Bihar, British India
11th May 1999|
|Cause of death||Cancer|
Forman Christian College|
Eqbal Ahmad (1933 – 11 May 1999) was a Pakistani political scientist, writer and academic known for his anti-war activism, support for resistance movements globally and academic contributions to the study of Near East. Born in Bihar, British India, Ahmad migrated to Pakistan as a child and went on to study economics at the Forman Christian College. After graduating, he worked briefly as an army officer and was wounded in the First Kashmir War.
He moved to the United States in the mid-1950s as a rotary fellow at Occidental College. He then moved to study political science and Middle Eastern history at Princeton University where he earned his PhD in 1965. During his time at Princeton, Ahmad travelled to Tunisia and Algeria as part of his doctoral dissertation. In Algiers, he supported the revolution, leading to his subsequent arrest in France. Ahmad went on to teach at the University of Illinois and at Cornell University until 1968. During this time, Ahmad also became a prominent fellow of the anti-war Institute for Policy Studies.
His vocal support of Palestinian rights during the 1967 war led to his isolation within the academic community, causing him to leave Cornell. From 1968 to 1972, he worked as a fellow at the University of Chicago. During this time, Ahmad became a strong activist against the Vietnam War, which lead to his being charged as part of the Harrisburg Seven in January 1971. After the trial Ahmad was acquitted of all charges in 1972. He moved to Amsterdam in 1973, and headed the Transnational Institute until 1975. In 1982, he moved back to the United States and joined the Hampshire College as a tenured professor and taught here until becoming professor emeritus in 1997.
In 1990, he began splitting his time between Islamabad and Amherst and also began writing for Dawn, and worked unsuccessfully to establish a liberal arts college named after Ibn Khaldun in Islamabad. Ahmad was one of the most prominent left-wing academics in both Pakistan and the United States. His legacy is that of strong opposition to militarism, bureaucracy, nuclear arms and ideological rigidity, while a strong supporter of democracy and self-determination. Even though a little-known figure within Pakistan, Ahmad bestowed a strong legacy within intellectual circles both in and outside the country.
Early life and education
Ahmad was born in the village of Irki in the Indian state of Bihar. When he was a young boy, his father was murdered over a land dispute in his presence. During the partition of India in 1947, he and his older brothers migrated to Pakistan.
Ahmad graduated from Forman Christian College in Lahore, Pakistan, in 1951 with a degree in economics. After serving briefly as an army officer, he enrolled at Occidental College in California in 1957. From 1958 to 1960, he studied political science and Middle Eastern history at Princeton University, later earning his PhD.
From 1960 to 1963, Ahmad lived in North Africa, working primarily in Algeria, where he joined the National Liberation Front and worked with Frantz Fanon. He was offered an opportunity to join the first independent Algerian government, but refused in favour of life as an independent intellectual.
When he returned to the United States, Ahmad taught at the University of Illinois at Chicago (1964–65) and Cornell University in the school of Labour Relations (1965–68). During these years, he became known as one of the earliest and most vocal opponents of American policies in Vietnam and Cambodia. From 1968 to 1972, he was a fellow at the Adlai Stevenson Institute in Chicago. In 1971, Ahmad was indicted as one of the Harrisburg Seven, with the anti-war Catholic priest Philip Berrigan, Berrigan's future wife, Sister Elizabeth McAlister, and four other Catholic pacifists, on charges of conspiracy to kidnap Henry Kissinger. After fifty-nine hours of deliberations, the jury declared a mistrial, in 1972.
From 1972 to 1982, Ahmad was Senior Fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies. From 1973 to 1975, he served as the first director of its overseas affiliate, the Transnational Institute in Amsterdam. In 1982, Ahmad joined the faculty at Hampshire College, in Amherst, Massachusetts, a progressive school which was the first college in the nation to divest from South Africa. There, he taught world politics and political science. In the early 1990s, Ahmad was granted a parcel of land in Pakistan by Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto's government, to build an independent, alternative university, named Khaldunia.
Upon his retirement from Hampshire in 1997, he settled permanently in Pakistan, where he continued to write a weekly column, for Dawn, Pakistan's oldest English-language newspaper. Ahmad was the founding chancellor of the then newly established Textile Institute of Pakistan, a textile-oriented science, design and business degree-awarding institute. The institute professes to be driven by the values Ahmad stood for and awards its most prestigious honour, the Dr. Eqbal Ahmed Achievement Award, to one graduate unanimously deemed by the faculty as reflective of Ahmad's values at its annual convocation.
Since his death, a memorial lecture series has been established at Hampshire College in his honour. Speakers have included Kofi Annan, Edward Said, Noam Chomsky, and Arundhati Roy. Ahmad was admired as "an intellectual unintimidated by power or authority". He collaborated with such left-wing journalists, activists, and thinkers as Chomsky, Said, Howard Zinn, Ibrahim Abu-Lughod, Richard Falk, Fredric Jameson, Alexander Cockburn and Daniel Berrigan. Ahmad influenced several left-leaning activists including Chomsky, Zinn, Abu-Lughod, Richard Falk, Pervez Hoodbhoy, Cockburn, Said and Roy. Ahmad is credited for his insight into Islamic terrorism; he publicly criticised global support for the Islamic fundamentalist groups in Afghanistan.
