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Dr Ishrat Husain
Monday, December 23, 2013
From Print Edition
 
 

 

Iftikhar Salahuddin’s book—Jerusalem: A Journey Back in time—is a bold and courageous work. The author is a risk taker who plunged in this unknown endeavor overcoming his fears and trepidations.

 

He is simply not overawed by the rich history of the past. He is equally concerned with the current state of poverty, neglect and despair that has transformed the daily lives of proud Palestinians into a race for survival – physical and emotional – a daily ordeal to escape the terror and torture of the occupiers of their land, a constant struggle to maintain their dignity, composure and calm in the face of the provocative behavior of their tormentors.

 

His camera does justice by capturing the splendid architectural beauty all around Jerusalem and his pen records the rich historical legacy in an enchanting manner in a chronological order that begins with trials of the prophets all the way to Eretz Israel.

 

The balanced manner in which Iftikhar presents the sufferings of the Jewish people at the hands of the Greeks, the Romans, the Crusaders and the German Nazis testifies to the intellectual honesty with which he has dealt with the subject.

 

He has not been swayed away with the populist sentiments full of emotive fervor but has done full justice to the depiction of the events in a fair and dispassionate manner.

 

He and his better half – Naseem – faced many difficulties in their journey—a long wait of seven hours to cross the Syrian border.Luckily for them, an influential member of the Bath Party who happened to be present at the border post came to their rescue.

 

A phone call from this gentleman to the minister of Interior was sufficient to open the border for them.

 

Iftikhar and Naseem knew the Syrian Government’s disdain for those who visit Israel but were adventurous enough to take their chances. At places, his name acted like a magic and they received deferential treatment.

 

Other occasions they had to recite Kalma and Surahs to prove their identity as Muslims.

 

They were forced to delete the pictures of the protestors chanting Anti-American slogans at the Dome of the Rock so that the leader of the protestors may not be identified by the Israelis.

 

What has amazed and completely taken me by surprise is that a busy medical specialist could find time to sift through so much of the literature, select the appropriate material and place them at the right spot in the book.

 

He has, in my opinion, found a second profession for himself. If he decides that he had enough of medicine, we at the IBA would be happy to provide him with comfortable office, computing and library resources, an assistant so that he can carry out the research, teach history of Middle East and produce more volumes such as the present one.

 

The Book:

 

The book is well designed, has a beautiful layout and is of high technical quality.

 

It is not just a pictorial representation of Jerusalem and its evolution over time. It is also a comprehensive narration of the history of the region and the larger forces that have shaped that history.

 

In addition to hundreds of his own photo shoots he has supplemented when necessary with photographs and paintings from other sources giving them the due credit.The book has also an impressive and fully documented bibliography that can be used by interested readers for follow up readings.

 

The sequence of chapters is quite logical and each chapter is organized in a self-contained mode. So, if someone wishes to focus on the Ottoman Empire, he or she can safely jump to Chapter 25 without losing much.

 

The photographs taken by the author to adorn the pages of the book are both apt and aesthetically pleasing. The pictures illustrate the point being made in the narrative but at the same time illuminate the essence by simply looking at them.

 

The personal touch is provided by their own pictures and the description of the experiences they had during the visits to various places. Standing in front of the street named after him reinforces this feeling as also the magic of his name when he discloses it in the old city.

 

The style of writing in the first person makes it an easy and interesting read, mixed with the vivid description of the places and people they encounter and sprinkled with the anecdotes of history.

 

The work itself:

 

The work itself is a significant contribution that brings the rich Islamic Architecture and an untainted history of the struggle and sufferings of the people living in Jerusalem – Muslims, Christians and Jews – to the notice of lay educated person who may not be able to access this otherwise.

 

As it is written by a non-scholar who is not trying to establish his erudition and scholarship before his peers and profession, it reaches out to a much larger segment of the population.

 

To that extent the work is a piece of educational and instructional material for an audience that would not have otherwise benefited from this rich knowledge and acquired a better understanding of what happened and why it happened in this part of the world.

 

Reflections and Lessons drawn:

 

I do not wish to repeat what has been expounded in this wonderful treatise, but I wish to leave something for all of us particularly the intellectual community assembled here this evening to reflect.

 

Have you ever asked dispassionately the following question?

 

Why is that the US Senate so divisive on every single matter that they are prepared to shut down the government for almost a week rather than compromising with the other party, shows such a remarkable unanimity and consensus when it comes to the interests of Israel?

 

President Obama, who does not have much love lost for Bibi Nethayanhu, has no option but to yield to the internal pressures as far as Israel is concerned. American – Israel Public Action Committee (AIPAC) is feared by most candidates contesting public offices and the government officials at all levels.

 

The reason for this highly successful conduct of a very small Jewish population living in the US is not too difficult to decipher.

 

They have invested in themselves to become leaders in each profession they have joined.

 

Look at the number of Nobel Prize winners, Oscar award winners, Pulitzer Prize winners, Tony Award winners, elected fellows and award winners of the American Association for Advancement of Science, Presidential awards for performance and any category you pick who you think has disproportionately high representation. Examine the list of Fortune 500 companies and the names of their chief executives, the most successful startup companies in Silicon Valley, the leading billionaires of the world and who do you find.

 

Go and peep at the most eminent respected anchors, editors, syndicated columnists and journalists in the US Which names figure prominently? Google the list of the faculty members teaching at the top 10 universities of the world.

 

Who do you think are there? Go through the list of the elected representatives at the Federal, State and County levels.

 

Which surnames do you think will be commonly repeated? Which community has the highest representation as heads and partners of the top law firms, the consultancy firms, the architectural and accounting practices?

 

Which names are most prominent as symphony orchestra conductors?

 

The other main reason for their success is that although they excel as individuals in their fields, but they do not neglect their obligations and responsibilities to their community at large.

 

They share their wealth and earnings with the less well to do (something our own religion enjoins upon us) and that is why you won’t find many poor Jews.

 

They donate generously to causes such as Education and Health by setting up Trusts and Foundations.

 

AIPAC is the single largest donor in the US elections whether for the presidency, governorship, Senate, House or Country Mayor.

 

Election Campaign Managers look eagerly not only for the endorsement of AIPAC but toward their purses also.

 

What do we have? A broken, fragmented, divided Pakistan Public Action Committee PAPAC. The purpose of scanning this entire spectrum was to make an obvious point.

 

Rather than moaning and groaning about the injustices, inequities, discrimination and blaming others for our ills, wrong and miseries we have to take our fate in our own hands.

 

We should invest in our younger generation to develop the future scientists, engineers, mathematicians, entrepreneurs, lawyers, doctors, journalists, accountants, artists and sportsman.

 

This is the only way we can survive, earn the respect of the other communities and nations in the world.

 

The alternative is not very promising. I hope all of us will reflect seriously upon what I have said this evening and do something about it. I once again congratulate

 

Dr Iftikhar Salahuddin for this marvelous work. This is part of a speech delivered at the book launch at the Mohatta Palace, Karachi on December 8, 2013