The Greatest Leader in History: Ataturk


Today, I have a treat for you all.

In celebration of this blog’s twentieth post (in fact, this was pure coincidence, but I’m going to run with it), a good friend of mine, who wishes to go by the alias Savas Alparslan, has kindly written the following article detailing the life of Turkey’s founding father. We briefly touched upon Ataturk in my post regarding India’s Khilafat Movement, and so this is sure to add some much-needed context. Furthermore, it is worth noting here that Jinnah, Pakistan’s founding father, actually took inspiration from Ataturk and the Turkish nation-state in his own struggle against British Imperialism.

If you haven’t worked it out already, Savas is of Turkish heritage, and like me, he is an avid reader of history. Unlike me, Savas actually studied history in school. I’m sure it goes without saying that the views expressed in this article are not mine, and all credit should be attributed to Savas.

-Aqil


Mustafa Kemal Atatürk (1881-1938)

DISCLAIMER: It is important to note that I will refer to Mustafa Kemal Ataturk as Ataturk throughout this post. However, Ataturk is also known as Mustafa Kemal Pasha, Kemal Pasha, Mustafa Kemal, or just Mustafa.

If you have ever visited Turkey, you are certain to have crossed a picture of Ataturk at the airport, any restaurant you visit, or any hotel you go to. Why? Ataturk is a revered figure in Turkey to the extent that no other nation-state leader was or is. Ataturk was believed to be a socialist by Hitler, a fascist by Stalin, even a dictator by others, but Ataturk is known in Turkey as the “Father of the Turks”.

What makes a leader a great leader? One who is moral? Well, Genghis Khan was not a moral leader, but he was certainly a great leader who built one of the greatest Empires and changed the course of world history. What about a leader who is accomplished? George Washington was an accomplished leader who led his country to independence, but he owned slaves. What about a leader who is respected? Erwin Rommel was respected by both friend and foe during the Second World War but still lost the North Africa campaign. It is hard to define a great leader because a great leader is subjective to personal definitions. Accordingly, for the purposes of this article, a great leader will be defined as someone who has all the qualities mentioned above.

The story of modern Turkey starts in 1881, in Thessaloniki, Greece. It was then known as Selanik, part of the Ottoman Empire. Ataturk was born as Mustafa into a middle-class family, with a pious mother, Zubeyde Hanim, and an Alevi customs official father, Ali Riza Efendi[1]. Thessaloniki was a multicultural and modern city for the Ottoman Empire’s standards. As such, Ataturk grew up with Greeks, Turks, Jews, Albanians, and Slavs. This would be important in shaping his later views.

In his youth, Ataturk became passionate about warfare and the military. His mother wished for him to be a religious leader. But Ataturk was not interested in religious studies and preferred to talk about politics and the military with his friends. He graduated from military school excelling in mathematics, where he was given the nickname “Kemal”, meaning “perfection”, by his teacher[2] as well as science, history, and philosophy. Ataturk was promoted to an officer at once and started his post in Syria. There he met some very radicalised Turks who believed the rule of the Ottoman Sultanate must come to an end.


The Young Turks

The Young Turks were a movement in the Ottoman Empire that sought to create a Nationalist Constitutional Monarchy that limited the Sultan’s powers to just a figurehead. The Grand Vizier (or the Prime Minister) would be the ruler with the Sultan as the head of state. The Young Turks were extremely militarist and expansive. They believed that the Ottoman Empire can be saved if they were to ally with the Germans. Ataturk joined this organisation because of his personal hatred against the Sultan and had a minor part to play in the Young Turk Revolution.

But once the revolution succeeded, Ataturk was cast aside by Enver Pasha, who elevated himself to war minister. Ataturk disagreed fundamentally with the Young Turks, which now became the Committee of Union and Progress (CUP).

The CUP believed that Islam and the Sultan glued the Ottoman nation together, but Ataturk disagreed. He acknowledged the growing rebellions across the Empire, which indicated that the Sultan’s influence was weakening.

Ataturk also disagreed with the Social Darwinist policies of the CUP, which was modelled after the Japanese policy of making the “Japanese race the strongest in the far east.” The CUP wanted to make the Turks the strongest in the near east. This idea was too idealist for Ataturk, who himself believed in nationality rather than race.

Since Ataturk was not interested in throwing the Ottomans into conflict, he felt the Caliphate was a post that no longer served a purpose. The CUP, however, used the Caliph to influence Indian Muslims to resist British recruitment in World War One.

The CUP’s underground members would even attempt to assassinate Ataturk in 1926. This, of course, failed.

Enver Pasha (1881-1922)

Enver Pasha was one of the three Pasha of the triumvirate period towards the end of the Ottoman Empire. He also served as the minister of war and was Ataturk’s main rival towards 1918-1923.

Ataturk’s original plan for the territorial extent of the Turkish Republic.

Ataturk believed the Empire had to be abandoned for a Republic that will rule over a majority ethnic Turk land. Ataturk saw Kurds as equals to Turks and therefore kept them in the equation.

Enver Pasha’s dream of an empire expanding over the region of Turan.

On the other hand, Enver Pasha dreamed of an expansive imperialist empire that would cover the region of “Turan”. Turan is the collection of all Turkic states into one single country. Ataturk dismissed these and ardently disagreed. He believed Enver Pasha was delusional. As such, Ataturk remained a colonel with limited military and political influence. Many of these Turanists actually joined the Nazi Turkestan Legions during World War Two.

The CUP government was disastrous. The Ottomans lost control of Libya to the Italians and lost the entire Balkans to the Bulgarians and Greeks. Although Enver Pasha managed to reclaim Thrace, the Empire lost 33% of its lands within the space of only 3 years[3], including the strategic and important city of Thessaloniki, Ataturk’s place of birth. Regardless of these Ottoman defeats, Ataturk achieved spectacular results and proved himself to be a promising commander. In Tobruk, Ataturk defeated 2,000 Italians with only 200 soldiers[4]. He nearly drove the Italians out of all strategic cities, but his command tent was bombed by an Italian warplane, which caused his eye to be damaged. It is for this reason Ataturk’s seems to be cross-eyed in later pictures.


The First World War

Ataturk in Gallipoli (pictured fourth from the left)

The Ottomans joined the German side of the First World War. Ataturk and his more Liberal circle of friends warned the government that this would result in the end of the Ottoman Empire. Enver Pasha’s stubbornness and lack of administrative experience denied these warnings. Within a few months of joining the war, Enver Pasha lost 43,000 men, more than half of which died before the battle even started, while fighting the Russians[5].  Although the Russians were successful against the outdated Ottoman army, they struggled to fight against the disciplined, coherent, and robust German army.

As a result, Sir Winston Churchill, the lord of the admiralty, would devise a plan which looked very good on paper but would result in the worst military defeat in British history. If British and French ships could pass the Dardanelles, they could bomb Istanbul (which was the capital) to the ground and kill millions of people in the process. This would cripple the Ottomans into submitting. However, the Turks were prepared for this and ambushed the British Navy in 1915. This forced the British to do a landing to secure the beachheads.

Location of the Dardanelles.

The Dardanelles is a geographic area that links the Aegean Sea to the Sea of Marmara (and therefore Istanbul). The British had a powerful ANZAC and Indian contingent backed by the world’s strongest navy. But the Ottomans also had a superweapon that they did not know existed: the 34-year-old Ataturk.

The British attack was overwhelming. The Ottoman army did not have enough ammunition and was equipped with older rifles that jammed easily. The British easily gained a foothold in Gallipoli and managed to push the Turks many miles from the beaches, except in one area. Ataturk was just a colonel in command of about 10,000 men[6]. His superior was General Otto Liman von Sanders, a German who was losing ground to the British. Ataturk was tasked to defend Chunuk Bair, a critical peak that oversaw the whole battleground. The fate of Istanbul and the entire Ottoman Empire fell into Ataturk’s hands.

Although Ataturk’s men fought tirelessly, they were eventually routed because they ran out of ammunition. Ataturk caught his soldiers fleeing the field and asked them where they were going. A soldier pointed out that they lacked ammunition, to which Ataturk replied:

“If you don’t have ammunition, you have bayonets! FIX BAYONETS! GET DOWN!”[7]

This made the ANZACs believe the Turks were reinforced, forcing them to call off any further attacks. Ataturk single-handedly took a big risk but held back the British for 24 hours. Enough time for reinforcements to arrive. At the end of the first day, only Ataturk’s division out of the six initial divisions held their ground.

A couple days later, the British intensified their attacks, and Ataturk’s division was put in reserve. The British made a risky but successful landing at one of the beaches that lead directly to Chunuk Bair. Upon hearing this, Ataturk, without permission from higher command, collected his men and moved out to intercept the British. He gave his most famous order:

“Men, I am not ordering you to attack. I am ordering you to die. In the time that it takes us to die, other forces and commanders can come and take our place.”[8]

Ataturk now led from the frontlines and kept motivation among his troops high. He beat back the British forces at Chunuk Bair and saved the Ottoman war effort in Gallipoli. After these successes, Ataturk was promoted and eventually given full command of the entire Ottoman defence at Gallipoli. He launched counter-attacks using storm tactics to beat his enemy. Within a few months of taking control, Ataturk broke the stalemate and shifted the momentum in the Ottoman’s favour. Ataturk saved Istanbul and a million Turks from certain death. His name was being shared across the world for this famous victory.

Meanwhile, the situation against Russia was dire. Enver Pasha lost all his battles against them and began relocating Armenians from the frontlines. The Ottomans, however, were now able to send fresh and experienced troops from Gallipoli under Ataturk’s command. Ataturk held back Russian assaults at Bitlis, which caused the Russian offensive to collapse and triggered the 1917 Russian Soviet Revolution. Ataturk was once again successful and promoted. Now a General, Ataturk was sent to Arabia, where he had his first confrontation with Enver Pasha since 1914.

Ataturk proposed a general retreat towards Anatolia to force the British to march through the deserts unprepared until a confrontation could happen. However, Enver Pasha, backed by von Sanders, suggested that the Ottomans had a numerical advantage and should use it as soon as possible (although they did not). Ataturk was right. The Ottomans suffered their final major defeat at Megiddo, where the British restocked up on water supplies. The Ottoman armies were destroyed, and Ataturk was finally given command of the whole Ottoman army, or what was left of it. Understanding the war was lost, Ataturk sent a letter of rage to the Sultan:

“The withdrawal … could have been carried out in some order, if a fool like Enver Paşa had not been the director-general of the operations, if we did not have an incompetent commander—Cevat Paşa—at the head of a military force of five to ten thousand men, who fled at the first sound of gunfire, abandoned his army, and wandered around like a bewildered chicken; and the commander of the Fourth army, Cemal Paşa, ever incapable of analysing a military situation; and if, above all, we did not have a group headquarters (under Liman von Sanders) which lost all control from the first day of the battle. Now, there is nothing left to do but to make peace.”[9]

Ataturk withdrew to Aleppo and held back all further British attacks, giving way to the Treaty of Mudros. The middle eastern theatre ended, and the Ottoman Empire surrendered after Ataturk refused to continue fighting.


The War of Independence

Results of the Treaty of Sevres.

