Monday, July 23, 2007

Dalrymple & Hamid - Understanding the Rage

As of late, Pakistan has been a hot topic in the Western press. Most of the coverage is the usual unenlightening blather about nukes and extremism but there have been a few good, thoughful pieces. Of course, given the tumultuous nature of current Pakistani politics, events on the ground soon overtake even the most up to date writings on the country.

I have always enjoyed reading William Dalrymple ('City of Djinns' about Delhi is my personal favorite) so I was happy to see his piece called "Days of Rage" in the July 23rd issue of The New Yorker. Even when I disagree with some of his interpretation of facts he is a consistently objective and unfailingly intelligent observer of the South Asian scene. The article is partly a profile of Asma Jahangir, the tireless campaigner for the cause of human rights in Pakistan. Dalrymple's admiration for Asma Jahangir's lifelong struggle on behalf of the vulnerable clearly comes through.

Mohsin Hamid recently wrote a piece for the Washington Post titled "Why Do They Hate Us?" In a way only a novelist can, Mohsin Hamid has intelligently explored this question which, since 9/11, is mindlessly asked in the West with a certain "wounded innocence" (Hamid's evocatively apt phrase). In his recent non-fiction, Mohsin Hamid has demonstrated increasing political maturity and seems to have finally moved on from his long lasting infatuation with Musharraf. I think the low point was his "too clever by half" review of Musharraf's atrocious autobiography. The literary device of schoolyard types that is supposed to help us understand Musharraf's psyche is merely attention-grabbing without being illuminating not to mention the inconvenient truth that no such rigid classifications exist in a typical Pakistani school where a 'cheetah' one day can just as easily be a 'chutiya' the next. As a respected Pakistani novelist writing in English, Mohsin Hamid has earned a rare bully pulpit from which he can contribute toward greater cross-cultural understanding and advance sensible ideas. Thankfully, he seems to be moving in that direction.

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