October 2008


Photo by BinaryApe on flickr

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

             

 

A Picture is a Fact . Wittgenstein

by Shaheryar Ali

“My Politics is mingled with poetry and Romance”

“I have learned politics from Rivers”

Zulfikar Ali Bhutto

I am daughter of Indus, I am daughter of Taxila, I am an heir of this 5000 years old civilization

Benazir Bhutto

“Mein Baghi hoon, Mein Baghi hoon”, “I am a Rebel”

Benazir Bhutto [reciting a poem to millions who came to greet her at Lahore in 86]

Bhuttos were strange people, they became myths in their lives, like the Nehrus, Allendes, Nasirs, Arafats, they were the most loved people of their times. They became the symbol of resistance, their politics merged with folk lore, with music and poetry.

Benazir was perhaps last of this creed of politicians. Every one was angry with her for letting down her father’s socialist policies. No one understood her tragedy, this was the tragedy of the epoch in which she lived. This was the tragedy of Yasser Arafat, this was the tragedy of Hafiz Al Asad. She lived in the epoch of defeat. She lived in the epoch where the Capitalism snuffed out the Revolution of 1917. The dream was dead and the revolutionaries were without history, ideology and support.

In the single day the prophets of “modernism” and “progress” became”outdated” and “relics of the past”. It was this historic compulsion that made gods like Yasir Arafat irrelevant.

What was Benazir’s greatest achievement, she defeated this epoch. She refused to become “irrelevant”. She never led a revolution in Pakistan, but she never allowed reaction to take over either. When Hamas took over Palestine and Hizbollah conquered Lebanon, Bhutto and her party kept the hope alive in Pakistan no matter how weak it was , for the progressive politics. Jamate Islami lost the best opportunity it ever had to take over Pakistan by popularism after 9/11. The slogans of “Al Jihad Al Jihad” were checked by “Roti Kapra aur Makan”.

When she was killed, we understood who she was: ritualistic chest beating started in Skardu and spread to Karachi, the grief and reaction was unprecedented, from small villages and goths poetry emerged, from Jam pur, Bhakkhar, Ghotki, Chagi, Qalat, Waziristan, not the professional poets, but the folk poets, the poets who had sung the songs of 68-69. From Morocco to Korea, From Poland to Congo, From Brazil to Bulgaria creative responses emerged, poetry, music, painting cartoons.

Patti Smith , is also one of those strange people. She is called grandmother of the punk rock”. The western Pop, punk, rock, metal are very political movements, linked with resistence and people politics and peace. This is again the politics mingled with music and romance. Patti Smith delievered an improvised tribute to Benazir Bhutto in New York.

Patti Smith is inducted into the “Rock n Roll hall of fame” and is named a “commander” of “Ordre des Arts et des Lettres” by Ministry of Culture, France.

Here is the poem by her:

 A Tribute To Benazir Bhutto by Patti Smith

wander i go
where chestnut least fall
where had i gone
wades through the trees
with a poem on my sleeve
where have i gone

saw the picture
of a young girl
younger than me
dark haired
and the bright smile
she was walking with her father
in her small village
in far off pakistan
and her father
in the political heart
weeps some blood
to his daughter
she watched him proudly
as he shook the hands of the young girl gandhi
and she saw her life before her

she went to oxford
she went to cambridge
and she was shy and intelligent
they called her ‘pinkie’
she returned to her village

well it doesn’t matter what the story is
it doesn’t matter how it goes
she was a girl with a bright smile and a destiny
had a mission
some of it moulded into democracy
some of it corrupt
some of it innocent
some of it failing
she spent time in prison
she raised her children
she made mistakes
but she wore her veil proudly

she wore her scarf a little like jeanne moreau
she didn’t hide beneath it
she didn’t apologize for it
she tied it and looked beautiful

she could walk into a party
dressed like maria callas
and still have a vision for her people
pretty pretty girl
the men around her
corrupt, greedy who she loved
caused her to fall but she rose back up
because if nothing else
she would empower the women around her
she would give them something behind a smile

she tossed her hat into a dirty arena
because all of politics is filthy,
it’s all filthy
but behind her smile
there was some sense, some sense of hurt
some desire to do something good
and now she’s dead

and the flames shoot
and the people died around her
and what the fuck is it all for
it’s because she was alive
she had a vision
and she died
and others will come
and others will die
and we will keep
we will keep
searching and peeling skins
till we get it right
for just the moment
just a moment
of clarity
just a moment of peace
just
just a moment of pity
pretty pretty girl
now gone

why should we not follow
why should we not follow
wander I go
where chestnut least fall
where have I gone

osted by Shaheryar Ali

History and interpretation – Communalism and problems of historiography in India

by Irfan Habib*

IF one looks back at 1947 to find out in what ways it brought about changes in the approach to the medieval (that is, the post-ancient, pre-British, and, in much of earlier discourse, the ‘Muslim’) period of India’s history, a few major shifts of emphasis could, perhaps, be immediately identified.

First of all, Partition meant that the two communalist camps, Hindu and Muslim, found two different ‘national’ homes. Until 1947 there had been a running debate between the advocates of the two communities. But with 1947, the Muslim side in the communal historical debate shifted entirely to Pakistan, where in its seemingly final version, the history of ‘Muslims in India’ was now projected as a struggle for a separate nation right from A.D. 712, when Muhammad ibn Qasim entered Sind at the head of an Arab army. This was the reading of history pursued with much energy by the late Ishtiaq Husain Quraishi, and as recently as January this year the publication has been announced of a two-volume Road to Pakistan, its Vol.I comprising a 653-page account of “the period from A.D. 712 to 1858″, written by “eminent historians and scholars of Pakistan” and edited by Hakim Mohammad Said of Hamdard (Karachi).

