Eqbal Ahmad, to the best of my knowledge, never published a single book during his eventful life despite producing a great many essays for publication in journals, newspapers and periodicals. It was only after he had died of a heart attack during an operation for cancer that three of his former students Carollee Bengelsdorf, Margaret Cerullo and Yogesh Chandrani collected together a selection of his writings for publication. I didn't need to get far into this book before I felt an immense amount of gratitude for their efforts, Eqbal offers the reader a unique view, crisp and clear analysis of the 20th century world, his particular focus being on the 3rd world in which he travelled widely.
Born into a village in Bihar (India) in 1933 (or 1934 he never knew which) Eqbal was a boy of around 13 when the chaotic partition of India occurred. Separated from his brothers and mother (his father had been murdered in his presence over disputed land when he was a young boy) he made the hazardous 1000 mile journey to Pakistan himself on foot. After graduating with a degree in Economics he enjoyed a very brief career in the Pakistani military before enrolling in a University in the United States. After then his eventful life included joining the FLN anti-colonial struggle in Algeria but refusing a government post after independence, a time as an active and vocal campaigner against the Vietnam War, a spell in jail awaiting trial for his alleged part in a plan to kidnap Henry Kissinger (the jury threw it out of court). As well as this he had a full academic life, and indeed at the time of his death he was working on an ambitious and much need project to open a secular University in Pakistan which was to be called Khaldunia after the 14th Century North African Muslim polymath Ibn Khaldûn.
The 54 essays collected in this volume cover an astonishing range of topics, from his experience as an advisor on Gillo Pontecorvo landmark film The Battle Of Algiers to an unorthodox obituary for Richard Nixon. The book begins with a short foreward by Noam Chomsky. The essays themselves are collected under ten headings and each is put into context by means of short introduction by the editors mentioned above: (i) Revolutionary War and Counter-Insurgency; (ii) Third World Politics: Pathologies of Power, Pathologies of Resistance; (iii) The Cold War from the Standpoint of its Victims; (vi) After the Cold War: Worlds of Pain; (v) The Palestinian-Israeli Conflict: Colonization in the Era of Decolonisation; (vi) Partition and Independence (India); (vii) On Jinnah (Founder of Pakistan); (viii) Pakistan's Military; (ix) Afghanistan & (x) Pakistan: The Return of the Generals.
His writing is striking for dealing with all those topics with an ever present sense of humanity, and despite the apparently dry nature of the headings listed above his writing reflects a warm, inclusive man with an ever present sense of humour which he brings to the darkest of events as well as a sense of culture often absent from political writings. His writings on the West's flirtation with Islamic Fundamentalism which he consistently opposed, especially in relation to Afghanistan in the late 1970's and 80's and the American support for General Zia-ul-Haq who promoted Islamists to provide a base for his unpopular regime. One 1988 essay is remarkably prophetic in that he warns the U.S. of the dangers that their "Jihadi chickens will eventually come home to roost", which as we now know is exactly what happened one day in September 2001. As someone who was born into the Muslim tradition and spent a many of his formative years in a predominantly Muslim country (Pakistan) his criticism of Islamists carries far more credibility than a good deal of the current outpouring that fraudulently postulates that the recent phenomena of Islamic Fundamentalism is implicit in the Muslim Religion, and denies the rich history and lived experience that have made up 1400 years of Islam.
His writing on Revolutionary Movements and Decolonisation is remarkable for the acuteness of his analysis, and his honest appraisal of what went wrong subsequently in so many of the newly "independent" states. He neither spares the Colonial Legacy (the Legacy to Pakistan was a Bureaucracy, an Army and nothing else) nor the limitations and failures of subsequent political elites. With regard to the United States he covers the vast panoply of post war interventions across the world, examining each one in its own context and providing a rich and rational commentary on them. His reading of Kissinger is brilliant and deservedly acid, he susses out the short comings of Samuel Huntingdon way back in the 70's when he was an assistant to Kissinger and long before his reductionist The Clash of Civilizations became flavour of the month.
I can't recommend this writer enough, the range of his knowledge and interests, his humour and his analysis are awesome and still immensely relevant even a decade after his death. Read him, you will never see the world in quite the same way again.