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—-