Book #23 of 2021. This year I aim to read 60 books. This was one of them. Be sure to check out my Goodreads.
It’s no surprise to anyone that’s been following this blog that I’m a pretty big history buff and a self-taught one at that. I haven’t formally studied history at GCSEs or A-Levels, so most of my knowledge comes from books and the internet (shout out Kings and Generals on YouTube). That being said, history is just that: a story. A narrative. The prevailing narrative of world history in the West goes a little something like this:
The Birth of Civilisation: Egypt and Mesopotamia
The Classical Age: Greece and Rome
The Dark Ages: Rise of Christianity
The Rebirth: Renaissance and Reformation
The Enlightenment: Exploration and Science
The Revolutions: Democratic, Industrial, Technological
Rise of Nation-States: Struggle for Empire
The World Wars
The Cold War
The Triumph of Democratic Capitalism
But what about other parts of the world? How do they view world history? That’s where Destiny Disrupted: A History of the World Through Islamic Eyes by Tamim Ansary comes in. Ansary attempts to retell world history from the Muslim perspective. A counter-narrative to the Western view of history that goes something like this:
Ancient Times: Mesopotamia and Persia
Birth of Islam
The Khalifate: Quest for Universal Unity
Fragmentation: Age of the Sultanates
Catastrophe: Crusaders and Mongols
Rebirth: The Three Empires Era
Permeation of East by West
The Reform Movements
Triumph of the Secular Modernists
The Islamist Reaction
Ansary does away with the diagnosis that the world’s current political turmoil results from a “clash of civilisations”; instead, he argues that it is a “clash of narratives”. Both the Western and Islamic world have gone through different experiences to get to where they are today. It is a failure to recognise these different experiences that have led to poor policy-making. Furthermore, the “clash of civilisations” diagnosis implies that Western and Islamic civilisation have mutually exclusive attributes. Secularism, democracy and science are not just attributes of Western civilisation. In fact, Ansary highlights how many things we consider to be Western achievements and ideas were actually predated in Islamic culture by centuries.
My favourite part of Destiny Disrupted would have to be chapters 2 to 4 detailing the early rise of Islam and the lives of Prophet Muhammad and the Rashidun. Ansary presents the facts, but he also explains the lessons that can be derived from them. After all, history isn’t just about the past; it is also about what we can learn for the future. For this reason, Ansary refers to this early period of Islam as a kind of theological drama. A drama that Muslims and non-Muslims alike can learn from. Ultimately, the story of the Rashidun (and subsequent Muslim leaders ever since) is a story about people trying to work out the best way to run civilisation in accordance with the Islamic social project. They may not always get it right – more often getting it completely wrong – but that is the ultimate destiny and goal of the Ummah as a socio-political body.
Many religions say to their followers, “the world is corrupt, but you can escape it.” Islam said to its followers, “the world is corrupt, but you can change it.”
Of course, as with any book that claims to be a complete retelling of history, one must remain cautious not to take its claim at face value. *Cough* Our Island Story *cough*. And this is where I must put forth some criticism. For a book that claims to be AHistory of the World Through Islamic Eyes, Ansary has left out large swaths of the Muslim world from his narrative. Indonesia, the country with the largest Muslim population on Earth, is only briefly mentioned once in the entire book.
Furthermore, pretty much the entirety of Sub-Saharan Africa is left out of Ansary’s narrative. Perhaps the greatest crime of his work was the complete omission of the Mali Empire of Western Africa, a contemporary of the three empires he mentions during the rebirth period (Ottomans, Safavids, and Mughals). I would argue, therefore, that Ansary’s work starts off as history of the world through Islamic eyes in its early chapters. But then ultimately morphs into a history of the world through Arab, Persian and Turkish eyes with some fair amount of time dedicated to South and Central Asia.
Despite its limitations, I would say that Ansary succeeded in presenting a counter-narrative to global history that proves very enlightening. I recommend this book to anyone who wishes to learn more about early Islamic history and the Middle World (what we usually call the Middle East) from a non-Western perspective.
Following the end of Gandhi’s Non-cooperation Movement, communal tensions worsened in the Subcontinent. The introduction of religious sentiments into the political sphere did irreparable damage to the fragile relationship between Muslims and Hindus. For a more detailed and contemporary breakdown of the worsening relationship between India’s sister communities, I recommend one reads The riot-torn history of Hindu-Muslim relations, 1920-1940 by Dr B. R. Ambedkar.
The reality on the ground inevitably drew a wedge between the Hindu and Muslim leadership. Cooperation between the AIML and INC was a mere shadow of its former self. Within Congress itself, Muslim representation was at an all-time low of 3.6% in 1923. The unprecedented era of Hindu-Muslim unity was taking its final breath. However, there were still some that weren’t willing to give up on the failed dream just yet.
Many attempts had been made at achieving Hindu-Muslim unity throughout India’s history. Before the British Raj, Emperor Akbar attempted to bring about Hindu-Muslim unity by creating a new religion Din-i Ilahi, a syncretism of Muslim, Hindu, Zoroastrian, Christian, Jain and Buddhist beliefs. Similarly, many Indian saints of both Islamic and Hindu tradition advocated for greater cooperation between the two religious communities, one notable example being Kabir Das.
However, all these attempts failed to bring about any meaningful and sustained unity between Hindus and Muslims and largely lived and died with their progenitors. It wasn’t until the advent of the 20th century and India’s modern political awakening that anything close to true Hindu-Muslim unity occurred.
