Razib Khan One-stop-shopping for all of my content

March 1, 2019

The blood on brown hands is a legacy of all of history

Filed under: History,India,Islam,Pakistan,Postcolonialism,PremiumPost — Razib Khan @ 2:54 am

Yesterday I put up a tweet which went a bit viral (I won’t embed since it has a vulgarity). It was the result of my frustration with a very liberal Indian American who was using unfortunate tensions in the Indian subcontinent to attack “white supremacy.” My frustration was due to the reality that a major conflict between India and Pakistan would not just impact India and Pakistan, though that is dire enough. In a globalized world, a war involving the world’s fifth largest economy, situated athwart the southern flank of Asia, would impact many people outside of the subcontinent. In the midst of this, the fact that someone was using this to promote their own ideological hobbyhorse was offensive to me.

But the construct of “white supremacy” was presented specifically in the context of a particular history with the British. That is, British policies in the 19th and early 20th centuries laid the seedbeds of conflict between Hindus an Muslims, along with the tortured borders of the partition of the Indian subcontinent in 1947. This is a complicated issue. It is simply manifestly true that the British administered most of the Indian subcontinent from the beginning of the 19th century down to 1947, to various degrees. And, the British were at the center of defining and delineating the borders and divisions which frame the current tensions within the Indian subcontinent.

And yet, the reality is that I believe all these were contingent. That is, imagine an alternative history where the Sepoy Mutiny succeeded in winning independence for several states within the subcontinent, even if the British also retained their territories. Presumably, when the British receded, more independent states would emerge. Would the subcontinent be one of amity and low tension, with the much milder historical footprint of the British? In such a timeline the Amritsar Massacre may never have happened (I presume the British would be more likely to retrench to the coastal areas to the east, south, and southwest).

I don’t believe that that is so. Since I am not Pakistani I did not know what the “Two-Nation Theory” (TNT) was before I ran the Brown Pundits weblog. Basically, this is the idea that the Indian subcontinent has within it two religious nations, the Hindu and Muslim. This is not a theological assertion as much as an ethno-sectarian one. The founder of Pakistan, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, was not a devout Muslim. His personal mores were more that of an upper-class Brit (he enjoyed his whiskey). But, his ethnocultural identity was clearly that of an upper-class Muslim. As a lawyer, he defended a man who killed a Hindu who the man believed had blasphemed against Islam. Jinnah’s defense was motivated by his communal loyalty. Even if he himself was not pious, the offense was against the Muslim nation, and he stood with the Muslim nation.

This highlights the fact that the 1947 partition was not driven by the all-powerful British, but also native Indian groups. Though the British, as imperial rulers, implemented the specifics, the underlying demand was from the Muslim League, with the tacit acceptance of many Hindus who were happy to remove a substantial proportion of the subcontinent’s non-Hindu population into another state (some extremely religious fundamentalist Muslims actually opposed partition, since their goal was to convert the whole subcontinent, for which a united India would have been more efficient!).

If you had asked me at a younger age my unconsidered opinion would have been that India should have stayed united to avert the bloodiness of the partition, whose death toll is estimated from the hundreds of thousands to millions. But upon further reflection and thought, I think the TNT captures the essential fact that the Muslim upper-class of Northern India would never be able to reconcile itself well with secondary status within the state, and, with ~25% of the population being Muslim, would always have a huge vote bank so that they could not be ignored. Perhaps a confessional state with a divided balance of power such as Lebanon could have been attempted, but I doubt the Lebanese solution would scale to a polity which covered the whole Indian subcontinent. A more feasible scenario might be a confederation.

The separation of East Pakistan, what became Bangladesh, within a generation of the partition, actually proves to me the point about the Muslim upper-class of Northern India and its general attitude toward power-sharing. Though the Muslim League was quite successful in East Bengal before the partition due to the salience of religious divisions in the region, with the emergence of a Pakistani state the party became the instrument of an elite whose cultural focus was on the northwest of the subcontinent. These were people who saw themselves, quite often genealogically in a valid sense, to be heirs to the Mughal tradition. They dreamed of the time when they had been part of the dominant ruling class (albeit, often subordinate to Turks and Persians).

This was quite separate from the Muslim Bengali identity, which existed more at an equipoise between an Islamic self-consciousness and a Bengali one, which connected them culturally in a deep sense to the Hindu Bengalis who resided across the border in India. The Muslim elite of West Pakistan saw the Bengalis of East Pakistan, even when Muslim as the majority were, to be a culturally and racially inferior group. Culturally inferior because of their embrace of a Bengali high culture which was originally pioneered by Hindus such as Rabindranath Tagore, and racially inferior because they were a smaller and darker-skinned people, who could clearly not make the pretensions toward non-Indian West Asian ancestry common among the post-Mughal Muslim elite.

Now, imagine this same elite having to deal with the Hindu elites of a united India!

What this shows is that the cleavages that exploded into violence in 1947 with the partition were long pregnant within India, before the British ever arrived. The reason I have no patience for the constant indictments of the British is that South Asian elites had their own agency, and their own history, long before the British became the major power in the subcontinent, and retained that agency after. First, one has to remember that the British domination of the subcontinent in a sense we’d recognize it probably dates to the defeat of the Marathas in the Second Anglo-Maratha War of the early 19th century. This puts British rule across much of the subcontinent at 150 years, and even then many of the Princely States administered themselves.

Obviously, India has a history before the British period and that history as preserved and maintained amongst its ruling elements continued down into the British Raj and reemerged after the independence of India and Pakistan. From the period after the emergence of the Delhi Sultanate in ~1200 to the decay of Mughal power in the early 18th century, Turkic conquest elites espousing the faith of Islam were the dominant ruling class of South Asia.

To be sure, not all of them were Turkic. Many were Iranian, Afghan, or Arab, and some were slaves from the Caucasus and Africa. But all of them were swept up in the invasion of the Indian subcontinent driven by Central Asian Turks. This is not exceptional to India, Turkic military elites were often the ruling class of Iran (e.g., the Safavids and Qajars) and many parts of the Arab Near East after 1000 AD. Once in India, the Turks transplanted their Central Asian civilization as best as they could on the very different soil of the subcontinent. A migration of Persians, and even some Arabs such as Ibn Battuta, occurred so as to allow the development of a fully-functioning Islamic civilization co-located within a landscape dominated by diverse Indian traditions that we would today call Hindu (which was at that time was just the generic term for Indian).

Ibn Battuta, in particular, illustrates the fact that within India a whole Muslim world had been transplanted which nevertheless remained not of India, as his own reflections are that of a Muslim moving through Muslim lands, not an Arab in a non-Muslim territory.

The imperialist nature of the conquest dynasties should not be underemphasized. Because of its size and population density, India was attractive to rent-seekers and fortune-hunters. Like the Mongol rule in China, the dominance of a Muslim military elite within India culturally and ideologically distant from the local Brahmin elite opened up an opportunity for West Asians to find favor at court. Ayatollah Khomeini’s paternal grandfather was born in the Indian city of Lucknow. His own ancestors had been invited by the rulers of the region, who were migrants from Nishapur in Iran. Khomeini’s grandfather’s Persian ancestors had left Nishapur and settled in India to receive the patronage and provide service to the rulers who were Shia Muslims of Persian origin such as themselves.

These enclaves of Muslims with recent foreign ancestry have given rise to the ashraf quasi-caste. In White Mughals the author asserts that just as a poor European noble might marry the daughter of a wealthy merchant, so ashraf of pure blood could elevate the lineage of prosperous native sock Indian Muslims.

This digression is to emphasize how the Islamic civilization of South Asia was to some extent a West and Central Asian society intercalated with indigenous elements. The court language of the Mughals, who were in their paternal lineage Timurid arrivistes from Central Asia, was Persian. The camp language was Turki. There were centuries of migration of West and Central Asians into Islamic courts and camps in South Asia that connected India with the Muslim regions to the west and northwest. The non-Indian pretentions of upper-class Muslims from the northwest of the subcontinent are not totally off base. To be sure, the reality is that the vast majority of the ancestry of modern-day South Asian Muslims, even those from the northwest, is indigenous.

Though South Asia remained an overwhelmingly non-Muslim domain, rather early on Islam took on something of the patina of an imperial religion due to the dominance of Muslim military elites. To give an example, in the early 1400s a certain Raja Ganesha, a Hindu, usurped rule in Bengal (which had been under a Turkic dynasty). One concession that mollified Muslim elites toward this usurpation was that he agreed that his son would become a Muslim. And so he did so that Raja Ganesha’s son and grandson ruled Bengal as Muslims. To me, this is reminiscent of the selection of Eugenius as a puppet of the pagan general Arbogast in the West Roman Empire in the late 4th century. Though Eugenius was tolerant toward pagans, he was a Christian. The norm of a Christian ruler of the Roman Empire had already been established by the 390s, even though Christians were only a minority of the population at this time. The Emperor was a Christian ruler of a pagan Empire.

The existence of Islam as an imperial religion resulted in the emergence of an “Islamicate” civilization. Though Rajputs and Pandits remained devout Hindus, they emulated aspects of the elite culture of the Muslims whom they served as vassals or courtiers. Eventually, Muslims of a more native Indian background also came to the fore. Though the powerful ruler of 18th century Mysore, Tipu Sultan, claimed distant West Asian ancestry, the realistic depictions of his features indicate he is clearly an Indian and the descendant of converts to Islam. The Mughal Emperor Akbar exhibits his Turco-Mongol and Persian heritage in his features, while his grandson Shah Jahan looks like the Rajput Indian that three of his four grandparents were. And yet Shah Jahan was a Muslim Mughal prince in culture, and a proud Timurid who wed the daughter of Persian migrants, even if three of his four grandparents were Hindu.