Quotes by Ahmad
- “We are living in modern times throughout the world and yet are dominated by medieval minds.”
Death and legacy
Ahmad died of heart failure on 11 May 1999 at an Islamabad hospital in Pakistan, where he was being treated for colon cancer. He had married Julie Diamond in 1969, a teacher and a writer from New York and they had one daughter.
Noam Chomsky in an article, after Ahmad's death in 1999, said that Ahmad describes with warmth and feeling the Islamic Sufi tradition that he remembers from his childhood in a village in Bihar, where Islamic Sufi admiration among the public united Hindus and Muslims. Simple and unpretentious, 'they preached by example', living 'by service and by setting an example of treating people equally without discrimination'. The Sufis appealed to the most oppressed, offering 'social mobility, as well as dignity and equality to the poor'. Sufis regarded the idea of nationalism as an anti-Islamic ideology that 'proceeds to create boundaries where Islam is a faith without national boundaries. Eqbal Ahmad describes himself as a 'harshly secular' person and an 'internationalist' but he was quick to praise elements of religious thought and practice that he found admirable among the Islamic Sufis.
Ahmad was secular and not religious. He saw Islam in particular, as concerned above all with the welfare of common people. Eqbal's secularism and leftism was his humanity and this only reinforced the pride he took in being a Pakistani in a challenging time. He brought wisdom and integrity to the cause of oppressed peoples all over the world.
[Ahmad was] perhaps the shrewdest and most original anti-imperialist analyst of the post-war world, especially in the dynamics between the West and the post-colonial states of Asia and Africa.
- Confronting Empire (with David Barsamian), 2000, South End Press, ISBN 0-89608-615-1.
- The Selected Writings of Eqbal Ahmad edited by Carollee Bengelsdorf, Margaret Cerullo & Yogesh Chandrani, 2006, Columbia University Press, ISBN 0-231-12711-1
- Terrorism: Theirs and Ours (with David Barsamian), 2001, Seven Stories Press, ISBN 1-58322-490-4
- Stuart Schaar, Eqbal Ahmad: Critical Outsider in a Turbulent Age, 2015, Columbia University Press, ISBN 9780231171571
- Said, By Edward W. (1999-05-13). "Eqbal Ahmad". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 2016-10-01.
- Paracha, Nadeem F. (2015-05-03). "Smokers' Corner: Eqbal Ahmed: the astute alarmist". Retrieved 2016-10-01.
- Times, Special To The New York (1972-02-27). "The Nation". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2016-10-01.
- JACKSON, JUSTIN (2010-01-01). "Kissinger's Kidnapper: Eqbal Ahmad, the U.S. New Left, and the Transnational Romance of Revolutionary War". Journal for the Study of Radicalism. 4 (1): 75–119. JSTOR 41887645.
- "Ahmad, Eqbal. - Oxford Islamic Studies Online". www.law.harvard.edu. Retrieved 2016-10-01.
- "Biography of Eqbal Ahmad". Retrieved 2016-10-01.
- "The intellectual's intellectual ‹ The Friday Times". www.thefridaytimes.com. Retrieved 2016-10-01.
- Schaar, Stuart (2016-10-01). Eqbal Ahmad: Critical Outsider in a Turbulent Age. Columbia University Press. ISBN 9780231539920.
- Newspaper, From the (2011-05-10). "Remembering Dr Eqbal Ahmad". Retrieved 2016-10-01.
- "About Eqbal Ahmad". 2014-01-27. Retrieved 2016-10-01.
- Ahmed, Vaqar (2015-05-14). "Eqbal Ahmad: A memoir of Munno Chacha". Retrieved 2016-10-01.
- http://www.economist.com/node/208906, Profile of Eqbal Ahmad on The Economist magazine, UK, Published 27 May 1999, Retrieved 15 June 2016
- https://www.theguardian.com/news/1999/may/14/guardianobituaries1, Obituary of Eqbal Ahmad on The Guardian newspaper, UK, Published 11 May 1999, Retrieved 15 June 2016
- https://chomsky.info/2000____/, Noam Chomsky pays tributes to Eqbal Ahmad in 2000 after his death in 1999, Retrieved 15 June 2016
- https://web.archive.org/web/20091026205203/http://www.geocities.com/CollegePark/Library/9803/eqbal_ahmad/fea_eqbal.html, Obituary of Eqbal Ahmad on Dawn newspaper, Published 12 May 1999, Retrieved 15 June 2016
- Eqbal Ahmad materials in the South Asian American Digital Archive (SAADA), Newspaper clippings about articles on Eqbal Ahmad, Retrieved 15 June 2016
- Eqbal Ahmad, by Edward W. Said, in The Guardian newspaper, UK, Published May 14, 1999, Retrieved 15 June 2016
- Obituary. "Eqbal Ahmad, historian and rebel." The Economist magazine, UK, Published May 27, 1999 This is a link to a premium content article, Retrieved 15 June 2016