The first example of Hindus and Muslims bridging the political gap can be seen with the implementation of separate electorates under the Minto-Morley Reforms. The Congress Moderates, led by Gokhale, supported the League’s demands for separate Muslim representation despite opposition from those that saw separate electorates as an unnecessary provision, such as Jinnah.
The next and most successful example was the Lucknow Pact of 1916, which precipitated the golden age of Hindu-Muslim unity during the latter half of the First World War. During this period, the Indian political elite became a unified force under the Indian Home Rule Movement, leading to the August declaration of 1917 and the subsequent Chelmsford-Montagu Reforms.
This period of unprecedented Hindu-Muslim unity was brought to an end by mass agitation under the Non-cooperation Movement, which saw Gandhi’s political legitimisation of the Muslim Ulama. During this period, Jinnah went into self-imposed political exile after cutting ties with the INC, and all other political parties save for the AIML.
The majority of Indian opinion was in favour of Gandhi and the Khilafats. To oppose them would be to oppose the will of the Indian people, and so all Jinnah could do was stand by and watch as all the work he did in bringing about an understanding between Hindus and Muslims was undone. As far as India was concerned, mass agitation was the way forward regardless of how much damage it did to Hindu-Muslim unity.
Following this, multiple attempts were made at snatching back what was lost. In this essay, we will look at the first of those attempts.
In March 1923, during their annual session in Lucknow, the AIML passed a resolution calling for the establishment of a national pact ensuring unity between India’s various communities. This went a step further than the Lucknow Pact as it aimed to include a lot more parties than just Congress and the League. In September that year, during their special session in Delhi, the INC resolved to appoint a committee to help prepare a draft for the national pact. In December, the committee’s report was presented to Congress at the INC’s session in Kakinada.
The draft of the Indian National Pact consisted of the following resolutions:
It shall be the firm and unalterable object of the Indian National Pact’s signatories to secure complete Swaraj for India.
The form of government under Swaraj shall be democratic and of the federal type; however, its exact nature will be determined by a national convention.
Hindustani is to be India’s lingua franca written in both the Nastaliq and Devanagari scripts.
Full religious liberty is to be afforded to all of India’s communities as part of their constitutional right.
To prevent any religious community from being given undue preference, no government or public funds will be devoted to any religious institution or purpose.
Once Swaraj has been achieved, it will be the duty of every Indian to defend it against all attack, external or internal.
Minority communities shall have separate representation in the legislatures, both central and provincial.
No cow slaughter to take place except on the occasion of Eid al-Adha, out of respect for India’s Hindu community.
No music is to be played in front of places of worship at such times that may be fixed by local boards.
If two or more religious processions occur on the same day, they shall follow different routes as determined by local boards.
Provincial and local boards will be appointed as arbiters to prevent any conflicts that may arise during religious processions.
India should participate in forming a Federation of Eastern Countries for mutual help in commerce and emancipation from European powers with a view to support oriental culture and foster friendly relations.
The committee’s report was signed by Dr Mukhtar Ahmed Ansari, founder of Jamia Millia Islamia University and staunch supporter of the Khilafat Movement, and Lala Lajpat Rai, founder of Punjab National Bank and die-hard nationalist. Lala Lajpat Rai was part of the Lal Bal Pal triumvirate alongside Bal Gangadhar Tilak and Bipin Chandra Pal. The three men had led the opposition against the Bengal Partition of 1905. Those who have read the previous essays may recall that Tilak had founded the first Home Rule League in Belgaum.
In regards to separate representation for minority communities, both Dr Ansari and Lala Lajpat Rai held opposing views. Dr Ansari wanted separate representation to be extended to municipalities and local boards. In contrast, Lala Lajpat Rai believed that a time limit should be imposed on separate representation, after which it should be scrapped entirely.
Lala Lajpat Rai further posited that separate representation should be in proportion to the numerical strength of each community with special provisions made for small minorities such as Sikhs, Christians and Parsis. To this, Dr Ansari suggested that larger minorities such as Sikhs and Christians may be given special representation in the provincial legislatures but only very small minorities such as Parsis may be given special representation in the central legislature. Regardless, the electorates will be joint in all cases, and there is to be no distinction based on caste, creed or colour in public services or educational institutions.
In addition to the resolutions already a part of the Indian National Pact, Dr Ansari also wanted the following clause added: No bill/clause/resolution concerning a particular community can be passed if 3/4 of the members from said community oppose it. This very same clause was part of the Lucknow Pact several years prior. Unfortunately, it never made its way into the Indian National Pact, perhaps indicating that relations would never return to what they once were. At least on the national level.
Alongside the Indian National Pact, a second cross-community pact was in development by the Bengal Provincial Congress under the leadership of Chittaranjan Das, founder of the Swaraj Party, with the involvement of Bengal’s Muslim representatives. It, too, was presented to Congress at the Kakinada session.
The draft of the Bengal Pact consisted of the following resolutions:
Representation in the Bengal Legislative Council is to be determined in proportion to population with separate electorates subject to necessary adjustments.
Representation in local bodies is to be in the proportion of 60% for the majority community and 40% for the minority community, with the inclusion of separate electorates to be determined at a later date.
55% of government posts should be reserved for Muslims.
No resolution or an enactment concerning a religious community can be passed without the consent of 75% of the elected members from said community.
No music is to be played in procession before a Masjid.
No interference is to be made in sacrificial cow slaughter for religious reasons.
No legislation is to be passed concerning cow slaughter in the Bengal Legislative Council.
Cow slaughter is to be carried out in such a way as not to offend Hindu religious sentiments.
Annual representative committees, of which half are Muslim and half Hindu, are to be formed in every sub-division to arbitrate any disputes between the two communities.