Though any objective analysis shows that the Muslims of South Asia are overwhelming of indigenous ancestry, the cultural and historical imprint of West Asia is indelible upon them, in particular among certain elements of the elite of the northern cities. Their appearance, food, and language, tie them to South Asia. But their religious commitments and romantic attachment to a greater Islamic civilization pull them west.

But of course, there were other people in South Asia. Today we call them Hindus, but that used to be the term for an inhabitant of the Indian subcontinent more generally. Hinduism encompasses a wide range of traditions, from local folk religion to the elite philosophical schools. Perhaps the two things that define Indians, and Hindus, to outsiders are karma and caste. As in Iran the conquest of India did result in some synthesis between the intrusive element, and the native substrate. In the Rise of Islam and the Bengal Frontier the author argues that the rule of the region by Turkic and Afghan Muslims without investment in Sanskrit allowed for the emergence of a native Bengali linguistic tradition. Meanwhile, in Crossing the Threshold: Understanding Religious Identities in South Asia, the author argues that before the assertion of orthodoxy during the Mughal period, many ethno-religious groups in South Asia were liminal to both Islam and Hinduism. The Meo community may be a relic which reflects some of the sub-elite and peasant practices which have vanished.

What drove this distinction between the two broad communities, where there had been a multiplicity and points of synthesis? Some might say it was the British. This is entirely false. S. A. M. Adshead in Central Asia and World History discusses the emergence of a Naqshbandi International during the late medieval and early modern period. Founded in Bukhara, the Naqshbandi is a Sunni Sufi order whose reach extended out from Central Asia all across Eurasia. One of the major impacts of the Naqshbandi in places like India and China was to restrain and rollback incipient syncretisms of Islam with omnipresent local cultural traditions.

Additionally, the intellectual and moral pressure of the Naqshbandi seems associated with the persecution of heterodox Muslim groups in the Indian subcontinent, such as the Ismailis, under the Mughals. Within the Indian subcontinent, the emergence of Islamic culture under the influence of Naqshbandi did not necessarily impinge upon Hindus as such, but it reinforced the barriers and separation between Indian Muslims and Indian non-Muslims. And the reality is that syncretism and heterodoxy were a threat. Though Akbar is a famous case, one of the early saints of Gaudiya Vaishnavism in Bengal was born and raised a Muslim.

But Hindus were no doubt impacted by this resurgence in centrally imposed orthodoxy. If Crossing the Threshold is correct, many syncretistic communities which had integrated aspects of Islam, in particular, esoteric Ismaili precepts, may have pulled back and shifted toward a more explicitly and clearly non-Muslim self-identity so as to avoid accusations of heresy. As in the early Christian Roman Empire, the eye of the inquisitor was not upon those who were outside of the faith, but those who were deviationists. Heretics, not pagans.

And this is not to say that Hindus were entirely passive. For various reasons, Muslims in the Indian subcontinent have much more work which can be the basis of historiography. It is fashionable to say in some quarters than Hinduism and Hindus did not truly exist until the past few centuries when the contrast with Islam and Christianity produced the idea of a native Indian confession and communal identity. I believe this is far too strong a statement. In fact, I believe it is wrong.

As far back as Al-Biruni in the 10th century, it is clear that outsiders saw a distinct cluster of characteristics as diagnostic for Indian religious traditions. An Indian civilizational self-conception as a range of people who resided within the borders of the modern Indian subcontinent, and who promoted a wide range of beliefs that one might call “Dharmic”, clearly dates to centuries before the birth of Christ. Perhaps “Hindu religion” in its elite form can be more thought of as analogous to “Abrahamic religion,” with a set of diverse beliefs united by common presumptions and modalities. In fact, in China Muslims and Jews were regularly confused due to their aversion to pork, while Christianity was initially conflated with Pure Land Buddhism in the 16th century (the earlier forms of Christianity having died off).

The very reality that over six centuries of overwhelming elite dominance in the Indian subcontinent a large number of local non-Muslim elites persisted is indicative of something robust in what we call the Hindu tradition. After the middle of the 9th century in Iran, Zoroastrian elites faded away, and Iranian society became Muslim. Though substantial Zoroastrian minorities persisted in some regions for many centuries, just as with Christianity in the Roman Empire in the year 400, so Islam had captured the commanding heights of Iranian culture. It is in this period that self-consciously Iranian dynasties reemerge, now that the connection between Islam and the Persian ethnicity was irrefutable.

The contrast with India is striking. Like the people of India Iranians have a strong self-consciousness as a civilization with an ancient history, but unlike the Indians, Iranians did not retain their ancestral Zoroastrian religion (there were Zoroastrian kingdoms in northern Iran for centuries after the Arab conquest, but they clung on the fringes). Despite Iranian contempt for Arabs, their names are often Arabic, and their writing system is now derived from Arabic.

Due to its geographic depth, Hindu kingdoms persisted in South India and in the hill country of Nepal even during the apex of Muslim rule. Far to the east the Tai invaders of the valley of the middle Brahmaputra, the Ahom, eventually converted to the Hindu religion and repulsed Mughal attempts to bring them under their rule. And even under Muslim rule Hindu religious revivals and innovation occurred, as alluded to above with the emergence of Gaudiya Vaishnavism in Bengal in the 15th century. Far to the west, the first of the Sikh gurus was preaching at the same time.

By the early 18th century the Mughal hegemony was brittle. Unlike other parts of the Muslim world, in India, militarized elites of non-Muslims existed across many regions of the subcontinent, and these elites continued to patronize brahmins and gurus. A whole non-Muslim counter-culture, bracketed later under “Hindu”, persisted and flourished.

With the collapse of Mughal rule, a diverse array of local militias scrambled for power, and one of them was a set of militarized Hindu peasants from what is today Maharashtra in the Deccan. These came together to form the Maratha Empire, which in the middle of the 18th century was the dominant power on the Indian subcontinent.

There are many debates about whether one can conceive of this as a Hindu-Muslim conflict, with Hindu Maratha patriots revolting against foreign Muslim oppressors. It is often given that Muslim leaders had Hindu soldiers, and Hindu leaders had Muslim soldiers. This refutes simplistic treatments, but it does not negate that communal and civilizational identities existed. At the Second Battle of Vienna Lithuanian Tatars fought under the banner of a Polish Catholic king, while Hungarian Protestants marched with the Turks. These complexities do not negate the divisions which were visible and accepted by all. The Tatars and Protestants had their pragmatic reasons, just as the port city of Amalfi often countenanced the predations of Muslim pirates upon their rivals. This did not change their confessional identity and affinity.

All of this is the background to my assertion that the idea that the British divided Indians into distinct and striking religious self-conceptions, and sowed discord, is true in only the most trivial of senses. Indian history predates the British, and the logic of Muslim-Hindu communalism was preexistent, and the trajectory was clearly one toward sharper differentiation. If the Turkic conquers had managed to convert most of the elites of the subcontinent within a few centuries, then I believe Indian Islam and Islamicate society would have indigenized faster in its self-conception. If there were large numbers of Muslim Rajput warriors who could serve as retainers for Turkic rulers, there would have been less need for adventurers from Ferghana. If the Brahmins had converted to Islam and entered into the service of Muslim kings, there would have been no need for an immigrant class of Persian officials. As in much of the Near East presumably, some communities would remain Hindu, and suffered existence as a subordinate class. Some areas, such as Nepal, and perhaps Assam, would remain under Hindu kings and retain the entire organic social structure of pre-Islamic India. Marginal witnesses to a faded tradition.

But that is not what happened. Islam barely touched Orissa in the east, the south was long under the rule of Hindu kings, while powerful Rajput nobles in their arid fastness cultivated indigenous traditions and customs. Indian cultural traditions were powerful enough to exhibit some assimilative tendencies. Though Babur hated India and longed for Central Asia, his descendants fell in love with the subcontinent. His grandson, Akbar, married Hindus, uplifted them from second-class status and attempted to forge a syncretistic elite cult. But each subsequent Mughal became more orthodox in their Sunni religiosity, whether due to piety or expediency, culminating in Aurangzeb, who was a convinced Sunni Muslim who persecuted heretics, such as Ismailis, and cultivated the conversion of notable Hindus.

One aspect of early modernity is the rationalization of earlier systems of thought, as well as a movement of ideology from the elite to the masses. When the Prussian House of Hohenzollern converted to Reformed Christianity from Lutheranism, their subjects balked and remained true to their religion. When the Elector of Saxony converted to Catholicism, his subjects almost revolted, and none converted. And of course, when James II converted to Catholicism and began to push toleration of his religion in a resolutely Protestant England, he was overthrown.

It is reasonable to assert that the mass of Indian peasants did not have such a self-conception. Western Europe in 1700 was already a wealthier region on a per capita basis than South Asia, and a combination of the printing press and Protestantism had resulted in relatively high literacy rates in many regions. South Asian peasant societies were arguably more unequal, and local identity at the level of the village was likely far more delimited in Bengal than in Britain. But the same was not so with elites. A Shia ulema whose ancestry was entirely Persian was clear as to who he was no matter where he was in the subcontinent. A Kashmiri Pandit might relocate to Dehli but remain aware of their distinct identity. The expansion of the Maratha Empire across much of the subcontinent brought Hindus of various stripes together, and despite all their differences, Brahmins from Kashmir, the Konkan coast, and Iyers from the Tamil country shared a certain set of religio-philosophical premises (even though in their dietary habits a Kashmiri Pandit might resemble a Kashmiri Muslim more than a Tamil Iyer!).