In India, the contrary interpretation found its high priest in the well-known historian R. C. Majumdar. To him the entire period from c. 1200 onwards was one of foreign rule; Muslims were alien to Indian (Hindu) culture; the Hindus, oppressed and humiliated, wished nothing better than to slaughter “the Mlechhas” (Muslims); the British regime was a successor more civilised than “Muslim rule”; yet real opposition to the British came from Hindus, not Muslims, even in 1857; and, finally, the national movement’s course was throughout distorted by concessions made to Muslims by Gandhiji, who was so much personally to blame for Partition. This view runs like a red thread in the volumes of History and Culture of the Indian People (first volume issued 1951), published by the Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan with financial assistance from the Government of India, and edited by R. C. Majumdar, whose great industry must extract admiration from his worst critics. (An early critic was D. D. Kosambi, who wrote that if Islam was so alien to India as the original patron of the series, K. M. Munshi, and its editor R. C. Majumdar thought, then they should have worried about their own “good Muslim professional names”!). Majumdar went on to author texts on the Rebellion of 1857 and the freedom movement in which the same stance was firmly maintained. Though after Majumdar’s death (1980), there has not appeared on the scene a historian of similar calibre in the Hindutva (or even the ’soft Hindutva’) camp, the often unproven hypotheses and inferences that he bequeathed have all become firm truths for a very large number of educated people in India.

It is not often perceived that both the Hindu and Muslim communal schools share a very large area of common ground. Both see the two religious communities as constant political entities, and, therefore, in effect, separate nations. The slogan “Hindi-Hindu-Hindustan”, raised by the pre-1947 forebears of the present Sangh parivar, was the exact counterpart of the “Pakistan” slogan of the Muslim League and both equally implied adherence to the Two-Nation theory. Often, therefore, in the historical writings of the two schools, the heroes and villains are simply interchanged, while large areas of history have been ignored by both.

THE mainstream nationalist tradition of historiography presented, in contrast, a much broader and critical view of history. This could be seen in two early works on medieval Indian history, namely, Tara Chand’s Influence of Islam on Indian Culture, and Mohammad Habib’s monograph on Mahmud of Ghaznin, both published in the 1920s. Nationalist historiography presented a consistent affirmation of the compositeness of India’s heritage. It also felt called upon to controvert the official British claim of improvement in Indian economic life that the colonial regime had brought about, in contrast to its ‘native’ predecessors. W.H. Moreland’s rather cautious statement of this case brought forth challenges from Brij Narain (1929) and Radhakamal Mukerji (1934), who presented favourable views of the economic performance of the Mughal Empire.

WITH Independence, new questions within this stream of historiography were generated. As the direct compulsions of debate with British imperialism receded, there developed a greater readiness to study the factors of change and stagnation in our past and to identify various internal economic, social and ideological contradictions. Inevitably, Marxist influences began to be felt, especially under the impact of the Soviet Union’s role in the Second World War and the lifting of the colonial ban on Marxist classics. In his Introduction to the Study of Indian History (1956), Kosambi fitted the medieval polities headed by Muslim rulers in his interpretation of “Indian feudalism”, by special reference to the process that he designated “feudalism from above”. To the cultural consequences of the Islamic intrusion he added the technological one, crediting “Islamic raiders” with “breaking hide-bound custom in the adoption and transmission of new techniques”. Almost simultaneously, in a notable 102-page text (1952), Mohammad Habib offered an interpretation of the Ghorian-Turkish conquests of the 13th century and the early Delhi Sultanate in economic terms, with much use of Marxian concepts. Although the numerous insights of both these historians remain of lasting value, their major achievement was really to pioneer the exploration of a practically virgin domain.

In the subsequent period, possibly owing to the difference in the main source-languages, there were two points to which Marxist-influenced research came separately to be directed. In his Indian Feudalism (1965), R. S. Sharma studied in detail the basic relationships in early medieval society down to the eve of the Ghorian conquests. He argued in favour of a “feudalism largely realising the surplus from peasants mainly in kind through superior rights in their land and through forced labour, which is not found on any considerable scale… after the Turkish conquest of India.” These conclusions were largely underlined for the period immediately preceding c. 1200 by B.N.S. Yadava (1973).

The other effort was directed to establishing what the later medieval class structures were like, whether different from those of the earlier period or not. Satish Chandra made an initial attempt to delineate the main features of the Mughal Indian political and social order (1959). I presented (1963) a detailed study of the agrarian system of Mughal India, in which I argued that there were two ruling classes, the centralised nobility and the dispersed landed gentry (zamindars); and that the Mughal Empire collapsed because of agrarian uprisings in which the zamindars utilised the desperation of the oppressed peasantry. In later writing (1969), I denied that the Mughal Empire had any potentialities for capitalistic development, despite a considerable presence of commodity production. The last thesis has been contested by Iqtidar A. Khan (1975), while S. Moosvi (1987) has patiently reworked the basic statistics in the Ain-i-Akbari on which all work on Mughal economic history must necessarily rely. M. Athar Ali (1966), emphasising the centralised nature of Mughal polity, and the ethnic and religious compositeness of the nobility, has argued against my thesis of an agrarian crisis in that Empire.

