The Call

Today, I have a treat for you all.

A good friend of mine and budding author, Shuaib Ghaffar, has written a short story he’d like to share with you guys. It follows a young man struggling to make a tough decision, something I’m sure we can all relate to. It goes without saying all credit goes to Shuaib for this wonderful piece.


I lay down against my prayer mat, body slumped, half in prostration, half in yearning. The prayer may be complete, but no other time have I felt so close and humbled before God; a tangled mess on the floor with my eyes flickering from half open to shut.

My chest rises and falls as I breathe as calmly as one can in a time like this. I finally muster the strength to get one knee up, then two knees, one foot, two feet, and up I stand.

The meditation has me feeling like a floating cloud. The outcome of the next few minutes will determine if a dark storm brews or blue skies reveal themselves.

I swiftly reach for my phone from the desk, flip it into the other hand and jump into bed backwards. I may be acting cool, thinking cool. But feeling cool continues to elude me.

Her name appears high up on the contacts page. She is expecting a call. Whether she expects its content remains to be seen. I’m glad I hold the element of surprise; I would hate even more to be on the receiving end of such a thing.

With a minute to pause and reflect on why I am doing this, I begrudgingly fight my desires to the death. Each whisper and memory trampled by the wounded steed of my reinvigorated need for peace of mind.

One last breath. The next second, I call.

The swiftness of her response catches me off guard. Her familiar, mellow voice warmly welcomes me, blind towards my grave intentions.

“Hey, are you okay?”

The classic question of pure ambiguity. Answering ‘no’ signals weakness and insecurity, as well as a lack of decisiveness. This is not who I am.

“Yeah, yeah, I’m fine.”

I don’t even bother returning the question. Engaging with this topic will only make it harder for me to get through this.

A long silence ensues. I am the one to break it.

“Erm, I need to tell you something,” I say, lacking conviction but knowing I must press on.

“Go on, what is it?”

I deeply sigh. I pause again. She remains patient, which makes me glad. Upon recollecting my thoughts, I open my mouth once again.

“Okay. What I’m about to tell you, it might be a bit much.”

“Um- okay.”

“Alright. Listen up. Basically…”

I bite my lip as my body tries to prevent my mind from expressing itself. But somehow, I am able to overcome it all.

“I don’t want to see you anymore.”

The anguish enters my soul as the guilt spills out. The circle of emotions that envelops me from all sides is a polarising war of two sides.

I am prevented from speaking again. I am not able to. To my fortune, she does instead.

“Oh… okay then. Uh-“

“Uh… yeah. I know that might be a lot to take in right now,” I interrupt. Sensing her voice dwindling down, I wish to clarify my words.

“The first thing I want you to know is you are not to blame. Even I’m not to blame. The only thing we should blame is the situation.”

Her sustained silence is unnerving but allows me to better express myself.

“I don’t have even one issue with you. There’s not one bad reason for doing this,”

I await her response, yet nothing comes. After a deafening silence, “mmhmm…” she gingerly murmurs.

I must try my best to explain this insane decision as rationally as possible, treading the fine tightrope of stabilising her emotions and being pragmatic enough for her to understand. I prepare myself to push forward.

“The simple fact is… I’m not ready to get married. Neither are you.”

She says nothing. “Now, I can sugarcoat this all I want and just say, ‘Aw, but I was only speaking to her to get to know her for marriage!’” I exclaim in a tone to lighten the mood. “But I think we both know why we’re really here. What we’re really doing.”

“…Yeah,” she says, finally.

“We’re living in a state of denial with each other. We know we can’t get married now! And I don’t wanna disrespect you anymore by continuing with this,”

Sensing her mood slowly drowning in my ocean of mental turmoil, I begin to construct a dam of reassurance.

“Think of it like this. If we give up on this now, for the sake of God… just think of what He can give us later down the line!”


“Just think about this. My boy was telling me, ‘Yo bro, if you forget this now, there’s gonna be some 10 outta 10 lengerz waiting for you in, like, 3 years from now’. Trust me when I say God will never forget the sacrifices we make.”

“Yeah, I suppose,” she mutters.

“And whether that person happens to be you or someone completely different… I’m gonna make the tough decision to please God. And I want you to learn that, too.”

“I can respect that,” she says, with an air of optimism peeking through the darkness. “I just want you to be happy, that’s all.”

This statement makes me grimace as I wonder what the hell I am even doing. I’m throwing away the rewards I’ve been working towards for years. All my efforts, all my pain. For nothing. A beautiful girl who loves me on a silver platter, who I can love back. My left eye painfully twitches as I resist the urge to double back on myself.

“It’s- it’s not about being happy. You made me happy. Believe me, you made me so happy. But…happiness only lasts so long. In the end, where is that happiness gonna get you? Huh? Can I take care of you with happiness?”

“Hmph. No,” she mutters, as close to chuckling as one can be in this situation.

“I’m out of my depth here. How am I gonna take care of your crazy ass when I can’t even take care of my own?” I ask, smiling bittersweetly. Though we are over the phone, I can feel her smiling back. “A girl like you deserves a great man. And at the moment, I’m not that man. Whoever he is, he’s out there somewhere, and he’s so great. He’s waiting for you to get to his level. You’re capable of it.”

She shyly laughs in a way so innocent my eyes close from yearning and disbelief. Blind to the world with a hand over my face, I speak once again.

“To tell you the truth… I’m gonna miss you a hell of a lot. You were the best waste of a Thursday evening I ever had.”

My humour is a thin pane of glass concealing the truth about my feelings. It is my sanctuary through every adverse situation or event. I’m laughing now, and that’s what people see. Maybe that’s all that matters.

“I’m gonna miss you too. I guess I’m gonna miss trying to understand you. I still don’t,” she admits.

“And you never will, bitch!” I exclaim hysterically. I swiftly quiet down my tone. “But I did enjoy seeing you try.”

Each second I reminisce about solidifies the difficulty of moving on, like walking backwards through rapidly drying cement.

“The next few days are gonna be tough, you know. I can’t believe I let you weasel your way into my frozen heart. Nobody is meant to go in there!”

“And you’re never gonna forget me. No girl you meet again will ever know you have a soul behind those lifeless eyes.”

“Shhh. Don’t tell anyone about that shit. I have an image to maintain.”

“You know whoever marries you is gonna be so fucked. Tryna sort that mess of a mind out.”

“Eh, all things considered, I think you were doing a pretty good job,” I relay as we both laugh away in blissful ignorance, knowing it can’t end like this.

Our back-and-forth bickering goes on for a while. I wish it would never end. After all, it’s what we do best. What we did best. As the conversation timer ticks over an hour, the grim sense of inevitability starts to peer into my fractured mind. I can’t bear to bring this to an end. A little voice in my head whispers to give her one more chance, that I am wrong, that this whole thing is just a misunderstanding. But one thing he fails to realise is that I am never wrong.

“I just wanna say… thank you so much for taking it so well. I know it was a little unexpected,” I say, my emotions soon to overflow and burst the banks of the river of composure.

“Yeah, we’ll. I’m always gonna be on my toes with you. You’re so bloody unpredictable. That’s why I always let you drag me along. I’ll never forgive myself for that. But that’s okay.”

I look to the ceiling and breathe slowly in peace, “I’m glad you see it that way.”

I can feel her presence beside me, so tangible I could touch her silky hair and tuck it behind her ear. I turn over to embrace her, but she is nowhere in sight but in voice and spirit.

The longest silence so far ensues. But this time, it is no longer a deafening one. This one is serene. Comfortable. Safe.

“It’s been good talking to you,” I say with a smile, despite the ailing heart its expression stems from.

The sealed chamber of my iron heart had finally been prised open, and it would need a lock as hard as diamonds to cover it again.

Although it feels as if only the hard times are ahead, in truth, I’ve left them in the rearview mirror. Today was the day I stood up against my desires, laughed in the face of my slave master and turned instead to my real master.

With a shaking but defiant hand, I smash the red button and hurl my phone across the bed, tears welling in my eyes but feeling born again, ready to enter a new chapter in my life. One where I make the decisions, fight for my goals and reap the rewards. Nothing else matters.

“My prayers and sacrifice, my life and death, are all for God, Lord of All the Worlds.”

Surah Al-An’am, Verse 162.

2022: A Middle Year

It’s currently four a.m., and I’ve just realised I haven’t prepared an end-of-year post for this here blog of mine. This is understandable, given that I amassed four posts this year. Three were recycled essays I wrote for my university, and the last one was a short story I was hoping to adapt into a novel but haven’t gotten around to yet. Truth be told, I kind of forgot this place existed. Which is rather sad, considering it’s named after me. This brings me to the main point of this post: there isn’t one.

When I first realised it was 31st December about an hour ago, I began questioning myself. How did I let this happen? How could I forget something that used to be such a central part of my life? I started this blog in June 2020, back when Miss Rona first showed up. It saw me through those early lockdown days. Through the A-level kerfuffle. Through my gap year. Now Miss Rona is gone, and I’m still here, and this blog just ain’t blogging. But why? What happened in the last year that stopped me from writing? Ironically, the answer is university.

Looking back, it’s clear that university has dramatically impacted this blog’s output. Before starting university in September 2021, I put out an average of three to four posts per month, sometimes five or six. Since starting, I’ve only made six. That’s six posts in just over a year! Now, I could sit here and keep berating myself for letting this happen, or I could do a little self-reflection and unpack this. Alternatively, I could just close the laptop and go to sleep, but where’s the fun in that?

Let’s start from the beginning. Why did I start this blog? It’s not really an easy question to answer. Partly because there were multiple contributing factors but mainly because the largest of those factors is a little embarrassing. You see… the truth is… damn, how do I say this? I… I started this blog because I had a crush on someone. There we go. I said it. The cat is out of the bag. I repeat the cat is out of the bag.

I’m not gonna go into detail about who this person was – I say “was” because I haven’t spoken to her in nearly two years, not because she’s, you know – that’s not important. All you need to know is that your boy was down bad for a girl. She liked writing, so he started a blog to impress her. She wasn’t impressed, but your boy did find a new hobby, and ultimately that’s the real love story in all this.

I started this blog with my first post: Founding of the All-India Muslim League. Technically Was the British Raj good or bad for the Subcontinent? was my first post, but I don’t count that, seeing as it was just a recycled essay I wrote in year 12. Alas, I digress. So, I started this blog with my series Jinnah’s Pakistan: Revisiting the Pakistan Movement. The intention was clear: this was going to be a history blog and I was going to be the next greatest historian since Herodotus. At least, that was until A-levels results day.

To put it mildly, A-level results day was not a good day. To put it frankly, A-levels results day was $#*% day. So $#*% in fact, I had to take a month’s hiatus to process it. And after a lot of processing and self-reflection, I came back with my first thought piece: Limbo. It was a great success. So great it got both a single like and a single comment. Which was one more like and comment than any of my previous history posts. No. It was a great success because it revealed to me one of the greatest feelings known to man: catharsis.

And so, after Limbo, my blog began to branch out. I continued writing about history; the difference was that now my writing had a lot more character. A lot more pizzazz, if you will. Then on 25th November 2020, I discovered a new passion: storytelling. Admittedly, my first attempt at storytelling was a little confusing. I read back Shaheen today, and just like when I was writing it, I still don’t know what’s going on. But people liked it. Friends called me up, telling me they thought it was deep and meaningful and that I should write more fiction. And so, I end 2020 on a high note with A Reflection on Loneliness and How to Punch.