The Treaty of Sevres was far worse than the Treaty of Versailles and reduced the Ottomans to less than 10% of their land before the First World War. Ataturk was proven right; the Empire was destroyed after joining the World War. Within 4 years, Islam’s greatest Empire was on its death bed. The treaty demanded[10]:

  1. The Ottomans pay crippling reparations, which would last until 1980.
  2. The Ottomans pay crippling and unfair debts, which will also last to 1980.
  3. The Ottomans limit their forces to less than 50,700 men, disbanding their air force and tank regiments as well as downsizing their navy.
  4. Istanbul and the straits world fall under International control.
  5. France, Italy, Armenia, Britain, and Kurdistan will take most of Anatolia (Britain annexed the Kurdish territories before it could form a state)
  6. Turkey would essentially be a puppet of France and Britain, alternating between the two.

To Ataturk, this treaty was worse than death. Turks are an interesting ethnic group in that they are one of the few ethnic groups to have always ruled themselves. As Napoleon once put it:

“The Turks can be killed, but they can never be conquered.”[11]

For Turks to accept this treaty would be an insult to their ancestors and their past. Ataturk managed to rally up eager Turks, Kurds, Arabs, Alevis, and Alawites to fight the War of Independence. In the end, he managed to muster 80,000 men, but he was facing four major combatants on four different fronts against 250,000 men[12]. It was suicide.

Ataturk, however, was perhaps the most accomplished military leader at the time. He was the only Central Powers commander who was not defeated in the field of battle and was loved by his men. Ataturk was quick to strike on the Armenians and French forces, ending their threat by 1921. He negotiated with the British and used the fact that the British public opposed a war to his advantage. However, the bigger threat was Greece. Greece was opportunistic in their goals and used the fact that the Turks were up in arms as a pretext to establish a Greater Greece, known as the Megali Idea. 217,000 Greek forces entered Anatolia, the largest Greek army to enter the region in history[13].

Ataturk could not defeat them in a battle unless he chose the battleground. He made a tactical retreat to Ankara, drawing the Greeks further and further away from their supply routes and tired them in the process. At Sakarya, Ataturk unleashed his trap. Nearly 22,000 out of the 120,000 Greek force lost their lives or were captured[14]. Even King Constantine was almost caught by Turkish troops. Ataturk ended the Greek advance and turned the tide of the war. It was now the Greeks who were on the defensive.

In 1922, Ataturk unleashed his final offensive towards Izmir. 90,000 Turks against 130,000 Greeks[15]. It was all or nothing. Ataturk, within 2 weeks, liberated Izmir and surrounded the Greek army and captured their most renowned Generals. The Generals were treated with considerable kindness. Ataturk’s right-hand man, Ismet Pasha (later known as Ismet Inonu, the second President of Turkey), told the Greek General Trikoupis that his men would not be harmed and that he had the Turkish army’s respect for doing his duty. Ataturk was also offered to step on a Greek flag in the same area that King Constantine stepped on the Ottoman flag 3 years earlier, but Ataturk refused[16]. He is quoted as saying:

“The Greek King might have made a mistake by insulting a National Symbol, I Won’t repeat the same mistake.”

Istanbul was later liberated by Ataturk without firing a single bullet. The Sultanate was abolished, and the Ottoman Empire came to an end in late 1922. Ataturk’s revolution, known as Kemalism, took its first big step.


Ataturk’s Presidency

Ataturk changed Turkey forever. The Republic of Turkey was founded on 29th October 1923, a year after the Ottoman Empire was disbanded. Ataturk brought in a new radical reform to Turkey known as Kemalism or Ataturkism.

Kemalism has 6 arrows or pillars:

  1. Nationalism

Ataturk’s view on nationalism was very modern and rejected all forms of ethnic, cultural, and ultra-nationalism. Ataturk rejected Turanism, rejected imperialism, and rejected unification through religion or ethnicity. Ataturk instead opted for Civic-Nationalism, a form of nationalism that united people through a common duty to a nation regardless of their background. In Ataturk’s form of nationalism, Alevis were emancipated for the first time in Turkish history, Kurds were seen as Turkish citizens, which enabled Inonu (a Kurd) to become the first Prime Minister of Turkey, and even one of the world’s first black fighter pilots was Turkish[17]. Turkish did not mean someone who was ethnically a Turk, but rather as Ataturk said:

“The folk which constitutes the Republic of Turkey is called the Turkish nation.”[18]

  1. Republicanism

Ataturk believed in a parliamentary democracy. Although Ataturk ruled as a benign or benevolent dictator, his end goal was democracy. Ataturk saw himself as the first and last dictator of the Turkish Republic. A dictator that Turkey needs so they may never have a dictator again. Ataturk demanded democracy, but the Turkish people were not educated and ready for it yet.

  1. Populism

Kemalist populism is not the same as the populism we have today. Populism in the Kemalist sense was the aim to enable the people to understand the importance of their citizenship and sovereignty. Populism in the Kemalist sense was designed to create a unifying force for the Turkish people to encourage them to work, contribute to their country, and advance.

  1. Laicism

The most controversial policy of Kemalism is its ardent secularism. Ataturk banned the niqab and fez according to the public code. But he never forbade the headscarf, contrary to popular belief. The headscarf in Turkey was banned after the 1980 coup. Ataturk simply discouraged its use. Ataturk put all religious buildings under state supervision, and the state equally distanced itself from all faiths. The official religion of Turkey was no longer Islam. The call to prayer was to be done in Turkish rather than Arabic. Religious schools were closed. Since Sharia Law in the Ottoman Empire banned girls from being educated, Ataturk now made schools mandatory for girls. Classes were now mixed. Ataturk’s biggest religious impact would come in 1924 when he abolished the Caliphate. The Caliph was a post that existed ever since the death of Prophet Muhammad ﷺ. This was widely supported in Turkey, with the only opposition coming from the Kurds, whose rebellions were subsequently suppressed.

  1. Statism

Turkey was technologically and socially behind other countries in 1923. Statism demanded that the state do its part to ensure Turkey’s complete modernisation via economic and technological development. Ataturk’s Turkey underwent mass industrialisation leading to dramatic economic growth[19]. The state also nationalised all foreign businesses, which were seen as exploiting Turkey’s resources and people. These businesses, especially tobacco industries, became successful enterprises and were later privatised by Turkish owners.

  1. Reformism

Ataturk believed traditional institutions must be replaced with modern ones that overlooked a much larger part of Anatolian and Turkish culture and history. Islamism in Turkey saw old Hittite and Assyrian buildings and statues destroyed. Ataturk believed the Hittite culture to be a part of the modern Turkish culture. Islam was adapted to become compatible with Turkey. According to Ataturk, up until this point, conservative Islam had been allowed to control the customs, diet, and even intimate thoughts of the Turkish people.

Ataturk’s reformism was vastly based on resurrecting old Hittite, Assyrian, and Anatolian culture while combining it with Turkey’s Nomadic and Islamic history. For example, the national symbol of Ankara was the Hittite flag. Ataturk never opposed Islam. He only opposed an interpretation of Islam that was suited to an Arab context and was therefore unsuitable to the needs of the Turkish people.

Ataturk increased national GDP, tripled GDP per capita[20], modernised Turkey within a decade, made education compulsory for all, which saw literacy rates skyrocket. Turkey gave women full equal suffrage where polygamy was banned and equal inheritance was mandatory. This was ahead of many European countries. Turkish women congratulated American women for having the right to vote, and British women held signs saying, Are we worth less than Turkish women?[21]

Ataturk had saved Turkey, emancipated all faiths and minorities, and has gained international respect. In 1981, the UN formally honoured Ataturk by naming it The Atatürk Year in the World. Nobody else has been given such recognition:

“The General Conference,

Convinced that eminent personalities who worked for international understanding, co-operation, and peace, should serve as an example for future generations,

Recalling that the hundredth anniversary of the birth of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founder of the Republic of Turkey, will be celebrated in 1981,

Bearing in mind that he was an exceptional reformer in all the fields coming within Unesco’s competence,

Recognising in particular that he was the leader of one of the earliest struggles against colonialism and imperialism,

Recalling that he set an outstanding example in promoting the spirit of mutual understanding between peoples and lasting peace between the nations of the world, having advocated all his life the advent of ‘an age of harmony and co-operation in which no distinction would be made between men on account of colour, religion or race.’”[22]

Many world leaders visit his grave, including Putin, Obama, the Pope, Theresa May, the Japanese royal family, and many others. All bow to Ataturk.


The Words of Ataturk

“Peace at home, peace in the world” – Ataturk to the public during his tours of Anatolia[23].

“Unless a nation’s life faces peril, war is murder.” – Ataturk after witnessing the devastation wrought by the Gallipoli campaign[24].

“Humankind is made up of two sexes, women and men. Is it possible for humankind to grow by the improvement of only one part while the other part is ignored? Is it possible that if half of a mass is tied to earth with chains that the other half can soar into skies?”[25] – Ataturk on the importance of women.

“Heroes who shed their blood and lost their lives! You are now lying in the soil of a friendly country. Therefore rest in peace. There is no difference between the Johnnies and Mehmets to us where they lie side by side here in this country of ours. You, the mothers, who sent their sons from far away countries wipe away your tears; your sons are now lying in our bosom and are in peace. After having lost their lives on this land they have become our sons as well.” – Ataturk in honouring the fallen soldiers that fought against Turkey[26].

Ataturk has statues and streets named after him in many countries, including countries in which Ataturk fought. Ataturk is not only moral, not only accomplished, not only respected; he is the greatest leader in history.


[1] Mango, A., 1963. Ataturk: The Biography of the Founder of Modern Turkey. John Murray.

[2] İnan, A., 1950. Atatürk hakkında hâtıralar ve belgeler. Turkiye Is Bankasi Kultur Yayinlari.

[3] Blakemore, E., 2019. Why the Ottoman Empire rose and fell. National Geographic, [online] Available at: <https://www.nationalgeographic.com/history/article/why-ottoman-empire-rose-fell> [Accessed 16 April 2021].

[4] Military Wiki. n.d. Battle of Tobruk (1911). [online] Available at: <https://military.wikia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Tobruk_(1911)> [Accessed 17 April 2021].

[5] Sanborn, J., 2021. Imperial Apocalypse: The Great War and the Destruction of the Russian Empire. Oxford University Press, p.88.

[6] Mango, A., 1963. Ataturk: The Biography of the Founder of Modern Turkey. John Murray.

[7] Wikiquote. n.d. Mustafa Kemal Atatürk. [online] Available at: <https://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Mustafa_Kemal_Atatürk> [Accessed 16 April 2021].

[8] ibid

[9] Mango, A., 1963. Ataturk: The Biography of the Founder of Modern Turkey. John Murray.

[10] Helmreich, P., 1974. From Paris to Sèvres: The Partition of the Ottoman Empire at the Peace Conference of 1919-1920. Cambridge University Press.

[11] Bonaparte, N., 1912. Napoleon in his own words. Trieste Publishing Pty Limited.

[12] Pallis, A., 1937. Greece’s Anatolian Venture–and After: A Survey of the Diplomatic and Political Aspects of the Greek Expedition to Asia Minor (1915-1922).

[13] ibid

[14] ibid

[15] Mango, A., 1963. Ataturk: The Biography of the Founder of Modern Turkey. John Murray.

[16] ibid

[17] Nicolle, D., 1994. The Ottoman Army 1914–1918. Osprey Publishing.

