Wednesday, March 30

"The World's Worst Daughter"?

Across from the airport in Ferghana is a large banner featuring a young Uzbek woman, superimposed on a composite background of stock images -- tractors, dams, cotton fields, a school chemistry lab, a mosque. This is Gulnora Karimova, the First Daughter of Uzbekistan, whose father has given her a monopoly on, among other businesses (this according to Craig Murray), the printing of banners. Karimov himself apparently extracts a 10% cut of the world's largest open pit Muruntau gold mine (whose reserves at 6 million ounces of gold are worth about USD 8 billion), and takes delivery of the same as ingots air-freighted to his vaults in Rothschild bank in Switzerland; for everything else, the first dibs go to Gulnora. In hushed tones, they say she sits on top of the state/mafia nexus.

From Wiki:

According to US diplomats in Uzbekistan, Karimova "bullied her way into gaining a slice of virtually every lucrative business" in the country and is viewed as a "robber baron". Granted diplomatic status by her father, Gulnara lives much of the time in Geneva, where her holding company, Zeromax, is registered. Gulnara denies claims that she owns Zeromax. And no evidence is still available to confirm that she actually owned that Company or had any connection to it. Karimova was claimed to control Uzdunrobita, Uzbekistan's national mobile telephone network, as well as the country's healthcare, and media sectors. However since June 2007 Uzdunrobita’s 100% stake belongs to Mobile Telesystems OJSC (NYSE: MBT), the largest mobile phone operator in Russia and the CIS. It is said that she has financial interests worth $600 million in retail, nightclubs, and tourism which is denied by Gulnora who attributes these belongings to her family members and friends In December 2009, the Swiss magazine "Bilan" in its list of the richest people in Switzerland assessed Gulnora Karimova to be one of the ten richest women in the country.

The businessmen and proto-capitalists of Ferghana, like the owner of the Yodgorlik factory, have the look people who have made their peace with authorities, and are indeed connected well to the government. Foreign cars are charged 100% import tax, and in any case Yusufjon Mamayusupov's USD 80000 Benz (see Clouds Asleep on Silk, below) represents a lifetime's salary for the average Uzbek. Wealth attracts scrutiny, and demands either to contribute to, or become a part of, the mafia state.

Here is a story about those who fall foul of the state/mafia nexus:

[The Adilovs] "were known in Kokand as wealthy, noble and respected family. Rakhimzhon Adilov was holding the managerial positions in law enforcement bodies of Uzbekistan. His wife Rakhbarkhon Adilova was running a small shop that step by step turned into the chain stores. Their two daughters – Iroda and Mukhaye – were no less successful: Iroda graduated from Frunze polytechnic institute and worked at Kokand meat factory. Mukhaye finished teacher’s college in Kokand; she also married rich businessman from Pakistan.

The wealth of Adilov’s family produced jealousy and willingness to expropriate their property. In the opinion of Adilov’s, the important fact was that the Interior Ministry supervisor for Ferghana Oblast Shukur Ruzmatov wanted to marry Mukhaye, but was denied. The serious problems still had to be faced later.

According to Iroda, in 1994 the Kokand meat factory became the joint stock company. It was defined that 25% of shares must be bought by foreign investors, 25% must be offered at the market, 25% must be owned by staff, 25% must be owned by supplier companies.

While staff members gained 25% of stocks, the rest 75% were sold to influential mafia boss Ibragim Tazhibaev. In 1997 the CEO of the meat factory was fired because "he paid low dividends". Iroda was offered to take over this position but she said "no". One year later the meat plant was already headed by Ibragim Tazhbaev that, according to Adilova, "immediately started fraud operations, also replacing all highly qualified experts by his relatives, having no idea about the job".

Later on Tazhbaev proposed Iroda to attract Pakistani businessman as the foreign investor. As a result, in 2000 Ali Shah Izhad Akhmad Ali Shah – the husband of Mukhaye – bought Tazhibaev’s stake for $150 000; Mukhaye even offered one million sum as the security deposit, which became the reason of the conflict.

Receiving one million, Tazhibaev changed his mind and did not return the security deposit. After interference of Pakistan’s Ambassador, Tazhibaev returned money but fired Iroda. Iroda started addressing the complaints to various agencies and filed a suit. In response, Tazhibaev decided to get rid of Adilova.

"On October 31, 2003 my 13-year old son was kidnapped. Friends of Tazhibaev threatened to kill him, forcing me to "sell" my stocks to Tazhbaev and sign the resignation letter", said Iroda Adilova. She wrote an application but got no response from police. Iroda started writing about the despotism of police structures in the Ferghana valley. Later on the family learned from Sultan Tashpulatov that police received "instruction from above" to "expropriate the property and imprison all family members".

Mukhaye was arrested in 2006.

Mukhaye Adilova said that during 27 days in row she was being tortured and raped by the law enforcement officers, "blessed" by top authorities.

"In pre-trial detention center 5-6 men were raping me every day. I was injected something (the doctor said it was heroin) so that I could stay up. I got pregnant, but had miscarriage", Mukhaye Adilova shared.

It has to be mentioned that the relatives of Mukhaye were never allowed to see her in the detention center. They put best efforts to take her out. They sold most of their assets and gave money to the investigator Alisher Khuzhamkulov and Shukur Ruzmatov, the "supervisor" for Ferghana Oblast. However, these efforts were useless.

Desperate Iroda Adila wrote complaints, where she informed that Asma Sultanova “was illegally importing gold sand from Chechnya to Uzbekistan”, about mafia between Tazhbaev and Kokand’s security officers and Shukur Ruzmatova, “the patron” for criminal business in the Ferghana Oblast.

Later on Iroda and Rakhbarkhon became the target of number of honeytrap situations, organized by Asma Sultanova under the patronage of local law enforcement and judicial structures. As a result, they were sentenced to 8 and 6 years of prison respectively on the following charges: false testimony, false information, blackmailing and other. Nazhot, the younger son of the Adilov’s family, was outside of Uzbekistan. Upon his return home in 2008, he was sentenced to 6 years of jail under trumped-up case.

Craig Murray reports meeting Gulnora for the first time at a British Embassy cultural event in honor of the Queen's birthday. She is 'low-makeup', girlishly hanging on to the UK Ambassador's every word; a provincial Uzbek governor, drunk, having no idea she is Karimov's daughter, approaches the devotchka demanding she translate for him, clearly thinking this leggy beauty is an assistant of some sort. She giggles, asking Murray coyly if she might make a good translator. The lout is led away gently, never to be heard of again.

In a cable sent by the US Embassy in Tashkent to Washington (released by Wikileaks), it was claimed Gulnora Karimova is the single-most hated person in Uzbekistan:

Most Uzbeks see Karimova as a greedy, power hungry individual who uses her father to crush business people or anyone else who stands in her way. Even with the press campaign to improve her image, Gulnora is continuing to do business, pressuring and shutting down competitors. This charm offensive will not likely make her more popular; she remains the single most hated person in the country.

As part of the makeover, she recorded a music video. Reviewing this opus, The Guardian wrote in a piece titled "Princess Of The Uzbeks":

Martial arts black belt, Harvard graduate, jewellery designer, businesswoman. Her father may be a brutal dictator, but the official list of Gulnara Karimova's achievements is as long as your arm. Now the glamorous daughter of the president of Uzbekistan, Islam Karimov, has added a new talent to the list with the release of her first music video. Unutma Meni (Don't Forget Me) features the 33-year-old brunette under the stage name GooGoosha - apparently her father's name for her - cavorting in a cartoon wonderland where she travels to a secluded castle and a tropical island in a limousine that floats through the air.

Commentators say the video - showing repeatedly on Uzbekistan's domestic equivalent of MTV - is part of a campaign to promote Ms Karimova as a potential successor to her father, whose term of office finishes at the end of next year.

Despite the stumbling block of promoting a woman as leader in a traditional Muslim society, Ms Karimova is thought to be the only person who can protect the assets of her father's family and cronies.

However, critics suggest the new song will do little to raise her appeal. "This is exactly comparable to the emperor Nero playing his harp and everyone having to cheer," said Craig Murray, the former British ambassador to Uzbekistan, who was sacked after exposing the Karimov regime's torture of political opponents.

The video is below. Here is Gulnora's website peddling her own line of designer jewelry; and here is the cloying (paid for by Gulnora's PR) interview in Forbes magazine.

