Saturday, May 02, 2015

In the Foothills of Troubled Fundamentalism

Reviewed by Asif Anwar Alig

On the Road to Kandahar: Travels Through Conflict in the Islamic World by Jason Burke, Penguin Books Ltd. 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England, 2007, 297 pp. $15, Hard.

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Asif Anwar Alig 
econd coming of Jason Burke’s adventurous war narration of the conflicting Islamic world expresses spoof and hegemony in the “fundamentalist” Islamic countries turning into the troubled crossroads. Given, such nations are no more the “land of pure”. Though the book begins with polemic viewpoint, it doesn’t create much bang. The veteran prize winning journalist turned author observed the political upheavals and “Islamic militancy” since last one decade while reporting wars in the troubled Islamic countries, as chief reporter of Observer.

The best-selling author of al-Qaeda: The True Story of Radical Islam redefines a popular view of the Islamic militancy in accordance with his personal assessments, while reporting wars in Iraq and Afghanistan besides keenly analyzing the troubled situations in Pakistan. The author travels into the troubled Islamic nations that, according to him, survive on the impregnable notions and dictates. He expresses these views in his recent travelogue, On the Road to Kandahar: Travels through Conflict in the Islamic World, a book advising the future scribes to know journalism with tears.

Jason Burke’s travels in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq, though confined to the Islamic world, are a count by count assessment of the grave situation of the war torn nations. War was imposed there by the US to test its supremacy, and fruition an astonishing viewpoint of ‘war for peace’. As a chief reporter of a prominent daily Jason reports the truth and keeps abundant scope for an emotionless emotional appeal to prevail even in a biased media scenario. The adventurous journeys of this prominent journalist in the troubled lands, lands him to foresee the dilatory condition of the Islamic nations that bore the burnt of an imposed war.

He sees them on humanitarian grounds. In this book, Jason does a psychological observation of the Muslim world and its fundamentalist seeds. He further assesses that faith mongers of Islamic countries have buried their own civilizations. Objective reporting and henceforth a reprint of those reports in this book prove that Jason is a good storyteller, though he is a journalist.

Through this book, the author describes his interactions as a journalist turned author with the guerrilla warlords and militants, perpetrators of Islamic fundamentalism, Muslim clergymen and the guardians of the Islamic faith in Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan and the rest of the Muslim world. He interacts with the masses in these countries, who happen to be the victims of a political bias and religious chauvinism.

The issue of Human Rights violation in Pakistan, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Kashmir in India, is an important component of this book. The author observes that these violations are an outcome of the opportunistic mindsets, for the sake of satisfying an ego. The militants, religious leaders, warlords, jihadis, American forces and the dictators in the troubled Islamic countries are party to this game.

In his count by count note compiled in a highly informative and emotionally rich readable book, the British journalist turned author sees a dramatic change in Kandahar, Jalalabad and Kabul in Afghanistan, Lahore, Islamabad, Peshawar and entire rural region of Pakistan, Srinagar in India and Baghdad, Fallujah, Tikrit, Suleimaniyah, Arbil, Mosul, Karbala, Al Najaf and Basra in Iraq.

His primary observations are that each of these cities, though, have separate entities but are the troubled ones and similar as well on the grounds that they have been facing the whimsical historical misfortune since centuries because they accommodate herd of Muslims who are now looked as suspicious creatures — the terrorists.

In actuality, Muslims are ignorant, poor and illiterate; Jason explains this in his book in a fine balance. The book is an imprint of a comparative study of the western hypocrisy, eastern hypocrisy and the hypocrites of the entire Islamic world. Spanned in almost a decade’s journey of a scribe who has got a nose for news, the author does an analytical assessment of the pre and post war scenario in three troubled Islamic nations; Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq that bears the burnt of American bias of war on terrorism.

As a war correspondence Jason explains the plague called “war on terror” supposedly meant by the US to restore peace. But, as it had to happen, thousands and thousands of innocent lives were perished and the seeds of terrorism were further sown — urging a few of the Muslims to turn into terrorists. The war on terror augured for the emergence of terrorism. The outcome, Jason describes, could be seen in the decade ahead. The pre and post war scenario favoured Jason’s opinion.

Jason Burke
This book equally describes the hypocrisies of the Muslim leaders like Saddam Hussain in Iraq, Taliban in Afghanistan and Muslim clergymen in Pakistan. The author draws attention of the entire Muslim community to learn an educative lesson from their oriental peers and half-brothers in Indonesia and Malaysia where manners speak more than their appearance. One is unable to differentiate Muslims from other communities there unlike in the most admired Islamic world: Do they not religious and peace loving?

But in some of the Asian and Arabian countries including Iran appearance speaks more than personal etiquettes of a Muslim who is always scanned in suspicion. Why Islam and terrorism is almost two sides of a coin? The Western mindset might have observed it but the oriental Muslim community defies it through their way of life. Other Muslims need to focus on it. 

Likewise the biasness towards the Islamic world and West’s approach to taking it for granted has many reasoning. Jason describes them in this book and looks into the reasons of the 9/11 attacks, London bombings and other scares that shivered entire world. The author has a reason per se to explain. As a reporter, he enjoyed the troubled times of his life, welcomed dangers for the sake of an amazing news story and kept his life on the stakes to know pro and cons of the conflicts of the Islamic world, role of media, leaders and the guardians of peace and “democracy”.

The social, religious and political conflicts would sustain, says this experienced journalist, in this book. He has toured to almost every Islamic country including the densely Muslim populated Kashmir of Hindu India to assess the conflicts of the Islamic world since last one decade. He, being a devout reader and seeker after knowledge of the Islamic world, begins his journey to comprehend the minor and major conflicts of Islamic world: The Shia and Sunni conflicts, conflicts in Iraq due to continuous oppressions and suppressions, conflicts due to the violation of Human Rights, conflicts between religious dogma and modernization and the conflicts on urging one to become a “martyr” for the sake of Islam … the list don’t end.

This political travelogue mixes every component of history, sociology, art and philosophy. The author narrates the story of a troubled road he is in at its crossroads, and sees the road ahead for the Islamic world which is darker. A must read for all, this book is a lesson for one to introspect, and for the Muslim religious leaders to rethink on their chauvinism. And, for the young scribes this book is another pathfinder entry to comprehend the ethics and spirit of a daring profession called journalism. 

This book review first appeared in Eastern Crescent Magazine’s May 2008 issue.

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