[18] Wikipedia. n.d. Kemalism. [online] Available at: <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kemalism> [Accessed 17 April 2021].

[19] Pamuk, Ş., 2019. Uneven centuries: Turkey’s experience with economic development since 1820. The Economic History Review, Vol. 72.

[20] Pamuk, Ş., 2019. Uneven centuries: Turkey’s experience with economic development since 1820. The Economic History Review, Vol. 72.

[21] n.d. British womens demanding their rights: “Are British Women Worth Less Than Turkish Women?”. [image] Available at: <https://i.redd.it/rs5p51nht6p61.jpg> [Accessed 16 April 2021].

[22] UNESCO, 1979. Records of the General Conference Twentieth Session Paris, 24 October to 28 November 1978 Volume I Resolutions. [online] p.69. Available at: <https://treaties.un.org/doc/source/docs/unesco_res_5_9.2_1-E.pdf> [Accessed 16 April 2021].

[23] Goodreads. n.d. Mustafa Kemal Atatürk Quotes. [online] Available at: <https://www.goodreads.com/author/quotes/2793859.Mustafa_Kemal_Atat_rk> [Accessed 16 April 2021].

[24] ibid

[25] ibid

[26] ibid

Midnights in London, Part 2

The Capital

After their long journey westward, Mr Daim and Captain Robertson finally arrived in London, the capital of the ever-expanding, ever-glorious, ever-mighty British Empire. To Mr Daim, like many visitors hailing from the colonies, London seemed a lacklustre cesspit of poverty and desperation. Not the centre of culture, science and wealth, one would expect to be befitting of the globe-trotting Britannia whose trident commanded the waves in pursuit of her god-given right to rule the world: Dieu Et Mon Droit. Wherever Britannia’s trident pointed, her subjects would go. It just so happened that in the case of Mr Daim and Captain Robertson, her trident pointed home.
To Mr Daim, the man who’d travelled as far as the imperial courts of Peking, London was the lump of coal amongst diamonds when it came to seats of power. Babylon had the Hanging Gardens, Baghdad the House of Wisdom, Constantinople the Hagia Sophia, but what did London have? A murky river polluted by the scourge of an industrial revolution, cobbled streets with festering horse faeces interposed between its furrows and a neglected palace disliked by its supposed inhabitants – one of whom tried to pawn it off on his own parliament. Speaking of which, perhaps the macabre Clock Tower protruding into a sky choking on smog was the only redeemable feature of this depressing landscape. After all, it was here that the fate of hundreds of millions of the Earth’s residents was decided.
As the duo made their way across Westminster Bridge in a horse-drawn carriage, the macabre Clock Tower looming over them, it was Mr Daim this time that had trouble adjusting to a foreign climate. He had spent so long in the burn-inducing weather of north-west India that the frostbite-inducing weather of south-east England gave him a chilling shock from skin to bone. To remedy this, Captain Robertson had loaned the use of his winter coat to his charge despite the fact that summer was only right around the corner and ignoring the fact that this must have broken some form of protocol written in some kind of handbook somewhere at some point. Over the course of their journey, he had developed a burgeoning respect for his travelling companion, and his endless stream of ghazals, with the belief that the mysterious Mr Daim was a keeper of untold wisdom. The man carried himself with an aura of easiness that one could only achieve if they were to sever their connection from the pursuit of fame and glory, something Mr Robertson felt incapable of, and it is for this very reason that he began to hold Mr Daim in such high regard.
The pair were due to meet with the incumbent Commissioner Henderson, of the Metropolitan Police, for a top-secret meeting at the India Office that would shed some more light on the letter Mr Daim received from the juxtaposing sepoy back in Lahore. And so off they went, through the dense crowds, past the gothic drab of Westminster Abbey housing the rotting corpses of long-dead kings and queens, past the young boy perched atop an empty crate selling copies of The Daily Telegraph he couldn’t read, and northward towards the offices of Her Majesty’s government. There, sandwiched between the overflowing treasury and the oft-vacant number ten, lay the gears that kept Britain’s imperial machine running: the Home Office, Foreign Office, Colonial Office, and all-important India Office. It was from these very rooms that Britannia commanded her vast empire. Mr Daim was about to enter the belly of the beast.

The Meeting

At the gates to the India Office, Mr Daim and Captain Robertson were greeted by the Secretary of State for India, the Eighth Duke of Argyll, who led them through the building, across the marble Durbar Court overlooked by interlocking crescents and crosses, up the Muses’ Staircase flanked by the fossils of millennia-old sea lilies frozen in stone, and briskly ushered them into his office, where the Commissioner was waiting.
“Pleasure to meet you,” Commissioner Henderson welcomed the men with the shake of his hand. Mr Daim could tell from his vice-like grip that the man that stood before him had spent some time in the military. “I take it you are the fabled Mr Dame who has come to save us?”
“Daim.” This wasn’t the first time Mr Daim had to correct someone on the pronunciation of his name. He was certain it wasn’t going to be the last, so long as he remained on the British Isles.
“We’ll just call you Mr D for the sake of convenience,” tension emanating from the tendons that pulled Commissioner Henderson’s mouth into a tight grin.
“Let’s not dilly-dally, gentlemen. Please, Mr Dame, take a seat,” the Duke motioned for Mr Daim to take the remaining chair beside the Commissioner, while he sunk slowly into the leather armchair located on the opposite side of the large mahogany writing desk littered with theses, pertaining to subjects as wide as ornithology to economics. It seemed to Mr Daim that the Eighth Duke of Argyll shared a greater affinity for science than he did politics. Captain Robertson remained standing by the door with the stalwart grace one would expect from a member of the British Armed Forces.
“Unfortunately, Her Majesty Queen Victoria is indisposed at the moment and will not be able to greet you personally.” Mr Daim wasn’t surprised by that revelation. He had become used to the eccentric procedures of royalty and didn’t expect to be granted an actual audience with Her Majesty Queen Victoria. At least Mr Daim wasn’t being given the same runaround afforded to him by the Emperor of Mali.  
“I must confess that I am pressed for time, and so I’ll try my utmost best to be brief, succinct and to the point.” In Mr Daim’s experience, politicians were rarely brief, succinct and to the point, but he awaited amazement nonetheless. “Recently, there have been… unusual sightings of… some kind of… well to be perfectly candid, I’m not quite sure how to explain it other than as some kind of supernatural phenomenon. Some sort of flying creature, to be precise.”
“It doesn’t fly, Mr Secretary. It jumps. And if I may be so bold as to inquire why you saw it fit to seek the aid of a foreigner in what is clearly an internal matter concerning MY department?” the Commissioner was clearly agitated by Mr Daim’s presence as if it signified the undermining of his authority in some way.
“Well, the answer to that question is quite simple, Commissioner,” the hard C hiding a dozen tales of contempt, “the Met has proved itself to be quite out of its depth and now…” The Duke paused to fiddle with one of the desk drawers before pulling out and slapping the front page of a newspaper onto the ever-increasing bundle of disjointed papers that littered the varnished mahogany. “And now, the tabloids are getting wind of your failure to put an end to this threat. Hence, why Mr Dame, who is specialised in matters like these, has been brought here to see this menace dealt with. Does that satisfy your question, Commissioner?” The Duke accepted the ensuing silence as a sign of his victory. An ever so sly smile flitted across his face as he turned his attention away from his wounded quarry and towards the patiently waiting Mr Daim. “Apologies for my colleague’s rudeness. I trust you know what needs to be done?”
Mr Daim nodded in agreement.
“Great, well, I’ll let you get to work. Captain Robertson will remain by your side to assist you in this endeavour as your personal bodyguard. Should you need any extra support, Commissioner Henderson has been approved to allocate you any resources that could be of assistance. Although I’m not quite sure how effective his help will be. Any questions? No? Very well, I must really be off now to attend to an important matter. Thank you for your time, gentlemen,” the Duke bid his farewell to Mr Daim and Captain Robertson without extending the same courtesy to his now silent rival.
The Duke was just about to walk through the door when he remembered he had one last request for Mr Daim. “I trust you understand how sensitive this matter is and would greatly appreciate it if you’d did everything within your power to keep things quiet.”
“Of course, Mr Secretary. Rest assured that this menace will cease to plague the streets of London.”
“Good man.” And with that, the Eighth Duke of Argyll was off to attend to an important matter.
As soon as the Duke left the room, Commissioner Henderson turned blood-red hostile. “Look here, Mr Dame,” Mr Daim turned to look here, “or however you pronounce it, frankly I don’t care, but what I do care about is the safety of this city and if you so dare interfere with police business at any point during your stay, rest assured I will bring the full might of the law down upon your helpless soul.” The tip of his finger was thrust between Mr Daim’s ribs now. “So you can go out there with your little trinkets and incantations, or whatever it is you Indian faqirs do, while I’ll lead my men in capturing that… that… thing and bringing peace to the city of London. Just make sure you stay out of our way.” Was that spit Mr Daim felt splash against his cheek? “Good day, gentlemen.”
Commissioner Henderson stormed out the door, down the Muses’ staircase flanked by the fossils of millennia-old sea lilies frozen in stone, across the marble Durbar Court overlooked by interlocking crescents and crosses, and briskly through the gates of the all-important India Office. It wasn’t until both men had left that Captain Robertson finally caught a proper glimpse of the newspaper. SPRING-HEELED JACK STRIKES AGAIN.

To be continued…

Midnights in London, Part 1

The Letter

Dear Mr Daim,

It is with the utmost urgency that I write this letter. Her Majesty The Queen requires your presence in London to see to a sensitive issue in which your particular expertise and discretion are much-needed. An armed escort has already been dispatched from Calcutta to Lahore and is due to arrive in the coming days. It is imperative that you be ready to leave upon their arrival. Time is of the essence.

Yours sincerely,

Lord Mayo

Viceroy and Governor-General of India

Mr Daim was sitting on his charpai reading Ghalib when the sepoy, clad in his juxtaposing redcoat and navy blue dastar, handed him the above letter. The sepoy was most certainly a Sikh, a conclusion Mr Daim arrived at after spotting the cast iron kara encircling the wrist of the hand that graciously gave him the above letter. No more than three decades ago, the Sikhs were at war with the British. Back then, a Sikh serving the British was unheard of. Then again, so was the distribution of the above letter to individuals such as the aforementioned Mr Daim.
Many of the sepoy’s fellow countrymen wanted nothing to do with the British. Not long ago, sepoys, much like the one in the dastar of navy, rebelled against their British overlords. They were joined by the likes of Maharani Lakshmibai of Jhansi and, for a brief moment, even the esteemed Emperor Bahadur Shah the Second. They lost. Why? Well, because anyone that could defeat the Sikhs, India’s greatest warriors, were able to defeat anyone. And that’s exactly what the British did. So as far as Mr Daim and the juxtaposing sepoy were concerned, India’s fate was sealed, and they had no qualms serving Her Majesty The Queen.
“Meharbani,” Mr Daim dismissed the sepoy and went about packing his things. A few days later, two Bengali sepoys accompanied by a certain Captain Robertson arrived at Mr Daim’s charpai to find him reading Rumi. As instructed, the party immediately left for London.