Going into 2021, I had the ambition of taking my blog more seriously. I aimed to write at least twice as many posts as I did in 2020. I start the year with a few book reviews and another instalment of Jinnah’s Pakistan. Then at the start of April, I begin my first real crack at fiction writing: Midnights In London, an episodic story set in 17th-century Victorian London.

By this point in my blogging career, things were going well. Posts were pretty much going out on a weekly basis. During this period, I posted some of my best work. Notable mentions include The Fourth Battle of Panipat, Iron Brothers: Assessing the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor and Storytime with Aqil: The Three Fights. Then in late September, I started university, and things went downhill.

Uni life got the better of me. The first semester of university was an absolute rollercoaster. It had everything: action, drama, intrigue. So much happened there wouldn’t be enough gigabytes on my computer to record it. Alas, I will have to save those stories for another day. All you need to know is that, between all the craziness and university assignments, I had no time to write blog posts. And the one post I did write, Mass Surveillance and the Erosion of Our Civil Liberties: Why You Should Be Concerned, was part of a university assignment. It was safe to say my streak had been broken, and I finished 2021 with what I’d honestly call a lazy cop-out post, The Aqil Ghani Media Awards 2021.

I went into 2022 with less enthusiasm and time for my blog. In many ways, this place became a landfill for me to dump my university essays into. After all, university essays were the only things I had time to write. I finish the academic year in June and begin my summer holidays. During the summer, I wrote another story called Wishes which served as a proof of concept for a novel I intended to write. I still intend to write a novel, just one based on a different idea. And now here we are, 6 a.m. on a Saturday morning, the last day of 2022.

As far as my writing goes, it’s fair to say 2022 wasn’t a good year for Aqil Ghani (the blog). In fact, one could put it frankly and say 2022 was a $#*% year for Aqil Ghani (the blog). But was it a $#*% year for Aqil Ghani (the person)?

To be fair to myself, I did achieve some personal milestones this year. For one, I’ve finally started eating and going gym consistently. I’ve gained 3kg in the past two months, and I’m the strongest and fittest I’ve ever been in my entire life. As far as acting is concerned, 2022 has been a great success. I filmed my first paid role as one of the leads in an anthology film, and I’m currently booked in for another two projects I’m gonna film in the new year.

Overall, I’d say 2022 was a middle year. A year of metamorphosis. In some regards, I’ve stagnated. In others, I’ve excelled. But regardless, I have learned. A lot. And that’s what life is all about.

So, what am I going to do differently next year? I’d love to promise to start posting consistently again, but, truth be told, I don’t know if I can stick to that promise. I’m already swamped with uni work as it is, with an exam to prepare for and two essays to write. They may soon end up on this blog, depending on how good they are. However, I will promise myself this: to take at least a little time out to write, not for university, not for the blog, but for myself.

I made this blog to impress the girl I liked and discovered a passion I didn’t know I had. I started with a story of the past and ended with a story of my imagination. And as the story of my own life unfolded, this blog took a backseat. Whether this blog continues to wither or makes a resurgence remains to be seen. Regardless, though it may be little, I’m content with what I’ve achieved here.

That’s enough corniness from me this year, folks. May y’all have a blessed 2023 and achieve everything you set out to achieve. Keep learning. Keep growing. Keep smiling. And if I see, I see you.

Peace be with you.


Ali squeezed his way through the gap in the chain-link fence, careful not to get caught on the protruding metal. The abandoned youth centre was the only place he could guarantee was empty on a Monday morning, and for what he was about to do, empty was ideal.
It was Ali’s first time skipping school, but he didn’t do it without good reason. You see, Ali was a good kid, a smart kid. But like all kids, the lingering pressure of fast approaching A-levels made him anxious. And when kids get anxious, they do drastic things; they act out. For most kids, this meant a little bit of bad behaviour here and there. For Ali, it meant doing the unthinkable. It meant enlisting the help of the unseen.
If there was one thing Ali learnt in his short eighteen years of existence, it was communicating with jinn was a no-go. His family made sure of that with all the jinn possession stories they told him as a child. The story of his father’s second cousin’s father-in-law’s brother used to send shivers down his spine. Yet here he was, bunking off school to break into the local youth centre and summon a jinni.
Ali walked across the main hall, plonked his duffle bag on the stage and retrieved the cheap ornamental oil lamp from within. Despite its appearance, the guy who sold it to him promised it contained a wish jinni. Usually, Ali would ignore such people, passing them off as addicts looking for a quick score. But this guy was wearing a tuxedo and looked like he meant business. He also wasn’t asking for a lot: only ten quid. And so, Ali’s knowledge of A-level economics told him the risk was worth the potential reward.     
Ali quietly recited Ayat-al-Kursi and, with a deep anticipatory breath, slowly rubbed the lamp. For a few moments, there was nothing but silence. Realising he’d been duped, Ali released his anticipatory breath in a zephyr of disappointment. How could he be so stupid? Soon, that zephyr of disappointment morphed into a pile of shame which caught alight, fuelling a fit of anger that ended with Ali lobbing the lamp across the hall, crashing into the far wall in a cloud of purple smoke.
“What the fuck?!” exclaimed Ali.
Once the smoke cleared, in its place stood a balding middle-aged man staring into the wall with his back towards Ali. This wasn’t at all what Ali was expecting. For one, his feet didn’t face backwards but forwards like a regular person. In fact, everything about the man standing in front of him seemed pretty regular. He wore a regular white button-down shirt over a regular-sized pot belly, tucked into regular blue jeans secured by a regular belt alongside a regular pair of flip-flops which altogether made for an admittedly irregular choice of clothing but nothing one would expect from beings who were supposedly immortal and wielded immense power. The regular man turned to face Ali, revealing a regular face with regular features neither ugly nor beautiful.
“Oh, there you are,” said the regular man in a regular voice, “you must be the human who summoned me. What be thy name?”
“Ali Deen,” answered Ali, “what’s yours?”
“Will Williams. It’s a pleasure to make your acquaintance Ali Deen.” Will extended a hand in greeting, which Ali reluctantly accepted. “Tell me, young Ali Deen, where are we?”
“You can call me Ali, and we’re in Mile End.”
“I see. So if this is where the mile ends, where does it begin?”
“Huh?” Ali was visibly confused.
“Oh, don’t mind me, just a little bit of jinni humour for you,” Will awkwardly chuckled, “So tell me, young Ali Deen, why did you summon yours truly?”
Ali wasn’t sure what to make of this. The being who stood before him contradicted every account of what jinn were supposed to be like. Even the name Will Williams didn’t sound very jinni-like. Then again, he did emerge from the inside of a magical lamp. Perhaps, it was the stories that were wrong. After all, he didn’t personally know anyone who had seen a jinni.
“Umm… I summoned you to grant me wishes innit.”
“Why yes, of course!” beamed Will, “it is what we jinn are known for. Allow me to inform you of the terms and conditions though I’m well aware you may already know them given their prevalence in popular culture, Ali Deen.”
In the next moment, Will was suddenly wearing glasses Ali didn’t remember seeing him put on and reading a sheet of paperwork which had to have materialised from thin air. That settled it then. The being who stood in front of Ali was most certainly a jinni.
“‘I, Will Williams, promise to fulfil three wishes for Ali Deen so long as they abide by the following conditions. Condition number one: No wishing death upon anyone, no matter how evil they may be. Condition number two: No wishing anyone to fall in love, no matter how beautiful they may be. Condition number three: No wishing to bring anyone back from the dead, no matter how missed they may be. Condition number four: No wishing for more wishes, no matter what they be.’ And lastly, ‘condition number five: Ali Deen is to pay Will Williams five hundred British pounds sterling prior to the fulfilment of any wishes.’ Any questions?”
“Uhh… Yeah, about that last one. Why I gotta pay you for?” questioned Ali, “like, I’m pretty sure you’re supposed to grant wishes for free, right? At least that’s what happens in the movies.”
“Well, in the movies, jinn don’t have to pay rent, nor do they have to cope with an ever-increasing cost of living either.”
“That’s true, but don’t you have, like, I don’t know, a magical home or whatever, where you don’t have to pay rent? Plus, I’m pretty sure I just freed you from that lamp, so you kinda owe me.”
“Oh, please! If I wanted to leave that bloody lamp, I could’ve done so whenever I wanted,” sneered Will, “Now, do you want the wishes or not? Because I could leave and give them to someone who’ll pay me for my services and isn’t such a stingy little git.”
“Okay, okay, I’ll pay,” capitulated Ali, “it’s just, I’m a student. I ain’t got that kind of money lying around.”
“Well, how much do you have then?”
“Umm… I’ve got about fifty quid in my bank account.”
Will paused for a moment to consider the offer.
“Okay, done. Transfer me the money, and we’ll get started,” agreed Will, handing Ali a piece of paper with his bank details.
Ali got out his phone and began inputting the information. He learned a lot today. Lesson number one being that jinn were nothing like how the stories or movies portrayed them. He never considered jinn would have any need for money, let alone have to pay rent. Who would’ve thought beings made of smokeless fire had to deal with the same problems as mere mortals? Not Ali, that’s for sure. He was about to hit transfer when an unfamiliar voice spoke up from behind the stage curtains.
“You know he can’t actually grant you wishes, right?”
After pausing for dramatic effect, the voice’s owner revealed themselves to be a young woman dressed in a navy blue suit with a matching headscarf. She looked like an FBI agent, which wouldn’t have made any sense seeing as they were in London. She must be MI6 then. Or MI5. Whichever one dealt with stuff domestically. Ali wasn’t sure.
“Ah shit,” cursed Will, “Not you again.”
“Hey there, Will. I hope you’re keeping out of trouble,” waved the newcomer, “although it doesn’t seem like it.”
“Of course not. I was only just giving this young man some directions.”
“Yes, directions,” asserted Will, “you see, young Ali got lost on his way to school and wound up here in Mile End. Luckily, I was here to help him. Isn’t that right, Ali?”
Ali was lost for words. His day was getting more and more perplexing by the hour.
“Well, is that what’s happening here, Ali?” interrogated the newcomer, “was Will giving you directions?”
The hall was silent, the newcomer staring into Ali’s soul in anticipation of an answer.
“He doesn’t seem to speak, Will. Are you sure he’s okay?”
“The boy is a little shy, is all. But I assure you, nothing untoward is going on here.”
Despite his frazzled mind, Ali finally put together enough words to blurt out a coherent sentence.
“Are you a jinni too?”
“Me? No,” giggled the newcomer, “I’m Detective Anayra Ansari of the Arbitration Agency; we’re the ones who keep the peace between humans and jinn. Unfortunately, your friend Will here is suspected of running a wish scam.”
“Wish scam?”
“Yes. Hundreds of unsuspecting humans fall victim every year. Basically, a jinni seeking to earn some quick cash finds a gullible human, charms them with a few simple jinni illusions and promises to grant them wishes. However, the truth is jinn cannot grant real wishes, only the illusion of wishes. If Will could really grant you wishes, he wouldn’t be asking you for your money. Instead, he’d magically create some himself. But the truth is: Will cannot make real money, so he resorts to scams like these,” tutted Anayra, “in fact, he already has­— how many strikes is it now? Two?”
“She doesn’t know what she’s talking about,” scorned Will.
“Will already has two strikes,” continued Anayra, “and if he gets a third? Well, then he’s gonna have to do time. Isn’t that right, Will?”
Will refused to answer, his arms crossed to express his disdain.
“So tell me, Ali. Did Will promise he’ll grant you wishes in exchange for money?”
“He did,” answered Ali, “but the donny came in a lamp and everything. Some guy in a tuxedo sold it to me.”
“Seriously, Will? You’re resulting to that orientalist garbage? That’s a new low, man,” sighed Anayra.
“It was certainly enough to fool the Beni Adam,” murmured Will.
Anayra ignored the fleer of bigotry coming from the guilty jinni.
“Who’s your accomplice in the tux?”
“I’m not telling you,” rebuffed Will.
“You know we’ll find out soon enough,” promised Anayra, “ anyway, it looks like I’m gonna have to arrest you.”
Will paused, eyeing the detective, who now held a pair of pellucid blue handcuffs. After a few moments of consideration, the jinni placed his arms out front. Whatever it was he thought of doing, he decided against it. Anayra clicked the handcuffs into place, the pellucid blue turning to a translucent red.
“Thanks for coming quietly.”
“We both know how it would turn out otherwise.”
Anayra nodded her appreciation and began leading Will out of the hall. However, she stopped short of the fire exit before returning to Ali, seriousness etched into her face.
“Forget what you saw here today. Officially, jinn don’t exist. Officially, I don’t exist. Trust me, if you go around telling people, it’s only gonna bring trouble your way. So it’s better for everyone if you pretend today never happened. For your own sake at least, if nobody else’s.”
Ali was still trying to make sense of it all. A jinni with regular feet. A detective with glow-in-the-dark handcuffs. An agency tasked with maintaining peace between humans and jinn. If he couldn’t make sense of it, how could anyone else? And even if he were to tell someone, who would believe him?
“Aight. I promise I won’t tell anyone.”
“Thank you, Ali,” smiled Anayra, “If you don’t mind me asking, what was it you were going to wish for anyway?”
“Oh, that? Don’t worry about it. It was pretty stupid anyway.”
“Stupid enough to enlist the help of a jinni?”
“Yeah, I guess it was,” chuckled Ali, “I was gonna ask him to give me A-stars for my A-levels.”
“Ah, A-levels. I know the feeling, kid. Trust me, you’re better off putting in the work. The reward isn’t in the result; it’s in the journey.”
“Safe,” smiled Ali.
“My pleasure. And good luck with your exams. Anyway, I better get this one back to the— OH SHIT!”
Will was missing, the fire exit wide open. Without wasting another moment, Anayra immediately bolted out the door, leaving Ali alone with his thoughts. After taking a moment to process everything he’d witnessed, Ali picked up his bag and made his way back to school. He had exams to prepare for.

