The adventurousness of Dalrymple’s life is no doubt one of the major attractions to his work for many of his readers. In Taki’s Magazine, he now gives a more detailed description of his youthful trip through Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan that he referenced in his classic essay “When Islam Breaks Down”:
When, a little more than 45 years ago, we arrived in the city of Peshawar from Afghanistan, it seemed a peaceful and romantic place. True enough, the Khyber Pass had not been safe to travel after dark, but the danger was from brigandage of an almost folkloric rather than of a political or religious kind. Brigandage was to Afghanistan what beer was to Belgium. It was still the age of the bandolier and Lee-Enfield rifle rather than of the Kalashnikov and the suicide bomb (I bought a Lee-Enfield as a souvenir in Kabul market)…
That first night in Peshawar we slept under the stars on charpoys (wooden-framed beds with rough jute matting suspended between the sides) in the garden of a college. We thought we had arrived in the middle of a Mughal miniature painting.
In the aftermath of the disgusting attack on a Pakistani school by Islamists, he re-examines the assumptions of his youth and sees in Pakistan something that many of us have noticed in the West: reactionary progressives.
So the rise of Islamism, whether Sunni or Shia—the belief that there is an Islamic answer to all of life’s little problems, and that those who do not accept Islam are the cause of those problems—is the consequence not only of religious doctrine that contains within itself the necessary justifications or rationalizations for violence, but also of an encounter with the Western idea that material change for the better is the natural order of things and the only ideal worth pursuing. This idea has been deeply, if not consciously, absorbed. Where such material progress has not been rapid, which is to say, not as rapid as hoped or expected, wickedness and sin must be the explanation, so that the removal of the wicked and sinful is the logical solution.