Tuesday, March 29

Hadith in Bukhara

Narrated 'Aisha:

Some of the wives of the Prophet asked him, "Who amongst us will be the first to follow you (i.e. die after you)?" He said, "Whoever has the longest hand." So they started measuring their hands with a stick and Sauda's hand turned out to be the longest. When Zainab bint Jahsh died first of all (during the caliphate of 'Umar), we came to know that the long hand was a symbol of practicing charity, so she was the first to follow the Prophet and she used to love to practice charity.

(Sauda died later during the caliphate of Muawiya).

A hadith is a Mohammedan anecdote. There are estimated to be 10000 hadiths counting minor variations; each has a matn (text) and sanad (attribution; often in chains -- so and so heard so and so claim they heard Muhammad proclaim thus) Together, they describe the normative custom of Muhammad or the early Muslim community, and thus underpin the sunnah. Muhammad al-Bukhari, the 'original' Imam Bukhari (810-870 AD), is the scholar best known for authoring a hadith collection (the Sahih al-Bukhari), one that Sunni Muslims regard as the most authentic of such compilations. In Bukhara, the oldest monument left standing by Genghis Khan is the tomb of Ismail Samani; right across from it, the Karimov regime has constructed a concrete monument to Imam Bukhari in the shape of an opened Quran enclosing a hadith library.

Many years ago, as part of a theological discussion with taxi drivers in Cairo, I was asked "Who this man is?"

- His book is in every Muslim's house!
- He's not Arab!
- In fact a Russian!
- Like Salahuddin ibn Ayyubi (i.e. Saladin.)
- Hey, hey, Salahuddin was Kurdish, not Russian.
- I meant a non-Arab.
- But go on, guess, who this man is?

Muhammad al-Bukhari's father Ismail was a student of leading scholars of the day Hammad ibn Zaid and Imam Malik. Ismail al-Bukhari died when Muhammad was quite young. He did, though, leave his son enough wealth for financial independence and a life of scholarship. It is said that the boy was blind in childhood, but cured by his mother's tremendous capacity for prayer, which reached the prophet Abraham in the high heavens. When Muhammad al-Bukhari did gain sight, he exhibited for the rest of his life a photographic memory -- perhaps an allegory for the zeal of the recently-converted.

According to his own account, he began to attend the lectures of the local scholars around the age of ten. At the time, al-Dakhili was the foremost lecturer in Bukhara, and in one lecture on the Quran al-Dakhili read a hadith with the sanad “Sufyan from Abu al-Zubair from Ibrahim.” al-Bukhari told the lecturer that he was mistaken, and that the correct chain was al-Zubair ibn Adi from Ibrahim; because al-Zubair had never recorded hadith from Ibrahim. Al-Dakhili went to check his original, and had to admit his mistake to the ten-year-old.

At sixteen, he left Bukhara with his mother to perform the Haj. After the pilgrimage, he stayed on in Mecca and Medina, using these places as bases to visit other Arab cities in search of hadith scholars and carriers of chains of transmission. He writes:

I visited al-Sham (Syria-Palestine), Masr (Egypt) and al-Jazeera (i.e. the 'island', viz. the Arabian Peninsula) twice. Four times I went to Basra. I stayed in the Hijaz for six years. And I do not know how many times I visited Kufa and Baghdad along with the scholars of hadith.

Al-Bukhari is supposed to have eventually recorded hadith from 1,080 scholars, which he cross-checked, de-duplicated, edited for clarity and eventually wrote down in his magnum opus. It is claimed he heard over 300,000 hadiths, and included about 7,000 in the Sahih, including variations; there are about 2600 unique stories in that number, the rest vary in minor detail or attribution.

Ibn Hajr al-Asqalani wrote in his Hady-al-Sari (introduction) to the Fath al-Bari (an exegesis of the Sahih al-Bukhari) that al-Bukhari’s sources are divided into five categories:

The first category is those scholars who narrated hadith from the Tabieen (Followers), one generation removed from the Companions of Muhammad.

The second category of scholars is those people of the same generation as the first category, who did not have the fortune of receiving hadith from trustworthy Followers, but who nonetheless have some credibility because they were reciting words spoken in their own time.

Al-Bukhari places highest trust in the first two categories.

The third category is the “intermediate” trust category. These scholars did not meet any of the Followers but they received hadith from the leading scholars of the generation immediately following that of the Followers.

The fourth category consists of scholars in al-Bukhari’s own time. From these people, he used to record hadith that he did not hear directly from their teachers (who were also al-Bukhari’s teachers) or the hadith that he did not find with anybody else.

The fifth category is those people who were younger in stature or age than al-Bukhari whom he recorded from due to some benefit in their narrations, a category that includes al-Khwarezmi. By accepting material from those sources, al-Bukhari was applying the litmus of Waki' ibn al-Jarraah:

A person does not become a real scholar until he records from those older than him, those of the same age and those younger than him.

Some say that the word Bukhara derives from Vihara, the Buddhist monasteries of learning which apparently dotted the area much as they did Bihar. Another claims that the origin of the name is in a Chinese garden -- Bahar-e-Chin -- in the area. It could also be derived from the Sogdian βuxārak (Place of Good Fortune). By the 9th century, the Buddhist/Chinese/Sogdian influences were fading, the generation of Imam Bukhari shows Arab cultural consolidation; al-Bukhari himself seems to be the quintessential autodidact from the periphery who fortifies his arrival to the center with a virulent orthodoxy. He writes:

I don’t see any difference between praying Salah behind a Jahmi or a Rafidhi and a Christian or a Jew. They (i.e. the Jahmiyyah or Rāfida) are not to be greeted, nor are they to be visited, nor are they to be married, nor is their testimony to be accepted, nor are their sacrifices to be eaten.

The Jahmis in this context are the school of Mutalizah, who accepted many of the teachings of Jahm ibn Safwan. From Wikipedia:

Muʿtazilah is an Islamic school of speculative theology that flourished in the cities of Basra and Baghdad, both in present-day Iraq, during the 8th–10th centuries. The adherents of the Mu'tazili school are best known for their having asserted that, because of the perfect unity and eternal nature of God, the Qur'an must therefore have been created, as it could not be co-eternal with God. From this premise, the Mu'tazili school of Kalam proceeded to posit that the injunctions of God are accessible to rational thought and inquiry: because knowledge is derived from reason, reason is the "final arbiter" in distinguishing right from wrong. It follows, in Mu'tazili reasoning, that "sacred precedent" is not an effective means of determining what is just, as what is obligatory in religion is only obligatory "by virtue of reason."

Rafidhi, or Deserters, is a term is used by Sunni extremists to refer to Shias, who do not recognize Abu Bakr (and his successors) as legitimate caliphs of the Muslims.

Narrated Abu Huraira:

Abraham did not tell a lie except on three occasions. Twice for the Sake of Allah when he said, "I am sick," and he said, "(I have not done this but) the big idol has done it." The (third was) that while Abraham and Sarah (his wife) were going (on a journey) they passed by (the territory of) a tyrant. Someone said to the tyrant, "This man (i.e. Abraham) is accompanied by a very charming lady." So, he sent for Abraham and asked him about Sarah saying, "Who is this lady?" Abraham said, "She is my sister." Abraham went to Sarah and said, "O Sarah! There are no believers on the surface of the earth except you and I. This man asked me about you and I have told him that you are my sister, so don't contradict my statement." The tyrant then called Sarah and when she went to him, he tried to take hold of her with his hand, but (his hand got stiff and) he was confounded. He asked Sarah. "Pray to Allah for me, and I shall not harm you." So Sarah asked Allah to cure him and he got cured. He tried to take hold of her for the second time, but (his hand got as stiff as or stiffer than before and) was more confounded. He again requested Sarah, "Pray to Allah for me, and I will not harm you." Sarah asked Allah again and he became alright. He then called one of his guards (who had brought her) and said, "You have not brought me a human being but have brought me a devil." The tyrant then gave Hajar as a girl-servant to Sarah. Sarah came back (to Abraham) while he was praying. Abraham, gesturing with his hand, asked, "What has happened?" She replied, "Allah has spoiled the evil plot of the infidel (or immoral person) and gave me Hajar for service." (Abu Huraira then addressed his listeners saying, "That (Hajar) was your mother, O Bani Ma-is-Sama (i.e. the Arabs, the descendants of Ishmael, Hajar's son)."

A searchable compilation of hadiths can be found here.

Monday, March 21

The Odyssey of M.N. Roy

The Uzbek authorities have erected gay green-painted tin facades in front of the old mohalla of Sibzar in Tashkent, lest the lot of the working-classes detract attention from the nearby spanking Khast-Imam complex. Enter through that little gate cut in the fence, and you will find yourself in the haunts of Manabendra Nath Roy -- radical of Calcutta, insurrectionist of Palo Alto, founder of the Communist Parties of Mexico and India -- sent by Lenin from Moscow to Tashkent in 1920 with two trainloads of armaments to set up a school for training Indian revolutionary cadres dedicated to overthrowing the British government in an Eastern repeat of the October revolution.