Dissonances in Approaches to Power: Poststructuralism and Mainstream IR Theory

The following essay was originally submitted as an assignment for my university and was graded as a 1st class essay.

Power is a critical area of study in political science and the broader social sciences. Much of our conceptualisation of the world around us revolves around power, particularly when it comes to disparities between different entities. This is no different when it comes to the field of International Relations (IR), in which the study of power plays a huge role. With this in mind, it is vital that we, as IR theorists, appreciate different approaches to the study of power and how these different approaches affect our understanding of the social world. As such, this essay aims to highlight the dissonances between mainstream IR and Poststructuralism in regard to power.

To do this, we will begin by outlining the main features of Poststructuralism’s understanding of power: discourse, deconstruction, genealogy, and intertextuality. We will then look at Orientalism as a case study of Poststructuralism’s understanding of power. Following this, we will contrast Poststructuralism’s understanding of power with that of mainstream IR theory. To finish, we will conclude by summarising the key points made in this essay.

Power According to Poststructuralism

Poststructuralism is a theoretical perspective that emerged during the 1960s as a response and critique of Structuralism. It is based upon a relativist ontology which asserts that reality does not exist beyond subjects (the observers), leading us to a subjectivist epistemology which asserts that subjects impose meaning on objects (the things that are observed) (Moon & Blackman, 2014). Simply put, no objective reality exists outside observation; reality is constructed by observers. Thus, knowledge is not discovered; it is created. As a result, Poststructuralism aims to deconstruct conceptions of reality to understand the social world and the power dynamics that exist therein.

Poststructuralism’s conception of power is primarily linked to knowledge creation and centres around four main concepts: discourse, deconstruction, genealogy, and intertextuality. These four concepts amalgamate to produce subjectivities (the vantage points from which an observer observes the world). Thus, power is understood as the productive capacity to constitute particular subjectivities as natural, objective conceptions of reality (Hansen, 2020).

During the late 1960s, philosopher Michel Foucault introduced the concept of discourse. As defined by Foucault, discourse refers to ‘ways of constituting knowledge, together with the social practices, forms of subjectivity and power relations which inhere in such knowledges and relations between them’ (Weedon, 1987). According to Poststructualism’s ontological basis, reality does not exist beyond observation. Instead, reality is constructed by the meaning imposed upon objects via language. Depending on the language used to describe an object, the meaning of the object changes. For example, a person firing a gun may be labelled as either a ‘soldier’ or a ‘terrorist’. A ‘terrorist’ firing a gun has different connotations than a ‘soldier’ firing a gun, even though, at the fundamental level, it is just a person firing a gun. In other words, discourse asserts that objects do not have a given essence; their essence is produced by language.

Around the same time as Foucault, another philosopher Jacque Derrida introduced the concept of deconstruction. Derrida posited that language is a system of unstable dichotomies where one term is valued as superior (Hansen, 2020). Words only make sense in relation to other words. To understand the meaning of one word, we must look at where it is positioned in relation to other words. For example, we cannot understand what ‘chimpanzee’ means without other words, such as ‘animal’. Similarly, we cannot understand what ‘chimpanzee’ means without comparing it to what it is not, such as ‘human’. However, these connections between words are unstable because they are never attributed indefinitely. For instance, while the ‘chimpanzee’ may be an ‘animal’, it is often seen as more ‘human’ than other ‘animals’. Therefore, its ‘animalness’ is unstable and may change within a given context. Thus, a ‘human-animal’ dichotomy exists, where ‘human’ is valued as superior to ‘animal’. In other words, deconstruction asserts that a system of unstable dichotomies artificially produces the essence of an object.

Alongside discourse, Foucault also developed the concept of genealogy by building upon the work of renowned philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche. Foucault and Nietzsche argued that mainstream history is far too homogenous and misrepresentative of a past comprised of gradual, contested, and often forgotten histories. Therefore, genealogy is concerned with drawing attention to the politics involved in making the past look a certain way to understand the discursive and material structures of the present (Hansen, 2020). For instance, understanding and critiquing colonial myths concerning world history can help us better understand the current power dynamics between Europe and its ex-colonies (Halperin, 2006). In other words, genealogy asserts that knowledge of the past is constructed and informs the meaning subjects impose upon objects in the present.

In 1969, philosopher Julia Kristeva introduced the concept of intertextuality. According to Kristeva, the social world can be understood as being comprised of texts that form broader intertexts (the knowledge produced by a body of texts) (Kristeva, 1980). The meaning that a subject imposes upon an object is enshrined in an intertext. Intertexts are developed over time and inform the observations that subjects make about objects. For example, to say that ‘Africa’ is ‘backwards’ is to draw upon the intertext that constitutes ‘Africa’ as ‘pre-modern’, ‘barbaric’ and ‘savage’. Whenever a new text references ‘Africa’, it builds upon the old body of texts that constitute ‘Africa’ as ‘backwards’. This intertext then informs any observations that subjects make of ‘Africa’. In other words, intertextuality asserts that the meaning a subject imposes upon an object is reinforced, preserved, and propagated by a wider intertext.

Poststructuralism’s four concepts of discourse, deconstruction, genealogy, and intertextuality overlap to produce subjectivities. The essence of an object is produced by language (discourse). Language is a system of unstable dichotomies (deconstruction). These unstable dichotomies are constructed over time by controlling our knowledge of the past (genealogy). This knowledge is reinforced, preserved, and propagated by intertexts (intertextuality). These intertexts produce subjectivities which are adopted by subjects, informing their conception of reality. Consequently, power emerges when particular subjectivities are produced and constituted as an objective conception of reality when no such objective reality exists.

In summary, power, according to Poststructuralism, can be understood as the creation and propagation of knowledge. Ontologically, Poststructuralism posits that there is no objective reality outside observation. Epistemologically, therefore, any conception of reality is the result of subjectivities. Thus, power is the capacity to produce subjectivities and constitute them as objective reality via the creation and propagation of knowledge through language: a system of unstable dichotomies propped up by homogenous accounts of history reinforced by intertexts.

Orientalism: A Case Study in Poststructuralist Power

Orientalism refers to the body of knowledge propping up the dichotomous relationship between ‘Occident’ and ‘Orient’. As this essay will demonstrate, this body of knowledge is created via the amalgamation of discourse, deconstruction, genealogy and intertextuality. It is then used to produce subjectivities regarding the ‘Orient’, which are, in turn, presented as objective reality. Thus, Orientalism can be understood as a form of power that privileges the Western conception of reality.

In his 1978 book Orientalism, philosopher Edward Said established Orientalism as “a Western style for dominating, restructuring, and having authority over the Orient” (Said, 1978). Said posited that the existence and development of every culture impels the existence of a different and inevitably competitive ‘other’. In endeavouring to build its self-image, the West created the ‘Orient’ to serve as its ‘other’. Consequently, Orientalists have constructed subjectivities surrounding the ‘Occident’ and ‘Orient’ to explain why Eastern societies are dominated by Western societies, establishing this hierarchy as a natural truth. In doing so, the ‘Occident’ is justified in speaking for and controlling the resources of the ‘Orient’ (Said, 1978).

As discussed in the previous section of this essay, subjectivities are the product of knowledge created via discourse, deconstruction, genealogy and intertextuality. In the case of Orientalism, this is no different.

The object being observed are the people, cultures, and countries that encompass the geographical regions commonly defined as Africa, the Middle East, and Asia. The essence of the object is captured in the term ‘Orient’ (discourse). The ‘Orient’ is constituted as ‘irrational’, ‘regressive’, and ‘unjust’ in contrast to the ‘rational’, ‘progressive’, and ‘just’ ‘Occident’, those people, cultures, and countries that encompass the geographical regions commonly defined as Europe, North America, and Australasia. Thus, an unstable ‘Occident-Orient’ dichotomy exists, where ‘Orient’ is positioned as inferior to ‘Occident’ (deconstruction).

The ‘Occident’ and ‘Orient’ are presented as continuously antagonistic objectivities stretching back to antiquity in the form of ancient Greece, the birthplace of Western civilisation, and ancient Persia, the birthplace of Eastern civilisation (Said, 1978). The ‘Occident-Orient’ dichotomy is constructed by homogenous Western accounts of world history (genealogy). This grand narrative has been built up and propagated over time by a wide body of Western scholarly and creative works (intertextuality). Notable Orientalist works include Jean-Leon Gerome’s The Snake Charmer, Rudyard Kipling’s The White Man’s Burden, and Disney’s Aladdin. Thus, knowledge of the ‘Orient’ and the ‘Occident’ is the artificial creation of the West.

