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Kaplan’s Imperial Grunts

Shortly before I left back to Europe I found Kaplan’s Balkan Ghosts in a friends bookshelf in Lahore, happy to get something into my hands that would somehow prepare me for where I was heading, a reminder of the history of the continent I was going to live in again. Once there, wishing to look back I read his Soldiers of God. His naive way of portraying the Muj left me bemused – and while I read a lot from his reading lists (for Balkan Ghosts, the travellogue he follows, Black Lamb and Grey Falcon by Rebecca West ist enjoyable) I returned to his books. I did read his Lifting the Bamboo Curtain, passed it on to a friend who returned it wondering why I even read such crap. The same reaction when I mentioned the Balkan Ghosts book to a friend who left it unfinished halfway. I guess I was not critical enough. His recent writing in the imperialism field and a self proclaimed positioning as a national security expert left me convinced that my friends were right in their judgement – poor historical reasoning, assumptions with little hold in reality. Some of his paragraphs in America and the tragic limits of Imperialism leave me agreeing on a point I can imagine he is trying to make, but all along getting to that point he writes in assumptions, street talk knowledge and connections that he hardly came up himself but rather bits and pieces of people who really know stuck together incoherently.

The most liberal-minded ruler in Pakistan’s history since 1947 is the present one, a man who speaks fluent Turkish, whose model is Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. If you look at General Musharraf ’s speeches and compare them with the speeches of Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif, two democratically elected leaders, you will find very easily and quickly who is the most liberal-minded thinker. No Pakistani leader in recent history has spoken up so often for women’s rights and minority rights, and against honor killings and blasphemy laws. The fact that he has failed in all of these endeavors is notable, but it is still interesting that he is the only one to speak so forcefully about it.

Manan Ahmed has reviewed his newest book, Monsoon at the National looking into his Imperialism musings as well that reach pointedly back to his Balkan Gosts book but became most vocal with Imperial Grunts.

Tom Bissell trashed him long ago at the VQR, lengthily but worth reading.

AJK summed up some more trashing at Gazistan.

Kaplan has recently written on Pakistan’s shore/Gwadar and Afghanistan a couple of times including the obligatory Saving Afghanistan article.

About Jakob Steiner

... lived, worked and studied in Australia, Europe and Asia.


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December 2010


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