Of course, peasant farmers did not have such crisp identities. Much of the historical-ethnographic literature alludes to syncretistic and pluralistic practices of nominally Hindu and Muslim cultivators, who shared many beliefs and folkways. The thesis then can be introduced that British policies of divide and rule hardened religious identities and induced separation. I reject this and believe that confessionalization in some sense is part of the process of modernity and development, along with the expansion of the literate class. Urbanization was always going to collapse the operational rural paganism that was ubiquitous across much of Eurasia which was nominally dominated by ethical religious systems at the elite level. The unification of the Indian subcontinent by the East India Company furthered this, the dynamic’s roots were older, and could certainly be seen by the Mughal period, as halting attempts at syncretism of the Indianizing Muslim elite were reversed by an international Sunni ulema.

After all this exposition, a specter haunts this discussion. And that is the specter of post-colonialism. Wikipedia says that “postcolonial studies is the academic study of the cultural legacy of colonialism and imperialism, focusing on the human consequences of the control and exploitation of colonized people and their lands.” There is clearly a legacy of British colonialism and imperialism on the Indian subcontinent. English, the government, much of the legal system, and cricket. Without the British the Indian subcontinent as we understand it would not be comprehensible. But, the key is not to limit the causal variables of modern conditions and dynamics to only the British.

Without the Mughals the Indian subcontinent as we understand it would not be comprehensible. Without the caste system the Indian subcontinent as we understand it would not be comprehensible (genetics confirms that the caste system is ~2,000 years old). The problem with postcolonialism as it is operationalized is that it transforms European colonialism into the main effect of all occurrences. The more than 2,000 years of continuous Indian history and the 1,000 years of deep interaction with West Asia are all marginalized when compared to 150 years of European hegemony. Even though Indians did not convert to Christianity en masse, retain distinctive marriage customs, foods, and native languages, the European cultural imprint is seen to be distinct, overpowering, and determinative. Implicitly this framework removes all agency from Indians and transforms them into entities upon which Europeans operate as culture-formers. Europeans are the creators, and non-Europeans are the receivers.

Often the postcolonial framework makes European culture into a Christ-like entity. Europeans take upon themselves all the sins of mankind. The violence, brutality, and communalism that tears South Asia apart are attributed to the legacy of European divide and rule tactics. The sins of South Asians are ultimately the sins of Europeans. The origins of evil are to be found in the colonialists, the imperialists. The Mughals, with their proud Timurid lineages, and flowing Persian poetry, and Turkic retainers are recast as indubitably Indian when contrasted with British imperialists. Nevermind that the British when they arrived as a marginal power noted that the keys to the kingdom of India were held by whites like them, Muslims of Turkic or Persian provenance, who ruled over blacks, of both religions (both the British and the foreign Muslim used the term ‘white’ and ‘black’ to contrast West Asians and South Asians).

The great leap and chasm is always when Europeans arrived, when sin is introduced into Eden.

This is not to say that the past and the present were the same, despite continuities. Whereas the postcolonialists may see nothing of comment and impact before the Battle of Plassey, it is likely ridiculous to imagine that Shivaji was a figure analogous to Ho Chi Minh, a nationalist freedom fighter. The idea of India even today makes sense as a nation-state as much as Europe makes sense as a nation-state. The scale and diversity are analogous. The warriors of the 18th century were not moderns, with our own preoccupations and preconceptions. But neither were they total aliens, with whom we can not have a discourse. They are not incommensurable in their values. Their motives and feelings.

The conflicts between India and Pakistan are due to lines drawn by the British, by states which emerge in the mold of Westphalia. But ruling elite of Pakistan dreams of the Taj Mahal and Shah Jahan. It is born out of the decades when the implausible dream of syncretism and a new religion of Akbar faded out of memory, and the pull of world-normative Islam became so strong that Muslim elites of the subcontinent could not look away and turn their backs. It is also born out of the complex and richly textured traditions of India, which were robust and flexible enough to withstand the shocks of generations of ghazis who came to plunder and then rule. Shocks which had swept aside the earlier religions of Persia and Turan before.

The simplest solution to the communal problem on the religious level is for Hindus to convert to Islam. Or for Muslims to convert to Hinduism. But neither will happen nor is it happening. Additionally, the number of Muslims in the subcontinent is substantial. In nations where Muslims are 10% or less of the population, such a minority is manageable as a minority. But if Muslims were 30% or more of the populace, than the greater “balance” opens up natural opportunities for intensive inter-group competition (e.g., alliance of Muslims with “lower castes” in a united India). The numbers are optimized for rivalry and tension when two groups with sharply delineated views come into focus. In addition, Muslims in the subcontinent have been impacted by currents outside of the subcontinent for centuries. In Kerala ulema from Yemen reformed the dress-codes and practices of Muslims in that region in keeping with more Arab understandings of propriety. This naturally introduces greater distance between the Muslims and their non-Muslim neighbors.

One might wonder after all this the point of such a long post in the wake of a short tweet. The point is that history is complicated and deep, and there are many details to grapple. Postcolonialism gives you a big theory to explain so much, but the reality is when you scratch beneath the surface is it empty, and only feeds your delusion of understanding.

Though in the details this post is about India and Hindu-Muslim relations (or lack thereof), it’s really a general post. I could write something similar about the Middle East, or China, where everything is reconstructed as a simple reaction to the modern West and colonialism. And certainly, that reaction is real. Muhammad Ali’s attempts to reform Egypt or the May 4th Movement cannot be understood without the broader context of European imperialism. But many threads of Egyptian and Chinese society and culture are far deeper than the European shock and will persist down into the future long after the experience with Europe fades. Similarly, it has been explained to me by queer theorists that Indian society, Muslim and Hindu, was introduced to the gender binary by British colonialists, and that the existence of hijras is a remnant of a more diverse, tolerant, and pluralistic idea of gender identity which was prevalent before colonialism. To be entirely frank, my own judgment is that these sorts of assertions are fantasy projections, which insult non-Western societies by refashioning them as fictitious bit players in a drama that is fundamentally Western. These assertions suggest that non-Western societies are simply instruments in rhetorical games for Westerners. That is quite insulting to whole civilizations.

Theories of history and understandings of progress are common. Some frameworks are linear, such as the Christian or Muslim end of history with the coming of the Messiah. Others are cyclical, as is the Hindu. It seems that a common paradigm among many young educated Westerners is one defined by a shattering in the centuries before the year 1900 when Western imperialism transformed the world into its own image and corrupted what was once an Eden. The rise of the West is one of the great stories of the past few thousand years. A transformative one. But it is not the only story.

August 29, 2012

The future of the three “Pakistans”

Filed under: Data Analysis,Demographics,India,Pakistan,Population — Razib Khan @ 9:55 pm

Over at Econlog Bryan Caplan bets that India’s fertility will be sup-replacement within 20 years. My first inclination was to think that this was a totally easy call for Caplan to make. After all, much of southern India, and the northwest, is already sup-replacement. And then I realized that heterogeneity is a major issue. This is a big problem I see with political and social analysis. Large nations are social aggregations that are not always comparable to smaller nations (e.g., “Sweden has such incredible social metrics compared to the United States”; the appropriate analogy is the European Union as a whole).

So, for example, India obviously went ahead with its demographic transition earlier than Pakistan. But what this masks is that the two largest states in terms of population in India, in the far north, actually resemble Pakistan in demographics, not the rest of India. Uttar Pradesh, with a population 20 million larger than Pakistan, has similar fertility rate as India’s western neighbor. Bihar currently has a slightly higher fertility rate than Pakistan when you look at online sources (though the proportion under 25 is a little lower, indicating that its fertility 10-15 years ago was lower than Pakistan’s, ...

The future of the three “Pakistans”

Filed under: Data Analysis,Demographics,India,Pakistan,Population — Razib Khan @ 9:55 pm

Over at Econlog Bryan Caplan bets that India’s fertility will be sup-replacement within 20 years. My first inclination was to think that this was a totally easy call for Caplan to make. After all, much of southern India, and the northwest, is already sup-replacement. And then I realized that heterogeneity is a major issue. This is a big problem I see with political and social analysis. Large nations are social aggregations that are not always comparable to smaller nations (e.g., “Sweden has such incredible social metrics compared to the United States”; the appropriate analogy is the European Union as a whole).

So, for example, India obviously went ahead with its demographic transition earlier than Pakistan. But what this masks is that the two largest states in terms of population in India, in the far north, actually resemble Pakistan in demographics, not the rest of India. Uttar Pradesh, with a population 20 million larger than Pakistan, has similar fertility rate as India’s western neighbor. Bihar currently has a slightly higher fertility rate than Pakistan when you look at online sources (though the proportion under 25 is a little lower, indicating that its fertility 10-15 years ago was lower than Pakistan’s, ...

August 1, 2011

Violence in Xinjiang

Filed under: China,International,Pakistan — Razib Khan @ 9:28 am

China Blames Foreign-Trained Separatists for Attacks in Xinjiang:

While the Chinese routinely blame foreign meddlers for Xinjiang’s troubles, however, Monday’s statement was unusual in that it singled out Pakistan as the location of support for the assailants. China has a close military and economic relationship with Pakistan and has refrained from publicly criticizing the Islamabad government’s failure to control terrorist groups within its borders.