As a body of knowledge, Orientalism has been propagated by Western societies as an objective conception of reality and imposed upon non-Western societies. In turn, Orientalist knowledge helps justify superior ‘Occidental’ intervention and domination over the inferior ‘Oriental’, framing it as being in the best interests of the ‘Oriental’ and the moral duty of the ‘Occidental’ as it coincides with the natural reality constructed by Orientalism (Said, 1978). It has been so effective in its purpose that writers who belong to the communities that constitute the ‘Orient’ have begun internalising Orientalist ideas in their works (Lau, 2009). Thus, Orientalism acts as a pervasive form of power that impacts all areas of the social world, from government policy to pop culture.

In summary, Orientalism refers to a specific type of knowledge creation and propagation process that is servile to Western power. To produce subjectivities, it draws upon the four central concepts of Poststructuralism: discourse, deconstruction, genealogy, and intertextuality. Orientalism serves as the perfect medium through which IR theorists can study and apply Poststructuralist power. In doing so, IR theorists will be able to broaden their understanding of the social world and the power dynamics that exist therein.

Dissonances in Approaches to Power

The foundation of difference between Poststructuralism and mainstream IR theory lies in their ontological and epistemological positions. Where Poststructuralism follows a relativist ontology and subjectivist epistemology, mainstream IR theory largely follows a realist ontology and objectivist epistemology. A realist ontology asserts that reality does exist beyond subjects. Building on this, an objectivist epistemology asserts that meaning exists within objects (Moon & Blackman, 2014). Simply put, a single objective reality does exist; reality is not constructed by observers. Thus, knowledge is not created; it is discovered. These starkly contrasting ontological and epistemological positions explain why there is a difference in methodology between the two approaches. Poststructuralism seeks to deconstruct conceptions of reality. Meanwhile, mainstream IR theory seeks to understand and explain the single apparent conception of reality.

In regards to power, mainstream IR theory follows a more straightforward approach centred around political scientist Robert Dahl’s definition: “A has power over B to the extent that he can get B to do something that B would not otherwise do” (Dahl, 1957). In an IR context, power is something that is possessed by a country, allowing it to force another country to do something it would not otherwise do. It is usually measured using a comparative indicator, such as Gross National Product (GNP) or military capabilities (Sterling-Folker & Shinko, 2007). If country A has a higher GNP or military capabilities than country B, it can force country B to do something it would not otherwise do. Thus, country A has power over country B. For mainstream IR theory, power is apparent and measurable on a case-by-case basis. However, for Poststructuralism, power must be uncovered and cannot be easily measured.

Mainstream IR theory locates power in objects. However, these objects must affect other objects (Sterling-Folker & Shinko, 2007). For instance, a tank does not have power if it is not used to destroy buildings, kill people, or deter attackers. Therefore, mainstream IR theory recognises the importance of action. The object must act in order for it to have power. Country A must use its tanks to force country B to do something it would not otherwise do. In response, country B may decide to fight back against country A with its own tanks to resist doing what country A wants it to do. As a result, a disruption of the balance of power occurs, and then more power is used to re-establish balance. At the end of the day, the country with the greater quantity or quality of tanks (the greater power) is the one that will win out in the end. As political scientist Stefano Guzzini summarises: “power implies potential change, which in turn implies a counterfactual situation of potential continuity” (Guzzini, 1993).

Meanwhile, Poststructuralism locates power in subjects. However, these subjects require structures – albeit fluid structures that are susceptible to change – to impose their subjectivities on other subjects. Orientalists rely on the knowledge base of Orientalism to spread their subjectivities regarding the ‘Orient’. Due to power’s abstract nature, subjects can resist powerful subjectivities like Orientalism by producing their own or by even reconfiguring the structures that impose such subjectivities (Sterling-Folker & Shinko, 2007). For instance, Occidentalism, a counter-discourse to Orientalism, has produced subjectivities that constitute the ‘Occident’ as inferior to the ‘Orient’ (Margalit & Buruma, 2004).

Mainstream IR theory and Poststructuralism recognise resistance to power imposed by structures as a critical point of analysis; the difference lies in their approach. Mainstream IR theory is focused on two or more competing structures (country A and B) using their power (tanks) to resist one another. Poststructuralism is focused on how resistance to a structure (Orientalism) is a form of power itself and how it has the potential to reconfigure existing structures (Occidentalism). In other words, mainstream IR theory focuses on the competition of structures that want to stay in being. Poststructuralism focuses on resistance to structural ways of being (Sterling-Folker & Shinko, 2007).

Mainstream IR theorists separate the analysis of power from its practice. On the other hand, Poststructuralists argue that analysing power is practising power because taking structures as analytical givens only rectifies them. Therefore, there exists an ethical dimension to all Poststructuralist analyses of power, and heeding the voices that contest given structures is central to Poststructuralist analysis. However, mainstream IR theory can ignore these voices entirely because it is sceptical of the displacement of existing structures and accepts structural reconstitution as an objective reality. This makes the prospect of reconciliation between the two approaches challenging as mainstream IR theory views the study of power as a morally neutral endeavour, whereas Poststructuralism views it as morally corrupt (Sterling-Folker & Shinko, 2007).

In summary, the dissonances between mainstream IR theory and Poststructuralism lie in their ontological and epistemological foundations. Mainstream IR theory is based on a realist ontology and objectivist epistemology. Poststructuralism is based on a relativist ontology and subjectivist epistemology. While common points of analysis may exist, both approaches lead theorists in different methodological directions. Mainstream IR theory focuses on competing structures that want to stay in being. Poststructuralism focuses on structural ways of being. As a result of these stark differences in ontology, epistemology, and methodology, an ethical dilemma prevents reconciliation between the two approaches.


To recap, we began this essay by outlining the main features of Poststructuralism’s understanding of power. According to Poststructuralism, power is the capacity to produce subjectivities and constitute them as objective reality via the creation and propagation of knowledge through language: a system of unstable dichotomies propped up by homogenous accounts of history reinforced by intertexts. This was followed by an overview of one type of Poststructuralist form of power: Orientalism. As a body of knowledge, Orientalism constructs a natural, objective reality to justify superior ‘Occidental’ intervention and domination over the inferior ‘Oriental’, framing it as being in the best interests of the ‘Oriental’ and the moral duty of the ‘Occidental’.

After this, we contrasted Poststructuralism’s understanding of power with that of mainstream IR theory. The root of dissonance between the two approaches lies in their ontological and epistemological foundations, which inform two starkly contrasting methodologies. For mainstream IR theory, power works on the surface. For Poststructuralism, power works beneath the surface. While simultaneously following both approaches is near impossible due to ethical complications, mainstream IR theorists should at the very least familiarise themselves with the approaches of Poststructuralists and vice versa. Doing so will provide both camps with a broader understanding of the social world, which only serves to enrich the field of IR and the broader social sciences.


Dahl, R., 1957. The Concept of Power. Systems Research and Behavioral Science, 2(3), pp. 201-215.

Guzzini, S., 1993. Structural Power: the Limits of Neorealist Power Analysis. International Organization, 47(3), pp. 443-478.

Halperin, S., 2006. International Relations Theory and the Hegemony of Western Conceptions of Modernity. In: B. G. Jones, ed. Decolonizing International Relations. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers.

Hansen, L., 2020. Postructualism. In: J. Baylis, S. Smith & P. Owens, eds. The Globalization of World Politics: An Introduction to International Relations. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Kristeva, J., 1980. Desire in Language: A Semiotic Approach to Literature and Art. New York: Columbia University Press.

Lau, L., 2009. Re-Orientalism: The Perpetration and Development of Orientalism by Orientals. Modern Asian Studies, 43(2), pp. 571-590.

Margalit, A. & Buruma, I., 2004. Occidentalism: The West in the Eyes of Its Enemies. New York: Penguin Press.

Moon, K. & Blackman, D., 2014. A Guide to Understanding Social Science Research for Natural Scientists. Conservation Biology, 28(5), pp. 1167-1177.

Said, E. W., 1978. Orientalism. New York: Pantheon Books.

Sterling-Folker, J. & Shinko, R. E., 2007. Discourses of power: Traversing the realist-postmodern divide. In: F. Berenskoetter & M. J. Williams, eds. Power in World Politics. Oxfordshire: Routledge.

Weedon, C., 1987. Feminist Practice and Poststructuralist Theory. Oxford: Basil Blackwell.

International Relations Theory and the Hegemony of Western Conceptions of Modernity: A Critical Review

The following critical review was originally submitted as an assignment for my university and was graded a 2:1.

Halperin, S., 2006. International Relations Theory and the Hegemony of Western Conceptions of Modernity. In: B. G. Jones, ed., Decolonizing International Relations. Lanham, Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, pp.62-88.

This essay aims to critically review the arguments presented in chapter two of Decolonizing International Relations. First, I will provide a concise summary of the chapter detailing how the author structures their overarching argument. Then, I will analyse the critical points posited in their argument before concluding with my opinion on the chapter.

In her chapter, Halperin aims to provide an alternative history and ontology to critique mainstream IR theory by examining areas left wholly untouched by other critical theorists. Halperin asserts that critical IR theory fails to critique much of mainstream IR theory’s historical and ontological basis, reproducing many of its misrepresentations. She then exposes the myths surrounding the “rise of Europe” and the industrial revolution by highlighting how it would not have been possible without the legacy left by the Islamicate world. Halperin concludes that to challenge the Western hegemonic perspective, one must view progress as a product of transnational classes/networks rather than individual states/regions as done in mainstream IR.

Halperin begins her chapter by asserting that critical IR theory has failed in challenging the misconceptions brought about by the prevailing Eurocentric narratives of mainstream IR. Henceforth, critical theorists must ensure that they cover the pitfalls Halperin discusses in her chapter. Namely, a lack of examination concerning Europe’s representation of itself and the outdated notion that progress has historically occurred on a national/regional scale rather than a transnational/global scale. Should critical theorists meet these new requirements in their analysis, they will be able to challenge the Western hegemonic project without drawing from the same classical misrepresentations of the Eurocentric narrative. Furthermore, by pushing the benchmark of critical theory, Halperin forces theorists to become critical of themselves and their shortcomings. Through this continual self-critique, a more accurate picture of history can be painted and new ideas generated in IR theory.

In the main body, Halperin debunks the myths surrounding the “rise of Europe” and the industrial revolution to highlight the gross inaccuracies of the Eurocentric narrative. By choosing to focus on the European experience and contrasting it with that of the post-classical Islamicate world, Halperin demonstrates how later developments were not as unique and exclusive to the West as mainstream IR theory would have us believe. Halperin’s analysis clarifies that the progress in early-modern Europe was simply a continuation of the Islamicate legacy, fitting more broadly into a grander narrative of global human advancement. Furthermore, Halperin points out that the false Eurocentric history of enlightenment is an imperialist tool used to cover up the reality of Western predation. If the wider IR community adopts this approach, it will debunk all notions of Western exceptionalism in progress; instead framing progress as an international human endeavour. Doing so would lay the groundwork for new ideas in IR theory that are not tainted with old fashioned ideas of colonial superiority.