M.N. Roy was born as Narendra Nath Bhattacharya near Kolkata in 1886. His father was a village temple priest, and while as a boy he got a smattering of Sanskrit in the village educational system, M.N. Roy had no formal education and was basically self-taught. Radicalized early by Aurobindo Ghose (Sri Aurobindo) and Jatindranath Mukherjee (Bagha Jatin), he joined the Bengali revolutionaries committed to overthrowing the British Raj.

Shortly after the breakout of World War I in September 1914, Indian-independence seekers recognized that splits in the ranks of Europeans no longer afforded the 'sahibs' an united front against the aspirations of the colonies, and that the Austro-German confederation could be engaged to neutralize the advantages of the use of modern arms that the British colonial state possessed over the ragtag revolutionaries of India. An International Pro-India Committee was formed at Zurich; it merged into the Indian Independence Party, led by Virendranath Chattopadhyaya (Chatto, Sarojini Naidu's brother). Advised by Berlin, the German Ambassador Johann von Bernstorff in Washington arranged with Franz von Papen, his military attaché (as well as future Nazi boss and German Chancellor), to send arms consignments from California to secret dropoff locations on coast of Orissa. The Indians were to pay for these arms -- the Bengali revolutionaries under Bagha Jatin and Rashbehari Bose started raising the money by conducting a series of robberies. Jatin relocated to a hideout in Orissa near the Balasore coast; and, in April 1915, sent Narendra Bhattacharya to Batavia, to make a deal with the German authorities concerning the supply of arms.

Narendra traveled under many names -- Charles A. Martin, Hari Singh, Mr. White, D. Garcia, Dr. Mahmud, Mr. Banerjee. Through the German Consul in Batavia, Narendra met the brother of Karl Helfferich, secretary of the treasury for the German empire, who assured him that cargoes of arms and ammunition were already on their way "to assist the Indians in a revolution", but not much more in terms of specifics. He then seems to have traveled to Shanghai, Japan, Korea, Mexico, the Philippines, and America in search of armed assistance for the Indian revolution. Traveling to Japan as Mr White, Narendra met Rashbehari Bose in Tokyo, as well as the exiled Chinese President Dr Sun Yat-Sen, who helped arrange that he would receive ammunition supplies from two Chinese governors near the Assam border that would be paid for by German sources. With this brief, Narendra went to China; the German Ambassador in Peking arranged a passport in the name of Father Charles Martin so that he could go to the United States ostensibly to study theology at Notre Dame University.

Meanwhile, the Indo-German plot leaked out via Czech spies in the USA. In 1915, Emanuel Viktor Voska had organized ethnic Czechs in the USA into a network of counter-espionage. The Czechs, presumed to be German supporters, were involved in spying on German and Austrian diplomats, and had succeeded in infiltrating German members of the plot; it has been claimed that had E. V. Voska not interfered in history, nobody would have heard about Mahatma Gandhi and the father of the Indian nation would have been Bagha Jatin. Voska learnt of the arms-acquisition through his network and, as pro-American, pro-British and anti-German, he spoke of it to Tomas Garrigue Masaryk, the future president of Czekoslovakia. Masarayk calculated that betraying the Indian cause would help the Czech cause; he informed the Americans, the Americans informed the British, and Bagha Jatin died in a hail of police gunfire in Orissa in September 1915.

In June 1916, his original mission overtaken by events, dogged by revelations from the Czech agents, Narendra arrived in San Francisco, the local newspapers declaring that "a dangerous Hindu revolutionary, German spy, lands in USA." He seems to have made his way undetected to Stanford University, where he was sheltered by Professor Dhanagopal Mukherjee, the younger brother of Jadugopal Mukherjee, Bagha Jatin's successor in Bengal. Dhanagopal changed Narendra's name, introducing him to Dr. David Jordan, Stanford's progressive president, as Manabendra Nath Roy.

At Dr. Jordan's house, Roy met his future bride, Evelyn Trent. A few months later, they were married in New York, living in the house of Lala Lajpat Rai, studying Marxism in the public library.

In 1917 America declared war on Germany; Indian revolutionaries were immediately suspect as possible German spies. The Roys fled to Mexico with an introductory letter from Dr. Jordan. As Mexico toyed with a German alliance (with a goal of recovering lost territories should the Kaiser win) M.N. Roy met Mexico's President Caranza, leading Mexican intellectuals, as well as the 'rebels' under Pancho Villa in the north and Emiliano Zapata in the south. Delivering lectures and writing articles, M.N. Roy learned to speak Spanish, French, and German, gathering great influence and becoming a sort of unofficial adviser to the Mexican left. In December 1917, Roy founded the Socialist Party Conference, which was eventually renamed the Communist Party of Mexico, the first communist party outside Russia, after the October revolution.

In Mexico, the Roys gave shelter to a penniless Mikhail Borodin, one of the founding members of the Bolshevik party and then Comintern agent. On the basis of a grateful Borodin’s report, Lenin invited M.N.Roy to the 2nd World Congress of the Communist International, held in Moscow during the summer of 1920. Upon arrival, Lenin personally received Roy with great warmth; Roy quickly entered the inner circle of Comintern, one of the few to challenge Lenin with success -- he argued for changes to Lenin’s Preliminary Draft Theses on the National and the Colonial Questions. Roy served as a member of the Comintern's Presidium for eight years, and at one point was a member of the Presidium, the Political Secretariat, the Executive Committee, and the World Congress.

Lenin's dream was another Bolshevik revolution in the East — especially India and China. M.N. Roy was to be an architect. Sent to Tashkent to prepare the soil for uprisings, in October 1920, M.N. Roy formed the Communist Party of India in exile -- reaching out to his erstwhile Bengali revolutionary colleagues who, at this juncture, were oscillating between armed revolt (personified by Chittaranjan Das) and Gandhi’s novel program of satyagraha. The latter won; Chittaranjan Das resigned his presidency of the Indian National Congress at the Gaya session after losing a motion to Gandhi's faction. Das then founded the Swaraj Party (with Motilal Nehru) and the banner of violent force to uproot colonialism was carried on by his lieutenants like Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose.

Leading a Comintern delegation appointed by Stalin to develop agrarian revolution in China, M.N. Roy reached Canton in 1927. Disagreements between the CCP leaders, as well as with his former friend Borodin, coupled with Chiang Kai-Shek's ruthless suppression the Communists, led to a fiasco. Roy returned to Moscow where factions supporting Trotsky and Lenin's ADC Zinoviev were busy fighting with Stalin.

Stalin refused to meet Roy on his return from China. Seeing the purges coming, Roy escaped to Berlin with Bukharin’s help. His helper himself was purged, and forced to confess in the most famous of Stalin's show trials:

The monstrousness of my crime is immeasurable especially in the new stage of struggle of the USSR. May this trial be the last severe lesson, and may the great might of the USSR become clear to all.

Bukharin's last note to Stalin before his execution was to be a plaintive "Koba, why do you need me to die?"

In December 1929, the CPSU announced Roy’s expulsion from the Comintern. M.N. Roy returned to India, arriving in Bombay under one of his old noms-de-guerre, Dr. Mahmud, around 1930. He immediately contacted Subhash Chandra Bose and Jawaharlal Nehru. Nehru was to write of M.N. Roy:

There was a great deal of difference between us, and yet I felt attracted towards him... I was attracted to him by his remarkable intellectual capacity.

In July 1931, M.N. Roy was captured by the British, who had not forgotten the events of 1915, and who were further delighted to be able to humiliate and degrade one of the proteges of the great Lenin. (The great General Strike was a fresh memory.) M.N. Roy was tried on charges of sedition, sentenced to 12 years (which, on appeal, was reduced to 6 years hard labor), and placed in the Kanpur Jail. An international campaign to secure a commutation drew the support of Albert Einstein and Roger Nash Baldwin (a founder of the ACLU.) Released in November 1936 in broken health, Roy, invited by Nehru, went to Allahabad for recovery. Defying the Comintern order to boycott the Indian Congress, there he urged Indian communists to join forces with the Congress. Nehru, in his presidential address at Faizpur session of the Congress in 1936, greeted the presence of Roy as

one who, though young, is an old and well-tried soldier in India’s fight for freedom. Comrade M.N. Roy has just come to us after a long and most distressing period in prison, but though shaken up in body, he comes with a fresh mind and heart, eager to take part in that old struggle that knows no end till it ends in success.