FROM the 1970s, historical research in Medieval India began to be influenced by two distinct but converging currents. Burton Stein (1980) applied the theory of “segmentary state”, evolved in African anthropology, to medieval South India, and this became a signal for its application, notably by A. Wink (1986), to both Mughal and Maratha sovereignty. The tendency here is to deny the historicity of the process of centralisation as well as systematisation in pre-colonial governments. The other current originated from Cambridge, with C.A. Bayly (1983), who, arguing for a continuity between the previous indigenous polities and the colonial regime, saw the operation of innovative “corporate groups” behind the Mughal imperial decline, groups that later shifted their loyalties to the East India Company. The Indian supporters of the Bayly thesis include Muzaffar Alam (1986) and S. Subrahmanyan. Neither thesis has been accepted by most Indian historians, and there has been a notable disavowal of both in the West itself, in J. F. Richards’s volume on the Mughal Empire in the New Cambridge History of India (1993).

The Indian (in part NRI) counterpart of the two western theories has been the “Subaltern” school, whose members have worked as a “collective” since 1982. Sharing the Cambridge School’s scepticism of Indian nationalism, these historians have emphasised “the cultural autonomy” of tribal and local communities, and protested against those (including such as are conveniently termed “Nehruvian Marxists”) who have assumed cultural syntheses and unifying factors to be an important element in Indian history. While the Subalterns’ work has been mainly concerned with the period of the national movement, their beliefs enmesh fairly well with the criticism of nationalist and Marxist historiography of pre-colonial India that historians like Stein and Bayly have initiated.

THAT different views on medieval India should be influenced by the individual historian’s subjective views of the contemporary world is only to be expected; these must, however, first meet the criterion of support from historical evidence. In fact, so long as new views appear and provoke a fresh or extended exploration of the historical documentation, one can only welcome the tendency not to take the given history on trust. But historical evidence must always remain the touchstone. A major problem today is that only a small and declining number of people in India have access to Persian, in which language so much of the source material of medieval India is to be found. Not only does this large body of material need to be studied, but the collection of documents in all languages has also to be encouraged, as well as local antiquarian and archaeological work. With every passing day the evidence on paper, metal or brick or stone is being destroyed. If the hand of destruction is to be stayed, the people’s interest in the country’s past needs to be aroused. In this effort all those who, without necessarily being professional historians themselves, have yet a care for all aspects and phases of our heritage, can play a most crucial part.

*Irfan Habib is leading, well-respected Indian historian. He was awarded Padma Bhushan for his great contributions to Indian history. He stood up to the BJP led project to communalize Indian History.

[Following is the Editor Raza Rumi’s editorial note, the post was published in Pak Tea House e-zine. Sherry]

This is the third part of the history’s diverse interpretations and their contribution in understanding the world. Indeed, we are not bound by any, nor is any particular version a gospel of truth but as analytical tools these approaches enable us to make sense of the mess that we know, preach and live with as History. Readers are encouraged to comment and indicate examples that validate or challenge the various ways of interpreting History. [Raza Rumi – Ed]

Shaheryar Ali

we have explained, the “critical” turn of “Modern History”, we have covered, the debate of Marxism and History, the various models, the critique of Nationalism as a philosophy, the advent of “Orientalism”, “Post-colonial critique”, the “critique of modernism”. Critique of “civilizing missions”.

The project of modernity, including the “Enlightenment” have come under critique, the new historiographies focus on the “oriental” and “euro centric” mind set of Modern thinkers. Tariq Ali for examples says:

“How many citizens have any real idea of what the Enlightenment really was? French philosophers did take humanity forward by recognising no external authority of any kind, but there was a darker side. Voltaire: “Blacks are inferior to Europeans, but superior to apes.” Hume: “The black might develop certain attributes of human beings, the way the parrot manages to speak a few words.” There is much more in a similar vein from their colleagues. It is this aspect of the Enlightenment that appears to be more in tune with some of the generalized anti-Muslim ravings in the media. (Tariq Ali in “This is the real out rage”)

Here we see the usefulness of Marxist historiography, the belief in “Purposefulness of History”. When George Bush started his War on Terror, what were the philosophical justifications? It was once again, the good old “modernizing mission”. The war to preserve “civilization” from old backward “barbarians”. Hence the term “Neo-colonialism”.

Ali is trying to make a connection between modernism and neo-colonialism and imperialism.

I want to address yet another question, for the sake of clarity here. We live in epoch of confusion and hyper-reality. Capitalism in form of imperialism has created the greatest propaganda system that ever existed, the “free media”.

One can ask, why a historian, or a libertarian political activist , or a anthropologist chooses to call himself “Marxist”. Doesn’t it makes him biased, does it suits the philosophy of knowledge?

The second part of the question is simple to answer. Every  knowledge has a philosophy, weather you give it a name or not, you are looking at things from a perspective. In history we call it historiography. Now why some historians call themselves “Marxists”. The whole problem is put into perspective by Eqbal Ahmad.

“the biggest achievement of Marx and Marxism may have been to offer us the methodology of analyzing social and historical realities. I do not think anyone has so far come up with a substitute for historical materialism as an explanation for the turns of history, the processes of history. Nor has anyone elaborated the idea of dialectics into a methodological system in the way that Marx and Marxism did. These are not mean achievements. These are high achievements, and were made within the context of focusing the minds of the educated class, or at least a certain sector of it, on peoples other than themselves-the poor, the working class, the oppressed, the weak, even the distant ones. This had never happened before”

As explained by Eqbal Ahmad, we dont have a more effective method to study history and social formations and changes. His second great philosophical contribution is “dialectics”, but that is another debate.