Halperin concludes that to avoid contributing to the falsity of the mainstream Western hegemonic project, critical theorists must develop a new account of world history with a different ontological basis. This different ontological basis should be that of transnational/cross-regional exchange between ruling groups and elites both in and outside Europe. Progress should be viewed as being spearheaded by the urbanised industrial societies located all over the globe, rather than the sole achievement of one particular nation/region such as Europe. This new approach will allow IR theory to uncover much of what is obscured by the mainstream Western hegemonic project, allowing for a more nuanced understanding of social power and its many forms seen across the world. Furthermore, Halperin’s approach would let us better acknowledge the impact of colonialism on non-Western societies, the roles non-Western elites played in it, and the limited nature of Europe’s industrialisation. Lastly, it will also challenge the view that modernity was the achievement of the West alone; instead, making modernity the achievement of humanity as a whole.

Overall, I largely agree with Halperin’s argument. To challenge the Western hegemonic project, we must rebuild our account of world history with a new ontological basis; otherwise, we risk propagating the Eurocentric narrative of mainstream IR. However, in this regard, Halperin’s chapter falls short in two ways.

Firstly, much of Halperin’s account of world history still relies on a comparison to the Eurocentric narrative. While the comparison helps highlight where the Eurocentric narrative is incorrect, continuing to include it when attempting to build a new narrative will position the new narrative in relation to the old one, thereby allowing the Eurocentric narrative to propagate further rather than be forgotten. The next step for Halperin would be to write up a brand-new account of world history from the ground up using the ontological basis she discusses in this chapter. Doing so will provide a new foundation for other critical theorists to build upon.

Secondly, Halperin’s new ontological basis does not explain Europe’s exceptionalism; it only reframes it as exceptionalism in domination rather than progress. If we were to use it to construct a new account of world history, we would still be left with the question of how European urbanised industrial societies came to dominate those of other parts of the world. To remedy this, we should view the predation of European societies as a “mutation” in societal evolution. Similarly, we can view the Islamicate exceptionalism in scholarship as another societal “mutation”. Then, we can link these “mutations” together by highlighting how one is dependent on the other. For instance, early-modern European exceptionalism in colonial dominance depended on the scientific advancements of post-classical Islamicate exceptionalism in scholarship, which relied on adopting classical Persia’s exceptionalism in administration. In other words, we would remove the notion of European exceptionalism by demonstrating the exceptionalism of other societies. Western civilisation can no longer be exceptional and independent if all civilisation is exceptional yet dependent.

Despite these shortcomings, Halperin still delivers a much-needed evaluation of the critical theorists’ approach. Without her contribution, we would not understand how critical IR theory fails to challenge the Western hegemonic project. As a result, IR would continue to stagnate where other social sciences are not. I hope that Halperin’s ideas are taken up by the wider IR community so that theorists can acknowledge the Eurocentricity of mainstream thought and begin actively dismantling it as is done in other social sciences.

What Is Power and Who Has It?

The following essay was originally submitted as an assignment for my university and was graded as a 2:1.

One of the critical areas of study in political science is power, its forms, sources, distribution, modes of exercise, and effects. Therefore, it is not unreasonable to assert that political science itself is very much the study of power given its preoccupation with constitutions and institutions, which are themselves simply ways of regularising and defining its distribution and exercise (Partridge, 1963). With this in mind, it is vital that we, as political scientists, can define what we mean by power and determine who or what it is that has it. As such, this essay aims to arrive at a qualified definition for power and explain its mechanics. Following this, the essay makes the case that the distribution of power follows an elitist-leaning framework and that, while almost any entity can exercise power, the majority of absolute power is held by the ruling class.

Definition of Power

In 1957, political scientist and originator of pluralist theory Robert Dahl defined power as follows: “A has power over B to the extent that he can get B to do something that B would not otherwise do” (Dahl, 1957). For example, a teacher has power over a student to the extent that they can get the student to complete their classwork. Both the teacher and student are agents who decide what actions to take, and both command a relative degree of agency – the freedom and autonomy to decide what actions to take. It just so happens that within the classroom – the structure within which these agents operate – the teacher commands more agency than the student and can utilise their greater agency to make the student complete their classwork. Therefore, power can be viewed as the disparity in agency between two or more agents, allowing one agent to influence or compel the actions of others.

The major flaw in Dahl’s definition is the use of the pronoun ‘he’, which is problematic for two reasons. Firstly, Dahl’s definition implies that the entity exercising power must always be masculine. By associating power with masculinity, political scientists who strictly follow Dahl’s definition will be blind to situations where women exercise power. Secondly, by using a pronoun typically associated with humans, Dahl’s definition implies that the entity exercising power must also always be human. As a result, political scientists will also be blind to situations in which non-human entities exert power. For instance, the power culture and religion have in shaping our preferences. Therefore, the pronoun ‘he’ limits our understanding of power, constricting political science as a field of study. Given this, Dahl’s definition of power should be amended: “A has power over B to the extent that A can get B to do something that B would not otherwise do”. By replacing ‘he’ with ‘A’, the application for Dahl’s definition is now widened in its scope.

Mechanics of Power

Between 1959 and 1965, social psychologists John French and Bertram Raven developed a set of six bases to analyse how power operates in specific relationships (French & Raven, 1959) (Raven, 2008). According to French and Raven, power depends on the specific understandings that A and B apply to their relationship. A must draw on a base or combination of bases of power appropriate to their relationship to motivate B to change in the way A intends. Failure to use the correct bases of power may result in a reduction of A’s power. These six bases include:

Legitimate power – power due to one’s authority given by their relative position in a power structure. Military generals use legitimate power to command their soldiers.

Referent power – power due to one’s charismatic ability to attract followers. Celebrities use referent power to influence consumers into buying their sponsors’ products.

Expert power – power due to one’s skills or expertise. Doctors use expert power to convince patients to take their medication.

Reward power – power due to one’s ability to provide incentives. Employers use reward power to incentivise employees to work harder.

Coercive power – power due to one’s ability to negatively impact another. Dictators use coercive power to oppress and threaten their citizens into doing what they say.

Informational power – power due to one’s access to information. Social media platforms use informational power to influence the type of content their users interact with.

In 1974, political and social theorist Steven Lukes proposed that power has three distinct dimensions: the three faces of power (Lukes, 1974). The first face of power refers to its direct decision-making capabilities to identify an issue and respond to it. When the government implements new COVID-19 restrictions, it is clear who makes decisions and why they are making them. The second face of power refers to its indirect agenda-setting capabilities to control the context in which decisions are made. When lobbying groups influence government policy behind closed doors, it is unclear who makes decisions and for whose benefit. The third face of power refers to its subtle manipulation capabilities to shape preferences and control responses to new decisions. When the government uses propaganda and rhetoric to deliberately shape people’s values before a new law is passed, it is not always clear to people that they are being influenced.

In 1992, political scientist Peter Digeser expanded upon Lukes’ three faces of power by introducing a fourth face of power (Digeser, 1992). The fourth face of power refers to its capability to control and shape the current paradigm. A paradigm is an unquestioned set of fundamental beliefs that shape the reality of everyone in society. All actions and decisions taken by agents will indefinitely be influenced by the parameters set by the paradigm in which they operate. Controlling the paradigm allows one to, in effect, control all agents operating within the paradigm. The actions of any government will inevitably always be the result of the cultural paradigm it operates in. For example, it would be improbable for the United Kingdom’s government to criminalise alcohol consumption, given how pubs are central to British culture.

Digeser’s fourth face of power is synonymous with Marxist philosopher Antonio Gramsci’s idea of cultural hegemony, which he developed during his imprisonment under Italy’s National Fascist Party (Gramsci, 1929-1935). According to Gramsci, the ruling class manipulate society’s culture so that their worldview becomes the accepted cultural norm. This universal dominant ideology presents the social, political and economic status quo as natural conditions that benefit every social class. In reality, the status quo only benefits the ruling class. Currently, the USA has a global cultural hegemony evidenced by its considerable social, political and economic influence in countries worldwide. The USA maintains its geopolitical dominance by using its media to present its goals as righteous and for the greater good. In addition, the threat that the US military poses to subordinate states also ensures that they do not step out of line.

In summary, power has two aspects: bases and faces. For A to get B to do something that B would otherwise not do, A must draw on the appropriate power base or combination of power bases. This is A’s source of power. There are six potential power bases: legitimate, referent, expert, reward, coercive and informational. A’s source of power can then be used in four distinct ways: the four faces of power. To illustrate this conceptualisation of power, one can refer to the example of the Facebook-Cambridge Analytica Data Scandal.

Social media platform Facebook exposed the data of up to 87 million of its users to political consulting firm Cambridge Analytica which utilised it to influence the outcome of the 2016 United States presidential election in favour of Donald Trump (Vox, 2018). The main power base that Cambridge Analytica drew from was informational power in the form of user data. Cambridge Analytica then utilised the third face of this informational power to shape the preferences of Facebook users in favour of Trump without them knowing. When it came to election time, these same users voted for Trump. Therefore, Cambridge Analytica had power over Facebook users as it could get them to vote for Trump, which they may not have done otherwise.

Based on this essay’s conceptualisation of power, it can be concluded that any entity can exercise power so long as it has access to a sufficient base of power. Almost anyone can exercise the first two faces of power. For example, a child has the power to decide which flavour of ice cream they wish to consume (first face of power). Similarly, the child’s parent decides whether the child is allowed to consume ice cream in the first place (second face of power). However, the last two faces of power, which are far more absolute in nature, are usually reserved for entities with access to far larger power bases, namely the state. As such, the remainder of this essay concerns the distribution of state power, focusing on the third and fourth faces of power.

Distribution of Power

There are two predominant theories for the distribution of state power: elitism and pluralism. The main difference is that pluralists assert power is horizontally dispersed, whereas elitists assert power is vertically concentrated. Therefore, pluralism and elitism can be viewed as two extremes on the same scale. However, as we will come to see, the truth is really a mix of both views with a slight leaning towards the elitist framework.

Classical pluralism is predicated on the idea that society comprises vastly different groups vying for power (Smith, 2006). These groups compete to influence different parts of the state; however, no single group is able to dominate policy-making. Power is dispersed between these different groups. As a result, the state remains relatively neutral, balancing the weight of different demands in the national interest. Classical pluralism thus sees all groups as having an equal say in the decisions taken by the state.

The fundamental flaw in classical pluralism is that certain groups’ interests are not reflected in the national agenda, having zero say in policy-making decisions because they lack the necessary resources to influence the state. In other words, some groups lack the necessary power bases to exercise the third and fourth faces of power while others do. For instance, the championing of neo-liberal ideas under the Thatcher governments of the 1980s led to increased depoliticisation as many decision-making powers were given to non-governmental organisations, taking them out of the purview of the general public. In addition, tax and welfare reductions transferred resources from poor groups to wealthy groups (Harvey, 2005). Subsequently, some groups felt their concerns were not being addressed by the state leading to widespread dissatisfaction, particularly amongst the working class. The continuation of depoliticisation measures in the decades since has contributed to anti-politics and the recent rise in populism (Hay, 2007).