The Voyage

This wasn’t the first time Mr Daim found himself voyaging halfway across the world. The nature of his work had taken him all over the globe, from the imperial courts of Peking to the dense jungle forests of the Amazon. He was sure that he must have ventured to the British Isles before. Unfortunately, the details of his last visit were so long ago that they had escaped his memories.
After arriving at the foot of Mr Daim’s charpai, Captain Robertson and his two Bengali sepoys began the second leg of their long journey, this time with their charge in tow. They took a train from Lahore to Multan in the oppressive heat of India’s pre-monsoon skies which proved far too much for the rosy-cheeked Captain Robertson, who had his head hanging out the window for most of the ride. In comparison, the two Bengali sepoys, one Hindu one Muslim, remained unphased, fingers firmly wrapped around their Enfield P59s with the certainty that they needn’t grease their ammunition in pig fat nor beef tallow.
The coach remained quiet among the four men. The two sepoys could speak neither Hindi nor Urdu, communicating with their commanding officer in an amalgamation of banglarised* English and anglicised Bengali. That was, of course, only when and if communication was absolutely necessary for Captain Robertson was a man of few words.
In contrast, Mr Daim was a man of the world. He could speak many languages, from Xhosa to Danish. In fact, he could speak so many languages he wasn’t even sure which one it was that he spoke first. Unfortunately, Bengali was not one of them. Mr Daim decided then and there that he’d spend a few decades living in the winding streets of Calcutta upon his return so he could add another language to his ever-expanding repertoire.

It wasn’t until they reached Multan and boarded the steamboat to Kotri that the party’s silence was broken when Mr Daim pulled out some Hafez from his battered old briefcase. The Bengali sepoys spotted the poetry and, in their banglarised** English, asked for Mr Daim to read it aloud. He obliged. And so for the duration of their trip down the Indus, past the Tomb of Bibi Jawindi and its glazed tiles of blue and white mutilated by nature’s scorn, past the sand smothered mortared brick of the dead city of Mohenjo-Daro waiting to be found again, the words of Hafez brought a little life into a dying world. The Bengali sepoys, despite not knowing a word of Persian, gourmandised on the sweet ghazals with awe that transcended the borders of language. Even the reserved Captain Robertson revelled in its joy, the ecstasy of Hafez soothing the burden of a foreign climate that refused to bow down to the will of an Englishman.
Before they knew it, the party had arrived in Karachi, the ghazals having carried them off the steamboat and onto the Scinde Railway, all the while blinding the men to the passing of day into night and night into day. At the city’s port, the Bengali sepoys bid their farewell to Mr Daim, Captain Robertson and the sweet ghazals of Hafez. They had served their purpose; Captain Robertson had made it to Karachi unharmed by the disgruntled natives. The Bengali sepoys, one Hindu one Muslim, would return to Calcutta, fingers firmly wrapped around their Enfield P59s with the certainty they needn’t grease their ammunition in pig fat nor beef tallow. The responsibility fell to Captain Robertson alone to see Mr Daim reach the British Isles. And so wasting no time at all, they boarded the first passenger ship leaving port.

The ship sailed westward along the Makran coast before turning southward, weaving around Arabia and slipping into the Red Sea. They were not the first to follow this route, and neither would they be the last. Indian and Roman ships had been making this journey for centuries carrying trinkets and treasures to be sold and bartered in addition to gossip and gospel to be shared and broadened. However, one thing was different: the Suez Canal had opened, bridging the gap between what is Red and Mediterranean, shortening the distance between what is Atlantic and Indian, and more importantly, bringing Mr Daim all the more closer to his destination.
And so as they passed through Sinai, sailing the thin line that divorced Africa from its beloved Asia in the cool ocean breeze, Captain Robertson was cured of his rosied cheeks. The absence of the harsh Indian sun signified the end of the captain’s conversational reservations. In this relaxed state, Captain Robertson, the man of few words, became a man of many relating the story of his life to Mr Daim amongst a backdrop of long-forgotten kings encased in tombs waiting to be ransacked by ever-enthusiastic explorers.
As it turns out, he wasn’t an Englishman at all rather a Scotsman born to a fisherman who crossed the boundary of Hadrian’s Wall in search of fame and glory as a rifleman in the British Army. He soon worked his way up to the rank of captain during the latter half of the Second Opium War and had only been stationed in Fort William for four months when he was tasked with escorting Mr Daim to London. During this time, he learned how to speak his anglicised Bengali and a little anglicised Hindi too. Captain Robertson even went as far as indulging in the local cuisine, something his English colleagues were not too fond of. The one thing he hadn’t become accustomed to was the weather, and he was glad to be out before the height of India’s pre-monsoon season.
A little while after the ship left Port Said, Captain Robertson asked the mysterious Mr Daim a question:
“So, Mr Daim, I’ve told you about me, but what about you? What’s your particular area of expertise?”
“I fear you may not be able to fully grasp the extent of my talents, but you needn’t worry, my friend. All will be revealed in good time.”

To be continued…

Maybe.

*I made this word up, lol. If you know what the Bengali equivalent of “anglicised” is, do let me know.

**Yes, this is indeed a word now.

I Stared at the Night of the City by Bakhtiyar Ali: A Review

Book #10 of 2021. This year I aim to read 60 books. This was one of them. Be sure to check out my Goodreads.


This book was recommended to me by a friend of mine (one who has excellent taste in books), so I eagerly added it to my Amazon order of books for the first quarter of 2021. As my first foray into the genre of magical realism, I wasn’t really sure what to expect when I turned the cover and plunged into the narrative. Having finished, I can now say that magical realism is now one of my top genres of novel, which works out great as I have One Hundred Years of Solitude lined up to read later in the year. Anyway, without further ado, let’s jump into my review.

I Stared at the Night of the City by Bakhtiyar Ali is the first Kurdish novel to be translated into English. The story follows a group of like-minded friends, all with powerful imaginations, on a quest to discover the truth behind the murder of two lovers. Their search brings them into direct conflict with the Barons, who hold great power and run the city behind the scenes. Each chapter is told from an unreliable narrator’s perspective, each with their own quirks, morals and ambitions. The onus is on the reader to piece together the narrative, deciding who is and isn’t to be trusted.

The novel centres on the conflict between Ghazalnus and the Baron of Imagination, as they battle for control over the Imaginative Creatures (people gifted with powerful imaginations). The Baron of Imagination seeks to use the Imaginative Creatures to construct a new district in the city, one that embodies imagination, a paradise on earth. Meanwhile, Ghazalnus believes that the imagination shouldn’t be exploited for material gain and despises the Baron’s thirst for power.

Alongside this central narrative, many subplots add to the rich tapestry. The redemption story of a former assassin, Hasan-i Pizo, being one such example. Throughout the novel, the reader is introduced to characters and transported to beautiful gardens that blur the line between imagination and reality. Ultimately, the book is so multi-layered that my brief outline of the plot doesn’t do this masterpiece justice.

‘The entire revolution was such a fantastical event that no one knew exactly what to make of it. When the uprising succeeded, it came to a bitter, ugly end. One day, I killed a woman and looked into her eyes. That gaze changed my entire life. In the eyes of that woman, I saw the end of the fantasy. I saw the swept-away hat the comrade had talked about. My dear friends, my revolutionary comrades threw their fantasy away, and never revisited it. And no one ever asked what the fantasy of that long revolution actually was, or what became of the martyr’s fantasies. A revolution is like a dream. When it ends we all wake up, the dream fades and is forgotten. There is nothing in this world as fickle as a revolution.’

One of the novel’s central themes is revolution, vivified in the narrative via the philosophical quandary posed by Husni’s magical towel. Husni, a local towel merchant, owns a beautiful towel depicting the story of a king (realist) and a poet (idealist). On one side is a map depicting the tale of the king as he conquers an old city. On the other side is the same map, only more beautiful depicting the tale of the poet on his journey through the imagination.

As Husni’s towel changes hands throughout the novel, different characters have a go at interpreting the meaning behind the imagery. Who is more righteous? The poet or the king? Can poets and kings coexist? Can a king be a poet? Can a poet be a king? Must one slay the other? Can one slay the other? Which one slays the other? Is the king evil because he seeks power? Is the poet evil because he wields power but doesn’t wish to use it to better reality? And so on and so forth. Thus initiating an exciting discussion about imagination and reality in regards to the revolution. Not to mention the role of truth in all this.

I highly recommend I Stared at the Night of the City to anyone and everyone. The book had such a profound impact on my own ideas about the power of the imagination that I’d go as far as to include it in my personal canon. Its multiple layers and deep meaning makes it a novel I will most definitely be revisiting in the future.

Train to Pakistan by Khushwant Singh: A Review

Book #6 of 2021. This year I aim to read 60 books. This was one of them. Be sure to check out my Goodreads.


As someone who has done quite a bit of research into the history of Indian Partition, I understand the frustration of trying to find novels set during the tumultuous period. The truth is there are very few novels that touch upon the subject. Perhaps because of how painful it was for those who lived through it. In many ways, Partition is becoming a part of forgotten history. Fortunately, I got my hands on a copy of Khushwant Singh’s Train to Pakistan.

The novel takes place in the fictional village of Mano Majra located on the new border between Pakistan and India. The village is an even split between Muslims and Sikhs with only a single Hindu family. Life is peaceful in Mano Majra and typical of a Punjabi village. Then one fateful night, Lala Ram Lal, the Hindu moneylender, is murdered.

Suspicion is laid at the feet of the local badmash, Juggat Singh, and a mysterious new arrival by the name of Iqbal (Mohammed? Chand? Singh?). Tensions begin to rise in Mano Majra, as news pours in of the atrocities committed by Muslims and Sikhs in the rest of Punjab. The villagers are then forced to make a decision that would change Mano Majra forever.

Khushwant Singh’s tale is an in-depth look into Partition on the local scale and doesn’t get bogged down in its politics. By focusing on its impact on the lives of regular village folk, Singh humanises a turning point in history that has often been devolved into a debate concerning Pakistan’s legitimacy. This isn’t a tale about two religious communities at each other’s throats but rather the coming of the apocalypse for the innocent people of Mano Majra. Their way of life is turned on its head due to the egos of those in power.

Throughout the novel, you get to meet an interesting assortment of characters. All of which seem as though they have lived full lives before you meet them and add to the fabric of the novel. Surprisingly, despite the number of characters, none of them come across as bland or irrelevant. Iqbal’s and Hukum Chand’s internal monologues are particularly gripping.

I highly recommend Train to Pakistan and go as far as to include it in my personal canon. Its social commentary provides insight into rural Punjabi life (in all its glorious vulgarities) and highlights the real human impacts of Partition. It wasn’t just the breaking up of a country but the breaking up of brotherly bonds tracing back generations.

Khilafat Movement and Non-cooperation Movement – 1919-1924

Mehmed VI, Ottoman Caliph (1918-1922)

During the Turkish War of Independence (19th May 1919 – 11th October 1922), many Indian Muslim religious leaders feared for the fate of the Ottoman Caliphate. For many, the Ottoman Empire’s collapse was viewed as a European conspiracy designed to end Pan-Islamism and the ‘united’ Muslim community.

This anxiety eventually led to the Khilafat Movement[1] and the establishment of the All-India Khilafat Committee in 1919. The committee included Muslim leaders from both the AIML and INC as well as members of the Ulama. It called for the Caliphate’s restoration and acted as a gateway for the Ulama to enter politics.

