Zahid Hussain – Journalist and author
Zahid Hussain – Journalist and author

Q: What books are you currently reading?

A: One of the books I am reading these days is ‘From the Ruins of Empire’ by Pankaj Mishra, a British-Indian writer.

It is a fascinating review of the events of the last two centuries - that saw the end of Western empires and the rise of Asia as major power. A page-turner, the book tells the story of the people who led what is described as [an] ‘Asian Renaissance’.

From the odyssey of Jamal Al-Din-Al Afghani to Rabindarnath Tagore’s role in the rise of Indian nationalism and China’s communist revolution led by Mao Tse-tung, the book takes the reader through to the revolutionary movements against Western imperialism and the remaking of Asia.

I am great admirer of Mishra’s writings, which regularly appear in The Guardian, The New York Times and other international publications. His recent article in The Guardian, ‘Why silence over Kashmir speaks volumes’ is a scathing indictment of Indian atrocities in Kashmir and the silence of the West on the grave human rights violation in the occupied territory.

Another book I am reading these days is Will Durant’s ‘Fallen Leaves’. A collection of essays, it is Durant’s most personal and final work. Published two decades after his death, it contains his views on everything from religion and morality to politics, love, women, race and death. What I found most interesting is his essay, ‘On the insights of history’.

I was introduced to Will Durant’s work in my student days. I think his most seminal work is ‘History of Philosophy’ which helped me understand philosophical theories and their evolution.

Q: Which acclaimed book were you unable to finish?

A: There are quite a few books I have never been able to finish. One of them is Tolstoy’s classic ‘War and Peace’. Maybe because it is very voluminous and [has] too many characters to start with. I might have finished it had I crossed the first 100 pages. I am sure I will get back to reading it sometime soon.

Q: What book would you call your all-time favourite, or one you return to again and again?

A: It is hard to pick a single book or author. One of my favourite authors is Ernest Hemingway, his books ‘Farewell to Arms’ and ‘For Whom the Bell Tolls’, are great pieces of literature and I would surely like to read them again.

Q: What are your favourite works on topics related to national security or militancy?

A: Several books on militancy and national security have been published, particularly after 9/11. Among them are three outstanding books that provide great insight into sources of Islamic militancy.

One of the finest books on the genesis of Al-Qaeda is ‘The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11’, authored by Lawrence Wright, a Pulitzer Prize winning writer. Wright has written several other books, but Looming Tower is his most seminal work. It gives an insight into the ideological and political evolution of militant Islam.

‘Ghost Wars’, by Steve Cole - a Pulitzer winning journalist - is another of my favourite books on the subject. It is a fascinating account of the secret war against the former Soviet Union in Afghanistan and how it turned the region into a base for Al-Qaeda. It is also a story of CIA-ISI partnership and the rivalry between them.

Another fascinating book is ‘An Enemy We Created’, an account of the rise of the Afghan Taliban movement and its resistance against the United States occupation forces. Written by Alex Strick Van Linschoten and Felix Kuehn, the book also breaks the widespread myth of the Taliban-Al-Qaeda merger. It exposes the tension between the two groups that few people knew.

Q: What are you planning to read next?

A: There are a few books on my list. On top is ‘The War for Muslim Minds - Islam and the West’, authored by Gilles Kepel, a French scholar who has written extensively on political Islam. I am interested in his work because of my own interest in the subject of militant Islam; both my books are on the same subject.

Interview conducted on email by Aasma Mojiz

Published in Dawn October 5th, 2016

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