Reformed pluralism addressed this flaw in the pluralist model by conceding that certain groups exercise greater influence over the state than others. (Smith, 2006). Groups achieve this by forming close relationships with the state and pooling their resources together in policy networks, such as the British Chambers of Commerce. Power is still dispersed but only amongst a particular set of groups. Despite this, reformed pluralism maintains that countervailing powers can develop in other parts of the state to challenge the position of the dominant groups. Overall, this concession moves pluralism closer to the position held by elitists; power is concentrated.

Classical elitism is predicated on the idea that there are two classes in every society: the ruling class that holds power and the subordinate class that does not (Evans, 2006). The ruling class constitutes a single socially cohesive group territorially closed-off from the subordinate class. Power is concentrated amongst the ruling class. As a result, the state is dominated by a single group, whose ideas become the ruling ideas of society. This is an inevitability in all societies making direct government by the masses impossible. Classical elitism thus sees society as the dictatorship of the majority by the minority.

The major flaw in elitism is that the ruling class is one homogeneous group with a single goal in mind. If this were the case, opposition parties would not exist, and all democracies would be reduced to single-party systems. In addition, if power were concentrated in a single group, they would do as they please without anyone having the power to challenge them. In reality, the decisions made by the executive are checked and balanced by the legislature and judiciary. For example, in 2017, the Supreme Court ruled that introducing employment tribunal fees of up to £1,200 in 2013 was unlawful (BBC, 2017). Therefore, it would be disingenuous to reject the pluralist’s ideas outright. In other words, power bases must exist outside the control of a single homogenous group.

Contemporary elitism rectified this flaw by conceding that the ruling class comprises multiple factions engaged in an ongoing process of competitive elitism (Evans, 2006). These factions must retain links with global elite networks, such as the European Commission, to maintain their power bases in society. Power is still concentrated, but it is now concentrated amongst a particular set of groups rather than a single group. Overall, this concession moves elitism closer to the position held by pluralism; power is dispersed.

By consolidating these two opposing viewpoints, one can assert that power is distributed at three different levels (Evans, 2006). Each level consists of competing factions vying for state control with different degrees of power at their disposal. At the bottom level, there is the politically fragmented society of the masses. Agents only have access to the sufficient power bases needed to exercise the first two faces of power. At the middle level, there is the semi-organised stalemate of interest groups and legislative politics. Groups have access to the sufficient power bases needed to exercise the first three faces of power. At the top level, there are those in command of major institutional hierarchies, otherwise known as the ruling class. The ruling class has access to the sufficient power bases needed to exercise all the faces of power. The vast majority of absolute power is concentrated amongst the dominant ruling faction. However, there is still the potential for other ruling factions to amass countervailing powers, keeping the dominant ruling faction in check. Therefore, the distribution of power follows an elitist-leaning framework; power is concentrated in its dispersal. To illustrate this power distribution model, one can refer to the United Kingdom.

At the bottom level, there is the British public. In everyday life, British citizens can exercise the first two faces of power as they make direct decisions about their own lives as well as exert nominal control over those around them, whether it be family, friends or colleagues. At the middle level, there are multiple interest groups and political parties with varying degrees of influence competing to exert their control over the state. These groups can exercise the first three faces of power as they have the resources to produce propaganda and influence the values of the British public. For example, UKIP’s political rhetoric concerning immigration significantly influenced the outcome of the EU referendum. At the top level, there is the political elite with control over the United Kingdom’s major institutions. The political elite is divided into multiple factions and can exercise all four faces of power. Currently, the dominant faction is the Conservative Party, with control over the executive and the majority of the legislature. The Conservative Party’s power is countervailed by other factions of the political elite, such as the Labour Party with its control over the remaining legislature and the Supreme Court with its control over the judiciary. Despite this, all factions of the political elite remain part of the same ruling class.

Based on this model for the distribution of power, it can be concluded that the ruling class holds the most absolute power. They have access to the sufficient power bases needed to control and shape the current paradigm. By shaping the paradigm, they control all the agents operating within it. In other words, only the ruling class can exercise the fourth face of power. In addition, the ruling class retains the greatest degree of agency as they are at the top of the state structure. Overall, the ruling class are the most powerful actors in society.


To summarise, power is the extent to which one entity can influence another to do something it otherwise would not do. The entity must draw on the appropriate power base or combination of power bases to exercise power over another and achieve its desired outcome. There are six such power bases (legitimate, referent, expert, reward, coercive and informational) that can be utilised in four distinct ways (the four faces of power). While almost any entity can exercise the first two faces of power, only certain entities have the necessary agency and sufficient power bases to exercise the third and fourth faces of power. These entities are best typified by the ruling class. Therefore, it can be concluded that absolute power is an influencing force concentrated and dispersed amongst the political elite.


BBC, 2017. Employment tribunal fees unlawful, Supreme Court rules. [Online]
Available at:
[Accessed 21 12 2021].

Dahl, R., 1957. The Concept of Power. Systems Research and Behavioral Science, 2(3), pp. 201-215.

Digeser, P., 1992. The Fourth Face of Power. The Journal of Politics, 54(4), pp. 977-1007.

Evans, M., 2006. Elitism. In: C. Hay, M. Lister & D. Marsh, eds. The State: Theories and Issues. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, pp. 39-58.

French, J. & Raven, B., 1959. The Bases of Social Power. In: D. Cartwright, ed. Studies in Social Power. s.l.:University of Michigan, pp. 150-167.

Gramsci, A., 1929-1935. Prison Notebooks. s.l.:s.n.

Harvey, D., 2005. A Brief History of Neoliberalism. New York: Oxford University Press.

Hay, C., 2007. Why We Hate Politics. Cambridge: Polity Press.

Lukes, S., 1974. Power: A Radical View. s.l.:Macmillan.

Partridge, P. H., 1963. Politics and Power. Philosophy, 38(144), pp. 117-135.

Raven, B., 2008. The Bases of Power and the Power/Interaction Model of Interpersonal Influence. Analyses of Social Issues and Public Policy, 8(1), pp. 1-22.

Smith, M., 2006. Pluralism. In: C. Hay, M. Lister & D. Marsh, eds. The State: Theories and Issues. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, pp. 21-38.

Vox, 2018. The Facebook and Cambridge Analytica scandal, explained with a simple diagram. [Online]
Available at:

The Aqil Ghani Media Awards 2021

Alas, we have arrived at the end of yet another year of pandemics, environmental crises, and political turmoil. But despite the doom and gloom that has accompanied 2020 2.0, there were still moments to be enjoyed and memories to be treasured. And so, to commemorate the end of 2021, I’m going to share with you my favourite media from this year.

This year I’ve seen a total of 70 movies, read 44 books, listened to 28,428 minutes of music, binged an uncountable number of TV series and played a troubling amount of video games. Given this and my exhaustive credentials as a media critic, it seems fitting that I give my verdict on the top movies, books, songs, TV series and video games of 2021. Without further ado, I’d like to give you all a warm welcome to the Aqil Ghani Media Awards!

DISCLAIMER: Not everything on this list came out this year, but I did consume them this year, and that’s what really matters. We like to do things differently here at the Aqil Ghani Media Awards.

First up, we have Video Game of the Year. This year marks the eighth year since I made my Steam account and started gaming properly. According to the platform, I’ve amassed over 4,254 hours across 110 games, and that’s just what I’ve played on Steam. During this time, I’ve come across a lot of great games. My honourable mentions for this year include Mount and Blade II: Bannerlord, Wasteland 3, Crusader Kings III, and League of Legends. But my Video Game of the Year for 2021 has to be Amplitude’s new turn-based, 4X (explore, expand, exploit, exterminate) strategy game, Humankind.

Humankind takes the 4X genre to a new level by moving away from the standard mechanics of other 4X games like Civilisation. My favourite mechanic has to be Humankind’s culture feature. Instead of picking a single faction to play for the entire game, you choose a different culture for each era. For example, you can start the game as the Ancient Egyptians, switch to the Romans, then the Aztecs, the Mughals, and the Zulu before finishing off as the Soviets. This, alongside many other innovative mechanics, makes for a refreshing take on a genre that’s long been stagnating.

For our second category, we have TV Series of the Year. By TV series, I mean both series that can be found on regular television and streaming services like Netflix, Disney+ and Amazon Prime. This year I watched lots of series, so much so that I lost count. That being said, the series that stood out to me this year include Black-ish, Loki, Star Wars: The Bad Batch, and The Walking Dead. However, the best TV series of 2021 has to be animated Amazon Original Invincible.

Based on the comic book series of the same name by Robert Kirkman, Cory Walker and Ryan Ottley, Invincible is a new spin on the classic superhero genre. The animation style is superb, the story arc is a masterpiece in storytelling, the final episode was shockingly entertaining, and let’s not forget the glorious memes that it generated. I don’t wanna give away too much, so be sure to check it out yourself. Just know that it bangs.

Next up, we have Song, Album and Artist of the Year. According to Spotify Wrapped, my most played track this year was All I Want by Olivia Rodrigo. Which, to be honest, I have no explanation for. Seems I’ve been channelling my inner teenage girl a little too much. Other honourable mentions for Song of the Year include Meet Me At Our Spot by Willow Smith and Tyler Cole, Freedom by Pharrell Williams and Letter to the 1% by Lowkey. But if I had to pick my top song of 2021, it would have to be Koi toh miley ga by Pakistani band The Tamaashbeens.

When it comes to albums, it’s no competition; Hamilton by Lin-Manuel Miranda reigns supreme. There’s pretty much a song for any occasion in this album, whether it be a gym workout or sad boy hours. If you haven’t already, I highly encourage you to watch the play on Disney+. Insha’Allah, I’ll get to see it live one day.

Our Artist of the Year is someone I’ve been listening to since year 8. It’s the alphabet assassin, the lyrical genius, the one and only Lowkey. He was the first music artist I ever really followed and the key to my political awakening. I was fortunate to be able to go see him live in Birmingham earlier this month to celebrate 10 years since the release of his album Soundtrack to the Struggle. Seeing one of my idols up close was a most surreal experience indeed.

For our sixth and seventh categories, we have Fiction and Non-fiction Book of the Year. This year I set out to read 60 books; however, since starting university, finding time to read amidst assignment deadlines and rampant socialising has been difficult, meaning I fell short of my goal by 16 books. Still, 44 books are quite an achievement for a man like myself, so I’m not particularly disappointed. Before we announce our winners, though, a few honourable mentions are in order.

For fiction, we have Train to Pakistan by Khushwant Singh, I stared at the Night of the City by Bakhtiyar Ali, Alif the Unseen by G. Willow Wilson, and The Book Thief by Markus Zusak. For non-fiction, we have Azadi by Arundhati Roy, Thoughts on Pakistan by BR Ambedkar, The Anarchy by William Dalrymple, and The Hundred Year’s War on Palestine by Rashid Khalidi. But of course, only two books will reign supreme this year, and those are Bitter Fruit by the legendary Saadat Hasan Manto (fiction) and Destiny Disrupted by Tamim Ansary (non-fiction). Check out my bookshelf to find out why I love these books so much.

For our final category, we have Movie of the Year. Many good movies were watched this year, including One Night in Miami…, Mogul Mowgli, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, and The Mauritanian. Still, only one movie can be crowned king, and that king is the phenomenal Spider-Man: No Way Home.