The Muslim political elite needed the Ulama to reach the masses. Muhammad Ali Jauhar, one of the Khilafat’s leading figures, is quoted as saying, “we can reach [the] mob only through religion”[2]. Although he later denied it. Likewise, the Ulama needed the political elite to achieve its own goals. They had repeatedly tried to implement their version of Sharia in the workings of government but failed. Abul Muhasin Muhammad Sajjad, one of the most influential scholars at the time, sums up the need to work with the political elite:

“Until the Ulama takes the reins of politics in their own hands and cross their voices with those in authority, it will be difficult for them to establish their religious supremacy. Moreover, the fulfilment of their higher aims [i.e., the protection of Islam] will remain merely an empty dream”[3].

The Khilafat’s marriage of political and religious influencers allowed the movement to reach a large base of supporters. Making it one of the most memorable movements in the history of modern South Asia. It also marked the formal beginning of South Asia’s tradition of having political parties led by religious scholars. The most notable being the Jamiat Ulema-e-Hind which has since birthed multiple off-shoots, including Pakistan’s Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam.

The following year, Gandhi launched the Non-cooperation Movement[4] to unite all Indians in opposition to British rule. He called for the boycott of British goods in favour of Indian goods and implored Indians to cease all co-operation with the British. The goal was to remove the Rowlatt Act, which had led to the horrible events of the Jallianwala Bagh Massacre.

To consolidate Muslim support, Gandhi made the restoration of the Caliphate one of the Non-cooperation Movement’s main objectives. As a result, the Khilafat Movement joined forces with Gandhi and was practically swallowed up by the Non-cooperation Movement. Similarly, to consolidate Hindu support, Gandhi invoked the principle of Ahimsa (non-violence) and called for the end of untouchability.

By appealing to both Muslims and Hindus’ religious sentiments, Gandhi was able to rile up the Indian masses in opposition to British rule. So how did Jinnah – “the best ambassador of Hindu–Muslim Unity”[5] – react to all this?

Jinnah was against the formation of the Khilafat Movement from the start. He was a firm believer in secularism and the removal of religious authority from the workings of the state. When Gandhi affirmed the Khilafats by allowing them into the Non-cooperation Movement, he opened a can of worms that would plague South Asia for decades to come.

At the INC’s 1920 Nagpur Session, Jinnah openly spoke out against the Non-cooperation Movement. He denounced Gandhi for causing a schism “not only amongst Hindus and Muslims but between Hindus and Hindus and Muslims and Muslims and even between fathers and sons […] in almost every institution”, leading to “complete disorganisation and chaos”[6]. Jinnah was weary of the potential implications of allowing religious frenzy into the realm of Indian politics.

This may seem confusing at first, given how Jinnah was a member of the All-India MUSLIM League and was the architect behind the famed Lucknow Pact that had ensured the extension of separate electorates for Muslim candidates. If anyone should be accused of bringing religion into politics, it should be Jinnah.

It is here that a distinction must be made between Muslims as a religious community and Muslims as a minority community in need of political representation. For Moderates like Jinnah, there was a clear line between the religious and political needs of Muslims. It fell to the politicians to see to the political needs of the Muslim community. Meanwhile, the Ulama were tasked with seeing to the religious needs of the Muslim community. For example, the protection of land rights would be something that falls under the jurisdiction of the politician, whereas religious sermons would fall under the jurisdiction of the scholar. Inevitably there would be some overlap, but overall the system worked fine. Politicians stuck to the councils, and scholars stuck to the Masjids.

As already covered in previous essays, the AIML was formed to see to the political needs of Muslims. Implementing separate electorates in the Morley-Minto Reforms was a means to secure political representation for the Muslim minority. Supporting the Partition of Bengal was a way to advance the economic and political interests of the Muslim minority. At no point did the Muslim politicians try to implement their version of Sharia into government. Their fight was a nationalist fight for freedom, not a religious one. Recall when Jinnah addressed the AIML at the end of 1916:

“I see this great communal organisation rapidly growing into a powerful factor for the birth of United India. A minority must, above everything else, have a complete sense of security before its broader political sense can be evoked for co-operation and united endeavour in the national tasks. To the [Muslims] of India that security can only come through adequate and effective safeguards as regards their political existence as a community”[7].

When Gandhi brought the Khilafats under his wing, he set a dangerous precedent. The introduction of the Ulama threatened the existing political advancements in the cause for an independent India. Using religious rhetoric to stir up the masses ran the risk of causing a disconnect between India’s majority Hindu and minority Muslim communities.

To Jinnah, Gandhi’s Satyagraha was politically irresponsible. The masses were a powerful force that couldn’t be tamed. Relying on the Indian masses for agitation ran the risk of doing more harm than good. Instead, Jinnah believed that achieving independence was best done via constitutional methods. Unfortunately, the majority of Indian opinion was not on his side, and he was subsequently shouted down by the delegates. Both the INC and AIML endorsed the Non-cooperation Movement.

This was the nail in the coffin for Jinnah’s relationship with Congress. Following the Nagpur Session, Jinnah resigned from the INC and all other positions, excluding his membership in the AIML. He would spend most of the early 1920s in political isolation as events in India took a turn for the worst.

The first sign of weakening relations between Hindus and Muslims was the Hijarat of 1920[8]. When the Khilafat Movement was at its height, several influential Mawlanas issued a fatwa declaring India a Dar-al-Harb. India was a land ruled by non-believers and was an unsuitable place for Muslims to live. As a result, thousands of Indian Muslims migrated to neighbouring Afghanistan.

Another major event that drove a wedge between India’s two sister communities was the Malabar Rebellion of 1921[9]. The Mappila Muslim community of Malabar, under Khilafat influence, rebelled against their British-backed Jenmi Hindu landlords. Thousands of civilians were killed in the ensuing violence as the enraged Muslim peasantry attacked Hindu temples. Forced conversions and sexual violence were widespread.

On the 4th February 1922, a large group of Non-cooperation protesters marched on Chauri Chaura market shouting anti-government slogans. A standoff between the protestors and police led to the deaths of 3 civilians and 22 police officers. The event came to be known as the Chauri Chaura Incident[10] and led to the Non-cooperation Movement’s disbanding on the 12th February 1922.

The Khilafat Movement came to an end in 1924 after Mustafa Kemal Pasha, Turkey’s Atatürk, abolished the Caliphate. Without a rallying cry to stand behind, the movement lost its impetus and eventually collapsed without achieving its primary goal of restoring the Caliphate. However, the damage was already done, and the Ulama became a permanent fixture in India’s political landscape.

The Khilafat Movement and Non-cooperation Movement alliance did not strengthen but strain relations between Muslims and Hindus. Allowing religious leaders into the realm of politics destroyed the delicate Hindu-Muslim Unity Jinnah worked so hard to establish. Regardless, mass agitation did yield results. The Rowlatt Act was repealed in March 1922 as a direct result of the Non-cooperation Movement.

At the end of the day, both movements would have lasting impacts on the Subcontinent. Without mass agitation, the chances are India would still be a British colony. That being said, had Gandhi taken a more measured approach like Jinnah and abstained from religious rhetoric, Hindu-Muslim Unity could have been preserved. In his haste to free India, Gandhi had sown the roots of communalism, forcing Jinnah to play certain cards he didn’t want to in later years.


This essay is part of a larger series on the history of the Pakistan Movement called Jinnah’s Pakistan: Revisiting the Pakistan Movement


[1] Minault, G., 1982. The Khilafat Movement: The Khilafat Movement: Religious Symbolism And Political Mobilization In India. Columbia University Press.

[2] Qureshi, M., 1978. The Indian Khilāfat Movement (1918-1924). Journal of Asian History, Vol. 12.

[3] ibid.

[4] Bakshi, S., 1983. Gandhi And Non-Cooperation Movement, 1920-22. Capital Publishers.

[5] Wolpert, S., 1984. Jinnah Of Pakistan. Oxford University Press.

[6] Jalal, A., 1985. The Sole Spokesman: Jinnah, The Muslim League And The Demand For Pakistan. Cambridge University Press.

[7] Jinnah, M. A., 1916. Presidential Address By Muhammad Ali Jinnah To The Muslim League Lucknow, December 1916. [online] Columbia.edu. Available at: <http://www.columbia.edu/itc/mealac/pritchett/00islamlinks/txt_jinnah_lucknow_1916.html> [Accessed 20 July 2020].

[8] Qureshi, M., 1979. The ‘Ulamā’ of British India and the Hijrat of 1920. Modern Asian Studies, Vol. 13.

[9] Hardgrave, R., 1977. The Mappilla Rebellion, 1921: Peasant Revolt in Malabar. Modern Asian Studies, Vol. 11.

[10] Low, D., 1966. The Government of India and the First Non-Cooperation Movement–1920-1922. The Journal of Asian Studies, Vol. 25.

The Wish Maker by Ali Sethi: A Review

Book #2 of 2021. This year I aim to read 60 books. This was one of them. Be sure to check out my Goodreads.


I originally came across The Wish Maker after a google search:

novels set in pakistan

Something about the name Ali Sethi rung a bell but I couldn’t quite remember where I heard the name from. This inevitably led to another google search:

ali sethi

And as it turns out, Sethi is a Pakistani singer, and I had already listened to few tracks on which he is featured (most notably Coke Studio’s Aaqa). In fact, I had first heard Sethi’s voice years back when I watched The Reluctant Fundamentalist (I recommend both the novel and movie adaptation) which features his singing debut. I just didn’t know it was him. And so with a feeling of familial attachment akin to one you’d have for a very distant cousin, I decided to take a chance and pick up a copy.

The Wish Maker follows the story of a young man named Zaki Shirazi, who has returned home to Pakistan after studying abroad in America for a few years. The novel picks up with him arriving in Lahore for his cousin Samar’s wedding. It then branches off as Zaki, the narrator, recounts tales from his childhood set amidst the backdrop of Pakistan’s political history.

As the story progresses, you begin to learn more and more about the Shirazi family history as told through the lives of its female characters. I found Daadi’s childhood an incredibly heart-wrenching story of loss at the hands of cultural and political forces as well as her own. However, my favourite character has to be Zakia (Zaki’s mother). Her back and forth dynamic with young Zaki is both entertaining and heart-warming.

Sethi puts together a tapestry of the Shirazi family’s history that paints an enlightening picture of what life is like for Pakistan’s middle class. You can tell when reading that Sethi draws a lot of inspiration from his own life with the level of familiarity with which he writes. In many ways, the novel feels like an autobiography, the characters feel real, and the setting feels like home.

Because of this level of familiarity, non-Pakistanis (and maybe even Pakistani diaspora) may have difficulty grasping with the narrative. Sethi doesn’t go off on long-winded explanations to make his story accessible to those outside the country. Instead, Sethi has written a Pakistani novel for Pakistani readers. Most of its references are for a Pakistani audience – I’m sure that even I didn’t pick up on a few. Perhaps because of this reason, the book seems to have received relatively poor reviews on Goodreads; Pakistanis seem to love it while non-Pakistanis seem to be lost and confused.

In conclusion, I recommend this book to anyone familiar with Pakistan. For me personally, the novel brought to life some of Pakistan’s most tumultuous times. The history that I’ve studied in other non-fiction books finally begins to feel real.

Guns, Germs, and Steel by Jared Diamond: A Review

Book #1 of 2021. This year I aim to read 60 books. This was one of them. Be sure to check out my Goodreads.