Confronting Empire, Eqbal Ahmad.

Now Ahmad comes to Libertarian question, it is not possible to to think like that without Marx, even if you are not a Marxist.

“The history of humanity is replete with the rejection of the Other. It is replete with callousness toward the Other, toward the habit of and traditions of and the intellectual outlook of that which is not you or not yours. Marx and Marxism focused the intelligentsia’s attention in a positive way on the Other, the poor, the weak. And at least a section of the intellectual class, the intelligentsia as a whole, students, others, saw it as their moral and intellectual responsibility to comprehend reality in order to change it, to make the world better for all and not for themselves only. I don’t think there had ever been such a class in history before” (Eqbal Ahmad, in Confronting the Empire).

We see the way of thinking , of looking at the “other” is a Marxist construct and not only analysing it but changing it as well.

Talking of the other, we now come to one more school of thought in understanding history, it also developed, under the influence of Marxism. “The History from Below”, “The peoples History”. The movement of looking at history from below was started by what is known as “Communist Party Historian Groups” in UK. Eric Hobsbawm and EP Thompson were its influential members. For the first time they started looking at history from the perspective of the people, not from the perspective of kings, queens, great leaders, priests and founding fathers.

This type of history flourished in India as well under different Marxist historians, but as post-colonial criticism and Oriental criticism became more accessible, the Marxist historian came under criticism for accepting modernism without question.  The devastating influence of modernism to “native cultures” and “civilization” was being under stood, a critique of “progress and development” was coming forward.

A movement started of “Subaltern Historians group” in India which took the world by storm. Subaltern are the people without voice, those who have no voice in history, whose existence has been ignored.

Now history was being understood from perspective of Dalits, the peasants, the Tribals, the adivasis. The radical critique of history was taken up by major centers of learning. Subaltern critique has really provided a radical new understanding of people under colonialism, partition and capitalist oppression. This trend is critical of traditional Marxist historiography for being “too elitist”.

Yet another is the “feminist historiography”, there is a remarkable debate going on on Gender and History. We are seeing a Feminist critique of Colonialism, Nationalism and Militarism. Great work has come up, on feminist critique of Partition of India, this has helped a lot in understanding the crimes against women in Partition and later in two “nation states”. In Pakistan, Dr Robina Saigol has  given a brilliant critique of Nationalism from a feminist perspective.

With all this debate, it will now become clear that History is how we see it, there is no universal history; contemporary approach towards history is be critical of traditional under standings, to subvert the hierarchies, to de-colonize the history. Pluralism is important in history. As Marc Ferro says “Universal history is dead”. We need to re evaluate, the euro-centric, and colonial histories. We need to be critical of bourgeois leaders and their role in history. We need to be suspicious of “state” and “authority” and the ideologies they use for their legitimization.

I had chosen the name of this article from Irfan Habib’s because I wanted to post his article on “Historiography” in India. Next episode will be  his article.

Irfan Habib is one of India’s most prominent historian, he was awarded Padma Bhushan as well. He stood up to the Hindu’s Right’s communalization of Indian History

by Shaheryar Ali

We have analyzed, the origins of “communal historiography”, the “socio-political construction” of communal-identities, the conversion of “communal politics into Religious Nationalism.

Here we have given a critique of Colonial Historiography, by the secular-nationalist historians of India. What becomes clear is that colonialism in  India  resulted in formation of 3 types of Nationalism, which Romila Thapar characterizes as Anti-colonial Indian Nationalism, Hindu and Muslim Nationalism, both of whom were not anti-colonial but relied on colonialism for their historical legitimacy, we have demonstrated that looking into history and culture of India in terms of “Muslim” and “Hindu” was essentially British.

We have demonstrated, how Muslim and Hindu identities, are not monolithic and how they dissolve in class conflict. Accepting religious identities as monolithic and ahistorical is deeply disturbing and result in mass confusions and also errors in understanding historical events, It for example will result in failure of understanding Nationalism in Muslim nations, an example is Turkish nationalism, If Turkish nationalism is considered a “Muslim nationalism” because majority of Turks were Muslim, it fails to explain the formation of “Modern Turkish National identity”. What separated Turks from Arabs , both of whom, were part of Ottoman empire as Muslim subjects in Ottoman caliphate, The “Turkishness” debate, in early Turkey, the “de-islamization”, the “De-arabization” of Turkish language, the oppression of Turkish state of non-Turk population, the “Turkization of Kurds”, the suppression of Arts and intellectuals because of “Turkish honour” and “nationalism”. The Turks were building “Turkey” away from Muslim identity. It was the Muslim identity they were fighting, they were looking to Europe . The banning of head dress, the ban on Arabic language, the orders of saying Azan in Turkish as well. The adoption of Latin alphabets could these reforms be some how building “Muslim Nationalism?” Was Kemal Ata Turk  building a laboratory of Islam, was he giving pledges of following Koran and Sunnah? . The fact is Turkish state was so keen in building a Turkish national identity that by adopting Latin alphabets, they virtually made most literate people , illiterate. Arabic could confuse the people, linking them with Muslim Arabs who were once their subjects.  The fact that Ottoman Empire gave birth to nations which were Muslims yet they decided to form separate Nation States, based on Modern National identities, Arab Nationalism and Turkish Nationalism.  This quest for a European identity, also explains the repressive nature of Turkish state. This was a case of reforms from above , which had no material base and hence have to be protected by repression. The constant friction between both explain a lot of things, as Eqbal Ahmad, the foremost Marxist anti-colonial theorist suggest