Without saying too much, Spider-Man: No Way Home was like a coming together of my childhood. Not only did it redeem what came before, but it was also a crucial moment for Tom Holland’s Spider-Man. Plus, any movie that can get UK audiences cheering and shouting in the cinema is most definitely a special movie indeed. I can’t wait to see where the MCU takes Spider-Man next.

Video Game of the Year: Humankind

TV Series of the Year: Invincible

Song of the Year: Koi toh miley ga by The Tamaashbeens

Album of the Year: Hamilton by Lin-Manuel Miranda

Artist of the Year: Lowkey

Fiction Book of the Year: Bitter Fruit by Saadat Hasan Manto

Non-Fiction Book of the Year: Destiny Disrupted by Tamim Ansary

Movie of the Year: Spider-Man: No Way Home

That concludes the Aqil Ghani Media Awards 2021. Happy new year to all those reading. May you grow and learn evermore.

That’s it from me this year. See y’all in 2022!

Peace be with you.

Mass Surveillance and the Erosion of Our Civil Liberties: Why You Should Be Concerned

The Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) uses powerful computer systems, such as Tempora, to spy on the British public.

Big Brother is watching you.

Nineteen Eighty-Four
George Orwell

In 1785, Jeremy Bentham, the founder of modern utilitarianism, designed a prison where a single guard could observe all the prisoners without them knowing, compelling them to regulate their behaviour out of fear of being watched. In effect, the prisoners could be controlled without having to lift a finger, power firmly in the hands of that single guard. The prison came to be known as the Panopticon, and since 1785, not a single one has been constructed. However, with the power of mass surveillance, Britain is becoming a nationwide Panopticon where citizens are the prisoners, and the state their all-powerful guard.

If the documents leaked by Edward Snowden back in June 2013 taught us anything, it’s that not everything is as it appears to be on the surface. The state may appear to be a neutral actor allowing us to get on with our lives without interference. However, as the documents have shown us, computer systems capable of intercepting and storing large amounts of our personal data have been utilised by the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) to spy on the British public without our consent[1]. Worse still, our data is being shared with the US, giving Uncle Sam a direct view into our private lives.

Mass surveillance is no longer bound to the pages of science fiction; it has become the reality of the world we live in. The question is: how did we get here?

After 9/11, the US used its global hegemony to launch an international War on Terror. As President Bush put it to the world: “Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists”[2]. From then on, governments the world over introduced new measures that curbed our freedoms in the name of national security. And we, in our grief and fear, accepted these new measures believing it to be common sense, blind to the fact our hard-fought civil liberties were being stolen before our very eyes.

No government would go further to support the US in their endeavour to murder nearly 400,000 non-combatants[3] than Tony Blair’s. Throughout his government, laws were introduced that severely impeded our civil liberties, including giving police the power to stop and search without reasonable suspicion (Terrorism Act 2000) and arrest and detain without charge for up to 28 days (Terrorism Act 2006). As you can imagine, these powers were virulently abused by police, particularly when it came to shutting down political dissent.

In March 2003, anti-war protesters were prevented from reaching RAF Fairford, a British military base used by American bombers during the Invasion of Iraq. They were sent back to London under heavy police escort, violating their right to protest[4]. Or take the case of Walter Wolfgang, a Jewish refugee who fled Nazi Germany in the lead up to WWII. In September 2005, he was kicked out of a Labour conference by police after calling Jack Straw’s policy on Iraq “nonsense”[5]. These incidents of abuse prove the police are nothing more than the coercive arm of the state.

But perhaps none of Blair’s enactments was quite as Orwellian as the Identity Cards Act 2006, requiring citizens to register for an identity card linked to a national database. The National Identity Register (NIR) stored detailed information regarding each citizen throughout their lives with plans to include even more in the future. This information would make it easier for the state to single out anyone who disagreed with its policies, bringing us all one step closer to living under an authoritarian regime. The intention was to make it compulsory to enter your details into the NIR when you apply for a new passport. Luckily the scheme was scrapped, and the NIR was destroyed under the 2010 coalition government before this could happen.

Thanks to agitation from various human rights groups, subsequent governments continued to repeal or amend some of the provisions introduced under Blair. That being said, it would be naive to assume the days of mass surveillance are behind us.

As it stands, the Investigatory Powers Act 2016 gives the government unprecedented power to spy on the British population. A total of 48 state authorities, including GCHQ, have the power to access our internet connection records without a warrant. And with tech companies willing to sell our data to the state and private firms around the world, there is nowhere left on Earth where we can be safe from the prying eyes of the political and economic elite.

But surely there’s no need to worry if we have nothing to hide? After all, these measures are designed to catch terrorists, not spy on innocent civilians.

The problem isn’t about whether we have something to hide; it’s about what can be done with our data once it’s in the hands of the state. As the Facebook-Cambridge Analytica Data Scandal demonstrated, tech companies have already harvested our data and used it to shape our preferences, influencing our response to key political events in favour of the global elite. If private firms are doing this, then it’s highly likely that state apparatus, such as GCHQ with its advanced surveillance technology, is being utilised by the political elite to do the same. Surveillance is simply another means to maintain power via the manufactured consent of the public.

So, what can we do about it?

While it may seem too late to stem the tide of mass surveillance, organisations such as Amnesty International have already been fighting on our behalf. Earlier this year, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that the UK’s surveillance capabilities violated our human rights to privacy and freedom of expression[6]. The ruling was a huge step towards getting this issue on the world stage, and now it falls to us to see our governments held accountable lest we find ourselves living in the world described in George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four. If we keep the pressure on and continue to petition our government to cease its invasion of our private lives, I’m confident that one day we will see the abolishment of mass surveillance altogether.

[1] Amnesty International UK, 2020. Why we’re taking the UK government to court over mass spying. [online] Available at: <; [Accessed 23 October 2021].

[2] The Washington Post, 2001. Text: President Bush Addresses the Nation. [online] Available at: <; [Accessed 22 October 2021].

[3] The Costs of War. 2021. Human Costs of U.S. Post-9/11 Wars: Direct War Deaths Major War Zones | Figures | Costs of War. [online] Available at: <; [Accessed 22 October 2021].

[4] BBC, 2013. RAF Fairford protesters win legal battle against police. [online] Available at: <; [Accessed 23 October 2021].

[5] Busby, M., 2019. Walter Wolfgang, antiwar activist and Jack Straw heckler, dies aged 95. The Guardian, [online] Available at: <; [Accessed 23 October 2021].

[6] Amnesty International, 2021. UK: Europe’s top court rules UK mass surveillance regime violated human rights. [online] Available at: <; [Accessed 23 October 2021].

Midnights In London, Part 10

The Third Midnight

Captain Robertson paced the length of his hotel room with absent urgency, contemplating the implications of the Duke’s ornamental lamp. The soreness of his shoulder no longer insisted its presence at the forefront of his consciousness. He had bigger things to worry about.
There was no doubt the Duke’s lamp matched the description of the kind Spring-Heeled Jack warned them about. If so, then it meant everything the ghul had been saying about The Company plot was true, and the Eighth Duke of Argyll was at the very heart of it. It would also mean Captain Robertson himself had delivered Mr Daim right into the palms of their hands. He had condemned his friend, and potentially Jinnkind as a whole, to a lifetime of imprisoned servitude. And for what? A letter of commendation and a month’s vacation? Had he really sold out an entire people to an empire that wouldn’t bat an eyelid if he were to die on the field of battle? The Captain felt used.
Yet, at the same time, a tiny part of him felt relieved. With Mr Daim out of the picture and the mission accomplished, Captain Robertson could finally put all this madness about jinn and ghuls behind him. He could finally return to the comfortably simple life he had before he met the mysterious jinni as old as humankind. But that was only a tiny part of him, for he knew the truth was: no matter how much he tried to pretend that all of this wasn’t real, he could never return to that simple life as a rifleman in the British Army.
The events of the past month had flipped everything he thought he knew on its head. Everything he’d ever known about humanity, the world and his little part in it, inextricably altered beyond recognition. It was as though he had been standing on a sand dune made with grains of lies, and Mr Daim was the sandstorm that washed it all away to reveal the bedrock of truth beneath. Having seen the unseen, how could one go back to a life of willfully blissful ignorance?
Captain Robertson had made a mistake. He had let himself be used as a tool of imperialism for far too long. But no longer. With renewed vigour, Captain Robertson removed the shackles of empire, banishing all the intrusive lies of loyalty to queen and country from his conscience. No longer was he going to be a pawn on the chessboard of pillage and plunder. He was going to be free; write his own destiny. But first, Captain Robertson needed to right his wrongs and save Mr Daim from the clutches of The Company.
And with that final thought, the clock struck twelve, the distant chimes of London’s macabre Clock Tower echoing in the night as a cold chill drifted through the open window.
Captain Robertson was left in want of time once the ghul was swiftly upon him, pinning him to the far wall before the minute hand had a chance to reach twelve o’ one.
“YOU WRETCHED SCOUNDREL!” roared Spring-Heeled Jack in his hauntingly guttural rasp, “Give me one good reason why I shouldn’t gut you where you stand and leave your carcass as carrion for the ravens to feed upon.”
Captain Robertson’s voice escaped him as he was hauled up by the throat with a single arm.
“Well? Has the cocksure Beni Adam anything to say for himself?” scowl etched into the ghul’s fiery crimson eyes, “No? A pity. I would’ve loved to relay the traitor’s last words to Mr Daim once I’d foiled his wicked schemes.”
Spring-Heeled Jack raised his other arm into the air, his claws glistening in the moonlight, striking blood-curdling fear into his prey. With nothing more left to say, the ghul made for the traitor’s head.
“WAIT!” screamed Captain Robertson through a compressed windpipe, halting the jagged cutters an inch from his forehead, “Please! I can explain!”
Spring-Heeled Jack released the Captain, letting him collide with the floor in a pathetic heap gasping for air.
“Well, be out with it, human,” hurried the ghul, “I haven’t got all day.”
“I’m sorry. I had no idea what the Duke was planning,” snivelled Captain Robertson, “I was just following orders, being a good soldier.”
“We’ve all been there, Beni Adam. It doesn’t mean our hands are clean of sin,” dismissed Spring-Heeled Jack.
“I know. I know. I have made a grievous error. But please, let me make it right. Please, give me a chance to redeem myself,” begged the Captain.
Spring-Heeled Jack paused, giving the idea some thought.
“Give me a chance to redeem myself the same way you did during the Mutiny,” Captain Robertson entreated further, “Let me help you deal a final blow to The Company once and for all.”
“And what use could you possibly be to me in this endeavour?”
“For starters, I can go places you cannot.”
Spring-Heeled Jack raised a sceptical eyebrow, “I’m listening.”
“The Duke doesn’t know I intend to move against him. We can use that to our advantage. I can get close to him without raising suspicions and find out exactly what his next moves are,” elaborated Captain Robertson, “with that information, we can discern the perfect time to strike and dispatch The Company in one fell swoop.”
Spring-Heeled Jack had to admit the Beni Adam made a good point. The only reason it’d taken him this long to destroy The Company was that they could smell him coming a mile away. With a military man on the inside, he had a real chance at putting an end to his nemesis. But there remained one cause for concern:
“Why should I trust you?”
“Given the circumstances, you shouldn’t,” answered the Captain in utmost candour, “But I’m your best shot at saving Mr Daim.”
A moment of silence passed between human and ghul.
“Besides, if I were to step out of line, you’d no doubt strike me down before I drew in a second breath,” jested Captain Robertson.
With a light chuckle, Spring-Heeled Jack was convinced. He presented his hand to his newfound ally, who hesitated at the ghastly claws for but a moment before graciously accepting.
“Very well, Beni Adam,” smiled the ghul, “It must be said you most certainly have a way with words.”
“I’m glad we could come to an agreement.”
That smile soon became a scowl as Spring-Heeled Jack tightened his grip, causing Captain Robertson to wince through gritted teeth.
“Remember this: if you so much as err out of line the length of a mongrel’s lice, I will remove you from existence in the most excruciatingly painful way that can be possibly fathomed,” the grip tightened, “Is that clear?!”
“YES! Yes, it is!” panicked Captain Robertson, fearing his hand would be crushed beneath the ghul’s might.
As soon as he was released, the Captain immediately rubbed his injured hand, thankful it wasn’t broken. Truth be told, he probably deserved that.
“Good. Now that we’re in agreement let us get down to business.”