While Xinjiang as a whole is ~60% Han, Kashgar was until recently an overwhelmingly Uyghur city. The integration of the Chinese transportation network though is changing that.

May 19, 2011

Violence begets superstition…which begets violence?

Filed under: Idolatry,Pakistan,Superstition — Razib Khan @ 1:41 pm

Fear of terrorism makes Pakistani students turn to religion:

They interviewed 291 students from 4 different universities in Karachi. Almost all (90%) had been exposed to terrorist violence on the television or in conversation with their parents. A staggering 46% knew someone who had been injured or killed in a terrorist attack, and 26% had actually been personally exposed to such an attack.

When asked what strategies they used to cope with the stress, the most popular answer was that they increased their faith in religion (the table shows average scores on a 0-4 scale).

Given that so much of the violence has religious overtones, such a response may seem paradoxical. On the other hand, it may help to explain why such violence perpetuates.

May 14, 2011

Pakistan-Iran border

Filed under: Borders,Iran,Pakistan — Razib Khan @ 6:46 pm

The Iran-Pakistan Border Barrier:

One of the world’s most heavily fortified borders stretches between Iran and Pakistan. The Iran-Pakistan Barrier, currently under construction by the Iranian government, features a three-foot thick (.91 meters), ten-foot high (3.05 meter) concrete wall extending across 700 kilometers of forbidding desert terrain. The actual wall, however, is merely one part of an elaborate system of barriers. Exploration via Google Earth reveals several parallel structures running along much of the border, which evidently consist of linked embankments and ditches. Fortress-like structures are also visible in several areas, as are extensive road and track networks. As the walls, berms, dry moats, and other fortifications are all built on the Iranian side of the border, Pakistan has voiced no objections to the project. Tracing the barrier on Google Earth, however, shows several places in which it seemingly crosses the divide between the two countries. Either Iran has encroached on Pakistani territory or—as is vastly more likely—Google Earth does not accurately depict the actual boundary between the two states.

May 9, 2011

Pakistan as the new Iraq, the new Iran?

Filed under: Pakistan — Razib Khan @ 5:18 pm

Screenshot from The New York Times:


A major difference with the analogy to Iraq and Iran is that to a great extent the Iraqi and Iranian Diasporas and the West were or are alienated from the home country regime (in Iraq’s case, Shia and non-Sunni religious minorities, in Iran’s case the anti-Islamist elites). In contrast I don’t think that the Pakistani Diaspora has such a structural oppositional orientation.

It seems implausible that Pakistan’s relationship with the USA will move from “frenemy” to naked antagonism, but a lot of the public conflicts of the past week would seem implausible a priori.

April 3, 2011

The fiction and fact of nationality

Filed under: Civilisation,Culture,Hinduism,India,Islam,Pakistan,Two Nation Theory — Razib Khan @ 10:19 pm

In the comments below I quipped that the “Two-Nation Theory” is obviously “made up.” By this I was pointing more to the importance of construction of identity and founding myths more than anything else. For example, in the United States of America I grew up with a founding myth of a righteous revolution against the British monarchy, predicated on taxation without representation. By “I grew up with,” I mean that in elementary school the myth was both explicit and implicit in the instructional materials. As I matured, and began exploring history with more texture and depth, I  came to conclusion that this is a myth in the most literal sense. There were many shades of gray. The revolutionaries, who never formed more than one out of three Americans even during the height of the rebellion, were operating more out of particularities of self-interest (though there was clearly a strain of idealism, as evidenced by Thomas Paine). It seems likely that much of their rationale was either false or fictional.

Nevertheless, I am proud of America and Americans. History is what it is, and whatever the justice of the founding myth (or lack thereof), on the balance the American republic has been a success. Even the child of rape can attain greatness.


Similarly, I think the idea of a Muslim Indian nation is clearly fictional in terms of a legacy from the past. Similarly, a Hindu nation is also a fiction which does not accurately represent the past. A maximalist argument would suggest that there was near total disjunction between the Turco-Iranian Muslim elites of India’s Islamic period and the large communities of artisans and peasants who shifted their nominal religious identity from India’s indigenous traditions to that of the rulers. Similarly, many would argue that a coherent Hindu identity is an recent artifact of the collision with confessional universal faiths such as Islam and Christianity. That the penumbra of religio-philosophies which we would term “Hindu” had almost no contact with the lived experiences of the vast majority of India’s peasantry. A cold materialist reading might argue that the old ashraf Muslim elite duped the Muslim masses into a communal identity which was congenial to their classic game of extracting rents. Similarly, the high culture Hindus synthesized a common Hindu identity from old and new ideas which bound South Asians together, also to further their own material interests by allowing for the formation of a macro-state which allowed for grand economies of scale and power projection.

I think there’s some reality to this cynical reading, but I think the idea that a Hindu and Muslim identity arose circa 1850 is too cute and ideological. It too is a fiction, often promoted by those with post-colonial leanings to whom white Europeans are the only Creators, of all that is good and bad in the world. A more neutral telling might argue that the nation as a concept was birthed by the French Revolution, and confessional identities gained coherency with only the Radical Reformation. I do not accept this.

We need to turn our backs to black and white certitudes. A certitude which my flip language below implied, but which I do not hold to. Clearly the Muslims of India, initially intrusive aliens, had an identity which made them distinct from the native religious practices. But unlike the magi of the Iranian world the Indian religious traditions did not whither in the face of these powerful superior Others; rather, Indian religion entered into a phase of involution, co-option, adaptation, and eventually reflexive counter-action. But this was only a phase in a long history. Islam did not create Hinduism. Many elements of Indian religion clearly have deep roots which go back to the initial conflicts between Brahmanism and Sramanism. One should be cautious of imputing to Hinduism a purely reflexive and responsive dynamic. Some have suggested that the Bhakti devotional stream in Indian religion was shaped by the interaction with Islam. To me this seems tenuous not only on chronological grounds, but the analogs to Bhakti are also clearly evident early in some strains of Buddhism during its late Indian phase (e.g., see the origins of Pure Land). This does not entail that the religious traditions of different faiths did not influence each other. But, it removes from any given faith a particular genius from which others had to borrow.

March 22, 2011

The people in the media are ignorant

Filed under: History,Islam,Jinnah,Pakistan — Razib Khan @ 3:13 pm

At Discover I pointed out that a reporter at The New York Times who wrote an analytic piece on Libya which Überblogger Matt Yglesias deemed “excellent” doesn’t know what Sufism is. Not a big deal if he was simply reporting basic facts, but the point of the analytic piece was to provide “perspective” for the ignorant readership. The blind leading the blind?

Here’s another funny example, Mullah in Debate of Tradition vs. Modern Schooling:

Many members of the Taliban call themselves Deobandis, even though the Indian leaders of Darul Uloom have strongly condemned them, rejected extremism and organized meetings of Islamic teachers to denounce terrorism. During India’s independence movement, Deobandis supported Gandhi and later rejected joining a partitioned Pakistan.

Without context the Deobandi rejection of partition makes them seem like religious pluralists who believe in coexistence to the average American. But Zach alludes to one major assumed reason, the conservative Muslims of British India rejected the de facto secular nationalism of Muhammad Ali Jinnah’s movement, and held out the hope for an Islamicization of the whole Indian subcontinent. If the author knew that I think he should have omitted the point about partition, and if he didn’t, he’s ignorant.

March 1, 2011

Darkness has fallen

Filed under: Culture,Pakistan — Razib Khan @ 11:47 pm

Gunmen Kill Pakistan Religious Minorities Minister:

Gunmen shot and killed Pakistan’s government minister for religious minorities on Wednesday, the latest attack on a high-profile Pakistani figure who had urged reforming harsh blasphemy laws that impose the death penalty for insulting Islam.

The killing of Shahbaz Bhatti, a member of Pakistan’s Christian community, was another major blow to Pakistan’s besieged liberals, who say the attacks are a symptom of an increasingly radicalized Muslim-majority public. Earlier this year, Punjab province Gov. Salman Taseer was killed by a bodyguard who said he was angry that the politician opposed the blasphemy laws — and many ordinary Pakistanis praised the murderer.

Most of you probably know I have little sympathy with the idea that the Muslims of Europe are the new Jews, falling under the shadow of a possible new Holocaust. Part of the reason is that there seems to be a pattern of ignoring the religious motivated persecution and expulsion of non-Muslim minorities from Iraq to Pakistan, which much more clearly resembles the pattern in early 20th century Europe. I’m almost certainly engaging in stupid analogizing since I don’t know Pakistan very well, but I after I saw the above headline I thought of Walther Rathenau. I’ll be seeing if there are marches in the streets and solidarities with Christians in their churches….

February 7, 2011

Christians in the Punjab, Scheduled Castes & Ambedkar all together

Filed under: History,Identity,India,Islam,Minorities,Pakistan,Politics,Religion — Zachary Latif @ 8:58 am

punjab population; please look at the attached excel sheet (if it doesn’t work you can click on the link just below).

The figures are sourced from Ambedkar’s 1945 work “PAKISTAN OR THE PARTITION OF INDIA”

Graph Explained below:

The graph is from the appendices sections and contains figures just on the eve of Partition. There are some extremely interesting things I want to look at from a Partition perspective, some novel twists but its an ongoing process. I was doing that some 5 years ago but I sort of dropped it but now Brown Pundits give me an incentive to sort of relook them.

