Najmuddin Bammate (Нажмутдин Баммат)
Najmuddin Bammate was born on December 8th, 1922 in Paris. His father, Haidar Bammate, was born in Temur-Khan-Shura, Northern Caucasus, in 1890. Haidar Bammate was one of the father founders of the Northern Caucasus Independent State created in 1917, breaking away from the Russian domination. He held dominant positions such as Minister of Foreign Affairs, in the first government, and president of the Provisional Government that was set up at the end of the short-lived independence of the Northern Caucasus and Daghestan peoples. Fighting first against the Czarist troops then against the Bolsheviks, the heirs of Imam Shamil were completely overwhelmed and defeated by the beginning of 1921. Their fate was not much different from the one of today's Chechen breakaway endeavor. Haidar Bammate had to reluctantly seek exile and settle in Paris in 1921, where he kept being active for the cause of his people and spread the knowledge of Islam.
It's blessed with this unusual family background that Najmuddin was born in the post World War I Paris. No doubt that what he had inherited from his father had certainly played an important role in the construction of his identity and character. But what makes this story interesting for us, Afghans, is that, in 1925, King Amanullah granted the Afghan citizenship to Haidar Bammate, and later on, in 1939, under King Zaher-Shah, Haidar Bammate became Afghanistan's diplomatic appointee in Switzerland.
Najmuddin was therefore raised with a double - I would even say a triple or, even better, a quadruple, identity: Caucasian, Afghan, Muslim, by inheritance, and Western, by education. As the Caucasus itself lies at a junction between Europe and Asia, between the East and the West, Najmuddin became a liaison between Orient and Occident, between continents, between religions:
Understanding of Cultures
Najmuddin Bammate's entire professional career was spent at the UNESCO. Introduced by the Afghan Government, he entered the institution in 1949 and stayed there till his death, where he was representing the OIC then. The bulk of his work at the UNESCO focused on the knowledge of cultures. Makaminan Makagiansar, representative of the Indonesian Government at the Executive board of that UN institution, in the eulogy he delivered, stressed on Najmuddin Bammate's endeavor to have everyone respect the other's culture: "The universality of a culture, he said , quoting Bammate, depends on its truthfulness and on its ability to live and to create. There are no big or small cultures; each of them, equal in dignity to others, claims its authenticity, and each of them represents a powerful asset in the quest to elaborate a model of development, an original project of civilization..."
In pursuit of that profound belief, he played a major role in the preparation and the adoption of the Declaration of Principles to Cultural Cooperation by that international institution's General Conference, in 1966, in which it was acknowledged that "every culture has a dignity and a value that ought to be respected and safeguarded". That declaration was a very important one because it laid ground for many other declarations and conferences following the same trend of thoughts and the strive, on part of the Unesco, to get more and more involved in world's heritage preservation projects.
Promoting Islamic Civilisation
Najmuddin Bammate, who held a PhD in Roman law, had studied Islamic law at Al-Azhar and was familiar with seven languages, did not confine his conceptions and ideas within the Unesco. He actively promoted his ideas through articles, conferences and later on in television programs.
Outside the Place de Fontenoy building , Bammate became a well-known and respected specialist of Islam and the Islamic Civilization. His de facto bi-cultural personality - being a Muslim raised in an European Christian environment - allowed him to brilliantly use intellectual tools and references of the West to better make it appreciate what Islam is and how Muslims should be understood.
Here are the titles, which are significant of the kind of subjects he was dealing with through his written contributions to intellectual reviews but also through conferences, teachings and interventions: "Islamic Thinking in Relation to the Occident", "Contact Between Oriental and Occidental Thinkings", "Reflections of Islam ", "Eternal Islam and Islam of Tomorrow", "The Meaning of Ramadhan", "The Universality of Islam", etc.
Najmuddin Bammate was not just a theoretician of inter-cultural and Islamic issues, evolving only amongst the intelligentsia and a small circle of Orientalists; to the contrary, he liked to be close to the people and bring them in person his ideas and views. He wanted to reach a larger audience because he felt that the society he was living in had a misconception of what Islam was and therefore was misunderstanding the Muslims as a whole, and those living as immigrants in Europe and in France in particular.
