Book Review: The Kashmir question

This book is an in-depth study of the violent struggle that has plagued Kashmir for decades.
Updated 26 October 2017

Book Review: The Kashmir question

"Paradise on Fire” is a comprehensive study of the struggle for freedom in Kashmir and a biography of a man who has played a central role in carrying the Kashmiri cause forward with determination and vision. The author of the book, Abdul Hakeem, openly acknowledges his patriotic feelings for India, but, to his credit, does not ignore the wrongdoings of his nation in relation to Kashmir.
The author begins with an elaborate account of the Kashmir dispute. He starts from the era of Afghan rule, through the Indo-Pak Partition of 1947, to the post-partition conspiracies that allegedly duped Kashmiris into accession to India and brings to light all misunderstandings related to the dispute.
Syed Ali Geelani’s struggle is compellingly narrated. His life as a student, the hardships experienced through poverty, his inspirations and early attempts to achieve freedom and his first arrest, which prevented him from performing his father’s last rites, are all documented.
Since then, the now 88-year-old Kashmiri separatist leader has often been detained by the Indian authorities on a variety of charges. 
Despite his failing health, Geelani continues his struggle. While others have succumbed either to threats or the lure of luxury from India, Geelani has remained steadfast in his loyalty to his cause.
He has maintained a clear stance on the rights of Kashmiri minorities, too, respecting and protecting those whose religious beliefs differ from his own. “We want to live with our Hindu and Buddhist brothers,” he has said. “We have never pressured anyone. Hindu brothers who left Kashmir were never told by us to leave the state. It was the Indian government that asked them to leave Kashmir,” he claimed.
There are numerous tales of the wrongs inflicted on Kashmiris: The shooting at Mirwaiz Maulvi Farooq’s funeral procession in May 1990, by forces in Kashmir, the alleged gang rape of Kunan Poshpora in February 1991 and the continuing series of heart-wrenching atrocities committed against Kashmiris.
The ill-treatment detainees are subjected to in the interrogation centers is barbaric. Kashmir is a heavily militarized zone with the highest civilian to soldier ratio in the world. It can be no coincidence that 80 percent of Kasmiris suffer from mild or severe psychiatric disorders.
The formation of militant groups in 1989 was probably the first attempt to get widespread attention for the Kashmiri cause. Tired of the futile non-violent measures Kashmiris had been relying on in their struggle for freedom, their efforts turned violent after the 1987 elections were allegedly rigged. They were forced to choose the bullet rather than the ballot.
India has successfully presented the pro-freedom group led by Geelani as an insignificant minority. However, the magnitude of significance and support that Kashmiri people attach to him is shown by the large following answering his calls for strikes or election boycotts. Kashmiris have consistently boycotted elections held by the Indian government in order to showcase the façade of a peace process to the rest of the world. 
Geelani was instrumental in the formation of the All Party Hurriyat Conference (APHC). However, an ideological split between those who wanted independent statehood and those who wanted a merger with Pakistan destroyed the party. 
Kashmir’s strategic location in the middle of the Sino-Indian-Pakistani Arc is seen as pivotal to the potential conflicts that could arise between the three, all of whom wish to control the region’s rich abundance of resources. 
Nehru, India’s first prime minister, made a pledge to the people of Kashmir: “If, after a proper plebiscite, the people of Kashmir say, ‘we do not want to be with India,’ we are committed to accept that. We will accept it though it might pain us.”

BOOK REVIEW: Nine Palestinian refugees tell Shatila’s stories in this innovative book

Updated 17 July 2018

BOOK REVIEW: Nine Palestinian refugees tell Shatila’s stories in this innovative book

  • “Shatila Stories” is a collaborative work of fiction written by nine refugees from the Shatila camp in Beirut

CHICAGO: A novel born in extraordinary circumstances, “Shatila Stories” is a collaborative work of fiction written by nine refugees from the Shatila camp in Beirut that was commissioned by Peirene Press.

The authors, ranging from the ages of 20 to 43, captivate the reader by painting a picture of muddied walkways, crumbling walls and desperate faces.

From beginning to end, the phenomenal words of Omar Khaled Ahmad, Nibal Alalo, Safa Khaled Algharbaqi, Omar Abdellatif Alndaf, Rayan Mohamad Sukkar, Safiya Badran, Fatima Omar Ghazawi, Samih Mahmoud and Hiba Mareb take the reader on a powerful journey. 

“Shatila Stories” begins with the character of Reham, who is leaving Damascus for Beirut. She and her family look to Shatila as a refuge from the strife at the Yarmouk camp in Syria. Reham’s story is embedded in spirituality and faith, a strength that drives many of the book’s characters. After Reham, the reader is told the story of Jafra, named after the revolutionary Palestinian fighter who was killed in an airstrike in 1976. 

Evil lurks within the boundaries of the Shatila camp — children are exploited, disease is rampant and the methods used to safeguard residents are sometimes more harmful than helpful.

The writers have done a brilliant job of conveying the constricted yet vibrant lives led by many in the camp, as they wander alleyways that are “narrow yet wide enough to hold a thousand stories.”

The effort to publish nine refugee writers began with Mieke Ziervogel, publisher of Peirene Press, who journeyed from London to Beirut with editor Suhir Helal after getting in contact with an NGO that runs a community center in the camp. 

After handpicking the writers during a three-day workshop, the manuscripts were received and translator Nasha Gowanlock got to work. It was a Herculean effort that reminds us that storytelling may be an art, but everyone has a story to tell.