I originally received this book as a Secret Santa gift back in 2018 with a pair of socks and a few coloured biros. At first glance, the book seemed far too long, and the subject matter didn’t interest me at the time. I was only 17 so the only things on my mind at the time were girls, video games, and A-levels (in that order).

In the two years since then, I’ve developed a keen interest in global development within post-colonial contexts. Studying the history of various ex-colonies around the world and how their development was hindered as a result of European exploitation. However, I never stopped to think and ask the obvious question – the same question Yali posed to Diamond – why was it that Europe colonised Africa, Asia, America and Australia rather than the reverse?

And so recently, while going through some old stuff, I stumbled upon this book again. But instead of dismissing it as my 17-year-old self did, my interest was piqued. I then spent the next 5 weeks diving my nose between the pages of this fine depository of knowledge. Which brings us to today and my review of Guns, Germs, and Steel by Jared Diamond.

The entire premise of Guns, Germs, and Steel is to the answer Yali’s question:

Why is it that you white people developed so much cargo and brought it to New Guinea, but we black people have little cargo of our own?

Diamond attempts to answer this fundamental question by giving his readers a multi-disciplinary crash course in history. I found the chapters dedicated to evolutionary biology and linguistics to be incredibly exhilarating. Diamond doesn’t hang about and cuts straight to the ultimate cause of global disparities in development: geography.

People that were lucky enough to find themselves in the ideal geographical location for development would be the ones that rose to prominence. By virtue of their location, they would develop the most Guns (weapons), Germs (diseases), and Steel (technology). Those unlucky enough to draw the short straw would be doomed to be conquered by the lucky ones. Thereby undermining the archaic belief that Europeans came to dominate the world because of some inherent superiority in the European people themselves but rather by luck of the draw.

I expect that if the populations of Aboriginal Australia and Eurasia could have been interchanged during the Late Pleistocene, the original Aboriginal Australians would be the ones occupying most of the Americas and Australia, as well as Eurasia, while the original Aboriginal Eurasians would be the ones now reduced to downtrodden population fragments in Australia.

Diamond does an excellent job explaining complicated concepts in simple terms so that a layman like me can understand. After finishing his book, I really feel that my knowledge of global history has been broadened. I now have a bunch of new facts that I can bore family and friends with. For instance: did you know that of the 148 species of mammal weighing over 100 pounds, only 14 have been domesticated – 13 of which were domesticated in Eurasia alone! This undoubtedly gave Eurasians a considerable advantage over people in other continents. On the whole, Eurasia was the best continent for human development for a myriad of reasons that Diamond explains in his book.

One critique often cited against Guns, Germs, and Steel is that it overgeneralises. However, I would argue that this is an inevitability for a book which aims to pack 13,000 years of human history into around 400 pages. This book seeks to outline the overall trends in human history. Not give an in-depth study of every little detail of every single decision made by humans across the world. That would be near impossible. Instead, Guns, Germs, and Steel serves as a great entry point for people interested in studying history. Part Four: Around the World in Six Chapters acts as a great stepping stone for this very purpose. Furthermore, Diamond also includes nearly 30 pages of recommended further reading.

In conclusion, I highly recommend this book for anyone interested in the social sciences. Its multi-disciplinary approach makes it useful for almost any field. No matter your intellectual background or goal, you will find something new and exciting in this book, which will add to your future discoveries.

A Reflection on Loneliness and How to Punch

Two weeks ago, I received my Autumn physics exams results. I am happy to report that your boy bagged an A; thus concluding the whole A-level predicament. Alhamdulillah!

The stress plaguing me these last few months has finally been lifted from my shoulders, leaving room for the next load of stress that life’s going to throw at me. And so, it is in this moment of respite that I can sit back, relax, and reflect for a minute.

This past year has been a rough one. I’m sure you’re more than acquainted with why that’s the case. The way I see it, my life has been on pause since March. Unlike most of my peers, I did not start university this year, so I’ve virtually been stuck at home these last nine months.

During this time, I’ve learned things about myself as I’m sure you have as well. The key thing I have learned – the subject of this post – is that I’m not able to cope with loneliness as well as I used to. To understand why we must delve into my past. That’s right. It’s time for my ORIGIN STORY!

In primary school, I was very much a loner. I struggled a lot with making friends because my interests were very different from my peers. I wasn’t into sports. To this day, I’ve yet to sit down and watch an entire ninety-minute football match. Considering I’ve lived my whole life in England, this is borderline blasphemy. The most I do is watch cricket when its India vs Pakistan but that’s more for the culture than anything else.

Neither did I have Cartoon Network or Disney XD, like the other kids, so I couldn’t relate to any of the shows they talked about. Even during playtime, I used to prefer staying in class playing with Lego, drawing, or reading than outside playing with the other kids. I was a bit of an oddball.

This isn’t to say I was sad, I was actually pleased to spend my playtimes alone because as far as I was concerned playing with Lego was way more fun than playing football. Nonetheless, the result was that I was very socially awkward and only had a tiny group of friends.

When I started secondary, I lacked the social skills that my peers had. My few friends from primary had started at different schools. So I was alone without the skills needed to make new friends. This meant that for much of my secondary school career, I was a social outcast. It also didn’t help that my school was set up in a very odd way.

My school had four houses (we called them Ties because we were differentiated by our ties’ colour). I was in Green Tie. Coincidently, I was also in Green House in primary school and Wilberforce House (also denoted by the colour green) in Sixth Form. I guess the magical sorting hat known as fate decided that I was a Slytherin at heart despite my inclination to the unseriousness of Hufflepuff.

These four houses were then divided into two bands: X and Y. In the X band you had Red and Blue Tie students, and in the Y band you had Green and Yellow Tie students. For the first two years of school, our classes were determined by our band. This meant that you didn’t even get a real chance to socialise with half your year group, thus limiting your potential pool of candidates for friendship. From year 9 to 11, the bands were finally mixed for our optional classes, but by that time, secondary school’s social circles were set in stone, and I was left adrift.

I did make one friend in year 7, though. He was an immigrant from Bangladesh – something I was surprised to find out given he spoke with an almost Canadian-like accent – and had just started school in the UK. We used to spend our break times playing Pokémon cards or discussing video games. Unfortunately, this friendship wouldn’t last long due to a very stupid yet humorous sequence of events.

This friend and I would often be singled out and picked on due to our different interests. It also didn’t help that we were both brown and Muslim. The other kids used to call him “Big Aqil” because he was taller than me at the time. One day, we were leaving through the school gates when another student started verbally abusing us. My friend decided that he had enough and began to swing for the bully.

I would now like to take a pause in this story to deliver a PSA on punching techniques. When you deliver a punch, there’s a particular technique you must follow to maximise damage done to your opponent while minimising damage dealt to you.

The first, and arguably most important, step is to make a fist. Now a lot of people surprisingly get this wrong and end up injuring themselves so listen up. To make a fist, you must first open your hand, stretching out your fingers and thumb. Then curl in your fingers at which point you’ll be left with a thumbs up. Your thumb is then secured onto the outside of the middle phalanges of your fingers.

Many people end up connecting their thumb to the proximal phalanx of their index finger or, even worse, underneath their fingers. This will inevitably lead to a broken thumb when you land a punch, so please don’t do it. Your wrist must be kept straight at all times. This ensures that the fist is reinforced allowing you to put more power behind your punch.

The second step is to get into your resting stance. Different martial arts have slightly different stance variations for different reasons. Muay Thai fighters like to keep their arms highs with their elbows flared out and shoulders square-on to allow for easier elbow strikes and kicks. But for the purpose of this post, we will be looking at the traditional boxing stance.

Tuck in your chin by slightly lowering your head and place your fists in front – not too far and not too close. Your elbows should be kept close to your sides to defend your ribcage. Your legs should be kept apart with your less dominant side at the front and a slight bend in the knees. Your shoulders should face your opponent side-on with your less dominant side in front.

For example, if you are right-handed, your left leg should be in front with your left shoulder angled towards your opponent. To keep things simple, we’ll assume everyone is right-handed – sorry left-handed folks. Whenever you’re not throwing a punch, you should be in this position. All punches start and end here.

Now we move onto the actual punches. There are different types of punches, such as hooks and uppercuts, but we will just be looking at a basic jab and cross to keep this post short.

To throw a jab, simply rotate your waist clockwise. As you do this, extend your left arm rapidly outwards, leading with your fist in a straight line towards your opponent. Your jab should be shoulder height, so don’t aim too high or too low; aim straight ahead. Of course, if your opponent is a different height to you then adjust accordingly. Once your arm is fully extended, it should immediately be brought back into the rest position.

Similarly, to throw a cross, rotate your waist anti-clockwise extending your right arm. As before, do not aim too high or too low. However, this time you should also pivot your back foot to get more power behind the punch. Once again, the arm should immediately be brought back to the rest position once fully extended.

The aim is to hit your opponent hard and fast with your knuckles. Think of yourself as an oscillating system. Equilibrium is the rest position with the peaks and troughs being your jabs and crosses. At no point should one of your arms be left sticking out.

Before we get back to the story, I’d like to cover a few things to keep an eye out for. If your unsure whether your opponent is in range just throw a jab. Your jab is your measuring tool so use it wisely. If you find you are out of range then simply move closer to your opponent. Don’t overextend your punches lest you be punished with a volley of punches throwing you off balance. Your legs should be providing a stable base at all times. As a general rule: Move your legs first before you move your arms. Fleet footwork is key.

It is imperative that you keep your knuckles in line with your forearm and wrist. This is because you will be hitting your opponent with them and so it’s a good idea to keep them reinforced otherwise you risk injuring yourself. Lastly, do not flare out your elbows when you punch. Remember the punch is lead by the fist, so you do not need to raise your elbows out to the side before extending your arm. The punch should be a fluid straight-line motion.

When my friend swung for the bully, he ignored all of the rules mentioned above. Instead, he decided that he’d like to charge up his punch by swinging his arm all the way behind him before going for the bully. Unfortunately, I was standing behind him. It didn’t end well.

A few moments later, I woke up in the medical room. My friend was standing by the door; the colour drained from his face. I was more embarrassed than I was angry at him. Within a few days, word had travelled around the school, and kids began taunting me, but the worst part of it all was that my father was picking me up that day. He had brought me some wings and chips from my favourite chicken shop, and by the time I left the medical room, they were cold. After this, I stopped talking to my friend; the embarrassment was too much. He was also in Red Tie, so I didn’t have any classes with him until year 9 making it easier to avoid him.

For the next few years, I just drifted between different social groups, never really part of any of them. In almost all of them, I was ridiculed for my differences in the name of banter. Kids would talk about me behind my back, and I was rarely invited to hang out outside of school. More often than not, people would tear me down than build me up. At the time, I didn’t think this was a problem because I had just assumed that this is what fitting in was supposed to be like. This, of course, destroyed a lot of my already dwindling self-confidence.

On the flip side, when you don’t have a lot going for you socially, you find it a lot easier to spend time by yourself. I would spend a lot of my free time playing video games to the point that I was clocking 30 hours a week on Team Fortress 2. Other than video games, I would also read a lot of comic books. Loneliness wasn’t a significant concern for me because I had resigned myself to the fact that kids were just naturally unkind. The time I spent alone was way more fun and emotionally fulfilling than the time I spent with others.