One interesting thing to note here is the resolutions in both pacts concerning music outside places of worship, cow slaughter, and religious processions. In the Lucknow Pact, no such resolutions were included. Instead, its resolutions were largely concerning representation rather than actual religious sensibilities. This shows just how much the legitimisation of religious rhetoric had impacted Indian politics. The mere fact that these issues had to be discussed by the political leadership rather than solved by Hindus and Muslims on the ground indicates just how much the communal question had infiltrated Indian politics and how pressing the conflict between the two communities was.
It should be added that there is no religious requirement in Islam to slaughter a cow. In the case of Eid al-Adha, goats and sheep serve just as well, and most Indian Muslims opted for this to avoid unnecessary troubles. At the INC’s Kakinada session, one of the Muslim members boasted that he had reduced the amount of cow slaughter in Aligarh on the occasion of Eid al-Adha from 500 cows to just two. Furthermore, in Hyderabad, a princely state consisting of a majority Hindu population ruled by Muslims, the Nizam had outlawed cow-slaughter on Eid al-Adha entirely. The current draft of the Indian National Pact contradicted that ruling.
Both the Indian National Pact and Bengal Pact were subject to debate at the December session of Congress. A debate that lasted approximately four hours over the course of which many Congress members had their input. It was then decided that a vote would be taken regarding whether each pact should continue being pursued. The overwhelming majority voted in favour of a second report of the Indian National Pact to be presented no later than the 31st March 1924. Unfortunately, no second report ever arrived.
Despite insistence from C. R. Das that the Bengal Pact was still subject to change on account of it being a draft proposal, the Bengal Pact was rejected with 678 votes against 458. The main reason given was that the Bengal Pact was specific to the situation in Bengal, and if other provinces adopted them, it would lead to more frictions between Hindus and Muslims. In contrast, the Indian National Pact was abstract without any hard figures so that it could be implemented in the provinces with respect to each specific situation. In addition, the Bengal Pact directly contradicted the Indian National Pact’s stance on cow slaughter opting to prevent its ban rather than facilitate it.
Other Congress members asked why Muslims should have to enter into an agreement with Hindus before standing under the banner of freedom when other communities didn’t need such concessions. Not only that, but what was wrong with the Lucknow Pact that a new pact needed to be drafted anyway. These were the attitudes of an Indian National Congress that refused to open its eyes to the current state of Hindu-Muslim unity.
Furthermore, regardless of one’s views regarding the relationship between Muslims and Hindus, opting to delete a draft proposal before it was even completed sent the message that the largely Hindu INC refused to even consider the needs and apprehensions of Muslims. For Muslim India, this sent a clear picture of what Indian Independence would look like. A union dominated by Hindu opinion without adequate protection to the Muslim minority. A Hindu Raj.
All in all, the Indian National Pact and Bengal Pact proved to be yet another failed attempt at Hindu-Muslim unity. It was safe to say that things were no longer as simple as back in the days of the Lucknow Pact. For Jinnah, a man who tried his absolute hardest to bring about a fragile understanding between Hindus and Muslims, this must have been a hard pill to swallow.
Eid Mubarak. May Allah shower blessings upon you and your family. Ameen.
Today marks the end of Ramadan, but it also marks one week since Israeli forces illegally entered the Palestinian neighbourhood of Sheikh Jarrah in Jerusalem. Since then, the Western-backed colonial state of Israel has placed Masjid al-Aqsa (the third holiest site in Islamic tradition) under siege, launched missiles into the Gaza strip, and continued the sadistic process of ethnic cleansing it began in 1948.
At this point in the 73-year-old conflict, there is no longer room for sitting on the fence. You’re either on the side of a fascist state armed with one of the world’s most powerful militaries or that of a native population that has been subject to the same brutal treatment enacted upon the Jewish people of Nazi Germany. Unfortunately, the world’s governments have chosen to remain largely silent on the genocide currently taking place in one of the world’s holiest lands.
As Muslims across the world wake up today to celebrate Eid ul-Fitr, Palestinians will be waking up to mourn the loss of their daughters, sons, sisters, brothers, mothers, fathers, wives, husbands, cousins, aunties, uncles, grandmothers, grandfathers, friends, and colleagues. So far, at the time of writing, a total of 17 children have been killed by the Israeli “Defence” Force. None of these children asked to be born into this conflict. None of these children were combatants. The only crime they committed, at least according to the Zionist apartheid State of Israel, was their mere existence.
For many of us, today will not be the happy Eid of years past but rather a solemn one. While we greet friends and relatives with smiles and break bread with our brothers and sisters, our hearts will be torn as we remember those that do not have this privilege. In many ways, this Ramadan has been a test for all of us but none quite like that for the people of Palestine.
However, it is important to remember that no matter how grim things may seem right now, whether in Palestine, Kashmir, Xinjiang, Myanmar or elsewhere, there is always hope. Indeed to lose all hope is to lose your belief in Allah. As for those who have lost their lives, let us remember that they are not really lost at all.