The Double-cross

The Eighth Duke of Argyll studied the ornamental lamp, mesmerised by the intricate emerald inscriptions, cool beneath his touch. In his hand, he held the key to untold power. And oh boy, was it intoxicating.
Everything had succeeded as planned; the jinni was bound to his will, and with Spring-Heeled Jack finally out the picture, nothing stood in his way. But this was just the beginning. The path that lay ahead would change the world, leading the British Empire to greater heights than the world had ever seen, leaving no corner untouched by her majesty’s grace. All he had to do now was wait for all the pieces to fall into place.
A knock at the door told the Duke it was time he put his new toy away, closing it behind the glass casements of his display cabinet.
“Come in!”
The Duke didn’t have any meetings planned for the day, so he was surprised to find that the man who entered his office was none other than the good old Captain Robertson.
“Captain!” beamed the Duke, “I thought you’d be halfway up to Scotland by now. To what do I owe the pleasure?”
“Truly it is my pleasure, Mr Secretary. I was hoping I could have a word with you in private before I left. You know… without the insufferable Henderson,” smirked Captain Robertson.
That last remark made the Duke laugh. The Commissioner was indeed insufferable. Just because he played his part didn’t mean the Duke had to like him. The Captain, on the other hand, was a man who was both useful and likeable. He would go far in his career.
“Of course, of course. Please, take a seat,” insisted the Duke as he walked over to his desk drawer, pulling out two glasses and a bottle of scotch, “would you like a drink?”
“I really shouldn’t, Mr Secretary, I—”
“Nonsense! You’re off duty. Relax,” reasoned the Duke, pouring both glasses, “just pretend we’re two friends having a good old chat.”
Captain Robertson awkwardly smiled before grabbing one of the glasses and raising it in thanks. In response, the Duke also raised his glass, clinking it against the Captain’s before taking a generous swig.
“Ahhhh. That hits the spot. So, tell me, what is it you wished to discuss?”
“Henderson? What of him? I know he’s a nuisance, and, believe me, I despise him as much as the next man, but I can’t be slandering him when he’s not here. After all, how’s he going to hear me insult him?” jested the Duke.
“Mr Secretary, I have reason to believe Commissioner Henderson has betrayed us,” divulged Captain Robertson, seriousness etched into his voice.
“You can’t be serious! That man hasn’t the guile nor courage to do such a thing,” the Duke was shocked into disbelief, “What makes you say this?”                                            
“He lied to us. Yesterday. When he claimed to have succeeded in dispatching Spring-Heeled Jack.”
“And how do you know this?”
“Because Spring-Heeled Jack visited me last night.”

To be continued…

This is part of a larger series called Midnights In London

Midnights In London, Part 9

The Hospital

Captain Robertson awoke sometime later – how much time? He wasn’t sure – to find himself in a place he did not recognise. His body: stiffness that straddled the line between lassitude and torpor. His mind: a murky haze that comprehension’s lantern couldn’t penetrate. His sight: blinded by light with an intensity that rivalled the sun.
With time, Captain Robertson’s eyes adjusted to the blinding light, allowing him to take in the details of his surroundings. He found himself in what he believed constituted a civilian medical ward. Having spent much of his adult life on the frontlines of battle, Captain Robertson was used to the urgently raised tents of haphazard chaos the military optimistically referred to as field hospitals. The place he found himself in now replaced that chaos with a quiet serenity that left him with a feeling of unease as he tried to piece together the fragments of his shattered memory.
Before long, Captain Robertson was able to discern some past events from his mind’s murky haze. He had collaborated with the Eighth Duke of Argyll to ambush Spring-Heeled Jack at the Temperate House. As per the Duke’s orders, Captain Robertson didn’t inform Mr Daim about the plot due to concerns over whether the jinni’s allegiance lay with the jinn or the crown. That more or less marked the boundaries of his recollection. The contents of the meeting itself were still a blur, much like the details of a far distant memory, and the last thing he remembered was lying on the ground with Mr Daim as policemen stormed the premises. It seems Spring-Heeled Jack must have got the better of them.
“Oh, you’re awake.”
Captain Robertson turned to face the newcomer, a raging pain burning through his stiff shoulder. She wore a simple black dress covered in white overalls akin to that worn by the dwellers of a nunnery.
“Um… hello,” Captain Robertson wasn’t entirely sure how to proceed, so he opted to ask the obvious, “where… where am I?”
“St Thomas’ Hospital,” answered the nurse.
“How long have I been here?”
“Two days.”
The nurse nodded in agreement, and so did Captain Robertson in what soon became an excruciatingly awkward pause.
“Well, I guess I’ll be off then,” declared the Captain, slowly making his way out of bed to get dressed.
“I’m afraid I cannot allow that, Mr Robertson. You need more rest,” insisted the nurse.
“Unfortunately, I have urgent business to attend to with the Indian Secretary,” Captain Robertson quietly winced as he buttoned his shirt over his bandaged clavicle, “You wouldn’t happen to know the whereabouts of the gentleman they brought in with me, would you?”
“As far as I’m aware, you arrived alone.”
This made sense. After all, Mr Daim was a jinni and probably didn’t need human medicine to recover from his injuries. He was most likely back at the hotel reading poetry or whatever else it is he did in his spare time. Captain Robertson would go see him after stopping by the all-important India Office.
“Sir, I really must advise you to take a leave of absence before returning to work,” continued the nurse.
“Then, by all means, advise away, but regardless I will be leaving,” countered Captain Robertson, ceasing the nurse’s insistence as he donned his overcoat. Realising that he may have come across a little too harsh, the Captain added a smile to soften the blow, “I promise to return and take advantage of your prescribed rest as soon as I am no longer preoccupied.”
It wasn’t until he crossed Westminster Bridge that the thought occurred to Captain Robertson that perhaps promising to return to a hospital wasn’t exactly the most optimistic of assurances.

The Epiphany

After his brief walk across the Thames, Captain Robertson arrived at the India Office. Once again, he traversed the marble Durbar Court overlooked by interlocking crescents and crosses, ascended the Muses’ Staircase flanked by the fossils of millennia-old sea lilies frozen in stone, and entered the Indian Secretary’s office, to find the Eighth Duke of Argyll immersed in discussion with Commissioner Henderson.
“Ah, Captain Robertson. Glad you could join us,” greeted the Duke, “we weren’t expecting you to be discharged for at least another week.”
“I’m a fast healer,” responded Captain Robertson, glossing over the fact he outright disobeyed the nurse’s orders.
In the wake of their salutations, the three men got down to business discussing the events of two nights prior.
“So, Captain, tell us what you remember of your meeting with Spring-Heeled Jack,” entreated the Duke.
“To be perfectly honest, I do not remember much other than being shot in the shoulder—”
“For which the Met deeply apologises,” interjected Commissioner Henderson, “the officer responsible has been discharged, and we will cover the cost of your medical bills.”
The Duke gave the Commissioner a slight nod of acknowledgement as if to say: Okay, you can shut up now. Of the many things Captain Robertson and the Eighth Duke of Argyll agreed on, their impatience for Commissioner Henderson’s nuisances ranked amongst the highest.
“Please, Captain, continue with your account of the meeting,” adjured the Duke.
“Of course, Mr Secretary,” Captain Robertson took a moment to gather his thoughts, “Mr Daim and I arrived at Kew Gardens about ten minutes to midnight. As requested, I did not inform him of our plan to ambush the meeting. As soon as the clock struck twelve, we entered the Temperate House, where we encountered Spring-Heeled Jack. However, as mentioned before, the next thing I remember was lying on the floor as Commissioner Henderson stormed the building.”
“Do you remember anything that was said between Mr Daim and Spring-Heeled Jack?”
“Unfortunately, I do not,” frowned Captain Robertson, “Quite frankly, I have no idea if the ambush was even a success. Did you manage to capture the target?”
A look was shared between the Duke and Commissioner.
“Captain, are you sure you don’t remember anything that was discussed between the target and Mr Daim?” asked the Duke, concern etched into the wrinkles of his forehead.
“That is correct.”
Again, a look was shared between the two men of authority. It was as if they’d found some magical way to communicate in the absence of speech. Captain Robertson patiently waited for one of the two men to speak. Preferably the Duke. Commissioner Henderson was annoying.
“I can confirm that we succeeded in dispatching Spring-Heeled Jack,” affirmed Commissioner Henderson, in that annoyingly smug way of his, “he will no longer pose a threat to the good people of London. Thank you for your service, Captain. The Met will forever be in your debt.”
That last bit of gratitude caught Captain Robertson by surprise. He didn’t expect such humility, but he accepted it with grace nonetheless.
“Indeed, not only have you protected the citizens of London, you have protected subjects of the British Empire the world over,” seconded the Eighth Duke of Argyll, “I’ve already sent a letter of commendation to your superior officer. You’ve also been cleared for a month-long leave of absence. I trust you’ll be on the next train back to Scotland? It’s been a while since you’ve visited home, hasn’t it?”
“Most certainly,” beamed Captain Robertson.
“Good man,” the Duke patted Captain Robertson on his good shoulder, leading him to the door, “I look forward to working with you again, Captain. But for now, go and get some well-deserved rest.”
Before he was ushered out the door, Captain Robertson had one last question:
“May I inquire as to the whereabouts of Mr Daim? I wish to bid him farewell before he leaves for India.”
The Duke frowned, “Unfortunately, Mr Dame had an important matter to attend to and left for India last night. However, he did wish me to pass on his thanks for your help in his investigation.”
“That is most unfortunate. Oh well, perhaps we may cross paths again in the future,” hopefulness gleaming in the Captain’s voice, “It’s been an honour working with you, Mr Secretary.”
The two men bid farewell with the shake of a hand. Just as the door was closing, Captain Robertson was able to sneak a peek at the latest addition to the Duke’s display cabinet. A beautifully golden ornamental lamp studded with glistening emerald inscriptions, written in a forgotten oriental tongue. The sight of the lamp was enough to brighten comprehension’s lantern, clearing the murky haze of Captain Robertson’s mind. He remembered. He remembered everything.

To be continued…

This is part of a larger series called Midnights In London