Luckily, by the end of year 11, I reconnected with my friend from year 7. Things were awkward at first but seeing as we were going to be starting at the same Sixth Form, it seemed appropriate that we just forget about the past. Through him, I met two other students from X band that were also going to the same Sixth Form.

On the whole, my secondary school experience was pretty bad socially. I would often pretend to be ill to avoid going into school. However, academically it was going very well. I would usually rank amongst the top of my class and was the first student to sit the GCSE further maths exam. When you didn’t have friends, you’d have a lot more focus in class. And while I did meet some decent people in secondary school, I wouldn’t call them friends per se save for the three that joined me in Sixth Form.

It wasn’t until I took part in the National Citizen Service (NCS) when I fully came out of my shell. For those unaware, NCS is a four-week program where teenagers get together and participate in activities before undertaking a project for their local community. It’s not mandatory but is highly encouraged by schools. Nearly everyone I’ve talked to said their wave was quote “dead” – meaning dull – so my wave (Bromley Wave 8) was certainly an anomaly.

For the first time, I was surrounded by genuinely kind people. Before this, I was often greeted with animosity by my peers. Instead, at NCS, people celebrated me and my differences. People built me up instead of tearing me down, giving me a much-needed confidence boost. I will forever remain grateful to those I met at NCS for giving me the chance to socially thrive and come out of my shell. They essentially changed me from a bitter introvert sceptical of others to an enthusiastic extrovert who actively goes out of his way to meet new people.

With my new found confidence, I was able to socially thrive in Sixth Form. I made a lot of friends from different walks of life. I took part in social events; something I would’ve never dreamed of at secondary. I also grew very close with my friend who knocked me out in year 7, to the point I consider him my brother. The truth is, I feel as though I found my community in Sixth Form. And by finding my community, I ultimately found myself.

Unfortunately, too much of a good thing can be harmful. I had essentially become dependent on social interaction with others. This meant that when lockdown started, I had a lot of adjusting to do. Without my community, I struggled a lot, which brings us back to the whole point of this post. I can’t cope with loneliness as well as I used to.

When the lockdowns first started, I found myself with a lot of free time but hardly anything to do. Physically cut off from my peers, I began to miss the little things. The ramblings we used to have on our train journeys. The daily shenanigans we got up to in room 10 – our weekly games of Cards Against Humanity. The philosophical discussions I used to have in the canteen during my free periods. The chicken and beef burgers I used to get from Wrap City located just outside Victoria Station (Highly recommend). All of this was brought to an abrupt end on the 20th March.

I needed things to occupy myself with at home, so I took up reading more seriously – something I’d begun to neglect. I even revisited comics again, which I had stopped reading in year 12. My video game consumption ultimately skyrocketed yet again. Anything to keep me occupied lest my mind wanders to unpleasant places. I also took up writing which culminated in the establishment of this very blog. That being said, I still missed my friends greatly and yearned for social interaction. There is only so much time one can spend cooped up with family before going insane.

This feeling of loneliness was new to me. As mentioned before, prior to NCS, I had learned to enjoy the time I spent alone. In many ways, I was my own best friend. Since NCS, if I ever felt lonely, I could just meet up with friends. With the new lockdown restrictions, this was impossible. Lockdown was the introvert’s paradise, yet I was no longer an introvert.

Fortunately, thanks to the wonders of technology, I could still communicate with my friends via social media. Had social media not existed, I’m sure I would have gone insane. Then again, one could make the convincing argument that it is social media itself that is driving us insane. Alas, that is a topic for another day.

With one of my friendship groups, which we dub “Brown Society” due to the majority of members being of South Asian descent, we began hosting weekly intellectual discussions. Our very own Oxford Union, you could say. This eventually evolved into weekly games of Among Us. Unfortunately, these discussions and gaming sessions only lasted a few months as everyone was slowly preparing for their new lives at university – something I’ve yet to experience.

As sad as it may be, I need to come to terms with the fact that people are moving on with their lives and I should too. The friendships that are meant to last will do so and those that aren’t, won’t. The sense of community I felt at Sixth Form is gone and, from what I’ve heard from my peers at university, it probably won’t ever come back. I’ll try my best to hold onto the friendships I’ve forged these past three years. Still, I must also remember that people outgrow each other and move onto greater things – ‘tis natural.

And so I venture into 2021, with the acceptance that, for better or for worse, things will never be the same again. Happy new year to all those reading, I hope you all fulfil your ambitions for the next year. For myself, I hope to come to terms with this new feeling of loneliness. Perhaps maybe reach an equilibrium between my current extroverted and past introverted selves.

That’s it from me this year. See y’all in 2021!

Peace be with you.

A History of Comic Books and the Rise of Kamala Khan


Picture this: A 12-year-old boy walks into a comic bookstore. He’s been reading comics for a good year now. He peruses the shelves scanning for the latest issue of Superior Spider-Man. In the previous instalment, Green Goblin has just become king of New York’s underworld setting the stage for the Goblin Nation story arc. The store clerk looks up from the comic he is reading and beckons the young man to come over.

“Hey there little man, uh, your name is Aqil, right? There’s this new comic I reckon you might like.”

He gestures to a comic book a couple of shelves to the left. The cover features a woman wearing what looks like a dupatta around her neck – like the ones the boy’s mum wears. She’s got her right hand balled into a fist with some books tucked under her left. The title read Ms Marvel #1. The boy is intrigued.

“I thought Ms Marvel was white.”

“No, that Ms Marvel goes by Captain Marvel now. This is the new one.”

 “What’s her name?”

“Kamala Khan.”


Those who know me in real life know that I am a huge geek. My areas of expertise include Star Wars and Marvel in particular. I’ve been reading comics for close to a decade now. That being said, my intake over the last two years has been significantly limited (another hobby of mine choked by the demands of A-levels). Yet, over the last couple of weeks, I have decided to get back into the habit of reading comics. Where before I used to visit the comic bookstore in person to collect my monthly cache of paperbacks, I now read comics digitally via Marvel Unlimited (Netflix but for Marvel comics). Naturally, I decided to revisit one of my favourite Marvel characters.

In this post, I’m going to introduce the character of Kamala Khan a.k.a Ms Marvel for those who are unfamiliar with the Inhuman charged with defending the streets of Jersey City. Seriously? have you been living under a rock? I’ll then “briefly” outline the history of comic books and the backstory behind Kamala’s creation before analysing her impact on the comic industry and popular culture. I’m sure it goes without saying, but I’ll say it anyway. THIS POST WILL CONTAIN SPOILERS.


Who is Kamala Khan?

Kamala was born in Jersey City, USA to immigrant parents Yusef and Muneeba Khan from Karachi, Pakistan. Her older brother Aamir was born in Pakistan before moving to the US. Her family history can be traced back to her maternal great-grandparents, Kareem and Aisha. They moved from Bombay to Karachi during the Partition of India. She also has a nephew called Malik and her sister-in-law Tyesha is an African American revert.

Growing up, Kamala had two best friends: Nakia Bahadir, a social activist of Turkish descent, and Bruno Carrelli, a prodigious genius of Italian descent. Kamala met Nakia in kindergarten, where they bonded over their shared faith in Islam. She then met Bruno in second grade and the two bonded over their shared interest in Tween Mutant Samurai Turtles (the Marvel Universe’s equivalent of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles). Bruno would end up falling deeply in love with Kamala. Unfortunately, Kamala, too preoccupied with her life as Ms Marvel, has trouble reciprocating those feelings. Not to mention the cultural and religious boundaries that would have to be overcome.

Alongside her close friendships with Nakia and Bruno, Kamala also has an interest in video games, fan fiction and, of course, superheroes. She was a devoted fan of the Avengers. Little did she know she would one day become one. In particular, Kamala looked up to her idol Carol Danvers a.k.a Captain Marvel. I say these in the past tense because future events would test Kamala’s belief in the heroes she looked up to.

In school, Kamala has trouble fitting in due to her Pakistani-American identity. Something all too familiar for those born into immigrant families. Her peers often mock her faith and geeky interests putting her more towards the bottom of the social hierarchy allowing her to fly under the radar. All in all, Kamala is your average teenager. At least, she was, until the Terrigen Mist.

First off, a brief lesson in the lore of the Marvel Universe:

The Kree are an ancient alien race of advanced, militaristic, and blue-skinned humanoids. Hundreds of thousands of years ago, the Kree experimented on early humans resulting in the creation of the Inhomo Supremis more commonly referred to as the Inhuman species. Unlike their human cousins, Inhumans naturally exhibit extraordinary powers. However, these powers can vary significantly. Relations between humans and Inhumans were indifferent at best. Still, some interbreeding occurred, meaning some humans are carriers of Inhuman genes. To activate one’s latent Inhuman genes, they must undergo Terrigenesis. Such is the case with Kamala.

One night, Kamala was caught in the Terrigen Mist which enveloped Jersey City following the Inhumanity crossover storyline. She subsequently underwent Terrigenesis which unlocked her latent Inhuman genes, giving her superpowers. Kamala can share her mass through time with different versions of herself. On a molecular level, she actually transports her atoms through time. This allows her to transform her body (think Ant-Man, Mr Fantastic and Mystique) in any way she can imagine. Kamala can also heal serious injuries (think Deadpool and Wolverine) by reverting to her original form. She usually uses her power to elongate her limbs, enlarge her fists, or enlarge/shrink her entire body.

Now Kamala Khan uses her powers for the greater good, donning the name Ms Marvel in homage to her idol. She has served in several superhero teams including the Avengers and her very own Champions whom she leads. When she is not saving the world, you can find Kamala attending Coles Academic High School, hanging out with her friends and family, or playing World of Battlecraft (the Marvel Universe’s equivalent of World of Warcraft).


A “Brief” History of Comic Books

To really understand why Kamala Khan is such a big deal, one needs a brief history lesson. As I’m sure you’re aware by now, whenever I say “brief”, I do in fact mean anything but “brief”.

The history of comic books can be divided into four ages: The Golden Age, the Silver Age, the Bronze Age, and the Modern Age.

THE GOLDEN AGE (1938 – 1956)

The Golden Age of comics began with the publication of Detective Comics’ (which would go on to become DC Comics) Action Comics #1. It was the debut of the superhero that started it all: Superman. The popularity of Superman gave rise to many rival publications. Timely Comics (which would one day evolve into Marvel Comics) was established in 1939. The first comic book published by Timely Comics was Marvel Comics #1. It included three stories, all of which were first appearances: The Human Torch, Angel and Namor the Sub-Mariner.

During WWII, comics boomed in popularity, particularly the likes of Captain America, Batman, Wonder Woman and Shazam. It was also during this time that comics began to branch out into other genres. By the end of the war, comics had essentially become a mainstay in American culture. However, during the late 40s, the popularity of superheroes began to decline. Many superhero comics would be cancelled as audiences sought out other genres such as westerns, comedies, romance, and horror.

In 1954, the comic book industry would experience its first major setback. Following the release of  Fredric Wertham’s Seduction of the Innocent, comic book publishers were brought in to testify in court. The belief was that comic books were contributing to youth crime. As a result, the Comics Code Authority (CCA) was introduced to enact self-censorship leading to the cancellation of titles and a decrease in comic book sales.

