. . . . . .  


Dead men do not write autobiographies. Someone in time will breathe life into their past.

The first twelve Roman Caesars - starting with Julius Caesar – had the historian Suetonius. Dr. Samuel Johnson had his James Boswell. Steve Jobs (the cofounder of Apple) had Walter Isaacson. M. A. Jinnah began with Hector Bolitho. M. K. Gandhi had himself.  

In the U.S., Malcolm X (the leader of the Black empowerment movement and within it a promoter of Islam) collaborated with the author Alex Haley (of Roots fame) on his memoir. Haley culled it from 50 or so in-depth interviews he conducted over two years with Malcolm X.  It appeared in 1965 after Malcom X’s assassination, as The Autobiography of Malcolm X.

Malcolm X died a critic of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. He opposed King’s emphasis on racial integration and Gandhian nonviolence. King believed: ‘The choice is either nonviolence or nonexistence.’ Three years later, in 1968, Martin Luther King was murdered by a white supremacist in Memphis.

There, he had made a speech hauntingly prescient: ‘Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I'm not concerned about that now. I just want to do God's will. And He's allowed me to go up to the mountain [.] And I've seen the Promised Land’.

King died months short of his 40th birthday. After his death, his widow Coretta Scott King invited Clayborne Carson - a historian at Stanford University – to write about him. Clayborne used King’s ‘published books, speeches, sermons, letters, and unpublished manuscripts’ to produce ‘the autobiography that King might have written had his life not suddenly ended’.

If King had lived his full span, he would have been exactly eighty years old when Barack Obama was sworn in as the U.S.’s first black president in 2009. King’s dream that persons should be judged ‘not by the colour of their skin but by the content of their character’ became a reality. All that remains now is for the U.S. to elect a transgender Latino president.

Clayborne’s largely forgotten book contains many nuggets of inspiration which deserve to be recalled, especially here in Pakistan where we have no Blacks or Harijans but a privileged caste of ‘Untouchables’. He quotes a comment by the Ghanaian leader, Kwame Nkrumah: ‘I prefer self-government with danger to servitude with tranquility.’ And another by M. K. Gandhi: ‘No one can ride on the back of a man, unless it is bent’.

When John F. Kennedy was shot in 1961, Dr. King did not ask who killed Kennedy, but what killed him? Many in today’s unstable world would agree with Dr. King’s explanation that Kennedy was assassinated by ‘a morally inclement climate [,] a climate filled with heavy torrents of false accusation, jostling winds of hatred, and raging storms of violence. It is a climate where men cannot disagree without being disagreeable, and where they express dissent through violence and murder’.   

Dr. King, within two months of receiving the 1964 Nobel Peace Prize from the Norwegian monarch in Oslo, found himself back in a U.S. jail. The Mughal emperor Aurangzeb foresaw such fickleness of fortune in his aphorism: Takht, ya takhta (Either the throne, or the mortician’s slab).

Dr. King, in one of his early addresses, justified his demand for racial equivalence, saying: ‘We are not wrong in what we are doing. If we are wrong, the Supreme Court is wrong. If we are wrong, the Constitution is wrong’. And then, echoing Allama Iqbal’s famous remonstrance in his Shikwa and Jawab-e-Shikwa: ‘If we are wrong, God Almighty is wrong’.

Pakistanis are not wrong in loving their country, even though they often despise its various governments. Nor are they mistaken in respecting their 1973 Constitution, despite its appendage of 34 subsequent amendments.

They felt a pang of shame, therefore, at watching our second term president address the Joint Houses of Parliament on 18 April. Absent were the Chief Ministers of two major provinces (Punjab and KP-K).  The president, as our constitutional Head of State, represents the unity of all the components of our Republic, however mismatched. Whatever a CM’s party affiliation, it is subordinate to constitutional dictates.   

Similarly, the seats reserved for all the military chiefs were empty. They declined to hear the address of their own Commander-in-Chief.

The preamble to our 1973 Constitution begins with this lofty exhortation: ‘Whereas sovereignty over the entire Universe belongs to Almighty Allah alone, and the authority to be exercised by the people of Pakistan within the limits prescribed by Him is a sacred trust’.

Obviously, something has gone terribly wrong since then. Almighty Allah cannot be wrong. So either our Constitution is wrong, or some of us are.



[DAWN, 25 APRIL 2024]


25 April 2024
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