Gandhi was less charitable; upon hearing Roy's thoughts on the primacy of an agrarian social revolution over the sort of brahmin-baniya led national one that the Congress was espousing, Gandhi bitingly advised Roy to stay out of Indian politics, and just "render mute service to cause of Indian freedom." Kris Manjapra writes in his book M.N. Roy - Marxism and Colonial Cosmopolitanism:

If Gandhi's Swaraj politics envisioned territorialisation of the Indian nation-body, there was another powerful trajectory of Indian anti-colonialism that originated in Bengal, and asserted that autonomy could best be established through deterritorial practices of travel, coalition building and modernist cultural promiscuity.

When World War II broke out, M.N. Roy had come the full circle with respect to Germany; despite his incarceration by the British, he supported the Allied Powers and vigorously joined the war effort because he considered the declining imperialism a lesser evil to the rising fascism, which he felt would be a menace to mankind.

Roy's main critique of Gandhi was that he and his inner circle imposed their tactics from above on the rank and file, and that their organizational legacy would mostly be an "authoritarian dictatorial" high-command, a position that recalled his experience of the inner working of the Comintern. He was also unhappy with Gandhi's opposition to the Allied War effort. Roy broke definitively with the Bengal politicians with his opposition to Subhas Bose's involvement with Hitler's Nazis, and his bitter warnings "that the evil of fascism knows no boundaries". His long-time associates like Jiban Lal Chatterjee (whose swadeshi gang had robbed my grandparents of their life's savings in 1930) broke with him after his criticism of Bose and Gandhi.

(Interestingly, there is a historical footnote to the thread of armed revolution that informed much of M.N. Roy's odyssey. Chief Justice P.B. Chakrabarty of Calcutta High Court, who had also served as the acting Governor of West Bengal in India, wrote a letter addressed to the publisher of R.C. Majumdar's book A History of Bengal:

In the preface of the book Dr. Majumdar has written that he could not accept the thesis that Indian independence was brought about solely, or predominantly, by the non-violent civil disobedience movement of Gandhi. When I was the acting Governor, Lord Atlee, who had given us independence by withdrawing the British rule from India, spent two days in the Governor's palace at Calcutta during his tour of India. At that time I had a prolonged discussion with him regarding the real factors that had led the British to quit India. My direct question to him was that since Gandhi's "Quit India" movement had tapered off quite some time ago and in 1947 no such new compelling situation had arisen that would necessitate a hasty British departure, why did they have to leave? In his reply Atlee cited several reasons, the principal among them being the erosion of loyalty to the British Crown among the Indian army and navy personnel as a result of the military activities of Netaji. Toward the end of our discussion I asked Atlee what was the extent of Gandhi's influence upon the British decision to quit India. Hearing this question, Atlee's lips became twisted in a sarcastic smile as he slowly chewed out the word, "m-i-n-i-m-a-l!")

In his later years, M.N. Roy was an influential voice in the process of drafting the Indian Constituent Assembly, in favor of decentralization, a federal basis to state power, and the recognition of the rights of the minority communities and the regions. M.N. Roy had by this time moved beyond Marxism; he called himself a radical humanist and sketched out a social activist position from the political center, in doing so attracting the ire of both the Hindu Right and the transnational Left. Recently, the International Communist League wrote:

M.N. Roy’s most lasting contribution to “Communism” was his attempt to reconcile it with bourgeois nationalism. His “non-doctrinaire” approach to communist theory, so admired by many academic pseudo-Marxists today, consisted in pushing proletarian subordination to the bourgeoisie in the colonial world. As noted above, this was anything but a new approach, owing much to the Narodniks and SRs. Its results in China in 1925-27 were horrific and counterrevolutionary. And we also note, with the benefit of more hindsight than Lenin and Trotsky had, that the results of bourgeois nationalism in power in the former colonies in the last half of the 20th century and today have similarly been horrific and counterrevolutionary.

Throughout the Indian subcontinent, from Kashmir to Jaffna, the imperialist-dependent capitalist rulers have built upon the fratricidal divisions inherited from imperialism, promoting social backwardness of every kind and practicing state-sponsored communalist slaughter of minority peoples. Real national and social liberation of the working class and oppressed Third World masses cannot be accomplished under the rule of the neocolonial bourgeoisie, as Trotsky explained in putting forward the program of permanent revolution. The first condition for the proletariat being able to carry out its revolutionary role is the scrupulous safeguarding of its class independence from the bourgeoisie.

The Jana Sangh writes:

The idea of the proletarian revolution as distinct from nationalism came to India and was exhibiting itself in unprecedented strikes. Nationalism was confined to the bourgeois. Their government "would not be less oppressive than the foreigner. Self-determination for India merely encourages the idea of bourgeois nationalism".

The prejudice in the system was self-evident. Roy's antinationalism or anti-Hinduism, must have been so intense that he overlooked the fact that proletarian revolution was little else but the replacement of British with Russian rule, of London with Moscow.

In recent years, M.N. Roy's radical humanism seems to have found the most resonance with Bertrand Russell-style rationalists. One of them, reviewing Ramendra Nath's "M.N. Roy’s New Humanism and Materialism" writes:

[The author] places Roy’s ideas in the context of the history of materialist philosophy, including a tantalizingly brief mention of Lokayat or Charvaka, an ancient Indian school of materialist thought. While Roy opposed the glorification of India’s so-called spiritual heritage, he favored a rational and critical study of ancient Indian philosophy. He thought it might do for India what the rediscovery of ancient Greek thought did for Europe in the Renaissance.

Roy’s version of materialism was an ethical philosophy. He believed that human beings have the power to make free and rational choices, and that they have a duty to do this without debasing themselves before imaginary supernatural beings.

Dr. Ramendra explains how Roy’s thought differed from Marxian materialism. According to Roy, Marxian determinism did not allow for human freedom and it neglected ethics. Like Bertrand Russell, Roy perceived there is no logical connection between Marx’s philosophical materialism (there is no supernatural reality) and his historical materialism (everything in history has economic causes).


I would particularly recommend the essay, “Why I Am Not a Hindu,” to North American humanists. We North American humanists sometimes think of Indian philosophy in terms of swamis and yogis, and to give them the benefit of the doubt which we do not extend to the Christian religion. Dr. Ramendra’s book on M.N. Roy reminds us that there is another tradition in Indian philosophy, one which it would behoove us to learn about.

Below, an extract from The Brahmin In the Comintern, a 2007 French documentary on M.N. Roy.

From Mexico to Russia, Germany, India, Vladimir Leo goes in search of a great adventurer-philosopher-revolutionary of Bengal: MN Roy. In the countries he visited, his memory seems to have almost completely vanished today, despite the important political role he could play. Founder of a communist party in Mexico for Zapata, leader of the Communist International in the early years of Soviet Russia, anti-Stalinist and anti-Nazi activist in Germany pre-war politician, philosopher and atheist in India independence, the official histories of these countries have preferred to delete the trace. Was it too loose? Was it too lonely? Vladimir Leon chronicles the life of this singular and modest hero who crossed all major milestones of our twentieth century. For this, he takes us on three continents, filming carefully the world as it is, echoing the story of this turbulent political past. In meetings of witnesses, direct or indirect, takes shape the fantastic geographical and philosophical trajectory of MN Roy, if humanly fragile, so farsighted.

Dr. Salim: The difficulty was that he could not stick to one particular ideology ... that was his failure.
Vladimir Leo: It's a failure?
Dr. Salim: Yes, it was a failure.


Friday, March 11

The Chaucer of the Turks

Izzat bermas naqdu diram borlig'i,
Kim bo'ldi tama'din kishining xorlig'i.

He who has lowered himself for gain,
Wealth can never raise up again.

Mir Ali-Sher Beg Herawi "Nava'i" (Nawa'i, Navoi, or Navoiy; the takhallus meaning, roughly, melodious lamenter) lived from 1441 to 1501, i.e. he was a contemporary of Kabir. Nava'i is credited with the creation of Turkish literature. Chaucer, living at a time when the languages of culture and commerce were French and Latin, and also thriving as an insider in a world that discoursed in those languages (he was at various times valet to Edward III, Comptroller of the Port of London, and secret envoy of Richard II), had created a new medium -- of writing in the vernacular of the common folk of taverns and bath-houses, a medium that we now call Middle English. So, too, Nava'i, consummate Timurid courtier and classmate of the Sultan, abjured the dominant Farsi and Arabic languages to write in the everyday Chagatai Turkish of Turkestani bazaar and the mohalla. Contemporary Uzbek, the successor language to Chagatai Turkish, considers him to be a founding infuence (the comparison to Chaucer is due to Bernard Lewis). After Amir Timur and Bobur Mirza, few historical figures are endowed with as much official prestige as Nava'i in today's Uzbekistan: cities, universities, roads, bus-stations named after him abound all over the land. (You may also encounter him in Rushdie's novel about the Enchantress of Florence.)