With one last burst of courage, Captain Robertson swiftly slipped into the room, pistol raised, to find a figure by the window dressed in black as thick as the midnight sky. He was ready to open fire, but something made him hesitate. Unsure of whether it was his keen intuition or if he’d just been out of practice, the Captain decided to go with his gut instinct and held off from pulling the trigger. After the confusing day he just had, he wasn’t sure if he could trust his head anymore. And oh boy, was he glad he did, for the figure dressed in black was none other than the Eighth Duke of Argyll with his bright orange hair being the only splash of colour to his otherwise rather dull attire. “Bloody hell! Put the gun down!” hissed the Duke. Captain Robertson realised he still had his gun levelled with the Duke’s chest and quickly returned it to its holster, “My apologies, Mr Secretary. I’m rather on edge today.” “Indeed. I’ve read the reports. It seems that our friend, Mr Dame, hasn’t been entirely honest with us, doesn’t it?” Captain Robertson didn’t answer but didn’t object either. It was somewhat true. He’d been running around with Mr Daim for nearly a month now, and everything he knew about him was dwarfed by what he didn’t. “We believe it’s time you were filled in on what’s been going on, Captain,” continued the Duke, “and by we, I mean the Prime Minister, the Viceroy and I, but first, why don’t you recount the events of the past few weeks. And please, don’t leave out any details, no matter how absurd they may seem.”
While the Captain conversed with the Secretary of State for India, Mr Daim was downstairs in his hotel room preparing the vial containing Spring-Heeled Jack’s residual aura. He started by removing the vial from the coat that Captain Robertson had lent him. Unlike his companion, Mr Daim could see the aura swirling about inside, a light pinkish-red vapour like the petals of a rose found in the gardens of Damascus. He gave it a quick but gentle flick of the finger. Satisfied with the way the pinkish-red vapour dissipated then coalesced, Mr Daim moved onto the second stage of this well-practised procedure. Grabbing his battered old briefcase from the opposite side of the room, he unbuckled the clip and rummaged around inside. There, nestled between Hafez and Ghalib, was an old compass, so old it could be no younger than five centuries, so old it was engraved with symbols whose meaning was remembered only by those who engraved it. Mr Daim carefully removed the crystalline glass cover protecting the glinting metal needle beneath, the only part of the device that hadn’t succumb to rust. It was really time Mr Daim got his hands on a new one, but this particular compass had been given to him by a dear friend. Or was it a lover? Truth be told, it was so long ago he couldn’t remember the exact status of the relationship, but he could still feel the remnants of the affinity he had for this long lost person and so opted to hold on to it. At least until it stopped functioning or fate forced him to part with it. The final part of the well-practised procedure was the one that required the most concentration. Mr Daim placed the compass in the centre of the oak desk beneath the mirror opposite his bed. He looked into the eyes of his reflection, then down to the sprangled inky hairs of his unkempt beard and decided that he’d commit himself to a grooming session before bed, but first, he had to focus his mind and free it from the distractions of the material existence. Firmly gripping the glass vial, Mr Daim began chanting in a language unknown to the Children of Adam. Continuing the incantations, he tightened his grip shattering the vial into a thousand tiny pieces. The pinkish-red vapour tried to escape but was trapped by the prison that was Mr Daim’s clenched fist. Any small fragments that tried to escape through his fingers were forced back in by the rhythm and tempo of his incessant chant. The vapour suddenly expanded, engulfing the entirety of Mr Daim’s fist, the pinkish-red now a deep burning purple, but this didn’t interrupt the sweet melody of his tongue. With the vapour reaching a fever pitch, Mr Daim hurled it into the compass, firmly sealing it shut with the crystalline cover. With nowhere left to go, the aura began aggressively swirling around inside the compass like the wheels of the steam engines back in India before being sucked directly into the compass needle itself. It was only once all the vapour was consumed, the needle a glistening violet, that Mr Daim ceased his incessant chanting. He tapped the crystalline glass cover twice, and the needle began spinning rapidly before grinding to a complete halt; however, this time, it wasn’t facing the magnetic north but rather in the direction of his quarry: Spring-Heeled Jack. Convinced everything was in working order, Mr Daim removed a bar of shaving soap and razor from his battered old briefcase and went about his long-overdue grooming session.
Meanwhile, upstairs, Captain Robertson’s jumbled thoughts were finally ordered into something a little more coherent. The mental fogginess that had been plaguing him since he left Lahore for London had faded away, leaving him with a crystal-clear picture of everything that had happened since he met the mysterious Mr Daim. Anything he couldn’t rationalise was packed away in a box labelled “lunacy” and shelved in the recesses of his mind. He was just glad to finally have someone to talk to. Someone who’d actually listen to him and give him straightforward answers. A welcome break from the ambiguity of Mr Daim. As it turns out, the Eighth Duke of Argyll and his associates, the Prime Minister and the Viceroy, had been keeping tabs on Mr Daim for over a year now. Rumours of an individual possessing extraordinary abilities had been circulating around Lahore for weeks in the monsoon of eighteen sixty-nine. Of course, these sorts of rumours were commonplace in India. Still, they had to be investigated nonetheless should the individual in question utilise the superstition surrounding them to rile up the discontents. After the events of the Mutiny, Lord Mayo, the Viceroy and Governor-General of India, wasn’t taking any chances. He immediately put Mr Daim under temporary surveillance, as was routine protocol, until it could be determined the size of the threat he posed to the British Raj. Expecting Mr Daim to be deemed a none-threat, it came as quite a surprise when reports started piling in about a disturbance in one of the city’s outlying villages…