Christians + Schedule Caste % of Punjab Population in 1945

Anyway we’ve been discussing “Caste in Pakistan” and I decided to do some research on it. The far right column is what I’ve sorted the data by, it is the joint Christians + Scheduled Caste % of total Punjab population. This % shows a rapid drop off from an East to West gradient and North to South. The East to West is from Haryana and East Punjab to the West Punjab and Seraikistan. Furthermore we notice the highest % to be in the Himachal/Haryana region, which surprises me because Himachal Pradesh tends to be fairly high caste (also the TFR in Himachal Pradesh is lower than replacement).

As a side note it would be interesting to correlate a populations % of High Caste Hindus and total replacement fertility, we’d probably have to add a few more variables, but in states characterized by low communalism, high education and a high Hindu population fertility rates tend to drop. I’d particularly be interested in comparisons between Kerala and West Bengal just because of their communist associations.

Christian % of Joint Christian & Schedule Caste population in 1945

This is extremely interesting as the % of the joint Christian & Schedule Caste as per the total Punjab population begins to drop (basically phase into Western and Southern “Muslim” Punjab) the proportion of the Christians as part of the joint Christian & Schedule Caste population begins to dramatically rise to the extent that it reaches 89% in Gujranwalla.

I’m assuming that the huge bulk of Christian converts are from the Schedule Castes if that is the case we can treat them as two interchangeable population, from a socio-economical and historical identity. Where they differ however is their nominal religious affiliation. Essentially what the data *seems* to be telling us that in predominantly Muslim districts (slightly West to the heart of the Punjab, the Majha zone) the Scheduled Castes seemed much more amenable to conversion to a related but distinct Abrahamic faith. This could also do with the lack of a strong Hindu presence conversions were more acceptable.

What does Scheduled Caste mean only Hindu or Sikh too?

I don’t know if at the time Scheduled Castes were only considered to be Hindu, or if the Scheduled Caste figure included Sikhs (we can safely assume that they didn’t include Muslims because to this day Dalit Muslims are not treated as such).

I want to next tackle the precise dynamics of Partition in the Punjab but which parts exactly?

Personal Note:

Over the past few years my interests vis a vis South Asia has always been the Punjab and more generically Urdu-speaking UP. These two regions are at the heart of modern-day Pakistan (no disrespect to the other constituent provinces) and incidentally reflects my heritage fairly well, grandfather was from East Punjab and grandmother was from the United Provinces (sounds much nicer than Uttar Pradesh frankly).

In the course of my ongoing research found out some interesting things. I had always realised that the Qaqazais were Sikh converts since they were found predominantly in the Hoshiarpur region. It turns out that Afghan-Pathans were specifically settled in that region to pacify it and hence the population. While this was interesting from a personal level (as the origins of the Muslim population of Hindustan always is).

Excellent Punjab links:

This is as much for me as it is for the reader since its good reference material I can look up at a later date for more posts such as this. I always wanted to do an “Industan trilogy” but never got round to it. This time hopefully the Punjab Trilogy (what is it with me and trilogies?) will pan out. Also different interpretations, biases, opinion and knowledge sources are always welcome of course, such things should never be a solitary effort I find.


Punjab map (topographic)


Glossary of the Tribes and Castes of the Punjab and North West Frontier Province

Imran Ali. The Punjab under Imperialism 1885-1947.

The Indian army and the making of Punjab

A study of the economic effects of the Punjab canal colonies

The Punjab under Colonialism

Stop relabelling the brand – Settlement & renaming of Faisalabad

Filed under: Culture,Desi,Identity,Pakistan,South Asia,South Asian — Zachary Latif @ 7:27 am

I’ve been doing some research on the Punjabi Christians and Dalit Muslims and stumbled across this story in Wikipedia. I enjoyed it very much and found it pertinent since we’ve discussed land tenure before.

What actually brought this story to my attention was that the city of Faisalabad was founded in 1880 and was eventually named as Lyallpur after an English officer. In 1977 it was renamed to Faisalabad, after the late Saudi King Faisal. I’m curious how well the name-change has been received and whether it took root successfull? I’m suspecting it has but would like confirmation. Frankly I’m always wary of name-changes, like for instance Iran -> Persia.

Personally I think the relabeling of  Bombay, Calcutta, Madras and Bangalore have been disastrous and about as economically productive as Quebecois separatism. I’ve made mixed feelings of Lyallpur and Faisalabad (according to Wikipedia Lyallpur remains the name of a section of the city) and I know there’s still a few district with English names (Abbotabad immediately comes to mind). I’ve had my little rant so here’s the very short passage:

The First Colonisation officer Raja Aurangzeb Khan made sure that no individual in this district owned more than 25 squares (625 acres) of land. The merit or method of allotting the land was to check each individual’s hand who was applying for some land, and if the hands showed that individual had worked hard in the past, only then was land given to him, which has led to a district where there aren’t any big land owners, as the land has been equally distributed amongst hard working men and it is their hard work that has led to Faisalabad becoming the third richest district in Pakistan.

February 5, 2011

Answer to the Hindu-Urdu question; Gandhi’s Hindustani?

Hitting my 3-a-day quote but I’ve been meaning to ruminate on Hindi-Urdu for a while, a couple of weeks actually, but can do so now that the Blasphemy Panel has wrapped up, successfully to boot (trying to effect dialogue, let alone change, in a decreipt community generates an incredible amount of ill-will).

I want to refocus on my “socio-cultural” perspective and less of those on a contemporary nature, which the Governorial assassination consumed. Its very addictive to be constantly involved in the “scene”, to be a living witness of history rather than a student, but that is a false reality. One must have a very firm understanding of the historical and cultural causes of our present situation before effecting any sort of remedy to it.

Are Hindi and Urdu the same language?Yes and no, they are one and the same but there’s been a conscious effort to wedge them apart. Incidentally one of the prevailing narrative is that Hindi/Hindustani was used by “Muslims”, who turned Urdu (with the help of the “Imperialist & conniving” British) as a badge of separate identity in a way to disassociate from their “Indic origins”.

Colonial Hangover:

A quick history lesson is in order and a clarification of semantics, which in South Asia can be very misleading. The British grasped the intricacies of Greater India supremely well and also understood the art of labelling things correctly. Furthermore there is the conception that the British were “forced” to leave India when in fact they “gave up” on it. Britain didn’t have to relinquish her empire, she did so because the British people never had much interest (the Empire anyway had a disproportionate Celtic presence with the Scots & the Irish); I feel Britain and the Roman Empire shared some similarity as being societies inordinately concerned with domestic affairs but acquired Empires almost as an afterthought (will leave it to our American readers to decide whether this too applies to the States as well). The faraway exotic East paled in British eyes in comparison to nearby Ireland, which split the Liberal party and drove it to its eventual oblivion (until its ressurection in a bastardised form in today’s coaliation; the Orange Liberals are frankly libertarian IMHO).

I provide this perspective on Britain because as much as we’re Brown, our experience and referential identity has been deeply impact by modern European history. There’s too much fawning and blaming the “Goras” (slang for white in Hindustani) when in fact a dispassionate perspective shows that they were fundamentally different to all previous conquest in that they midwifed our region into a painful and bloody modernity.


“Hindi” is a language family, which is divided into several different zones and therein lies the phrase “Hindi cow-belt”. Aryavarta spoke widely related range of dialects, which could be classified as a “Hindi language zone”. Most impressively it spanned from the deserts of dry Sindh to the borders of lush Bengal. For some reason the pictures I upload aren’t coming through but there’s a very good map on Wikipedia that illustrates the Hindi belt.

File:Hindi belt.png

Anyway back to topic India is the Greek adaptation of the Persian word Hind, which derives from the Sanskrit Sind.


Urdu is a Turkish word (same meaning as horde in the English language), the original name was Zaban-e Urdu Muallah (language of the army camps). Urdu was pioneered by Hindus (since the Mughals used Persian as the court language) and for a while hibernated (as Dahkini) in the South, taken there by Indo-Muslim Shi’ite kingdoms which fled the Mughal expansion.

Funnily enough until very recently (two centuries ago, or just on the eve of the British conquest and waning of Mughal-Muslim influence in South Asia) Muslim poets and writers used to refer to Urdu as Hindi or Hindavi. However Urdu should not be taken as some Muslimification or reactionary element of Muslims against “India” or the Brits; its liturgical tradition is in fact longer (by a century at least) than contemporary Hindi (which can be traced to mid 19th century Fort Williams as having been regularised and standardised).


Gandhi proposed we all use Hindustani, with two separate scripts, as a means of ensuring unity. However I believe that all of South Asia (I’ll be liberal and throw in Afghanistan/Burma too, I’m curious about the identity of the Indian-population islands in Africa, Oceania & Latam, what is their geo-cultural attachment to South Asia?) must switch to English immediately and comprehensively. We have a huge advantages, as Brownzters, that we are so fluent and have such a rich literary tradition in English. The Turks, Chinese, Persians and other peoples do not share this linguistic advantage (which they are making up for).

I personally believe there should be three official languages for South Asia, English, Sanskrit and Urdu. It pays tribute to our composite culture and provides for cross-religious understanding while respecting each aspect of South Asian historical context (ancient Hindu, medieval Muslim and modern European). You heard it hear first what did I say about never being controversial again? I don’t know how Dravidian speakers and Bengalis (the two big groups) would feel about this but the inclusion of Sanksrit & particularly English should hopefully allay any such fears of cultural domination, obviously all communities, castes and regions would be encouraged to keep and promote their own languages these three would be the lingua franca (Muslims would have to learn the Sanskrit script and Hindus would have to learn Nasta’liq).