I'm not Khusrau, nor wise Nizami,
Not the Sheikh of poets today - Jami.
But in my humility say:
In their famous walking paths let
Nizami's victorious mind run.
He won - Byrd, Ganja and Rum;
In the Hindvi tongue Khusrau can,
Conquer entire Hindustan;
Let all Iran sing Jami,
In Arabia, "Jami" beat the timpani
But the Turks! all tribes, of any country, all
Turks conquered me alone ...
Wherever there was a Turk,
Under the banner of Turkic words
I volunteered to be always ready.
And this tale of grief and separation,
Passion and torment, in spite of adversity,
I set out in the tongue of the Turk.

Nava'i's testament to Chagatai Turkish is his 1499 essay Muhakamat al-Lughatayn (Judgment between the Two Languages). Nava'i starts by saying there are four main languages, "each having many arms and branches": Arabic, Hindi, Turkish and Persian. As a godfearing mussulman, he does not want to say anything against Arabic: "Of all languages, Arabic possesses the most eloquence and grandeur, and there is no one who thinks or claims differently." As for Hindi, he dismisses it, saying it sounds like "the scratching of a broken pen", and when written it looks like the "footprints of crows". That leaves Turkish and Persian, the two languages spoken throughout Khorasan and Mawarannahr:

The beginner, upon encountering difficulty in composing, shuns Turkish and changes to an easier road (i.e., Persian). After this has happened several times it becomes habit; and after it has become habit the poet finds it difficult to abandon the habit in order to venture down a more difficult road. Later, other beginners, noting the conduct and the compositions of those who have preceded them, do not consider it proper to stray off that road. The result is that they too write their poems in Persian.

It is natural for a beginner to wish his works to be known to others. He wishes to submit them to scholars. But these are Persian-speakers who are not acquainted with Turkish, and this thought makes the poet shrink. Thus he is drawn to the use of Persian. He establishes relations with others and becomes one of them. This is how the present situation has come to be.

But, Nava'i says, in spite of obstacles and snares, poets of Turkish origin must strive to write in Turkish, they will surely experience the discovery of the splendors of their native tongue:

It is unfortunately true that the greater superiority, profundity and breadth of Turkish as compared to Persian as a medium for poetry has not been realized by everyone... In the early days of my youth I began to perceive a few jewels from the inkwell of my mouth. These jewels had not yet become a string of verse, but jewels from the sea of consciousness which were worthy of being placed on a string of verse began to reach shore, thanks to the nature of the diver.

Then I reached the age of comprehension and God (whose praises I recite and who be extolled!) instilled in me sensitivity and attentiveness and a desire for the unique. I realized the necessity of giving thought to Turkish words. The world which came into view was more sublime than 18,000 worlds, and its adorned sky, which I came to know, was higher than nine skies. There I found a treasury of superiority and excellence in which the pearls were more lustrous than the stars. I entered the rose garden. Its roses were more splendid than the stars of heaven, its hallowed ground was untouched by hand or foot, and its myriad wonders were safe from the touch of other hands.

Timur's son Shahrukh had, under the influence of the Persian 'slave girl' Goharshad, forsaken the Turkic homelands of Transoxiana to set himself up as first the governor, and then the ruler, of Khorasan. His capital was Herat; and the dominant culture in Herat throughout the first half of the 15th century was that of Persia. Shahrukh officers, as well many leading citizens, were Turks; but they were Turks bowled over by the splendid achievements of Persian civilization, there for all to see in the form of art, architecture, calligraphy, poetry, speech, courtliness and custom. The Turks, still only a century of two away from the rough and tumble of the steppe, were mesmerized by the radiance of Persia.

In this environment Nava'i was born. His father, Ghiyāth ud-Din Kichkina ("the Little"), served as a high-ranking officer in the palace of Shahrukh Mirza; his mother was governess to the royal princes. This cohort included Ulugh Beg (till he was prized away by Timur from the softening influences of Herat, to the tough life of campaigns on the saddle befitting a future monarch), and more importantly Sultan-Husayn Mirza (also known as Husain Baiqara), the future sultan of Khorasan, who was Nava'i's classmate at school. Babur describes Nava'i admiringly as a writer of Chagatai (in which language the Baburnama is also written), and also somewhat dismissively as a sidekick 'beg' of Sultan-Husayn. Nava'i's family came from a long line of Bakhshis, originally scribes and heralds of the Mongols, who joined the Timurid courts as finance officials. When Kichkina died, Shahrukh's son Bayshunghur's son Babur ibn-Bayshunghur became Nava'i's guardian. His life, therefore, was one of the highest privilege; he was taught by Jami, and when his fellow-student Sultan-Husayn became the king, he was appointed to the innermost circle.

Kamol et kasbkim, olam uyidin.
Senga farz o'lmagay g'amnok chiqmoq.

The only way to decrease one's sufferings
Is to increase one's understanding.

Agar naf'din bo'lsa mahzan yiroq,
Aning la'lidin xora ko'p yaxshiroq.

Better the cobble that paves the way
Than a gem locked away from the light of day.

Oz-oz o'rganib dono bo'lur,
Qatra-qatra yig'ilib daryo bo'lur.

Learning is knowledge acquired in small portions,
As drops make the rivers that flow to the oceans.


Do people get pleasure without offense?
How does the candle light taking not pains?
A tulip-egg stuck in soil becomes a full bloom,
A worm was like silk having gone to its doom.
As the small tulip egg, have you got any zeal,
Are not you kind as the worm full in silk?

Seek from others the knowledge they own,
Never rely on thy powers alone.

Spurn the company of those whose talk is vain,
But give ear to the wise again and again.

A hard-earned coin is better by far
Than unearned riches bestowed by the Shah.

Reading some of Nava'i's epigrammatic verse, I was made to think of Kabir's dohas. Kabir lived from 1440 to 1518, as much an outsider as Nava'i was an insider. Abandoned as an infant, he was found and raised by Niru, a muslim weaver living in Varanasi. One morning, as the bhakti saint Ramananda walked to the Ganges for his dawn bath, the little Kabir sleeping huddled on the ghat reached out and involuntarily grabbed the saint's feet, who called out "Ram, Ram" in response. Thus did Kabir get a guru.

Raat gawaayo soy kar, diwas gawaaya khai.
Heera janam amol tha, kaori badle jay.

The nights were lost in sleeping, in eating were lost the days
This priceless diamond life, slowly into a cowrie decays

Jeevat samjhe jeevat bujhe, Jeevat he karo aas
Jeevat karam ki fansi aa kaati, Mue mukti ki aas

Alive one sees, Alive knows, crave ye for salvation when still alive
Alive ye didn't cut loose bondage, yet hope for liberation on death?

Kabira garv na keejiye, uncha dekh aavaas
Kaal paron bhuin letna, uper jamsi ghaas

Says Kabir: Be not proud and vain, looking at your high mansion
Tomorrow you'll be laid in earth, grass growing thereon

Kabir did not become a sadhu, nor did he ever abandon worldly life, choosing to live in the world, householder and mystic, weaver and poet. Lately, with the growth in the ranks of doctoral students combing though archives for their dissertations, it has not been easy for the great to entirely retain their lustre. It is getting some attention that the symbol of the coarse woolen cloak that wraps the Sufi is often in contrast with the economic status of the Sufi shaykh himself. In her book the Mystical Dimensions of Islam, Annemarie Schimmel (German orientalist, Harvard professor, and Sitara-e-Imitiaz awardee in Pakistan) asks "how so many people who preached poverty as their pride became wealthy landlords and fitted perfectly into the feudal system, amassing wealth laid at their feet by poor, ignorant followers"?

In the Baburnama, Babur writes thus of Sultan-Husayn Mirza's wazirs:

One was Majdu'd-din Muhammad, son of Khwaja Pir Ahmad of Khwaf, the one man of Shahrukh Mirza's Finance-office. In SI. Husain Mlrza's Finance-office there was not at first proper order or method ; waste and extravagance resulted; the peasant did not prosper, and the soldier was not satisfied. Once while Majdu'd-din Muhammad was still parwanchi and styled Mirak (Little Mir), it became a matter of importance to the Mirza to have some money; when he asked the Finance-officials for it, they said none had been collected and that there was none. Majdu'd-din Muhammad must have heard this and have smiled, for the Mirza asked him why he smiled; privacy was made and he told Mirza what was in his mind.

