Khaled Ahmed Interview: Conversations with History; Institute of International Studies, UC Berkeley
|Photo by Jane Scherr|
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With the coming together of all of these cultures through your early life -- the tradition you come from, your education -- what led you to decide to become a writer and a journalist?
I was quite competent in writing, and in Pakistan, it was very difficult to find a good job. Suddenly, there was a proliferation of newspapers and magazines after the end of the Zia period, this is somewhere in the late 1980s. Starting in 1985, when the press was made free, this was a big opening for me. I started as an assistant editor, writing editorials; then I had an opportunity to start new newspapers. The Nation in Lahore was started with me as joint editor. Then the Frontier Post opened in Lahore and I was its resident editor. The driving passion was that we must be rational in our approach, that, being a religious society, we need a rational balance, that our foreign policy and our strategy should be formed through intellectual deliberation rather than an upsurge of passion. I was convinced that we acted on the basis of passion.
As a country, you mean?
As a country. As a people, we fancied ourselves as warriors, because Muslims have that unavoidable feeling that they are warriors rather than people of commerce. I was opposed to that general impression, and wrote consistently to spread the word that you have to be rational, that the state should look at its self-interests rather than principles, because we found again and again that international affairs are run by vested interests and not by principles. If you cleave to principles and you're convinced that you are right, you tend to be inflexible, and if you're a weak state, inflexibility doesn't really redound to your advantage.
We'll follow up in a moment on this strand of Islam and what's happening in your part of the world in this time. Since I have you here and I've had the opportunity to interview a lot of great writers, I'd like to ask the question, what does it take to be a good writer? What are the skills required?
I think the first skill is that you should have the data of information that you want to convey. Our journalism is more stylistic. People who can write well simply go on writing without actually conveying any data or information. I think one should be well informed, and then come to the language. The other thing I learned as a journalist was that to reach as many people as you can, you have to shape your style accordingly. At the same time, I was also obsessed with style. Consequently, I'm a little bit different from what people normally write in journalism.
Is it hard for you to write, or does it come easily?
It comes very easily now, because I've written a lot. I've written consistently every day for twenty years. I've written in English, barring one period of two years when I was working in an Urdu magazine.
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