Further Notes:

When I was writing up Pakistani atheists and this post I came across some websites that I thought were fairly interesting.

Now one and-a-half-century since the first Hindi prose book Prem Sagar (1805) published by Daisy Rockwell & Co. for Fort William College, appeared in order to promote Devanagari or “Hindi” script, it has succeeded in opening a Pandora’s box of controversies, hatred and divide amongst the masses. In this consciously or unconsciously created divide amongst Hindu and Muslims of the Indian Subcontinent I see a ray of hope of peace emanating from this controversy because this language is the strongest, closest and most unbreakable bond amongst the people of the subcontinent.

As Pakistanis we constantly struggle with the contradictions of religion and culture. Culturally we share much in common with Indians, religiously we feel bound to Afghanistan. Too many ironies lurk in our daily lives. We read Arabic without understanding it; we speak Hindi without being able to read or write it.

It is interesting to note that much before Mahatma Gandhi’s proposal of Hindustani as a language of composite Indian culture, Raja Shiva Prasad in his book of grammar, in the year 1875, reiterated that Hindi and Urdu have no difference on the level of the vernacular. He wrote : “The absurdity began with the Maulvis and Pundits of Dr. Gilchrist’s time, who being commissioned to make a grammar of the common speech of Upper India made two grammars… The evil consequence is that instead of having a school grammar of the vernacular as such… we have two diverse and discrepant class books, one for the Mohammedan and Kayastha boys and the other for the Brahmins and Banias.” (cf. Srivastava p.3O).

DAKHNI The Language in which the Composite Culture of India was Born

There are some lacunae in the standard account of the origin of Dakhni. For example, if the language was born with the Muslim invasion in the 14th century, how did such sophisticated poetry as that of Bande Nawaz emerge in so short a period? And why has Dakhni remained so popular? Deccan, as we said above, is an area that can be defined as lying between the Narmada and the Tungabhadra rivers. The area south of the Deccan is called Dravid. The Deccan has been a meeting point of southern and northern cultures. This has given its culture a special quality. It does not keep its independent existence but spreads and accepts influences from north and south. It is a home for Kannada, Telugu and Marathi, and also has contributed to Hindi and Urdu. So the contact with the north is far older than the Muslim invasion. Both Buddhists and Jain religions that were born in Bihar had significant presence in the South. The Jains even today have an important presence. After the decline of the Buddhists, it was the Shaivaite and Nathpanthis who inherited the Buddhist tradition. There was a lot of movement of Nathpanthis, Nirgunias, Sikhs and Sufis from Punjab to Gulbarga, through Gujarat and Maharashtra. In Maharashtra, Gyaneshwar and his elder brother Nivrutinath are in direct tradition of Gorakhnath. Hence we find Namdev (1270-1351), a saint from Maharashtra and a tailor by caste, writing in Dakhni. His son Gonda also composed in Dakhni. Some 50 of Namdev’s poems are included in the Granth Sahib. Eknath and Tukaram are the two other Marathi saints who wrote extensively in Dakhni. However the bulk of Dakhni literature is in the Sufi tradition. Sufis too travelled from the North to the South, as did Nanak. Nanak reached up to Nanded and Bidar. Sufis spread all over the Deccan and every district has at least one important Sufi dargah. One should remember that all Muslims poets were not Sufis nor all Sufis were Muslim. For example Nizam Bidri’s Masanavi Kadam Rao va Padam Rao is a Jain Charit Kavya. Countless number of Hindus goes to the Sufi dargahs and many sing Sufi songs.

Neo-Sufi cults…

Filed under: Brown people are a joke,Pakistan,sufi,zaid hamid — omar @ 1:45 pm

Zachary asked: “Neo-Sufi Islamic cults; isn’t Sufi Islam the antidote to “Islamism”.

The notion that sufi-ism is somehow the antidote to “bad Islam” is, in my opinion, false. Sufism is hard to define, but people who self-identify as sufis or followers of sufis can be anywhere on the spectrum from intoxicated mystic to full-blown fascist. I guess that in itself is what the elders of Zion consider a desirable feature; that there IS a lot of diversity possible under the sufi umbrella, but diversity means diversity. THere are all kinds of sufis, including some really hardline fascist types and many totally batshit crazy types.
e.g. you should look into the Ashfaq Ahmed-Qudratullah Shahab school of Pakistaniat someday. According to this group (a very influential group of people, especially in Punjab and particularly in Lahore), Pakistan was a project of “baba-s”, sufi masters who could see far into the future and knew what cosmic signficance lies beneath this apparently simple demand for a homeland for Indian Muslims.  These sufi masters were men of “shariat and tariqat” (the orthodox way as well as the inner path) and there are many stories about them and Pakistan (including the signficance of Pakistan’s creation in Ramadan 1947). Jinnah’s own whisky-drinking pork-eating ways are proof that in the world of the masters, appearances count for nothing. It is hinted that he was used for a higher purpose. In this sufi context, it is also possible to leave open the possibility that he may have been an exalted being who hid his higher qualities behind a mask of alcohol and cigar smoke. The flexibility and potency of this approach is obvious and makes it far superior to mere third-rate logicians like Maudoodi.
In this view, the cosmic significance of Pakistan is apparent from “facts” like the multiple dreams people had in 1965 where the holy prophet was walking back and forth in great agitation, worrying about Pakistan (it was the 1965 war) and praying day and night to Allah to save Pakistan as it was the keystone of the rennaissance of the Ummah and so on.  This whole scheme has now mutated into multiple Zaid-Hamid type avatars and these “sufis” are far more jingoistic than any deobandi or wahabi mullah in Pakistan…

British, Brown & Diverse but accepting (The story of the Lioness and her Prey inside)

My 18mth old nephew and mother have caught a virus, which means I’m staying in tonight. Luckily (or perhaps not) for Brown Punditry that means I’ll be manning my station, while occasionally checking up on my family (my sister-inlaw has entered her delivery period so Feb is going to be an interesting month isA). I come through as quite gossipy and personal and that’s also a reason why I am never controversial (apart from the occasional flirtation with Pakistaniat but even that’s fairly mild and comical). I’m no good at anonymity (nor is my family come to think of it; to my advantage and detriment I integrate all aspects of my life wherever possible) so like many mystic Shi’ites I have many opinions (several layers of opinions in fact) and ocassionally practise Ta’aqiyah (dissimulation) when it suits. Just because I avoid controversy doesn’t mean I don’t have opinions, its just that they are going to be very subtle and balanced to avoid offending anyone.

Britain and Diversity

Prime Minster Cameron today said that Multi-culturalism has failed in Britain. Britain is an amazing country, extremely humanitarian and very open-minded, but unfortunately society here is dealing with its own issues of assimilation & ghettoisation. The EDL (English Defence League) marched in Luton today and my opinion is that we definitely need a new national narrative to accommodate an increasingly diverse Britain (its irreversible now; white Brits may still be the majority going forward but the country has a huge ethnic population). After the surname map (the website is down from overloading) we need to realize Britain’s assets are her diversity and cosmpolitanism. I like my “hybridity” idea, let’s the best of our host culture here and mix it with the best of our native culture. Its the middle way (and Britain loves the middle way) between multi-culturalism and assimilationism. Also I think all sides need to adopt a measure of flexibility and fluidity; change is the only constant in this increasingly one world.

Brown Punditry and Diversity

My personal thoughts on “superstition” is the following, anything not empirical proved is a belief and all beliefs are acts of faith/superstitions. I respect all to be practised so long as its not imposed on my life in any way (I’m a libertarian dammit) and I try to remain curious/skeptical/openminded about them as long as they seem positive and uplifting.

As for the Astrology issue (Saggitarian, year of the rat if anyone’s curious!) heating up here, I think that’s a good thing that we’re discussing it but it should be done from a perspective on how it impacts Brown Culture. This blog is all about discussing Brownz and understanding the issues but not endlessly and circularly debating them (going indepth in Astrology is going to head to head on whether Partition was right or wrong; that’s not what this blog is about). All beliefs at BrownPundits are subject to scrutiny and investigation however comments that dispute evidential facts become redundant arguments.

I may have my sacred cows, Pakistaniyat, Baha’ism, banking (grasping for more please feel free to add to the list) but when I discuss and submit them here I have to accept that they will reviewed, scrutinized and examined in ways I’m not used to as for instance Omar does from time to time (7yrs ago it used to be the Kolkata Libertarian how times have changed). Its a good things because that’s precisely why we flock to these virtual portals to experience different ideas, mindsets and perspectives that we wouldn’t ordinarily be exposed to.

I wrote a little comical email narrative (fictional) yesterday to our Blasphemy Panel email list and it sort of sums up the prevailing divide in British Asian Muslim (Muzzer) culture. Some of it is obviously an exaggeration (some of it drawn in real life you might recognise me toward the end) but it has some true elements (the British civil service hires many Muslims, even those avowedly not loyal to Britain)

The lioness and her prey.
A short story courtesy of edl/bnp

He is a sorely misunderstood and mild-mannered civil servant whose alter ego is a budding abu hamza, whom he channels for panel discussions and emails rants against secularism. She is a self-confessed liberal extremist who by her own admission can be a feisty witch.