For more than two decades, up to the early seventies, France massively imported cheap labor from its former colonies of Northern Africa to feed its high speed growth. Those Muslim workers, most of them uneducated, faced racism and despise from the locals. The French defeat in Algeria in 1962 and the economic crisis of 1973 contributed largely to forge a negative vision of those Arab Muslim immigrants in the general public's mind. Najmuddin Bammate resented this situation where that large Islamic community was treated with despise and was feeling like it had no place in that society.
Beside his more professional and scholarly activities, Bammate would go to the mosques, small or large, and talk to the faithful crowd and tell them that they should be proud of their own culture and that the Islamic civilization's heritage is not one that has benefited to them only but one that benefited to the Western world as well: One of his great achievements was to obtain the right for the Islamic community living in France to have their own confessional program on national television. That was a significant progress - a statement - that meant that Islam had moved from the status of being a mere subject of study for some specialists or a religion practiced by some "guest" workers, to the one of being an inherent fact and a reality of the French society, as much as Christianity and Judaism.
The Soviet Invasion of Afghanistan: A Turning Point
By the end of the 1970's and the beginning of the 1980's Najmuddin Bammate was at the height of his fame. On top of being a scholar and a specialist on Islamic and inter-cultural/inter-religious dialogue issues, respected by his peers, he had become a recognized public figure. Knowing the benefit they could earn from the cooperation of such a person, several Islamic countries, such as Turkey, had proposed to appoint him as their ambassador, but till his death, he had never wanted to drop his Afghan citizenship, which he used to refer to with pride.
When the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in December 1979 to rescue the collapsing communist regime, Bammate was in a state of shock and sadness: he was witnessing the repetition of what had happened sixty years earlier to his father's Caucasian homeland. His country, Afghanistan, was the victim of the same old Russian hegemonic thirst. But far from abandoning, he stood-up and decided to use his influence to denounce the Russian aggressor and attract backing and assistance to the Afghan Resistance.
Early in the morning of January 16, 1985, the Paris Police called my father and asked him if he happened to know someone by the name of Najmuddin Bammate. My father, former Afghan ambassador to Paris, knew very well Bammate. The Police had picked up our phone number from Bammate's address book and needed someone to help them identify the body: Bammate had died during that night and only hours later someone had discovered his body in a metro wagon...
The official autopsy report, issued on February 7, 1985, stated that "the death of Mr. Bammate Nadjm (sic) is the consequence of a cardiac failure and that of an acute pulmonary oedema. It is therefore a natural death." His brother, his friends, his colleagues, his admirers,: all mourned the premature loss of a brilliant mind who had left none of those he had met indifferent, a man with undoubted charisma.
Whereas everybody had accepted the fact that Bammate had died of "natural death", as stated in his autopsy report, years later, I learned from a very reliable source - a former adviser to the French Defense Ministry - that, in fact, Najmuddin Bammate had died from poisoning! I learned, with stupefaction, that they had found a needle mark surrounded by a dark stain on his neck, but that the information had been concealed! Even his brother Timour Bammate, his only surviving family member, did not suspect that the cause of Najmuddin's death could have been other than the official one.
It's more than likely that Bammate was the victim of the KGB or one of its East-European clones. During a conversation with Najmuddin's brother, he significantly mentioned that if poisoning was the real cause of his brother's death, it would not have been the first time that someone from his family was targeted by the Russian services, referring to at least two attempts made by the KGB, one in the early 1930's and an other in the late 1950's, to eliminate their father, Haidar Bammate...
There is so much more to say on the unique destiny of this too little known Afghan figure who passed away under strange circumstances. Najmuddine Bammate was a genuine ambassador of Afghanistan and the way people abroad were seeing this intelligent scholar, full of humanity and understanding, was largely reflecting on the way those same people were seeing Afghanistan, which had adopted him and which he dearly and faithfully served to the extend of sacrificing his life. Because of his influence, and the power of his words, he constituted an obstacle which his enemies had to eliminate.
Najmuddin Bammate's rich, multi-faceted character deserves much more than this short article to fully describe and tell the story of his uncommon destiny and his accomplishments achieved in the name of the Islamic Civilization and Afghanistan. His book entitled "Cities of Islam", a major contribution towards the understanding of Islamic architecture and its relation and inter-action with Islamic urban societies, was published post-mortem in 1985.
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