“It has been nearly eighty years now since Turkey declared itself to be European. Turkey’s identity has developed for the last eighty years away from the Middle East. Its ruling class doesn’t want to be part of the Middle East. Turkey therefore has found itself making an alliance with Israel”

Eqbal Ahmad, Confronting the empire . Here Eqbal Ahmad explain quite brilliantly, the nature of Turkish Nationalism, The case of Armenian Genocide:

“The Turkish genocide of Armenians was the first expression of Turkish nationalism. The caliphate was still there, the Ottomans were still ruling, but they were already ceasing to be Ottoman rulers and becoming Turkish nationalists, which is why they lost the Middle East. They lost the loyalties of the Arabs because they turned to nationalism. Armenians had lived with the caliphate in relative safety until this particular ideology of difference, that is, nationalism, took hold. The ideology was that anyone who was not a Turk by blood was the Other. The Armenians were not killed for being Christian. They were killed for being Armenian”

Eqbal Ahmad, Confronting the Empire.

Ahmad explains, separation of Arabs and killing of Armenians, If one understands Turkish as a “Muslim identity” it creates a lot of problems in explaining history.

Here again one come across , the debate of “Marxist Historians”, “Biased Left wing histories”, “Commies” etc. This is a particular problem. It demonstrates, the lack of understanding of History, esp the movement of modern history, the modernism, academic Marxism, political communism.

In context of India and Pakistan, the explanation is quite simple, there is not much academic substance to such type of behavior. Any one who doesn’t subscribe to the Religious Nationalism, and try to do a critique of colonialism becomes a “commie”. As once again , i quote Romila Thapar:

“Historians who contest this formulation are described as anti-Indian, anti-national, and of course, “Commies”. Yet historians have argued that such a chronology is difficult to reconcile with the archaeological and linguistic evidence.”

Romila Thapar, the Future of Indian Past.

At another place, She again explains, this view point

“The Hindutva approach to history ignores all other histories and schools of interpretation. They are all dismissed as Marxist or equivalent. They are then replaced with a reconstruction of the past, based on dubious evidence and arguments, and which differs from the accepted mainstream history”

In defence of History, Romila Thapar.

The problem as such is simple prejudice, for example, any one who has made a systemic study of Modernism as a philosophy knows that Marxism is a very influential part of it. In academy, it has contributed a lot. In history especially, historical materialism, is unavoidable, All modern historians in one way or other have utilized it. Those who call themselves “Marxists” in academic field are not usually political communists. Marxism is not a monolithic entity, considering it one is yet another  a sign of lack of familiarity with Marxist thought and leftist progressive tradition.

Marxism owns its name to Karl Marx, yet, we see that Marxist historians have been in continuous debate over Marx’s understanding of India. It has been severely criticized by many “Marxist” historians. Any one familiar with historical materialism knows how important is “understanding of mode of production’ in such debate. Yet, Marx own model of “Asiatic Mode of Production” has come under attack from Marxists and is now considered discarded. As Romila Thapar asserts:

“These included Marxism of various kinds, schools of interdisciplinary research such as the French Annales School, varieties of structuralism and others. Lively debates on the Marxist interpretation of history, for example, led to the rejection of the Asiatic Mode of Production as proposed by Marx, and instead focused on other aspects of Marxist history. There was no uniform reading among Marxists, leading to many stimulating discussions on social and economic history. The ideas of historians other than Marxists, such as Marc Bloch, Fernand Braudel and Henri Pirenne, were included in these discussions. The intention was not to apply theories without questioning them, but to use comparative history to ask searching questions”

In Defence of History, Romila Thapar

Here we comes to more contemporary versions of Historiographies, we have seen the critique of Communal/Religious Nationalism by the Secular-Leftist Historians.   3rd Nationalism,  Anti-colonial secular Nationalism, has itself come under a rigorous critique by none other than various Marxist and Leftist Historians. This is the critique of Nationalism itself. The anti-colonial, anti imperial theorists like Eqbal Ahmad, Edward Said  and Hamza Alvi etc are on the forefront of this critique. Ahmad, a Marxist academic have criticized Nationalism as “Ideology of the difference”.  All this falls in the over all critique of “Modernism” itself. “The civilizing mission”. Post-colonial and Post-modernist theorists have made a rigorous critique of modernity, this critique applies on the Modernist Marxist model as well, which considered it self as “Anti-colonial” for accepting, the ideologies of modernism without critique, esp the ideology of Nationalism.

Under the influence of such philosophies, the process of “de-colonization” have been taking place in Historical texts. The fact , that lot of oppression and tyranny has been accepted on the premise that “colonial powers” were “modernizers”. This is dabate of  “Orientalism”. The debate of Knowledge and Power. The critique of Science [A great critique has emerged on the socio-political character of science, which is criticized for bring power tool of White Male ] Edawad Said has made an effective critique of Karl Marx himself in his phenomenal text “Orientalism”.

Knowledge has been used as a pre-text of colonialism. Modernization as a legitimization of oppression. As Eqbal Ahmad points out.

“Great imperial powers, especially democratic ones, cannot justify themselves on the basis of power or greed alone. No one will buy it…. Modern imperialism needed a legitimizing instrument to socialize people into its ethos. To do that it needed two things: a ghost and a mission. The British carried the white man’s burden. That was the mission. The French carried la mission civilisatrice, the civilizing mission. The Americans had manifest destiny and then the mission of standing watch on the walls of world freedom, in John F. Kennedy’s ringing phrase”

Eqbal Ahmad, confronting the Empire.