Said he, "If the honoured Mirza will pledge himself to strengthen my hands by not opposing my orders, it shall so be before long that the country shall prosper, the peasant be content, the soldier well-off, and the Treasury full." The Mirza for his part gave the pledge desired, put Majdu'd-din Muhammad in authority throughout Khurasan, and entrusted all public business to him. He in his turn by using all possible diligence and effort, before long had made soldier and peasant grateful and content, filled the Treasury to abundance, and made the districts habitable and cultivated. He did all this however in face of opposition from the begs and men high in place, all being led by 'Ali-sher Beg (i.e. Nava'i), all out of temper with what Majdu'd-din Muhammad had effected. By their effort and evil suggestion he was arrested and dismissed.

The opposition made by Nava'i to reform so clearly to his patron's gain, and to his patron's courtiers' loss, begs the question, "What was the source of his own income? " It has been observed that Nava'i "through high positions occupied in the government of his country, had acquired a large fortune", and Nava'i clearly took a dim view of the "rights" of the cultivator. The Soviets must not have read the Baburnama too closely, since the city of Kermine in central Uzbekistan was renamed after the socialist hero Navoiy in 1958. Today, more appropriately, it is a free industrial economic zone.

Here is an extract from Chaucer's The Summoner's Tale. A friar is taken by the angel to Hell, to get a view of what pains lay there. He does not see a single friar in the place, and is perplexed -- are all the learned men full of grace?

In al the place saugh he nat a frere;
Of oother folk he saugh ynowe in wo.
Unto this angel spak the frere tho:
Now, sire, quod he, han freres swich a grace
That noon of hem shal come to this place?
Yis, quod this aungel, many a millioun! "
And unto sathanas he ladde hym doun.
--And now hath sathanas,--seith he,--a tayl
Brodder than of a carryk is the sayl.
Hold up thy tayl, thou sathanas!--quod he;
--shewe forth thyn ers, and lat the frere se
Where is the nest of freres in this place!--
And er that half a furlong wey of space,
Right so as bees out swarmen from an hyve,
Out of the develes ers ther gonne dryve
Twenty thousand freres on a route,
And thurghout helle swarmed al aboute,
And comen agayn as faste as they may gon,
And in his ers they crepten everychon.
He clapte his tayl agayn and lay ful stille.

Translation from wikipedia:

In all the place he saw not a friar;
Of other folk he saw enough in woe.
Unto this angel spoke the friar thus:
"Now sir", said he, "Have friars such a grace
That none of them come to this place?"
Yes", said the angel, "many a million!"
And unto Satan the angel led him down.
"And now Satan has", he said, "a tail,
Broader than a galleon's sail.
Hold up your tail, Satan!" said he.
"Show forth your arse, and let the friar see
Where the nest of friars is in this place!"
And before half a furlong of space
Just as bees swarm out from a hive
Out of the devil's arse there were driven
Twenty thousand friars on a rout,
And throughout hell swarmed all about,
And came again as fast as they could go
And every one crept into his arse,
He shut his tail again and lay very still.

Below, Nava'i's verse set to music. The first part of the Soviet propaganda biopic is here.

Wednesday, March 9


About 20 years ago, Amin Maalouf, Lebanon's answer to Umberto Eco, wrote a curious novel titled Samarkand, which can be described as historical fiction set in the Khorasan and Mawarannahr of the 11th-century.

Reviewing the book in the Independent, Ahmed Rashid (of Taliban fame) remarked that Maalouf had "written an extraordinary book, describing the lives and times of people who have never appeared in fiction before and are unlikely to do so again."

The major characters are (adapted from an anonymous author, posting on soc.culture.iran):

The Grand Vizier for the Seljuk dynasty, Nizam al-Mulk, representing a very intelligent and intricate officialdom that will try to lure, in war as well as in peace, every intellectual and religious figure to strengthen the power of the central state;

Hasan Sabbah, founder of the Assassins - Hashashines, otherwise known as the Ismailite order;

and Omar Khayyam, poet, astronomer, and mathematician, an intellectual that will "flirt" with both men, but never come to terms with either of them.

The Nizam, keen to strengthen his authority, will establish a secret police, will try to lure Omar to take the position of chief Intelligence officer, the Sahib Khabar.

Omar, finding no rational reason for the politics of death and all that revolves around it, will introduce to Nizam a friend, a religious student, a Talib 'Ilm, he met in a motel, on his way to Ispahan. The friend, Hasan Sabbah, becomes chief of Nizam's Mukhabarat, intelligence services.

Hasan is a member of the secret emissaries trained in the Fatimid courts in Cairo and Alexandria to undermine a waning Abbasid authority, only held in power by their mentors in Persia, the Seljuks. Hasan will establish the most formidable - in terms of organization - secret society that literally terrorized the East in the middle ages. The "old man of the mountains", as the Crusaders later dubbed him, will establish his fortress in Alamout, North West of Iran, and work on undermining his ex-mentor's, the Ata, father, -- Nizam al-Mulk - authority. The Assassins - from Assas, foundation, and not Hashish as commonly known - were Nizam's bete noire.

Omar, the disenchanted intellectual, will plunge into his own soul searching, and the world of his beloved Jahan, with his cup and his Rubaiyat, and will play the role of a pacifist in a Jahan - world - plugged by the politics of the sword and the logic of death. Omar will never forgive himself for introducing Hasan to Nizam.

Here is a parable about these three characters:

Three friends were on a promenade in the high planes of Persia. Suddenly, a panther, with all the ferocity of the world in it, appears to them.

The panther observed the three men for some time then ran to them. The first was the oldest, the richest, the most powerful. He cried,' I am the master of these dwellings, I will never allow this beast to wreck havoc these lands which belong to me.' He had two hunting dogs, he let them attack the panther, they could only bite it, and it as such became more vigorous; it consumed them, attacked their master and ripped his entrails out. Such was the end of Nizam al-Mulk.

The second said, 'I am a man of knowledge, everyone honors me and respects me, why should I let my fate be decided between dogs and panther?' He turned his back and ran away, least concerned with the outcome of the combat. He had since erred from cave to cave, and hut to hut, convinced that the beast was constantly tracing his steps. Such was the fate of Omar Khayyam.

The third was a man of belief. He advanced towards the panther, and with open hands, a dominating glance and an eloquent mouth. 'Ahlan wa Sahlan, You are most welcome in these lands, he said. My companions were richer than I, you had them deprived, they were the proudest, you disgraced them.' The beast listened, seduced... He knew how to approach it. Since then, no panther could come near, men took their distance.

When the times of hardship came to pass, none could stop his course, none could run away from him, some were able to take advantage (of this chaos). Better than none, Hasan Ben Sabbah knew how to domesticate the ferocity of the world. All around him he sowed fear to end up in his reduced Alamout fort, a miniscule space of sorrow.

Sunday, March 6

Omar Khayyam and Euclid's 5th

You are at a point P. From P, walk a mile South, then a mile West, and then a mile North. How far are you now from P?

Most school children will say “1 mile!”, visualizing the motion as being on three sides of a square. The correct answer, of course, is that 'it depends.' Consider the North Pole. Going a mile South from the Pole brings you on the 89.99o N latitude, each point of which is located a mile South from the North Pole. Walking straight West, you stay on the same parallel, and therefore at the same distance from the Pole. If you turn and move back a mile north, you will be back at the Pole, i.e. your distance from P would be 0 in this case. In other words, the answer depends on the curvature "omega" of the space you want to find the solution in; the omega value for flat space is 1, that for spherical space greater than 1, and that for hyperbolic space less than 1.

What can wandering around the Pole possibly have to do with Uzbekistan? The connection is in the person of a mathematician who probably has more bars, wines, dance clubs, gentlemen's clubs or oases of dissolution named after him than any other man (or woman) of science – Omar Khayyam. Born in Nishapur in Khorasan (now Iran) in year 1048, Omar Khayyam lived in his childhood in Balkh, and was educated in Samarkand. His discomfort with Euclidean Geometry grew during a 10-year stay in Bukhara. Eventually, he published a famous treatment of the problem -- Sharh ma ashkala min musadarat kitab Uqlidis (Explanations of the Difficulties in the Postulates of Euclid.)

Euclid derived much of his geometry from five postulates:

1. A straight line may be drawn between any two points.
2. A straight line may be extended indefinitely.
3. A circle may be drawn with any given radius at an arbitrary center.
4. All right angles are equal.
5. If a straight line crossing two straight lines makes the interior angles on the same side less than two right angles, the two straight lines, if extended indefinitely, meet on that side on which are the angles less than the two right angles.

