Talking About Yentellectuals

‘Contemporary Kashmir is intellectually barren’. It will be too harsh a statement to make in presence of a galaxy of professors, writers, journalist and poets who very strongly believe that they fall in the category of intellectuals. Their belief is not uncalled for so far as socio-professional   definition of term as given by David Drake is concerned that clubs together "all those whose profession is to create and communicate cultural values–in short scientists, teachers, artists, journalists, propagandists and the like.” True, there are a good number of people that fall within this narrow definition of the term. But it is for not even a minuscule from their vast numbers   taking a ‘public stance’ on moral, political and rights issues that the overwhelmingly majority in Kashmir subscribe to the idea of the land is ‘intellectually barren’ and ‘collaborator fertile’. Seen in this perspective the number of the people ‘that could be categorized as intellectuals in Kashmir may not cross even single digit.

 The ‘intellectuals’ that fall in the broad stratum of the category denounce taking a stand on moral, political and rights issues as activism. In other words they believe that intellectualism and escapism are synonymous. The question then arises that if activism is an antonym of the word.  The geographical distribution being of not much a consequences scholars have identified remarkable similarities in   wars between the people and the powers ‘these include: the use of torture; the looming precedent of the Nuremberg trials; anti-colonial revolt; the undermining of democracy; the murky style of diplomacy; the racist views of   troops; the unjustified optimism and arrogance of military and political leaders; the forced relocation of civilian populations; etc.”

In all such situation we see engagement of intellectuals. And it would wrong to call intellectual engagement in battles for the rights of people as activism.  In the twentieth century we see all eminent and important intellectuals of the world deeply engaged in the wars against colonialism. The war of independence in the sub-continent found lot of intellectual support in the West including Britain.  In the Algerian War besides the heroic battle put by the people of the land three names, Jean Paul Sartre, Frantz Fanon and Albert Camus distinctly emerge in the pages of its history. These three great intellectuals of France not only got intellectually engaged against the occupation of the land but fought a heroic battle for the liberation of the land occupied by their country. The three engaged the intelligentsia of France and the world around in debates and discussions on the liberation of this ‘French colony’ and won a lot of the support for the Algerian movement for freedom. It was not only Satre and two other intellectuals who actively involved themselves in the Algerian war of Independence but the whole range of writers who wrote for his journal, Les Temps modernes   played an important role for the freedom of this French colony. As put by David I Shalk in his book, War and Ivory Tower, ‘Once the full significance of that conflict became apparent to Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir, and their associates,   dealt with it extensively in their journal. Sartre channeled much of his amazing energy and intellectual power into the struggle to end the war. His articles dealt unsparingly with issues of collective guilt and drew  historical parallel with the Nazi years, torture, war crimes, and the danger of fascism.’

It was not only through “Colonialism and Neo-Colonialism” that Satre held torch to show the way to the French leadership that their practices in their colonies were far from French belief of liberty and equality. Satre active involvement in the Algerian Freedom Struggle had made him target of terrorism  not once but twice. ‘He saw the struggle to end colonial rule as moral duty for which political action is sine qua non.’  As very rightly said by Eqbal Ahmed, “Algeria was not an internationally disputed territory; it was a French province – department. A million ethnic French people had actually settled there and hundreds of thousands of Arab Algerians had remained actively loyal to France. They were joined by millions of French "ultras" who had apocalyptic visions of France’s fall from grace if it were to give up on Algeria Francaise.” The struggle by French Intellectuals like Satre and Franz Fanon made De Gaulle   ‘to realize that France had lost legitimacy with an overwhelming majority of Algerians, and that this loss had become irreversible. France’s interests were better served by his courageous recognition of this stark reality. It was able to avoid the kind of humiliating debacle the United States suffered in Vietnam.”

It has not been only during the Algerian War of Independence that we see the French intellectuals in the vanguard of the movement for decolonization of the territory but in Vietnam’s Struggle for freedom besides eminent international philosophers and scholars like Bertrand Russell and Jean Paul Satre we see lots of American professors, writers and scholars up in arms against the US government. The American scholars did not shy away from comparing the Vietnam war to “Nazi Concentration camps” or ‘criminal sinister country swollen by   sinister country – swollen with priggishness, numbed by affluence, bemused by the monstrous conceit”.  The list of Americans intellectuals who not only wrote against Washington’s policies in Vietnam but demonstrated for days outside the White House for ending war in Vietnam and its liberation is very vast.  There is a lot of literature that tells us about not only intellectual but also political engagement credible voices of the United States like “Hans Morgenthau, Robert Lowell, Elizabeth Hardwick, Joseph Heller, Mary McCarthy, Norman Mailer, Muriel Rukeyser, Eric Bentley, Ann Sexton, William Styron, Anais Nin, Henry Steele Commager, and Robert Penn Warren.” The activities of these intellectuals had made people inside the White House including Presidents Johnson and Nixon restless. The ‘enraged’ US government dubbed their activities against the state and put them on the “enemies list”. There are instances where services of some professors and academicians were terminated and some were driven to undergo underground. It was for the relentless articulation of the cause of Vietnam that people in the United States had took to the streets that had made Nixon to withdraw from that country.

In the intellectual struggle for the freedom of Algeria or Vietnam for active participation of intelligentsia it will be difficult to draw a line between intellectualism and activism. Eqbal Ahmed one of the most important intellectual post-colonial sub-continent while working in Algeria (1960-1963) had the National Liberation Front of Algeria, he was tried in the United States along with other intellectuals for his supporting the Vietnam War.  In the Palestine war of liberation while we see Eqbal Ahmed, Edward Said many other intellectuals articulating the cause of liberation of the land through their works we also see them actively involved in the political actions.

If the people’s definition of ‘intellectual barren’ is taken as the right definition then the intellectual landscape of the land has not always been parched. True, a section of our writers, poets and professors have been time servers and beneficiaries but there have been voices of dissent in academia like Prof. Ghulam Mohi-u-Din Hajani, an intellectual par-excellence, Prof. Muhammad Yusuf, Prof. Mir and many others who not only stood firmly for their ideals but suffered for them in the vein of activist for the right cause.

To cap it: With opportunism rampant in a section of our intelligential, it would be wrong to believe that ‘ours is barren land’ as the poet has said it just needs a shower to bloom in full.