To be continued—-

Shaheryar Ali

There has been an interesting debate going on in the pages of PakTea House e-zine regarding Indian history. This debate is also at the heart of the “history wars” which are  going on in India and Pakistan. In Pakistan it has acquired a specific character because , a version of  communal historiography had to be adopted to built “Pakistani Nationalism”.

When a nation state was to be built on Muslim identity and Muslim separatism, it had to rely on a version of history which starts with Muslim invaders, all the debates in such form of history revolve around a particular community, in this case “Muslims”. It is supposed that somehow that community was always “separate”, “distinct” and somewhat independent of other people this community was living with. This type of history is just self-serving; it lives and thrives on a particular kind of politics. This communal or as thesedays its fashionable to call it “nationalist” politics, Hindu nationalist and Muslim nationalist politics. For this type of politics, history is just a tool to justify the contemporary politics with ancient events.

It therefore becomes important to demolish a historical structure, like Babri Mosque, as a symbol of “national revival”, correcting the “historical wrongs”, avenging the so called  Muslim colonialism. No one bothers , how many temples in India were demolished by Hindu rulers and how many mosques were demolished by Mujahid rulers. [Aurangzeb for example closed down the Shia Mosques in Hyderabad, and converted the main Imam bargahinto a horse stable, or Mahmood of Ghazni’s loot of mosques in Multan, which belonged to different sects]. Here Turkish invasion and Arab invasion of India becomes “Muslim Invasion”. The fact again finds no audience that Arabs fought along with locals against Turks in many towns.

This kind of history and politics is always monolithic, mythological, passionate, a-historical and in extreme cases anti-historical and absolutist. It sees every thing in black and white, all history in India as a perpetual struggle between Hindus and Muslims.  A case of mythological flight of Ideas, can be seen in Pakistan, where date of creation of Pakistan was debated amongst so-called historians, “Pakistan came into being , the day first Muslim landed in India [or converted]. This is the extreme mythological thinking, which defies knowledge, logic, rationalism, common sense. It’s this mentality by which every Muslim household in Dehli, Gujrat, Mysore becomes Pakistan, thus a target of violence for Hindu nationalists. The Indian Muslim who is killed , is a Pakistani. Than we listen to shouts of “Musalmano ke du isthan, Pakistan ya Qabristan.”

Extensions of this thought are visible in Pakistani Patriotism as well, As Jamil Alli says:

Pakistan ka sehri tha mein Pakistan se Pehle bhi—

This is the extreme a-historic and segregationist view of Pakistan. Sindh becomes “bab-ul-Islam”, owing to Arab imperialist invader Muhammed bin Qasim, equating Islam essentially with violence and conquest. The same mindset , ironically engages in passionate debate when Hindu right raises the question of invasions and forced conversions. Their mythological mindset doesn’t see the logical contradiction in their view of making Sindh “bab-ul-Islam” and than denying invasion related spread of Islam.

As this view is “segregationist” it doesn’t accept the Sufi thought, which is humanist and anti-communalist. In Pakistani text books, Wahdat-ul-wajood becomes heresy. Mysticism becomes “bidat”.

Depending on the modern sensibility of such communal mind set Pakistan becomes either a “Laboratory of Islam” or “Mumlikat e Khudadad”, “the divine state” or “Islam ka Qila”, “Fort of Islam”.

The communal historical tradition is extremely selective in its reading, it doesn’t adopts a critical view of the primary sources. As Romila Thapar , one of the most respected historian of India notes, that the “communal historiography” is essentially a “colonial historiography”.

“The colonial interpretation was carefully developed through the nineteenth century. By 1823, the History of British India written by James Mill was available and widely read. This was the hegemonic text in which Mill periodised Indian history into three periods – Hindu civilization, Muslim civilization and the British period. These were accepted largely without question and we have lived with this periodisation for almost two hundred years. Although it was challenged in the last fifty years by various historians writing on India, it is now being reinforced again”

Roma Thapar: History as Politics.

Dr Thaparcontinues, her analysis of communal historiography and later its utilization by Hindu and Moslem nationalists, or communalists. She asserts:

“These were religion-based national groups for whom the identity of an independent nation-state was to derive from the religion of the majority community in the proposed state. Religion-based nationalism, whether Hindu or Muslim, drew directly from the colonial interpretation of Indian history and catered to the ambitions of a section of the Indian middle-class.It projected imagined uniform, monolithic religious communities and gave them a political reality. There was an entwining of communal historiography and religious nationalism. Muslim nationalism aspired to and eventually succeeded in establishing Pakistan. Hindu nationalism is aspiring to make India into a Hindu Rashtra. The two-nation theory was essential to both the Muslim League and the Hindu Mahasabha in the early twentieth century. It continues to be essential to the communal movements of today. These nationalisms were not primarily anti-colonial. They accepted the colonial views of the past and what they were opposed to was the other religious community”

Romila Thapar, History as Politics.