The monsoon had arrived late this year but arrived it did, and to the people of Mallianwala, it was most welcome. Harpreet was worried. Local merchants had been speaking of an approaching drought making its way up from the south. Drought meant food would become unaffordable and unaffordable food meant Harpreet and her family would go hungry. But luckily, by the grace of Waheguru, the approaching drought was halted by the cascading rains that blessed the boundless Indo-Gangetic plains of Northern India. No, Harpreet was worried for an entirely different reason. Aamir, the older brother of Harpreet’s best friend Zainab, was seriously ill. The whole of Mallianwala could hear his panicked wailing at unseemly hours of the night. The first time it happened, Harpreet had mistaken the pain-stricken cries for the local Muezzin. Now it had been a week since, and the poor boy was still unwell. According to Zainab, he had even become uncontrollably violent, forcing her father to make the difficult decision to confine Aamir to his room. Harpreet had never talked with Aamir at great length. Like most of Mallianwala’s Muslim population, Aamir and his father worked for Harpreet’s father. The daughter of a Sikh landowner conversing with the son of a Muslim peasant would be the scandal of the decade, but that didn’t stop Harpreet from catching a glimpse of the muscular boy with black wavy hair whenever she could. In the real world, a Muslim would never marry a Sikh. However, the real world didn’t apply to Harpreet’s fantasies. And so, when Zainab told Harpreet about her brother’s condition, it was Harpreet herself who pleaded on Zainab’s behalf, asking her father to see what he could do for the boy. As always, Harpreet’s father gave in to the demands of his princess. That very evening, Harpreet’s father called a village meeting. Women weren’t allowed to attend these meetings but seeing as it was being held in her family’s courtyard, Harpreet eavesdropped from her bedroom. The local Mullah had concluded that Aamir was possessed by a jinni, evidenced by the scars that ran down his cheek after being scratched for reciting his holy book. The men decided that the best course of action would be for Aamir’s father to travel to the city in search of an exorcist. Harpreet’s father generously agreed to accompany him and cover the costs of the journey. They set out the following morning and returned by nightfall. It wasn’t every day that something this eventful occurred, and nearly the entire village had gathered to witness the exorcism. Harpreet could even spot a few unfamiliar faces in the crowd. Intrigued spectators from some of the neighbouring villages, perhaps. Children watched from the rooftops while men and women crowded around the wall demarking the boundary between the private domain of Zainab’s family and the public domain of Mallianwala. Fortunately, with the help of Zainab, Harpreet was able to sneak in and get the best view in the house: a small window located in the far corner of Aamir’s room. Harpreet watched Aamir lying face down on his charpai as his father, her father, and the Mullah entered the room along with a fourth man she didn’t recognise. Harpreet deduced that he was the Exorcist her father went to fetch. Aamir let out a long inhuman groan that almost sounded like the whimper of a wounded wolf. Aamir’s mother, who was standing by the door, tried rushing into the room to tend to her only son but was subsequently shooed away by her husband. The Mullah began reciting verses from his holy book which started to rouse the sleeping Aamir. The four men surrounded the charpai, ready for anything that might happen. Suddenly, Aamir’s back arched upwards, and his head slowly turned towards the newcomer. Harpreet gasped. Aamir’s eyes were no longer the beautiful bright hazel she was used to but instead a deep crimson red like the blood of a slaughtered animal. His pupils were absent, making it impossible to tell what it was he was looking at. For all she knew, he could be staring directly at her. Or rather, it was staring directly at her. This was no longer the muscular boy with the black wavy hair but something elseentirely – a demon. The Demon began to slowly uncurl itself and rise up, like a puppet being lifted by its head, its limbs hanging limp in the candle-lit room until it was levitating two inches above the charpai staring down at the four men. Sweat trickled down the side of Harpreet’s face. She couldn’t believe what she was seeing. Fear forced her eyelids open and froze her to the spot. The Demon started talking in a language Harpreet had never heard Aamir speak before. A language nobody had spoken before. Except for the Exorcist, for he not only understood what the Demon was saying but was speaking back to it in the same strange language. Harpreet had visited the city often, but she’d never heard a language with a melody quite like this. Everyone was startled yet entirely engrossed in the conversation they couldn’t understand. Even the Mullah’s attention was stolen away from his recitation as he remained fixated on the creature that stood before him. The Exorcist and the Demon that was not quite Aamir went back and forth like this for several minutes. All was silent save for the whispers travelling through the gathering crowd, the gentle whistling of the wind passing through the trees, a clap of thunder in the far distance and the pitter-patter of the monsoon rain slapping against the ground. The Exorcist let out a sigh of disappointment, the kind of sigh one let out when their hand is forced. With a nod, each father grabbed one of the Demon’s arms, dragging him off the charpai and onto his knees before the Exorcist. The Demon let out a blood-curdling laugh that reverberated loudly into the midnight sky, blowing out the candles, bathing everything in the moon’s glow. The Exorcist folded up his sleeve, concentration etched into the wrinkles of his face as he forced his hand down the Demon’s throat as it began to violently choke. To Harpreet’s amazement, the Exorcist was almost elbow-deep, something that should have been impossible unless he was able to shrink his own arm on demand. She was either dreaming, or her eyes were deceiving her. The thing began trying to shake free, struggling against Harpreet’s father’s tight inescapable grip, but it proved futile. The Exorcist began to pull his arm back out, dragging something along with it. Now that it was removed from Aamir’s body, the Demon looked like a dark cloud, and it let out a deafening shriek as it attempted to resist the Exorcist’s grip. Meanwhile, Aamir fell unconscious at the foot of the charpai, his father by his side. The Exorcist walked towards the window, the same one Harpreet and Zainab were crouched behind, the shrieking cloud in hand. As he got closer, Harpreet could finally make out what looked like a face with the sharp teeth and pointed ears of a cat. Once the Exorcist reached the window, he launched the dark cloud up towards the sky, Harpreet and Zainab ducking to avoid the ungodly monstrosity. As the shrieking faded away into the distance, so too did the fear and tension of the past week. The ordeal was finally over.
