SIPA is a very busy place. Each week there are 10-15 events that feature interesting speakers and panels on a variety of topics. The following entry was contributed by Erisha Suwal, a second year student at SIPA. Erisha is working in our office this year and she, along with several other students, will be contributing posts throughout the year.
While having lunch over lamb and rice with hot and white sauce, my Pakistani friends encouraged me to join them for a talk titled “ Pakistan 2010: The most dangerous decade begins.” The talk was organized by the Center for the Study of Democracy, Toleration, and Religion (CDTR). It is a Center that was founded after SIPA won a competitive grant and its main objective is to examine religion’s role in politics and international relations. The title was very intriguing and only the day before I had had a discussion on how Pakistan seems to be in a constant state of turmoil. More than any other country. Perhaps even more than Afghanistan. I joined them.
Christine Fair, Assistant Professor at the Center for Peace and Security Studies, Georgetown, was one of the panelists. She was speaking on ‘India and Pakistan in Afghanistan: Opportunities and Constraints.’ She argued that India had a strong interest in staying in Afghanistan especially to monitor Pakistan. She questioned why no one talks about India running intelligence operations in Afghanistan and why no one challenges India when it build schools very close to the Pakistani border. She claimed that the Pakistani Army personnel, particularly those in the lower ranks, want the U.S. out of Afghanistan because they believed that the American presence intensified Taliban presence in Afghanistan. Her talk led to a rich discussion on India, Pakistan and Afghanistan.
At the talk, I found out that Terry Eagleton was coming to speak the same evening on “The New Atheism and the War on Terror.” Eagleton is an influential literary theorist and Distinguished Professor of English Literature at the University of Lancaster, who has written more than forty books. He gave an entertaining and insightful talk. The poster said, seating was on first come first serve basis. Usually I do not follow these warnings, but I’m glad I did this time. The room filled up very quickly and I ran into some SIPA professors. I saw Mahmood Mamdani, who teaches Political identities, State and Civil Wars in Africa and Theory, History, and Practice of Human Rightsand Professor S. Akbar Zaidi was also present. He teaches Political Economy of Pakistan: State, Society, and Economy.
Eagleton started off asking, “Why are atheists obsessed with religion as Puritans are obsessed with sex?” He commented that Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens, whom he dubbed Ditchkins, were engaged in anti-god diatribe with zero conception of faith and theology. He also argued that rise of Islamic fundamentalism was similar to “chickens coming home to roost.” Eagleton delivered provocative and controversial but witty statements and entertained his audience.
CDTR co-organized Terry Eagleton’s lecture with Heyman Center for the Humanities. I missed going to lectures outside of class. It is easy to immerse oneself in course-works and socializing, Wednesday’s two lectures reminded me of how being in Columbia exposes you to cutting edge discussions in whatever field it might be.