Liberal versions, of this communal mindset exist in both India and Pakistan, the disagreement with fanatics is merely aesthetic, and is representative of the “internal conflict” of the “middle class” base of this type of Nationalism. The liberal card is basically used in terms of “democracy”, “nationalism”, “cultural nationalism” and even “secularism”. Thus we see Hindutava becoming “secular” in name of “Indian nationalism or Hindu nationalism”. We see LK Advani’spassionate defence of Jinnah’s secularism. A farce in history is abuse of democracy in such debates where in discussions of pre-partition India , terms like Hindu majority and Moslem minority were created. The same issue of “religion based” majority are used in India and Pakistan, in issues eg repealing Hadood laws etc. All this is done in name of “Majority is democracy”. Thapar notes:

“The undermining of democracy today lies in insisting that Indian society is constituted of communities identified only by religion.Since in a democracy the wishes of the majority prevail, it is said that the Hindus being the majority community in terms of numbers, should determine public decisions. This of course makes a mockery of democracy, since a democratic majority is not a pre-determined majority and decisions can and do cut across identities of religion and other identities. It is also a refusal to concede that actually Indian society in the past had multiple identities – of caste and social hierarchy, of occupation, of language, of religious sect and of region. Religion was only one amongst these. The focus of each identity was dependent on the issue in question”

Romila Thapar, History as Politics.

So as we see that once again all of it can be narrowed down to “identity”. Using religion as “identity”, we have seen this basically was a British construction, and through the modernist it seeped into Indian middle class. No one tries to be critical and trace the history of social construction of “Hindu” and “Muslim” identities. Hindu and Muslim are considered “monolithic” groups, homogeneous and in perpetual conflict. A detailed historical analysis will reveal that both theseterms have no meaning at all, Hinduit self has been understood as different things, there was no “monolithic Hindu religion” or Hindu culture” in India. As Romila Thapar notes:

“Despite its initial geographic and ethnic meanings, the term Hindu finally settled as the name of a religion. It has been argued that the early religions of India were essentially religions of orthopraxy of conservative ritual practice, rather than orthodoxy, of conservative belief. Religion in India was a mosaic of juxtaposed cults and sects”

and

“There was no single label by which they described themselves and they were identified as Vaishnava, Shaiva, Shakta, Lingayat and so on. Belief ranged from animism to the most sophisticated philosophy”

Same thing is true for Muslims, who in India were a very pluralistic thing. The Arabs, Turks, Afghan, etc, often with conflicting interest. Despite the colonial and communal interpretation of history, Majority of Indian Muslims were never outsiders, only elite section of Muslims could be traced to Afghan or Persian, or Arabic roots, majority of Muslims were converts whose interests remained same as their brothers in class. untilthe colonial times when Hindu and Muslim middle class were pushed into a struggle of survival in case of “colonial employments”.

Romila Thapar notes:

This view was further reinforced in the colonial theory that the Muslims of India were foreign and alien. The subject was treated as if Muslims were – one and all – migrants, all claiming descent from the Arabs, Turks, Afghans, Mongols and what have you, who settled in India. This may have held true for a fraction of the elite, but as we know the vast majority of Muslims was Hindus converted to Islam.The few claims to an origin beyond the frontiers of the sub-continent were more often claims to status rather than a statement of ethnic origins. The regional and linguistic variations among Muslims in India gave riseto many cultural and sectarian differences that militated against a uniform, monolithic religious community. Groups labelled as Hindu were also treated as if they were identical and conformed to a single, homogeneous culture”

Romila Thapar, History as Politics.

The religious identity, faded away in non elitist sections of society as Thapar notes:

“The conquest and the resistance were more frequently over territory, political power and status. Religion was not the dominating factor as is clear from studies of these epics. The fading away of formal religious boundaries was particularly evident in the non-elite sections of society – in effect, the majority of the people. But their religion was regarded as inferior and set aside, even by historians. What earlier historians failed to emphasize was that conversion is seldom a break with the previous way of life. It invariably carries many of the culture ways of the earlier identities”

How other identities are more important than the religious identity is once again described by Romila Thapar, explaining the phenomenon of conversions and refuting the Hidutuva’s myth of forcefulconversion, she explains how “class character” was base of such conversions and , this character never changed despite changing of religion:

But what is of interest is that where a caste converted, it generally retained its rules of marriage, custom and some rituals and continued to have professional relationships with Hindu castes. When weavers in some North Indian towns converted to Islam, they continued their earlier relationship with Hindu textile merchants. Prior to their conversion they were anyway regarded as low caste and the traders maintained a social distance, and this distance remained.

In defence of History, Romila Thapar

To be continued—

Shaheryar Ali

Though the Islamists, imperialist, fascists and their “softer” supporters, the conservatives, capitalist Liberals, are on the forefront of promoting the agenda of “clash of civilizations”. The people, the real people, the poor and workers of the world have repeatedly demonstrated their solidarity with each other, their rejection of religious hatred and fascism. The capitalist media which is known as “free” media, is on the forefront of promoting hatred. As Noam Chomsky has demonstrated in his remarkable study “Manufacturing Consent”, that this free media just plays the role of spreading hate and built public opinion , in favor of Imperialist wars. To sell , George Bush’s War on Terror [which is nothing but War of Terror], Media and others have built stereotypes have marginalized Muslims and Islam. A stupid thesis was put forward by HH cardinal Tony Blair that all this oppression and tyranny is some how to “defend our way of life”. To save the European values. He forgot that these are the “values of whole humanity” Europe has no doubt the leading role in building them but thanks to Modernity these are now “Human values”. With books, novels, films, tv a “simulacrum” was created , a “hyper-reality”, that suggest that some how a “great war” is going on, the Muslims and Christians are cutting each other throats, Europe and Islamic world is some how engaged in a “Armageddon”, their culture, values, life every thing is different. They cannot co-exist. All this is classical “de-realization” of reality.

People of the world demonstrated again and again, that they are not at war, their is no clash, but our “free media” and “Liberal Intellectuals” fail to see it. When Iraq was being attacked, Millions took to street in London, Berlin,Paris,Rome, where was the Hate? where was the clash? 3 million Christians, Jews and non-Muslim workers were on streets of London supporting a Muslim and Arab country.