“And you’re sure this is all true?” asked Captain Robertson. “It was witnessed by one of our own. The same officer that was assigned to keep an eye on our friend, in fact. An Englishman, so I’m certain we can trust his rational judgement. If it was an Indian, I’d be sceptical too,” verified the Duke. “I see… so what of Spring-Heeled Jack?” “That’s what we’re trying to find out. Gladstone says whatever he is, it must have something to do with Mr Dame, hence why he ordered the Viceroy to bring him here.” “So, where do I fit in in all this?” “You’re the most important part, Captain. We need you to gain as much information as you can about our friend, Mr Dame, and see if there is indeed a link between him and Spring-Heeled Jack. In essence, your orders are to spy on him. I didn’t tell you this before because I wanted to see, for myself, if the reports were true. Today’s events proved that.” It was all made clear now. Captain Robertson wasn’t just being brought home to be put on guard duty but was instead being made part of something far greater. But did he really have it in him to be a spy? And could he really betray his friend’s trust? “Is that clear, Captain?” “Yes, Mr Secretary.”
Book #18 of 2021. This year I aim to read 60 books. This was one of them. Be sure to check out my Goodreads.
If you’d been following this blog for a while, you’d know that I’m big on comic books. If you’d been paying attention, then you’d also know that one of my favourite characters is Kamala Khan, a.k.a Ms Marvel, created by G. Willow Wilson. This is what led me to my most recent read: Alif the Unseen.
The novel is set in a fictional city, aptly named “the City”, somewhere along the Persian Gulf. A heavily stratified society ruled by an elite Arab aristocracy with large immigrant populations from all over the world (think Dubai or Riyadh). It is amongst the cultural amalgamation of Baqara District where imported labour from India, Bangladesh, the Philippines, and the lesser Arab states live side by side that we find our protagonist: Alif.
Alif is a computer hacker; his services available to the highest bidder, whether they be the Islamists, the Communists, or the Feminists. As long as they’re against the regime, it doesn’t matter to him. Together, Alif and his computer hacking friends do everything they can to get back at the censors. A quasi-digital revolution, you could say. Unfortunately, this kind of life doesn’t come without its risks, and the infamous Hand (man? computer program? both?) is always on the prowl for anyone that dares defy the state authorities.
Everything was going to plan for Alif until the day his illicit girlfriend, Intisar, decides to break up with him after being betrothed to a member of the royal family. Crushed, Alif chooses to do what he does best, creating a computer program designed to recognise an individual by decoding their behavioural writing patterns. All so he can block Intisar from ever reaching him again (a bit excessive if you ask me). Of course, this kind of program could have disastrous consequences for Alif and the revolutionaries should it end up in the hands of the state. Which it does.
Now on the run from state authorities with his neighbour Dina, Alif comes across a mysterious book called the Alf Yeom (the Djinn’s equivalent of The One Thousand and One Nights). This opens up a new world to Alif as he straddles the line between the world of man and Djinn in his race to put a stop to the Hand. A fugitive on the run, Alif is about to be at the centre of events that will shock the City to its very core.
Willow G. Wilson creates a vibrant world filled with everything you could ask for in an action-adventure novel: Romance, Revolution, Magic, Technology, and, my personal favourite, Djinn. Not only that but Wilson also talks extensively about Islamic theology and highlights issues that are prevalent in the Muslim community with nuance and complexity in a way that doesn’t detract from the story.
Take, for example, the character referred to as “the convert”, an American woman that reverted to Islam and works at Al-Basheera University located in the Old Quarter. An American revert herself, Wilson details a few of the struggles that new members of the Muslim community face from their coreligionists through the convert’s interactions with Alif, Dina and the rest of the uniquely interesting characters that make up her novel. My favourite character being Vikram the Vampire, Alif’s Djinn protector, with his quick wit and constant banter about the fragility of beni adam.
I highly recommend this novel to anyone looking for a story that blends the seen with the unseen. Whenever I think of modern Islamic literature and fiction, this is what will come to mind. Many philosophical quandaries are proposed throughout this work, from the Qur’an and its relationship with quantum computing to the all-important question of whether it’s haram to consume virtual pork in a video game.
The first thing to hit Captain Robertson was the pungently repugnant smell. The second was the abhorrent sight of what he believed used to be someone’s face. The third was the burning sensation of bile creeping up his oesophagus. The fourth was the sound of the Lorne sausages he had for breakfast splatting against the pavement. The fifth was the bitter aftertaste left in his mouth as he pulled out his handkerchief to plug his nose and wipe his brow. Whilst serving in China, Captain Robertson had spent time in an infirmary as men of red with holes in their chests were carried out in stretchers of white in wailing fright. To this day, he had yet to distinguish the red of their coats from the red of their blood. But even the carnage in the aftermath of battle wasn’t enough to prepare him for the brutal fate that befell the poor sod lying before him in that hazy alleyway somewhere in the soot-smothered East End. Mr Daim crouched down beside the body and muttered a few words. Words that he had repeated many times in his long life. Words that Captain Robertson could understand but in a language the Scotsman couldn’t recognise. “Inna lillahi wa inna ilayhi raji’un.” And so, as the angel Azrael guided the soul on its journey to the afterlife, our duo were left to ponder what had happened to its now vacant vessel. According to the officers, who had set up the cordon, the body was estimated to have walked the Earth for a grand total of twenty-five years before it was left lying limp in a back alley amongst all manner of gutter trash one would expect to find littering the streets of London. It wasn’t uncommon to see unnamed labourers lying dead in unmarked alleyways. What was uncommon, however, was the nature in which this particular labourer met his fate. Not a victim of the endless march of industrial progress but instead something far more sinister, far more gruesome. “Ghul.” “What was that?” asked Captain Robertson, the handkerchief muffling his voice. “Ghul. The being that killed this young man was a ghul,” answered Mr Daim as he carefully examined the deep gashes that mutilated the body’s face. “A ghoul?” “Jinn that try to intrude on the heavens but are struck by comets for their transgression. They are condemned to walk the Earth for eternity driven mad with insanity.” “Genie? Like in the Arabian Nights?” “Those are children’s tales, my friend. But believe me, the jinn are more real than you know, and whatever did this was one of them.” “So you mean to tell me that Spring-Heeled Jack, the criminal who’s been giving us the runaround this past week, is actually a genie gone mad?” “Yes, Jack is a ghul. If he was scum and villainy of the regular sort, you wouldn’t have been tasked with bringing me here all the way from Lahore.” Captain Robertson wasn’t quite sure what to make of this. Ghuls and jinn were the work of fiction. Mr Daim was treating them as fact. On their journeys, he had come to accept that the mysterious Mr Daim was a keeper of great wisdom. However, this bordered on lunacy. “Are you sure you’re not just messing with me?” “Well, I could be wrong. It may have been a mardykhor that murdered this poor child but last I heard, they were hunted to extinction by the Sasanians. Not to mention this climate is far too cold.”