The Fifth postulate refers to the diagram above. If the sum of two angles 1 and 2, formed by a line C crossing two lines A and B, add up to less than two right angles then lines A and B will meet somewhere on the side of angles 1 and 2 if continued indefinitely.

Compared to the first four, the Fifth postulate immediately looks elaborate and contrived. Euclid himself possibly had mixed feelings about it, as he did not make use of it until Theorem 29. The postulate looks more like another Theorem than a basic truth. It was attacked almost from the beginning. Over the centuries, many mathematicians attempted to take away the Fifth, but all ended up making some assumption or the other that inherently implied the Fifth postulate. Proclus Diadochos, who lived around 450 (i.e. 700 years after Euclid) mentions Ptolemy's attempts in the second century to prove the postulate, and demonstrates that Ptolemy had unwittingly assumed (what in later years became known as Playfair's Axiom) that through a point only one straight line can be drawn parallel to a given straight line, which is just another way of stating the Fifth postulate. Proclus left a proof of his own, but the latter rested on the assumption that parallel lines are always a bounded distance apart, and this assumption can also be shown to be equivalent to the Fifth postulate.

The great Ibn al-Haytham (Alhazen) (965-1039) of Basra, during the middle-ages called the Second Ptolemy in Europe, made an attempt at proving the parallel postulate using a proof-by-contradiction. He, too, alas, needed Playfair's Axiom. What was missing from these attempts was the recognition that Euclid's postulates fix only one kind of geometry; if you start relaxing them, you can get many more, often far lovelier, and at least as consistent.

Euclid's postulates had been based on our intuition about geometric objects on flat planes. For example, mathematicians had assumed that the second postulate, viz. “A straight line may be extended indefinitely”, also meant that straight lines were infinitely long. How about a “straight” line of latitude or longitude on the surface of a sphere, say a great circle? Circles can be extended indefinitely since they have no ends; going in circles means exactly this: doing something with no end in sight. However, circles (and great circles) are of finite extent – they can be extended indefinitely, round and round, and Euclid's postulate is not violated if they are not, as a result, of infinite length. The spherical-polar solution to the 1-mile-walk problem shows that there is a perfectly reasonable triangle with two right angles at the base and a nonzero angle at the top, i.e. a triangle whose angles sum up to more than 180o.

Omar Khayyam made the first attempt at formulating a non-Euclidean postulate as an alternative to the parallel postulate and he was the first to consider the cases of elliptical geometry and hyperbolic geometry. The Khayyam-Saccheri quadrilateral was also first considered by him. Khayyam, and Saccheri 700 years later, recognized that three possibilities arose from omitting Euclid's Fifth; if two perpendiculars to one line cross another line, a choice of the orientation of the last line can make the internal angles where it meets the two perpendiculars equal (it is then parallel to the first line). If those equal internal angles are right angles, we get Euclid's Fifth; otherwise, they must be either acute or obtuse.

These cases anticipate the non-Euclidean geometries of Gauss, Bolyai, Lobchevsky and Riemann. Omar Khayyam did not get that far; he eventually persuaded himself that the acute and obtuse cases lead to contradiction, but not without a tacit assumption equivalent to the Fifth to get there. It took till the 19th century for mathematicians to start diving into those alternatives Omar Khayyam had listed but recoiled from, and discovering the logically consistent geometries which result. In 1823, then 21-year-old budding Hungaro-Romanian mathematician Janos Bolyai wrote to his father: "Out of nothing I have created a new universe"; by which he meant that starting from the first four postulates, by relaxing the Fifth, he had developed a geometry that, although quite unusual, did not lead to any logical contradiction. Bolyai Sr. consulted with Gauss. In a letter of 1824 Gauss wrote:

The assumption that (in a triangle) the sum of the three angles is less than 180o leads to a curious geometry, quite different from ours, but thoroughly consistent, which I have developed to my entire satisfaction.

In 1829, Nikolai Lobachevsky published an account of acute geometry in an obscure Russian journal in Kazan. (His work remained largely unrecognized for many years, though before his death Lobachevsky did get a citation from the Tsar's government, for a new way he had developed for processing wool!) Lobachevsky and Bolyai built their geometries on the assumption that through a point not on the line there exist more than one parallel to the line. Riemann's geometry, on the other hand, (among other things) models a space where there are no parallel lines -- the great circles on the surface of a sphere always meet at the poles. The General Theory of Relativity famously uses Riemannian geometry to model curvatures in space-time due to the effects of gravity; inertial particles follow the geodesics of Riemannian space.

Omar Khayyam developed parts of the general binomial theorem, many centuries before Pascal. He writes:

From the Indians one has methods for obtaining square and cube roots, methods which are based on knowledge of individual cases, namely the knowledge of the squares of the nine digits 12, 22, 32 (etc.) and their respective products, i.e. 2 × 3 etc. We have written a treatise on the proof of the validity of those methods and that they satisfy the conditions. In addition we have increased their types, namely in the form of the determination of the fourth, fifth, sixth roots up to any desired degree. No one preceded us in this and those proofs are purely arithmetic.

Khayyam was also able to solve certain types of cubic equations using conic sections. See here for an interesting illustration.

Given this oeuvre in mathematics (to say nothing about his contributions to philosophy and the politics of pacifism), it is almost a pity that Omar Khayyam is remembered mostly for his verse:

Oh, come with old Khayyam, and leave the Wise
To talk; one thing is certain, that Life flies;

One thing is certain, and the Rest is Lies;
The Flower that once has blown for ever dies.

Myself when young did eagerly frequent
Doctor and Saint, and heard great Argument

About it and about: but evermore
Came out of the same Door as in I went.

And if the Wine you drink, the Lip you press,
End in the Nothing all Things end in — Yes —
Then fancy while Thou art, Thou art but what
Thou shalt be — Nothing — Thou shalt not be less.

And that inverted Bowl we call The Sky,
Whereunder crawling coop't we live and die,

Lift not thy hands to It for help - for It
Rolls impotently on as Thou or I.

The Moving Finger writes; and, having writ,

Moves on: nor all thy Piety nor Wit

Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line,
Nor all thy Tears wash out a Word of it.

Saturday, March 5

The Ambassador's Bellydancer

This is Nadira Alieva, a stripper from Jizzakh who is now married to the former British Ambassador to Uzbekistan.

After the demise of the USSR, her family had fallen upon hard times. The parents had been actors, and in the newly-commercializing society there was no money for the arts. The father took to drugs, and then drug-running. Defying odds, Nadira won a place at the university. She moved to the capital, and found working as a nightclub lap-dancer and prostitute was more lucrative than other alternatives. One night, as she performed in a club, the British ambassador walked in.

Craig Murray, "our man in Tashkent", had plenty of problems of his own. He had gone native, i.e. had become more interested in representing Uzbek people to London than the other way round. He specifically drew attention to fabricated 'intelligence' obtained under torture by Karimov's government, lapped up by the CIA and then fed to the MI6. Summoned to London several times and told 'not to put such things in writing', he persisted in criticising the British government for its tacit endorsement of torture as a means of attaining 'dross'. (His public attacks on the government’s hypocrisy eventually led to his sacking.) While fighting Messrs. Straw, Blair, Rumsfeld, Bush and Karimov, Murray was also having a mid-life crisis of sorts -- he left his wife and family for the hooker from the nightclub, and soon various embassies in Tashkent were having to make space on the guest list for the British Ambassador's bellydancer. Here is the story from her perspective, and here is a video of her telling a part of it.

Craig Murray's tale is better known. His Murder in Samarkand is full of fascinating insider-detail on the complicity of the Blair and Bush governments to torture. The tawdry theme is now too well known to recount except in summary -- aggrandizement of the Islamist Threat enabled each government to pick the pockets of its citizens. Karimov pulled in people randomly, tortured them till they confessed to anything that would play well in the NYT or the Times, and this information was convenient for Bush, Cheney, Blair and Co. in raising 'threat levels' to yellow/orange/red and stampeding their under-informed electorates into rubberstamping no-bid contracts for Blackwater et al.

