countries. He accurately predicted the consequences of western recklessness in Afghanistan, and his warnings on US intervention in Iraq would prove prophetic.

More here.