The pair were finishing up with their perusal when they heard the sounds of commotion coming from the cordon. Captain Robertson went to see what was happening while Mr Daim remained to tend to the body. After covering what was left of the young man in a white shawl, Mr Daim left the hazy alleyway to find Commissioner Henderson giving his officers a bollocking. “With all due respect, sir, they had permits signed by the Indian Secretary himself.” “I don’t care who signed those documents, sergeant. This is the city of London, not the backwater slums of Delhi. No one is permitted to interfere in police business without my say so. IS THAT CLEAR, SERGEANT?!” Commissioner Henderson admonished the officer, who replied with a sheepish yes, sir though you wouldn’t be wrong in assuming the Commissioner preferred to be addressed as sire. He now had his sights set on Mr Daim, “well, if it isn’t the Indian faqir himself. I don’t recall giving you permission to operate in this area. In fact, if I remember clearly, Mr D, I said quite the contrary. I should have you arrested.” “You will do no such thing. Mr Daim is under my protection and authorised to work here by order of Her Majesty the Queen. You lay a finger on him, and you’ll have to deal with me,” Captain Robertson chimed in to defend his charge. “Are you seriously going to take sides with this Mohammedan? Disappointing. I expected more from a fellow member of the British Armed Forces,” scoffed Commissioner Henderson. “Unlike you, I actually saw combat, so I wouldn’t test me if I were in your shoes.” Captain Robertson was in his face now. “Is that a threat, Captain? Are you threatening an officer of the law? I should have you both arrested. Officers! Arrest them!” The officers reluctantly obliged, stepping towards Captain Robertson with their batons in hand. The veteran was already bouncing on his toes, ready for a fight, when Mr Daim suddenly appeared beside the Commissioner, firmly gripping his wrist. Locking eyes with his adversary, he sternly dictated the following: “By the power of the jinn, as ordained by the almighty, I hereby order thou Child of Adam to let us depart freely from this place without molestation.” Captain Henderson stopped his struggling, staring straight ahead as though he was hypnotised and gave his men the order to stand down in a dreary, monotonous tone. No inflexion. No intonation. Confused though they were, the officers were thankful they needn’t have to apprehend a member of the British Armed Forces. After all, they were civilian police, not military police. “Hurry. We must leave. This only works for a few moments,” Mr Daim briskly led the way, the dumbfounded Captain Robertson trailing behind. “What in the hell was that?” “You shouldn’t refer to the place of punishment for evildoers when asking for an explanation.” “Oh, right. Sorry about that,” Captain Robertson apologised and waited for elaboration. Realising none was coming, he continued, “so are you going to explain what just happened?” “As I said before, you will not be able to fully grasp the extent of my talents.” “I guess I should take that as a no then.” “You should.”
