My dear Muhammad Ali: The byline of this article should actually be 'By Altaf Gauhar'. I took his book, Translations from the Quran along with me to China. He wrote it when he was in Mr Bhutto's prison because of his Dawn editorials. After three months in solitary confinement in place unknown, they finally gave him the Holy Quran to read and he translated some Surahs that he really liked. Along with it he wrote an essay that became the introduction to the book. That was way back in 1972. When I re-read it on the flight from Shenzhen to Yiwu, I found it so pertinent to our times that I decided to reproduce part of it here. Far be it for me to try and give a gist of what Mr Altaf Gauhar says: its best told in his own words. It is just the right length for the space I have, which was actually his space before he died and The Nation very kindly let me have it afterwards. Perhaps you will write here one day too, even before I'm gone. It sure would certainly chuff your Dada and me and I'm sure Mr Arif Nizami too, who I'm also sure wouldn't mind my reproducing some of the essay. "I submit that the secular society is facing an institutional collapse. The situation has not come about as a result of any external challenge but as a direct consequence of a fundamental duality that has gradually destroyed the basis of every secular institution. The principal institutions of secular society were: (a) the legislature, which comes into existence through a process of free and fair elections, (b) the judiciary which occupies a pivotal and independent position, (c) the executive, which obeys the legislative and the judicial sovereign and (d) the press which is the popular instrument for the formulation and expression of public opinion. "These institutions were established and developed according to precise theoretical concepts and the ideals which they represented reflected the moral values of secular society. These institutions were evolved under a democratic system. The citizen was assured of his fundamental rights and equality of status and opportunity. The system of elections was to ensure the liberty of the individual to choose the person whom he would like to place in a position of authority over himself. The independence of the judiciary was not only guaranteed but also zealously guarded by the society. The executive played an objective and faithful role, while the press was the keeper of the conscience of the people. These were high ideals to which the institutions of secular society were dedicated. Yet each one of these ideals was betrayed. How did this betrayal come about? [Earlier in this essay] I stated the duality in secular profession and practice. This duality is the result of three fundamental separations: the separation of the Church from the State, the separation of public from private conduct, and the separation of national from international conduct. The first two separations are well known. It is the third separation, the one between national and international behaviour, which is of particular relevance to my thesis. The double standards that imperial powers applied to their conduct at home and their conduct abroad emerged from this separation. The system of free and fair elections was good at home, but not for the colonies, where the natives had to be educated and controlled before they could be trusted to understand what was good for them. This was the only logical position that the rulers could adopt when force was the real sanction behind their power. The suggestion that the imperial powers conquered and subjugated vast territories only to educate the conquered people so that they may liberate themselves makes no sense. The education offered to the people in the colonies was meant to alienate them from their own cultures rather than to prepare them for the future. The whole legislative arrangement was an elaborate hoax. The judiciary administered a legal system alien to the people and maintained an august judicial pretence. The judiciary was one of the major instruments of imperialism. There was no freedom that was not suppressed and countenanced by the judiciary so long as the law was not violated. The judiciary administered unjust laws with complete justice. It was the independence of the judiciary that provided the rulers with a machine for the continuance of unjust laws, a machine that appeared impersonal and inspired confidence. This again was understandable because in secular society the judiciary was assigned a definite role: to interpret and to administer the laws. The judiciary was not permitted to extend its jurisdiction or independence to question either the purpose or the substance of laws framed by the rulers. They could not question acts of state, or their application, which were often invidious. The executive objectivity, which was a guarantee for the citizen at home, became a justification for servility in the colonies. The press, an instrument of free expression of views at home, was used to control and influence the intelligentsia in the occupied territories. These double standards were pursued by imperial powers as State policies, and few people questioned the arrangement. Every single element in the economic system of secular society, the mobility of labour, the mobility of capital, and the free inter-play of market forces, was violated in the colonies, where people were treated as a vast pool of cheap labour. The entire secular world, which claimed to cherish fundamental and universal human rights, willingly and deliberately pursued policies that had no other aim but the debasement and exploitation of a major portion of mankind. Frantz Fanon's works describe the experiences of the subjugated people in a vivid and compelling manner. One of his books opens with a telling quotation: 'I am talking of millions of men who have been skilfully injected with fear, inferiority complexes, trepidation, servility, despair, abasement." [Black Skin White Masks by Frantz Fanon. Quotation from Aine Cesaire, Discourse sur le Colonialisme, Paladin, 1970]. The secular society made a fundamental mistake of judgement when it assumed that one's conduct at home would not be influenced by one's conduct abroad. This was a natural corollary of the assumption that private conduct had no relationship with public conduct or that the State had nothing to do with matters of personal belief and conscience. When an ambivalent arrangement, of which the sole aim is exploitation, is pursued over a period of time it is impossible that it should not influence the character of the people engaged in it. The methods that were evolved to promote the policies in the colonies were bound to find their way into the working of similar institutions at home. This, more than anything else, has been responsible for the erosion of secular institutions. That the process of erosion went unnoticed for such a long time proves that a fraudulent system was accepted as a way of life. The West had to meet its Watergate to discover that its duplicity abroad had destroyed its integrity at home." So there you have it, son. If I've told you this once I've told it to you a thousand times: the fall of civilisations, empires, superpowers all come from the internal contradictions they develop after inevitable duality, complacency and decadence (sometimes debauchery too) set in. Then they lose touch with their own small, weak and transitory place in the cosmic scheme of things, in the power of nature, of historical forces and the evolutionary process, in the power of the Creator and pay the price. Thank God for small mercies. The writer is a senior political analyst E-mail:humayun.gauhar@gmail.com