Murray describes attending one of the trials in Uzbekistan, in which people suspected of Islamist leanings (or those who had just fallen foul of someone in power) had crimes real or imagined pinned on them. A jeweller had been robbed at gunpoint. Six 'Islamists' were on trial for the crime, in spite of the fact that two of them had been in jail at the time of the crime. Three men, the jeweller said, had tied him up and shot at him before robbing him. When the defence inquired why there were no bullet holes at the scene, he weakly claimed that the shots had gone out through the window. The judge presiding at the trial understood the prosecution's case was not going too well:

He interrupted the defence lawyer with a sharp rebuke and then instructed the defendants to stand while he harangued them … He said they represented evil in society. They were thieves and murderers who sought to undermine Uzbekistan's independence and democracy. Their list of crimes was long, and it would be better if they admitted their guilt. He concluded he was astonished that they had found the time to commit so many crimes when they had to stop to pray five times a day. He evidently considered this a hilarious sally and guffawed loudly, as did the prosecutor, rapporteur and various other cronies. But I swear I noticed a few narrowed eyes among the militiamen …

Eventually, the jeweller was asked to identify which three of the six defendants had robbed him. He peered uncertainly at the benches – plainly he had no idea. Pressed by the defence, he managed to identify – and the odds against this must be very high – entirely the wrong three out of six. This made the judge very angry.

'You are mistaken, you old fool!' he bellowed.

The judge then read out the names of the three who were charged with this particular crime and asked them to stand.

'Are these the men?' he asked the terrified jeweller, who stammered his assent.

'Let the record show they were positively identified by the victim.'

If the defendents were lucky, their spines would be broken by gunshots (families picking the bodies for last rites would need to pay for the bullets expended, a holdover Soviet practice). If they were unlucky, well, here is a very graphic photo (from Craig Murray's archives) of the remains of Muzafar Avazov, who was boiled alive by Uzbek police at the notorious Jaslyk prison in Qaraqalpaqstan. From Wikipedia:

Medical examiners found severe burns on Avazov's legs, buttocks, lower back and arms, covering 60-70% of his body, which they believed to be the result of immersion in boiling water. Eyewitnesses also report a "large, bloody wound on the back of the head, heavy bruising on the forehead and side of the neck, and that his hands had no fingernails."

It seems Avazov's crime was to insist on the right to prayer. From a news article:

Uzbek authorities, including numerous police officers, brought the body of Muzafar Avazov, to the family home at about 3:30 p.m. on August 8. Police cars surrounded the area and checked visitors who approached the house, preventing some from entering. When the burial occurred at 6:00 p.m. that evening, police closed the road to traffic. Authorities from the office of General Prosecutor Rashidjon Kodirov reportedly threatened the family not to talk to the media or give interviews to others about the circumstances surrounding Avazov's death. In May 2002, Human Rights Watch received reports that prison authorities had beaten Muzafar Avazov and put him in a punishment cell for stating that nothing could stop him from performing his prayers.

Below is the first part (of 3) of Craig Murray talking about torture by the Uzbek regime of Karimov:

Friday, March 4

Tien Shan And Pamir Alay

The Pamir mountains – Roof of the World – are geologically young, the result of the Indian sub-continent pushing up against Asia. The Pamir-Alay ridge separates the other Pamir regions from the Tien Shan. Its six districts - Alai, Hissar, Zarafshan, Turkestan and Karategin - contain more than a hundred peaks over 5000m, thousands of glaciers (that number shrinking rapidly), many lakes and even more unexplored valleys. The southern slopes of the range drain into the Vakhsh River which becomes the Oxus or Amu Darya; the northern parts contribute snow melt to the streams coming down the Tien Shan to give rise to the Jaxartes or Syr Darya.

The Tien Shan, the Celestial Mountains of the Chinese, sweep across Western Kyrgyzstan and Eastern China, its northern and far western ranges located in Kazakhstan, the south-western extremity joining up with the Pamir-Alay in Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. It is bordered to the north by the Ili valley, and to the south by the Ferghana depression. The Tien Shan's highest summit is Pik Pobeda, 7439m, discovered in 1943, the most northern of 7000-ers. Not far rises Khan Tengri, the Lord of the Skies, 7010m including glacial cap. (The Pamir schematic is from here.)

We set our alarms for 4 am. Nosir looms out of the fog, as ever ready to load our bags heavy with dried fruit. We bump our way to AZN. It is good that we arrive early, the flight time has been advanced by 30 minutes from what we had found on the web-site. Mr. M sleepily makes friends with a bevy of Uzbek children, they go off to look at several Tupolevs and Yaks on the tarmac. Astonishingly, our transport is an immaculate 757 – no broken seats, no cracks in the windows – she will proceed to Moscow after dropping us off in Tashkent. As we take off, the sun is rising over the mountains, flooding Ferghana with light.

Wednesday, March 2


The most famous son of Margilan is Burhanuddin al-Margilani (alternatively, al-Marghinani), who lived between 1152 and 1197, and wrote one of the most authoritative guides to personal law in Islam.

The term mazhab in Urdu refers to a Muslim school of religious law, or fiqh. In the first 150 years of Islam, there were many such schools, and the sahabah or companions of the Prophet more often than not came up with their own schools in matters of interpretation. Practices coalesced over time; the early jurisprudential schools of Damascus, Kufa, Basra, and Medina combined into the Maliki mazhab (today followed in N Africa); other Iraqi schools were consolidated into the Hanafi mazhab (this became the dominant school in the Indian subcontinent as well as in Central Asia.) The Shafi'i (Egypt, E Africa, SE Asia), Hanbali (Arabia), Zahiri and Jariri schools were established later, though the latter two eventually died out. The mazhab are not different enough to be called sects (they have lived in harmony for the most part), so the term religious-school must suffice. Sufis usually do not submit to mazhab but follow the legal directives of their tariqas or orders.

Al-Margilani wrote perhaps the most authoritative guide to Hanafi law. The work is titled Al-Hidaya (the Gift), referring to guidance from Allah (as in the Quran), and is the basis for Anglo-Islamic personal law in India and Pakistan.

To use female nakedness in illustrating the Hidaya, a hadith says "Allah does not accept the salah (prayer) of an adult woman except with a scarf."

Elaborating on female attire during prayer, Umm Salamah, one of the wives of Muhammad, had said "A woman should pray in a shift that reaches down and covers the top of her feet.”

But what about the feet themselves? Islamic scholars have differed regarding the permissibility of women's naked feet: are they allowed in prayer, not allowed during prayer, or neither, or both? The major opinions have been:

1. That the feet are nakedness
This is based on implication from the hadith,
"When a girl reaches puberty, it is not appropriate that any of her should be seen, excepting her face, and her hands upto the wrists."
When Muhammad was asked what women should do with the ends of their garments (which then were apparently about calf-high) he said, 'They should extend them a span.' Umm Salamah said, 'Then, their feet will be uncovered!' He said, 'Then, they should extend them a cubit, not exceeding that.'
This opinion was presented as the mazhab of Abu Hanifah by the early scholar al-Quduri. Feet are also considered nakedness by the Maliki and Shafi'i Imams.

2. That they are not nakedness
This is al-Margilani's argument, and it is based on two points:
i. If the establishment of the nakedness is by the saying of Allah, in the Quran "And let them not show their beauty, except that of it which is apparent," then the foot is not customarily a location of beauty (it may be for a minority, but regulations are set according to the general rule.) Also Allah has said "And let them not strike their feet in order to make known that adornment which they are hiding," i.e. the ringing of anklets, and this conveys that the feet themselves are of the beauty which is apparent. Commenting on this verse, Ayisha, another of Muhammad's wives and perhaps his favorite, said, "And let them not show their beauty except that of it which is apparent, the toe-ring, a silver ring which is placed on the toes."

ii. If the establishment is by the Prophet's saying, "The woman is to be covered," along with it being established that some of her body is excluded due to hardship of avoiding exposure, then, by analogy, it should necessitate that the feet also be excluded, due to the corroboration of hardship. This is because she would be put to hardship by her foot showing when she walked barefoot, or with shoes, for she may not always find socks with which to cover them. Along with this, al-Marghilani felt desire is not aroused by looking at the foot such as is aroused by looking at the face, and so if the face is not considered naked for purposes of prayer, in spite of the plentiful arousal of desire, then the foot is more appropriate to remain uncovered in view of the hardship associated with covering it.

3. That they are nakedness outside prayer, but not in prayer.
Ibn Taymiyyah, the Hanbali, favored this opinion. He says:
Umm Salamah said, 'A woman should pray in an ample garment which covers the tops of her feet,' and so when she makes sajdah, the bottoms of her feet may show." The feet are not nakedness in prayer, and she is not required to cover them, but they are nakedness for the purposes of looking and touching, so it is not permissible for strange men to look at or touch her feet.

Due to al-Margilani's interpretation, women in the Indian subcontinent and in Central Asia are exempted from wearing socks while praying.

More finer points of interpretive differences can be seen here. Below: lives in Andijon and Margilan.