The Tea House
That evening, the pair found themselves in one of London’s many premier tea houses, the kind diplomats would use to host foreign dignitaries. Tea had only arrived on the British Isles two centuries prior and had since taken Britannia by storm. Everyone from pauper to prince relished the piping hot beverage that travelled all the way from China, and soon it came to represent the quintessence of British culture. Ever-present at their greatest victories as well as most embarrassing defeats. Some even went as far as to say that to defeat an Englishman, all one must do is dump his tea in the sea. To Mr Daim, tea was just another drink in a long list of drinks consumed by humankind, from the mead of the ancients to the sherbet of the shahanshahs. “Would you like something to eat, Mr Daim?” asked Captain Robertson as he scanned through the menu. He hadn’t eaten anything since those Lorne sausages he had for breakfast. Of course, they were now splattered all over a hazy alleyway somewhere in the soot-smothered East End. “No, thank you,” replied Mr Daim whilst jotting down some squiggles into a brown leather notebook. At least that’s what it looked like to Captain Robertson. To Mr Daim, it was Persian. “So, where do we go from here?” “You may order what you please. I do not find myself currently in need of sustenance.” “You know that’s not what I meant.” Mr Daim let out a long-drawn-out sigh, the kind an irritated father would when tired of their infant’s endless stream of inquiries and shut his notebook closed before giving Captain Robertson his full attention. He knew the veteran needed answers. The man had just witnessed something that defied the boundaries of his limited knowledge. Like the Mayans when they were confronted with fire-breathing Spaniards riding atop strange four-legged beasts. This wasn’t the first time Mr Daim found himself with a gobsmacked companion. It always happened the same way. In the heat of the moment, Mr Daim would brashly call upon one of his abilities, usually to get them out of a situation brought about by said companion, leaving them confounded and in need of answers. There was no sure-fire way to give them answers without shattering their very perceptions of the material world. Up until now, Mr Daim had been putting off the inevitable. So he decided this time he’d just try answering the Captain’s questions as straightforwardly as possible without confusing him any further. “What is it you wish to know?” Realising he could finally get some answers out of the mysterious Mr Daim, Captain Robertson put down the menu, crossing his arms, “so according to you, genies are real?” “Yes.” “And Spring-Heeled Jack is one such genie?” “Yes.” “So, where is his lamp?” Mr Daim burst out laughing, breaking the quiet, relaxed atmosphere of the tea house and drawing the attention of their fellow diners. One such diner in a black bowler cap, complete with a golden monocle and bristly mutton chops representing the pinnacle of English sensibilities, loudly coughed and ruffled his newspaper to indicate his disapproval. Captain Robertson was beginning to feel like a fool. “Oh wow. That’s a new one indeed,” Mr Daim wheezed with laughter before collecting himself together, “not all jinn live in lamps, my friend. That went out of fashion centuries ago.” “I see that now. So how are we going to stop him? We barely got anything from the crime scene before that bastard Henderson showed up.” “Relax. You needn’t worry, for I have everything I need right here,” Mr Daim pulled out a glass vial from his coat pocket, the same coat Captain Robertson had lent him. “It’s empty.” “To your eyes, maybe. But I assure you this contains some of Jack’s residual aura, which I can use to track him down.” “Let me guess, another talent whose extent I won’t be able to fully grasp?” “Yes.” “I take it you’re some kind of genie hunter then?” “Yes, you could say that.” “And you’ve done this sort of thing before? “Many a time.” “What is Spring-Heeled Jack doing in London?” “My guess is as good as yours.” “How many other genies are there? “Millions.” “Then explain why I’ve never met one before?” “The chances are, you probably have. Perhaps you just weren’t open to the possibility that they could be a jinni.” “Are all genies evil?” “Are all humans evil?” “You just answered my question with another question.” “And the answer to both is the same.” Captain Robertson remained in quiet contemplation after that. Satisfied he’d managed to sate his companion’s curiosity without confusing him any further, Mr Daim went back to writing in his notebook. Unfortunately, Captain Robertson was even more confused than before, with a multitude of questions bouncing around in his head. Are genies really real? Can Mr Daim really track down Spring-Heeled Jack using his residual aura?Why did genie lamps go out of fashion? How did Mr Daim even get his hands on Spring-Heeled Jack’s aura? Have I really met a genie before? What did Mr Daim do to Henderson? WHO IN THE HELL IS MR DAIM? The realisation began to dawn on Captain Robertson that he didn’t really know a thing about the man sitting across from him. But that didn’t matter. His orders were to provide Mr Daim with protection, not wrap his head around the madness the world seemed to have devolved itself into. The more he could focus on his job, on what was right in front of him, the less his head would ache. Speaking of which, it was really time he had something to eat. Captain Robertson called over the waiter and ordered the day’s special. The men spent the rest of the evening in silence before hailing a cabriolet to take them back to the hotel they were staying at. After seeing Mr Daim safely back to his room, Captain Robertson retired for the night. Ascending the staircase, trying to force the day’s events out of his head, the veteran was met with an uneasy feeling. Something was off. His door was ajar. Adrenaline kicking in, Captain Robertson carefully unclipped the holster strapped to his chest and slowly pulled out his revolver. Staying extra vigilant, he steadily ascended the final steps. A loud creak reverberated from beneath his feet. Curse these rickety floorboards! Pressing flat against the wall, he crept down the hallway, finger twitching by the trigger. Upon reaching the door, he took a deep breath like a diver about to collide with water and, little by little, he pushed the door open on its squeaky hinges. With one last burst of courage, Captain Robertson swiftly slipped into the room, pistol raised, to find a figure by the window dressed in black as thick as the midnight sky.
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, Arda Ulay, 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, Arda is of Turkish heritage, and like me, he is an avid reader of history. Unlike me, Arda 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 Arda.
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. 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 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 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 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.
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, 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. 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
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. 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.
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. 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!”
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.”
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.”
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
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:
The Ottomans pay crippling reparations, which would last until 1980.
The Ottomans pay crippling and unfair debts, which will also last to 1980.
The Ottomans limit their forces to less than 50,700 men, disbanding their air force and tank regiments as well as downsizing their navy.
Istanbul and the straits world fall under International control.
France, Italy, Armenia, Britain, and Kurdistan will take most of Anatolia (Britain annexed the Kurdish territories before it could form a state)
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.”
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. 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.
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. 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. 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. 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 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:
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. 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.”
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.
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.
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.
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. 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.
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, 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?
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.’”
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.
“Unless a nation’s life faces peril, war is murder.” – Ataturk after witnessing the devastation wrought by the Gallipoli campaign.
“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?” – 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.
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.
 Mango, A., 1963. Ataturk: The Biography of the Founder of Modern Turkey. John Murray.
 İnan, A., 1950. Atatürk hakkında hâtıralar ve belgeler. Turkiye Is Bankasi Kultur Yayinlari.
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 northwest India that the frostbite-inducing weather of southeast 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 Captain 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.
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 were to do 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.
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.
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.
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 Bangla. 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, Bangla 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 but 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 Bangla 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…
*I made this word up, lol. If you know what the Bengali equivalent of “anglicised” is, do let me know.
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.