THE SILVER AGE (1956 – 1970)

In light of the changes brought about by the CCA, publishers began reintroducing superhero comics starting with the introduction of DC’s Flash in Showcase #4 in October 1956.  This eventually led to the creation of the Justice League in 1960. Marvel would then capitalise on the renewed interest in the superhero genre brought about by DC publications.

Under the guidance of Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, and Steve Ditko, Marvel began its ascent. To compete with DC’s Justice League, Marvel released The Fantastic Four #1 in 1961. For the first time, superheroes were portrayed as multi-dimensional characters with their own problems, inner demons, and fears rather than the archetypal superheroes typical of the time. Marvel ushered in a new era of superheroes that were more relatable to the reader. Fans began to see themselves in their favourite characters. During this time, Marvel also introduced famous superheroes such as Spider-Man, the X-men, and the Hulk.

The Silver Age represented a revival in the comic book industry during which superhero comics rose to prominence as a genre again. Meanwhile, other genres went into decline.

THE BRONZE AGE (1970 – 1985)

By the time the Bronze Age came about, superheroes had become synonymous with comics. Nearly all comics featured superheroes. However, the tone of superhero comics began to significantly shift to reflect real-world social issues. New plotlines tackling subject matter such as drug abuse, racism, grief, and alcoholism began to flourish, pushing the boundaries of what the CCA deemed acceptable.

There was also a rise in female superheroes such as Spider-Woman, Ms Marvel (Carol Danvers), and She-Hulk and minority superheroes such as Luke Cage, Storm, and Shang-Chi. While the industry was primarily dominated by superhero titles, a few non-superhero titles were able to survive such as Star Wars comics which were first introduced in 1977.

The Bronze Age established many conventions in the comic book industry. Artists tended to focus more on realism rather than the heavily stylised work during the Golden and Silver Ages. Team-ups and cross-overs became more common, establishing the Marvel Universe and DC Universe, respectively. There were even a few DC and Marvel cross-overs such as Superman vs the Amazing Spider-Man. Furthermore, Comic books were no longer distributed at newsstands but at speciality stores. Thereby allowing smaller publishers to grow.

THE MODERN AGE (1985 – PRESENT)

This brings us to the current era. Many characters would be redesigned, and independent comics would flourish thanks to speciality stores. At the same time, the larger publishers such as Marvel and DC would become more commercialised. This period also saw antiheroes (protagonists with questionable morals) become the norm with the likes of Marvel’s Wolverine, Deadpool, and Venom and DC’s Batman, Swamp Thing, and Watchmen. Comic books also began targeting adult audiences with more mature-rated content.

Successful comic book film and TV adaptations helped significantly grow the comic book industry. Marvel would see particular success with its animated X-Men series. Things were going right for the comic book industry, and business was booming. At least until the speculator market crash of 1993.

By the late 80s, important comics such as first issues or first appearances were being sold for thousands of dollars. The prevailing thought was that comic books were good financial investments that would be worth fortunes in the future. In response, publishers began releasing loads of special edition comics in the hope of increasing sales. One fascinating trend was the introduction of foil covers.

However, by saturating the market with print runs of special editions, it defeated the very purpose of a special edition; how can something be special if it’s commonplace? As a result, the speculator market began to crash in 1993, causing sales to plummet, retailers to close and publishers to downsize by decreasing the number of series they ran. Comics featuring women and minority characters suffered the most as companies began to take fewer risks. In 1996, Marvel declared bankruptcy however it has since rebounded and retained its position as the largest comic book publisher.

During the late 90s and early 2000s, comic book sales began to drop. However, sales for graphic novels (collected editions with multiple issues bound together) increased. Think of a comic book issue as a chapter and a graphic novel as the entire book. This new publishing format helped comics gain respectability as a form of literature. Graphic novels are usually given volume numbers with writers creating stories that last four to twelve issues. Nowadays, most comic book series are republished as graphic novels as soon as a story arc is completed.

The late 2000s saw another bounce back for the comic book industry. The release of the Dark Knight Trilogy and Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) helped introduce a new generation to comic book superheroes bringing in new fans such as myself. Digital comics were introduced in 2007 with Marvel Unlimited. Since then, all major publishers release their comics digitally helping them reach a wider audience. The new digital space has also allowed independent creators to get their ideas out there as well.

By the early 2010s, superheroes were well and truly part of a global cultural phenomenon. More people than ever before had heard the names Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, Superman, Batman, etc. In no small part due to the success of the MCU and other superhero films. That being said, the majority of marketed superheroes were white men.

It is worth noting that when it comes to identity and gender politics, comic books have been relatively progressive compared to other forms of media. In particular, Marvel has done an excellent job of reflecting the world around us. However, the rule has always been that white male characters tend to sell the best. As a result, comic book publishers would focus on narratives that featured this demographic. There were, of course, as with anything, a few exceptions. But even then, Black Panther has never quite had the same reach as Captain America at least until the release of his solo film.

By 2014, Marvel had been focusing on its core characters: The Avengers, the X-Men, the Fantastic Four, Spider-Man, the Hulk etc. They had also recently begun promoting the Inhumans. While some minority characters such as Miles Morales had loyal followings, they never had the same level of importance as Tony Stark or Peter Parker.

Enter Kamala Khan.


The Birth of a Trailblazer

Sana Amanat, an Indian-Pakistani-American, born and raised in New Jersey with a degree in political science from Columbia University, joined Marvel Comics as an editor in 2009. During her time at Marvel, Amanat worked on several comic books including Captain Marvel, Hawkeye, Daredevil, and Spider-Man. One day, Amanat was talking with one of her fellow editors, Stephen Wacker, about her childhood and her experience growing up as a Muslim-American. The conversation sparked the idea to create a comic book that authentically depicted the Muslim-American diaspora.

They then approached writer G. Willow Wilson, an American revert, also born and raised in New Jersey known for her recent novel Alif the Unseen. She loved the idea and couldn’t wait to work on the project, although she was worried about the potential backlash. Comic book artist and Runaways co-creator Adrian Alphona was brought in to draw Kamala and bring her to life on the page.

When it came to designing the future Ms Marvel, a lot went into consideration. Both Wilson and Amanat wanted to pay homage to the previous Ms Marvel while also creating something new that Marvel fans could be proud of. They also wanted to create something that spoke to a broader audience that is rarely represented in comic books.

Before Ms Marvel, there had only been a few Muslim superheroes in comics such as DC’s Simon Baz and Marvel’s Dust. Even then, no Muslim superhero has ever headlined their own comic series instead only appearing as side characters. Similarly, there was only a handful of female superheroes headlining comics at the time. Amanat and Wilson wanted to change that.

Marvel knew they wanted a teenage Muslim girl to take on the mantle of Ms Marvel. Still, the character’s ethnicity, location and appearance were left to Wilson to decide. After going through many iterations, including the idea of Arab girl from Dearborn, Michigan, Wilson eventually settled on a Pakistani-American from Jersey City. And just like that Kamala Khan was born.


Revolutionising the Comic Book Industry

There were a lot of doubts over whether Ms Marvel would be successful. In an open letter to fans, Wilson admitted that Amanat and her had only expected Kamala to make it to ten issues before being scrapped. New characters tended to have poor debuts; add any modifiers, and they would do even worse. Kamala was at a particular disadvantage: she’s brown, she’s a woman, and she’s a Muslim.

Ms Marvel #1 landed on store shelves on the 5th February 2014. To everyone’s surprise, she was a huge success. The first issue would far exceed expectations by making it to a seventh printing. To put that into perspective, most comics rarely make it to a sixth printing. The Amazing Spider-Man #583, which made international headlines for featuring President Obama in 2009, only made it to a fifth printing. For a new character to do this on their debut was practically unheard of. For a brown, Muslim female, it should have been impossible.

The success would not stop there, though. Ms Marvel graphic novels would also perform very well. Ms Marvel Volume 1: No Normal was the best-selling graphic novel in October 2014 and made it to the number two position on the New York Times Best Seller (NYTBS) list in November. The following year, No Normal won the Hugo award for Best Graphic Story and the Joe Shuster Award for Outstanding Artist as well as nominations for eight other awards.

Over the next few years, Ms Marvel graphic novels would continue to debut in the NYTBS list top five and win multiple awards including the award for Best Series at France’s Angoulême International Comics Festival in 2016 (interesting considering France’s recent attitude towards Muslims).

The unexpected success of Ms Marvel must have definitely come as a shock to comic book publishers. However, it did mean one thing: comic book fans were hungry for new characters from different backgrounds. Ms Marvel began a chain reaction that would pave the way for unprecedented levels of diversity and representation in comic books.

For Marvel, the success of Kamala’s debut proved that new characters from unusual backgrounds could be very lucrative. Marvel would go on to pour new focus into such characters. Korean American Amadeus Cho would take on the mantle of the Hulk in 2015. America Chavez, Marvel’s first Latin-American LGBTQ character, got her own solo series in 2017. Similarly, Marvel would also introduce new characters such as Cindy Moon a.k.a Silk in late 2014 and Riri Williams a.k.a Lionheart in 2015.

However, none would quite reach the same levels of success as Ms Marvel. In fact, in some cases, they were flops: America Chavez’s solo series would only last 12 issues. Thereby highlighting the flaws of cashing in on diversity for the sake of diversity. That being said, the Marvel universe and comics, in general, are more diverse than they have ever been before. This wouldn’t have been possible without the commercial success of Ms Marvel.

As of 2018, Ms Marvel has sold over half a million in graphic novels. Traditionally, she remains one of Marvel’s digital bestsellers.


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Immediately following Kamala’s debut, she became a comic book icon. Fans were cosplaying as her at comic conventions making it pretty clear that Kamala was already a fan favourite. People were beginning to liken her to Gen Z’s equivalent of Peter Parker. It wouldn’t be long before, Kamala started having an impact on the real world.

In early 2015, the American Freedom Defence Initiative (AFDI) purchased 50 bus advertisements in San Francisco. The adverts called for aid to be revoked from Muslim majority countries and equated Islam with Nazism. In response, street artists began covering the adverts with pictures of Ms Marvel and anti-racist slogans.

This isn’t the first-time superheroes have been used in politics – Captain America is literally a walking American flag – but it does illustrate Kamala’s growing popularity as a symbol of resistance. Kamala’s likeness would once again be harnessed in the wake of President Trump’s Muslim ban.

On the 16th March 2016, Amanat was invited to introduce President Obama at a White House reception for Women’s History Month:

Kamala would make her first TV appearance on the 31st July 2016 in Season 3 Episode 1 of the animated Avengers: Assemble series. She would go on to make multiple appearances in Marvel animated series including a central role in Marvel Rising – a new media franchise launched in 2018 that focuses on Marvel’s new generation of heroes.

In September of this year, Kamala made her first proper video game appearance in Marvel’s Avengers as one of the main characters. She had appeared in other video games but mostly as an unlockable side character not central to the plot.

Next year, Kamala is set to make her MCU debut in her own exclusive Disney+ series. She is going to be played by industry newcomer Iman Vellani. The series is being written by British comedian Bisha K. Ali and is set to have four directors: Belgium-Moroccan duo Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah, Pakistani-Canadian Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy and Indian-American Meera Menon. It remains to be seen what role she will play in the MCU, but if her current status in comic books is any indicator, I’m sure it will be big.

In just six years, Kamala Khan has gone from having her own comic book series to her own place in the MCU. Quite an achievement for a character that was only expected to make it to ten issues.