The day was so remarkable that Derrida, the greatest philosopher of our times who was on his death bed wrote a Manifesto with Marxist Philosopher  Jurgen Habermas ;15 Feb1urary : What Binds the Europeans”. They called these demonstrations the “re-birth of Europe”, telling the Capitalist war warmongers what European values are.

This was a remarkable day that people of Europe whose “way of life” was supposedly in danger , took to streets demonstrating they reject this war. These were the largest demonstrations in history of Europe since 2nd world war.It was a sharp slap on the face to the Islamic fanatics as well who just like their European counterparts, with help of their media were projecting all this as “western attack on Islam”. They kept saying “Jews and Christians” are enemies, “they hate Islam”.

When Jews and Christan of Europe in millions were on streets opposing a war against a Muslim country, not even 2 dozen Muslims took to streets in  Islamabad, Jeddah, Riyadh, or Abu Dhabi.

Now once again, people of Europe have demonstrated their rejection of “clash of civilizations” theory. This report filled my heart with joy, it once again increased my faith on values of Enlightenment, humanity and progressive thought.

The right wing Fascist thugs of Europe had planned a “conference” against “Islamic threat” to Europe. “To stop the Islamic March” into Europe”The Grand European Anti Islamic Congress” was to be held at Cologne, the great German city.

When the fascist delegates landed on air port, they noted:

A. No taxi driver was ready to give them transport

B. No restaurant gave them a table

Thousands of German protesters, came out to protest against the Anti Islam Fascists. Once again Left organized a moving event. Which once again showed there is no clash of civilizations , this is an Imperialist War. Its clash of fanatics. This is the report published in International Marxist website.

“Grand European Anti-Islamic Congress” stopped in its tracks
By Walter Held in Cologne

 

 

 It had been planned as a central meeting of leading proto-fascists, right-wing populists and neo-nazis. A grand “European Anti-Islamic Congress” was scheduled to be held today Saturday 20th September in the huge German city of Köln – Cologne – on the banks of the river Rhine.Invitations had gone out to the Italian Lega Nord, the French Front National, the Austrian FPOe and the BZOe, the British National Party the Belgian Vlams Belang and others. Theme of the weekend “congress” at which the organisers confidently expected 1500 participants was a campaign against the “advance of Islam in Europe”.

The organisers belong to a political grouping called Pro-Köln. This rag tag and bobtail splinter group with a couple of dozen members picked up just under 5 per cent of the votes for Köln ’s city election and have a fraction of five councillors on the city council. These have a small basis amongst backward elements in the pubs and on the housing estates and have set up a campaign to fight against the building of a central mosque for the city’s Moslem population.

In fact most of the organisers are ex-members or secret members of extreme right-wing groupings like the Republikaner, the German League for Folk and Homeland and the NPD but they hide behind the new respectable organisation “Pro Köln”. As a front organisation the right are keen to set up similar groups in other German cities. The Congress this weekend was to be a signal of their presence and their growth.

Yesterday evening – Friday 19th – supporters of the congress started to arrive in Cologne. Confident that they had organised everything down to the last detail, they were aghast to discover that no taxi driver would take them to their destination, no restaurant honoured their table reservation and no hotel would give them keys to their rooms. They had to snatch a snack where they could under cover of darkness and sleep rough.

One group of right-wingers took a steamer trip down the river Rhine intending to hold speeches at various stop-off points but the vessel was stoned from the banks by demonstrators. When the captain discovered who his passengers were, he refused to take them near land and they spent five cold hours out in open water safe from the stones which had smashed several of his windows. Eventually he put them ashore. They tried and failed to get taxi drivers to take them on. Most taxi drivers nowadays are foreigners as are restaurant owners and waiters and they knew who they were dealing with.

As the sun rose this morning on the city, tens of thousands of Cologne residents started to converge on the city centre to join a massive demonstration of protest at the presence of the Right in their hometown. All the main political parties, the churches, the trade unions, immigrant groups had all called for support for the demo. At present as I write this there are around 40,000 foregathered in protest. A magnificent rebuttal of the claims of the tiny grouplet which claims to speak “for Cologne”.

Even the Christian Democrats who had effectively helped the Pro Köln group by voting with them against the plan to build a central mosque was forced to take part and the CDU mayor of the city Fritz Schramma had to give a speech condemning the European fascists. The trade union federation made excellent speeches, local bands played adaptations of well-known songs with new lyrics. All nationalities and generations are enjoying a day of anti-fascist solidarity.

Meanwhile at Cologne airport around 150 potential participants in the Grand Congress landed from abroad only to discover that they are still unable to leave the airport. Militant left-wingers are staging a sit-down on the rails of the airport/city shuttle trams. Taxi drivers refuse to move the rightists.

And back in the city centre, a right-wing rally on the Heumarkt – Haymarket – which had only attracted a few dozen demonstrators has just been summarily forbidden by the police because of a threat to the safety of Cologne’s citizens. The police union itself, in this traditionally cosmopolitan and hospitable city, is taking part in the anti-fascist demonstration with green Police Union banners a few hundred metres away at the main demo but a few dozen crazy ultra-lefts have been attacking the police as if they were the enemy!

So the Grand Congress to rally European anti-islamists has fizzled out in an embarrassing fiasco for the right. The unions, the SPD and the Left together with most of the ultra-left groups and others have done a tremendous job in organising the resistance. An inspiration for all

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