At work he positively intrigues his superiors with his active and growing hobby in designing baggy overalls, refining basic chemicals and collecting high resolution population maps of all major British towns and cities. On their nightly escape to the shires his bosses sigh that if only native Britons were as single minded and disciplined as him they could probably have all the immigrants off work and back on welfare.

After winning a landmark case enshrining the right to hate infidels and foment terror in the EU constitution the prey has been moved to the building’s unmanned cctv control. He passes tea breaks issuing fatwas against various female colleagues who allow the silhouette of their cleavage to cross his peripheral vision. If he’s up to it he might loudly condemn the busty online gals whose websites he stumbles on for a few good hours. He will be sure to give precise descriptions, with no detail spared, of these virtual temptresses to his saturday co-pamphleting ‘bruvas’.

One day in April he shall attend sq & zls upcoming performance ‘Call Me Kafir’. He is so moved by the lead actor, surprisingly zl, that he auditions for ludoo/pipas next performance instead of having a blast with the cast and crew as he had originally intended.

He wins a starring role in their next production and works hard all summer. He realises the prey has become the hero when after a standing ovation as the drunken Devdas he notices in the far corner of the room the lioness with a glint of a tear in her eyes.

Mourning her lost prey she silently moves on to her next kill, a young social spammer who constant blogs about losing friends, ham acting and debate moderation.

This time she will not fail since her slow-moving target is lagging all his new years resolutions spinning out nonsense at all hours of the night to people he’s never met before..

The minorities adapt well to India – or should we say Hindustan?

Filed under: Culture,History,Identity,India,Islam,Minorities,Pakistan,South Asia,South Asian — Zachary Latif @ 12:21 pm

Masked Muslim girls scootering about in Urban India


Before I start I know my title and pic are cheeky but a quick observation in Pakistan Muslim girls don’t scooter by themselves (at least not as I can remember) so its interesting to see that even in this aspect these “Masked” girls are still a leap forward from Pakistan. For an Indian Muslim choosing between India and Islam is choosing between a father and a mother. For a Pakistani choosing between Pakistan and Islam, well that’s an absurd question that’d just be schizophrenic!  As Omar notes I may be more attached to “Pakistaniat” than to Baha’ism but we were Baha’i before being Pakistani and the reason I’m so positive on the Islamic world is because we (Baha’is) practise a very liberal and assimilationist variant of Islam. Of course no Baha’i accepts this (unlike the Ahmedis we are very clear on being distinct from the parent religion in every way as Christianity is from Judaism) but even so I’ve seen what the future of Islam could be and while the Baha’i community ain’t perfect (I was ranting about it a couple of posts ago) it does have noble aspirations, which I definitely admire.

The Problem with Indian Muslims

Omar’s just noted a good point “Persian, Indian, Sindhi who happened to carry a Pakistani passport for a while and still roots for the Pakistani cricket team. That’s the goal of this therapy session”. Of course I readily admit that I have a Pak studies hangover (never took it though) and, like all two-nation Paks (particularly pre-00′s and pre-71) feel a proprietary interest in India’s Muslims. Its interesting though in Pakistan Bangladesh is never mentioned, the psychological effect of dealing with that second partition would destroy any remnants of Pakistaniat so it is best forgotten and repressed (I encounter lots of opposition when I try to organise events around that; apparently Bangladesh is not “relevant” to Pakistan’s woes whereas I see it central to our existential crisis). Anyway back to Indian Muslims (by that I mean our North Indian Urdu speaking kin) and they have many issues as a community. First off they control the underworld and Bollywood’s casting couch culture seems to be dominated by Muslim ganglords. Dharavi (Asia’s largest slum in Bombay) seems to have a much higher proportion of Muslim, Orangitown in Karachi has a high proportion of Pathans and Bangladeshis (among my many controversial ideas is giving all Bangladeshis free entry and automatic residence to Pakistan as the Irish had with the United Kingdom though what that would for Karachi’s explosive ethnic politics is anyone’s guess) but anyway back to India’s Muslims.

Last year it was explained to me (though I had guessed) it that India’s Muslim community is deeply polarised (there is another level of polarisation I’ve mentioned below too) in the adherence spectrum. There are the liberal Muslims (Rushdiesque) who make a big hue and cry about how they are “Indian” as opposed to “Muslim. There is then the other side that burrows deep and is deeply normative in Islamic practice and identity. Pakistan, for all its many sins, has a huge middle ground and though there is a growing polarization Pakistan’s have a pretty good sixth sense (another national secret) what constitutes Pakistaniyat and what is too alien (either Indian/Islamic). Despite the immense pleasure we take in discussing our tormented identity and country we have a rough idea of what it is (liberal desi & Islamic rather than Muslim) we just have a hard time explaining and vocalizing it.

Astrology & India

In my absence, rehearsals have restarted for our spring production “Call Me Kafir” (again all-Muslim crew), I noticed Razib’s & Barani’s exchange on astrology.

Plenty of Indian muslims and Christians visit astrologers. I know of several muslim politicians who patronise Hindu astrologers

muslim and christian intellectuals have long had a huge fascination with astrology. despite its pagan associations astrology was a major reason for astronomical research in the early muslim civilization, and was part of the “ancient wisdom” which christians brought back from the levant and from spain. so the attitude of christians and muslims toward astrology is mixed. i think some of it has to do with the association between neo-platonic paganism and astrology in late antiquity, and in south asia astrology’s association with indus.

Razib makes a good point there was this fundamentalist English preacher complaining that the symbol of the “Hand” (the astrologer sign) is in every other mohallah (neighbourhood) in Pakistan and is almost as prevalent (perhaps even more?) as the neighbour mosque. However there is something deeper about the Indian nature of the the “Abrahamic minorities”. I was reading in the Tully’s book “No Full Stops in India” when Doordashan started broadcasting the Hindu epics the most avid viewers were the Christian and Muslim minorities!

Minorities are very “Indian” even the Muzzers

Though I’m not Indian I have extensive familial ties to the Baha’i, Muslim and Zoroastrian communities (and now Hindu ones through extensive intermarriage) and also through London you get a whiff of what’s happening there in India (and yes Pakistanis do have a fascination about it since Bollywood is all-pervasive all the time). The Muslim community of India is divided by the Turanian north (Hindi belt) and the Arab-influence south (Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, bits of Maharshtra and of course Kerala). However when we think Indian Muslim (or when Hindutva do anyway), we are thinking of the prototypical Urdu-speaking UPite, whose recent ancestry probably include some mixture foreign (mleecha?) blood. However the vast & overwhelming majority of Indian Muslims are rural (they are more urban than Hindu India however) and are more likely than not converts from the rural areas (though in India every community has a different lineage and heritage, many Brahmin clans claims Kashmiri lineage) and remain very syncretic in their beliefs.

Islamicization is a class phenomenon

As Vali Nasr noted the truly “Islamic” populations are the lower-middle class urbanites, who want to understand their religion (read Arabian interpretation) at a deeper level. The rural folks and the haute elite remain far more liberal in their approach; Muslim elites are incredibly liberal (I was overhearing the other day, and it is common knowledge, that many of the Iranian Mullah’s kids live in Kensington, London and are pretty out there in their clubbing). Omar sums it well in his erm “Indophilic” comment. As a side I think ethnic nationalists (Sindhi, Punjabi) embrace Indophilia as an antidote the Islamophilia of our state govt, however since India has a dual Hindu/Muslim matrix in pretty much every state (Muslims are in every major state at reasonable %s) regionalism perhaps might be less pronounced than in Pakistan. This is where communalism, in a very weird sort of way, strengthens Indian nationhood whereas our religious homogeneity (yes Pakistan is pretty much homogeneous since the Shi’ite component is variously treated as a different school rather than sect unless they’re being targeted during Moharram and random assassinations of Shi’ite Doctors in Karachi) undermines Pakistan because then other divisions (ethnic, regional, class, caste) come into play. Anyway back to Omar’s comment.

another local point: in Punjab we have pretty much domesticated Islam by the 19th century. In a variant called Chujjo, Krishna was even made an official Islamic prophet. Better communications with Saudi Arabia ruined that plot in the 20th century, but its a spiral, we will be back.. I think its worth keeping in mind that centuries ago, most of the world was not in any state close to what is the norm today. While legal codes and state institutions were fairly well developed in, say, Rome or Tang China, even there a good chunk of the population must have been minimally affected by such inventions. For most of our ancestors, religion was polytheistic in practice and law was local and informal. This applied to nominal Muslims as well as nominal Hindus (if they even called themselves that). The cult of one folk, one law, one leader became more widespread with progress… another local point: in Punjab we have pretty much domesticated Islam by the 19th century. In a variant called Chujjo, Krishna was even made an official Islamic prophet. Better communications with Saudi Arabia ruined that plot in the 20th century, but its a spiral, we will be back..

Is there such a thing as Hindu and Hindu Unity

There are schools of thought that treat “Hinduism” as anything non-Abrahamic in the Subcontinent. Two interesting comments here, which may indicate that the Desistanis (Muslim origin Desis?) of this weblog may be seeing grass as greener. Top from Gomps (our resident astrologer?)and bottom comment from Vick.

Mr. Zachary Latif, This is a load of wishful thinking to be honest, no society has the kind of solidarity that you seek. Nor should it, it is better to develop a sense of fair play and meritocracy. First of all no one identifies as Hindu, unlike maybe Jewish. If at all we identify as Punjabis, Gujuratis. And a Tamil Hindu would rather help out a Mallu Muslim before some North Indian. I am greatly surprised that Muslims of all people would lament a lack of solidarity, I’ve always felt you lot were the ones who stuck together the most. I am also a bit slighted by how you excluded India from anything to do with the “Muslim” world. If anything support for the Palestinians, Iranians and the Iraqis has been consistent from India unlike Pakistan.

