This is Akbar Ahmed's resounding message and purpose in his latest literary journey - "The Thistle and the Drone: How America's War on Terror Became a Global War on Tribal Islam". It is a compelling and insightful study of the suffering, the dilemmas, the dangers and the challenges facing our world, in particular the suffering of the marginalized communities of the periphery.
This is a deeply moving voyage with a lofty attempt to understand and explain the global span of Islam and its supposed "clash" with the western world. It is the first-ever, comprehensive study dealing with the oft-misunderstood connotations of a "war on terror". The book elaborates the conflict between the "thistle" representing the prickly-pride and steadfastness of the Muslim tribal societies on the periphery and the latest technologically advanced killer-weapon in the age of globalization - the "drone". It elucidates the struggle all over the world between the power of states and borders -- forming the interstices -- as the driving force of America's war on terror. It portrays the complex interplay between the powerful and the powerless.
Professor Ahmed, the Ibn Khaldun Chair of Islamic Studies at American University in Washington, DC, and former Pakistani High Commissioner to the UK, deftly weaves the personal and the scholarly with sensitivity and objectivity. "The Thistle and the Drone" is the third part of his trilogy on relations between the West and the Muslim world after 9/11, including "Journey into Islam" (2007) and "Journey into America" (2010), all published by Brookings Press. Based on over 40 case-studies from far-flung areas on the periphery - from Waziristan in the Tribal Areas of Pakistan, to the ever-expanding societies in Central Asia, the Middle East, North Africa and Eastern Europe - he addresses the difficult issues of identity and power with respect and reverence, honesty and humility.
Ahmed offers a fresh approach to the conflicts that consume our world today and presents a welcome paradigm for grappling with the burning issue - the war on terror. It is based on the social and historical understanding of the tribes on the periphery of nations. These fiercely independent people, according to Ahmed, have resisted outside authority for centuries. Tracing the arc of Islamic history, beginning with the time of the Prophet of Islam, he lays out for the reader in a tour de force the historical conflict between center and periphery and the quickening of its tempo, through colonization and into the modern state. As Ahmed demonstrates, it is only by grasping this history and the place of the oft-persecuted tribes that we are able to grasp the conflicts that we are witnessing today as part of the war on terror. The world-wide problems are taken head-on. There is no "white-washing". In this profound study, Ahmed draws on non-Abrahamic and Abrahamic societies for a humanistic approach to the world in which peace between nations is the ultimate goal.
Ahmed's cultural and intellectual South Asian background is enriched by the legacy of Emperor Ashoka and Guru Nanak, the poets Iqbal and Kabir, and by Mahatma Gandhi. He offers a perfectly balanced approach, a panacea, for the deeply embedded problems, the moral dilemmas facing our world. He presents the history, strong moral values and cultural nuances of tribal societies - their needs and aspirations in juxtaposition with senseless violence and mass killings.
Belonging to a common culture to that of the author, with a shared history, I am awe-struck and spellbound by the compelling narrative, the poetic analysis and the sheer scope of the work. Ahmed's work is imbued with intellectual curiosity and a strong passion to promote a better understanding and a meaningful dialogue. He uses difficult material to create a glissando that touches the very root of the problem and pricks at every conscience to understand the plight of the innocent, the voiceless and the exploited.
This is a "must read" for all - the politician, the academic, the student, the media, the policy-maker and the concerned citizen of the world. The book inspires people to rise above race, religion, and nationality to search for the universal values that point to a harmonious and peaceful world. This work is Ahmed's legacy to the next generation of informed, sensitive, and proactive citizens of the world to create a more just and compassionate world. It provides a mantra for resolving conflicts and embracing Universal Peace. Several very delicate though critically important pieces are taken to create a whole, a beautiful stained glass that must not be shattered. This is a work of epic stature imbued with the lofty spirit of humanity captured in the Sufi motto - sulh-i-kul - Peace for all. (Global India Newswire/AmericanBazaarOnline)
(Manjula Kumar is Project Director at the Smithsonian Center for Education and Museum Studies of the Smithsonian Institution and a theatrical director in Washington, D.C.)