I think it is laughable to say that Indians have “gotten their act together”. Have you even been to India? Pakistan looks far cleaner and better organized; and pakis look far better fed, clothed and housed than indians. Yes India has dozens of billionaires and pockets of prosperity but the vast mass of hindus live in some of the worst conditions known to man, and no one gives a damn. So much for your claim that hindus help each other…..

February 4, 2011

Thoughts on Egypt, India and good ole Muzzer solidarity

Filed under: Culture,Desi,India,Islam,Pakistan,Politics — Zachary Latif @ 8:41 am

I’m hitting my 3post a day quota so I wanted to tie up the remaining comment themes. I hope no one is offended by my use of the word Muzzer, its an urban English slang for Muslims.


On Egypt, when 82% of Egyptian think that stoning adulterers is an acceptable punishment I think its better that the process be more of a gradual reform than immediate revolution.

India and the Muslim World

On India and her “destiny” among the Muslim world. The Indian historic sphere of influence has always been complex and at heart I’m a Civilisationist (Samuel Huntington Clash of Civilisations remains a profound and core influence for better or for worse). I do believe that Indic and Islamic civilisations, while distinct have commingled extensively but then again Dar-ul-Islam has been the pulsating core of the Eurasian and African heartland.Clash of Civilisations

Prior to Western Imperialism (in my opinion this is a neutral term and should not denote either condemnation or support for it but a factual statement of history – too many conditions in posts) the Islamic heartland actively connected all the other great civilisations. Would I consider Orthodox, Protestant and Catholic Europe to be different Civilisations, I don’t think (Huntington treats Orthodoxy and Catholic/Protestant Europe as two different world orders) but even so I would treat Orthodoxy as a fissure event within the same civilisations.

Anyway my point being that there are certain cleft nations, Pakistan is a cleft nation between Islamic and Indic civilization. The question is what are Bangladesh and the Malayan Muslims, what civilization do they belong to? That’s a question for them to decide. As a cleft nation Pakistan has an insiders perspective to two different world orders, which is why we’re so confused about our identity, Steve Sailer’s 50-50 rule operates here. Also we tend to have the role of being the insider outsider, in Desi terms we are trying to move away from that consciously (high command is anyway or GHQ to quote Omar) and in Islamic terms we’re on the pale of the core ethnicities (Arab, Berber, Turk, Kurd, Persian).

Indic Influence

To its credit Pakistan has always been admired for its deft handling for foreign affairs, while its only in the past decade frankly India has asserted her weight to the fullest extend. Indic influence (probably Razib would be a better judge) tends to assimilationist, mercantile and cultural. I think Omar put it best when he spoke of the Punjab and I analogise it to India:

a variant of the above theory holds that Punjab is the historic buffer of India. All sorts of invaders come in, fight over the Punjab and capture it. Then the peasants get to work. We might even convert to whatever barbaric ideology they have brought, but in time the peasants outbreed and outflank the invaders. In the end, the invaders become Indian and help us outbreed and outlast the next invading horde. We win by “assimilation and attrition”. I am not sure if this is an optimistic theory or a pessimistic one. In India, the two are practically the same anyway.

I am not irreligious

Filed under: Culture,Desi,Identity,India,Islam,Pakistan,Religion,Zach — Zachary Latif @ 1:11 am

From my HinJew thread I’m nominating Omar as my online shrink and Zaynab as his deputy. The nature of their queries this session is why do I obfuscate  by saying “I’m not irreligious”. In the world of  BrownPundits Jaldhar and myself seem to be among the devout.

Personal Beliefs

Anyway I like to be clear, when I can. I’m proud to be a Baha’i (3rd gen as a Latif 5th gen through another line), on a communal and spiritual level, however my family, stemming from generations, values open-mindedness, individual conscience and humanism above all else (my father and his brother’s facebook statuses is proof of that they actually get a bit of flack for it). Therefore we tend to transcend labels where we can and avoid division. Therefore when Razib correctly mentions that my parents are “Baha’i” I would actually say we’re bourgeoisie, with a dash of boheme (still sticking to our B’s).Also Razib (my middle brother has actually put the name on a shortlist for his second son due next week, the letters Rs zs & bs recur in our family names so its a good combo) mentions:

and to be clear, in parts of europe the roman catholic church has reduced the level of new age belief among its flock on specific issues, such as charms, astrology, etc. but once the church loses institutional support these beliefs seem to pop right back up again out of the universal retard cognitive furniture.

Familial & Esoteric Beliefs

I fear my beliefs (and that of my extended family too) may be a bit of a throwback to “universal retard cognitive furniture” so while we can all accept and very readily internalize atheism (my grandmother’s thoughts on religion is pretty out there; she’s atheisque but still does the Baha’i namaz thrice daily) we respect and syncretise with various & all forms of belief (conciliators rather than confronters; exemplified by the comment I am not irreligious). Ultimately (and EconMichelle may especially remember this post) I believe in the God of ethics, which is either a factual or fictional personification of pure logic and reason. So I’m a mish-mash of Baha’i theology (super duper idealistic about human nature), bits of Zoroastrianism dualism (good vs. evil & all that) and bits of new-age French Revolutionary thought (Supreme Being & Goddess of Reason).

Feisty Pundits

Filed under: Culture,Desi,India,Islam,Pakistan,Religion — Zachary Latif @ 12:49 am

Good morning. Thanks to Opera Comments feed I can now catch up on all comments instead of clicking on Most Recent Comment. I’ve now got a good flavour at what’s been transpiring Trans-Atlantic while I’ve been snoozing. Welcome to our resident Scanjabi, Thorfinn. I had always thought him to be this ultra-Nordic chap of Gnxp who had a peculiar interest in South Asian land reform but instead he’s downright Desi through and through.

Inappropriate comments on Pak tv

Seems to be a feisty session all-around I wanted to post this Youtube video about this MTV style Pakistani talk show but it’d need a running translation for those who don’t speak Hindustani. Personally I’m also involved in this email chain, created from last week’s talk, which has now grown to expand on Shariah financing and its getting “Spicier” despite the dry topic (always happens when 30 Pakistanis are on an email chain, topics spiral out of control and so do egos, mine included).

Muzzer/HinJew solidarity vs EQ

On the Muzzer/HinJew solidarity issue I think its less to do with ethnic or religious communities (Yes Muzzers seem very unitied) but perhaps as my brother mentioned its a question of EQ, IQ & vision? Cerebral personalities, who are confident in their own abilities, are amenable to help one another out. Dull sorts, with no such outlet, tend to be vicious (is that even a word?). People with a vision and ambition are constructive, those who don’t are destructive. Frankly I think IQ is very much a feature of nurture (I know I’ll be proved wrong by countless studies but this constitutes one of my few superstitious beliefs) and life is a constant learning process, which people have to want to embark on irrespective of their professional and academic backgrounds.

I’m glad to see BrownPundits is taking  on a feistier tone; may we discover ever greater strands of the superstructure of culture (I think that phrase is going to stay with me for a long time). Its been a great journey so far and I’ve never felt more Brown & Proud.

February 3, 2011

17 Year Old in Karachi charged with Blasphemy

Filed under: Islam,Pakistan,Religion — Zachary Latif @ 1:57 am

Shahrah-e-Noor Jehan Station Investigation Officer Qudrat Sher Ali told Pakistan Today that during investigation, the boy told the police that his two Norwegian cousins, who visited the family in January 2009, had influenced him with anti-Islamic views. The statement said: “My two cousins visited Karachi for 11 days. One day, when I returned home after offering Jumma prayer they laughed at me, saying that Islam has detained Muslims.”

“Both my cousins teased me and started convincing me that they were enjoying a happy life in Oslo while I am visiting mosques. They told me that their country was free and no one could stop them from expressing themselves. Gradually, I started thinking about the liberty they enjoyed,” the statement quoted S as saying.KARACHI – The police on Saturday arrested a teenage boy for allegedly writing blasphemous material on examination answer sheets. Seventeen-year-old ‘S’, a resident of Malir, was detained following a complaint by Board of Intermediate Education Karachi (BIEK) Controller of Examinations Agha Akbar Mirza, police said.

The BIEK management has also sent photocopies of the answer sheets as proof of the blasphemy charges against the teenager to the police. The police added that FIR No 56/11 has been lodged against S under Sections 295-C and 109 of the Pakistan Panel Code on Mirza’s complaint.

Shahrah-e-Noor Jehan Station Investigation Officer Qudrat Sher Ali told Pakistan Today that during investigation, the boy told the police that his two Norwegian cousins, who visited the family in January 2009, had influenced him with anti-Islamic views. The statement said: “My two cousins visited Karachi for 11 days. One day, when I returned home after offering Jumma prayer they laughed at me, saying that Islam has detained Muslims.”

“Both my cousins teased me and started convincing me that they were enjoying a happy life in Oslo while I am visiting mosques. They told me that their country was free and no one could stop them from expressing themselves. Gradually, I started thinking about the liberty they enjoyed,” the statement quoted S as saying.

The SIO said the boy was presented before Judicial Magistrate-VI Maqbool Memon, who sent the boy on a judicial remand for 14 days. Ali said the police had asked the BIEK management to provide the original answer sheets of Islamiyat and physics while the statement of board officials would also be recorded for further investigation.
Pakistan Today

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