Wo faraib khorda shaheen, jo pala hay kargason mein – usay kya khabar ke kya hai, raho rasme shahbazi
Suppose that Iraqi children learnt the story of the invasion and occupation of Iraq in schools run by Americans. They would learn of the heroism and bravery of the US troops, who made great sacrifices to bring freedom and democracy to Iraq. They gave their lives, and spent trillions in order to educate and civilize the savage terrorists who lived in Iraq. They would learn to admire the US for their humanity, civilization, and technology, and hate their ancestors for their barbarism, terrorist ways, lack of education, and most of all, lack of appreciation for the American culture. They would reject as enemy propaganda stories of US destruction of millions of lives and billions worth of infrastructure in their greedy quest for control of the rich oil resources of Iraq.
Growing up in Pakistan, we receive an education designed (by Macaulay and followers) to create a class of people who would be the intermediaries between the British rulers and the ruled natives. They are indoctrinated through an education system to be “Indians” only in appearance — they have complete belief in the good intentions of British rule and the philosophy of ‘the white man’s burden’, thus making the task of ruling this vast country easier. They would, without question, believe that the British were there for the upliftment of the Indian people from centuries of ignorance and backwardness. Over a period of time, they would associate all things British with superiority — their physical appearance, their attire, their language, their culture, their religion. This beautifully designed system was to be self-perpetuating – the indoctrinated would be the rulers, and would control the education system to create more people like themselves.
While we have achieved independence in form, mentally we are still enslaved by a deeply ingrained inferiority complex vis-à-vis the West. To cure this, we must develop and tell our own history. In bits and pieces this process has begun, as in the replacement of the term “Mutiny of 1857” by the War of Independence. The dramatic change of point of view required for this change of terminology is one that needs to applied on a much larger scale. This essay is an attempt to continue this healing process. It would be impossible to do justice to this project in this short space. I intend only to outline and sketch the dimensions along which we need to reconstruct our history. The stories we tell about our past are extraordinarily important in shaping our identities and in determining the goals worth striving for. ( see: The Subaltern’s Tale )
History is nothing more than the conquest song of the victors. Today, as a result of our Western education, we have absorbed a Eurocentric version of history, according to which the sun of reason first rose in Europe in the sixteenth century, when the rest of mankind was covered in the darkness of ignorance and superstition. Since then, European have made fantastic progress on all fronts, like no one else has ever done. Today, all good things we know are creations of the European civilization. This Eurocentric history is poisonous to our souls, and anti-thetic to Islam. Massive effort is needed to debunk this story, and disgorge this poison. One small effort in this direction:
Non-Eurocentric History, needed as an antidote to the poison we have swallowed:
India was looted, not developed, by the British Raj: Tales of the fabulously wealthy India attracted explorers (like Columbus) from all over the world. India had well developed institutions for the provision of justice, education, health, and social security. Indian textiles and other industrial products were exported to many destinations all over the world. Taxation was not burdensome, and recognized by the citizens as necessary for peace and security. Both citizens and rulers had a clear understanding of their mutual responsibilities towards each other. Localized institutions functioned effectively without reference to central government, and kings were well aware that their wealth was tied to the prosperity of their citizens. As a result, the average citizen was not much concerned about the fortunes of the kings and empires. The populace failed to resist or unite against British invaders, under the mistaken impression that they would be essentially benevolent like other kings. Subsequently, many people from many walks of life wrote letters of appeal in vain to British Queens and Kings. Unfortunately, unlike previous kings who had supported the public against cruel and corrupt administration, the British were firmly on the side of the “Raj,” and had no concern for the welfare of the public.
Effects of British Racism: At the time of colonization, Europeans did not consider non-whites to be human beings. For example, Australian aborigines were hunted like animals, and the Dred Scott decision in the USA declared that blacks were “beings of an inferior order, and altogether unfit to associate with the white race, either in social or political relations, and so far inferior that they had no rights which the white man was bound to respect.” Even now, there is debate at the highest levels in the USA as to whether or not Muslims can self-govern! Nobel Prize winner Watson has suggested that differences in development levels may be explained by genetic endowments. Harvard professor Bell maintains that non-white races have lower IQ than whites. This deeply embedded racism has had tremendous consequences in terms of the ruthlessness with which non-whites have been treated by colonizing whites. By machinations, deceit, treachery, good luck, superior weaponry and related war technology, the British managed to acquire control of the entire country. Initial foothold in India was supported by production and sale of opium in India and China. European double standards continue to this day as sales of harmful drugs and chemicals are banned in the West and promoted in the East for profits. British consolidation of power following the conquest of Plassey was so rapacious that one third of the entire population of Bengal died of starvation and famine. Millions of pounds of yearly profits were sent to England without concern for welfare of the inferior beings in India.
Our Traditional Educational Systems: There exist numerous testimonials to the excellence of educational systems of India prior to the colonial times. In The Last Mughal, Dalrymple quotes a contemporary account of pre-colonial India that “He who holds an office worth twenty rupees a month commonly gives his sons an education equal to that of a prime minister. … After seven years of study, the young Muhammadan … (is the equal of) … a young man raw from Oxford. ” These educational systems were supported by a culture which valued learning and provided many forms of financial support to scholars so that all could obtain an education without any payment. Indians were specially skilled at mathematics, logic, and philosophy; the great mathematical genius of Ramanujan did not come from a void, but from indigenous intellectual traditions. A deliberate British policy of denigrating traditional learning, denying jobs to scholars, degrading the Ulama, and seizing financial resources meant for provision of education, led to the destruction of the educational institutions which served the country. This has led to widespread illiteracy and ignorance in a land once famous for its scholarship, and one which attracted many students from far away lands in search of wisdom.
Health Systems: Health care was provided via a number of systems of medical knowledge based on experience of local doctors. Precious medical knowledge based on centuries of experience was passed down via a system of apprenticeship. Health care was an honorable profession entered into for the service of mankind. The Western idea of using medical knowledge and medicines to make money from the misery of others was considered immoral. Development of an inferiority complex and depreciation of all indigenous knowledge has led to the near extinction of many of these schools of medicine. Destruction of local institutions for healthcare has led to lack of access to basic health care for vast portions of the population. The Chinese system of acupuncture has received a boost in its fortunes after its effectiveness was recognized by Western doctors. Similarly, some attention is now being paid to preservation of local knowledge systems in India and Pakistan.
Justice: Justice was provided by local panchayats, which were effective and efficient in settling disputes and allowed everyone, rich and poor, equal access to justice. The British destroyed these institutions and replaced them by our current system of courts and lawyers. Because of the typically lengthy and elaborate proceedings, and the expense and remoteness of these from the average citizen, justice became effectively inaccessible to the populace. There was no way to handle problems except by bribing local representatives of British imperial power. Forces of poverty created by huge tributes paid to the colonizers, desperation, and lack of access to legal means for resolving problems led to the spread of corruption of in land of honest and hospitable people with high levels of integrity.
Social Welfare: Because of strong religious injunctions for charity, Muslims even today give away much more of their incomes to the poor than other comparable communities. There were a large number of Awqaf which provided for a huge variety of social needs of the community. Care of orphans, widows, travelers, as well as people in need, together with provisions for education and health, food and water, all were catered to by voluntary organizations funded by the Muslims in the form of perpetual trusts. These institutions formed the fabric of society, and gave concrete expression to the Islamic idea that the society as a whole must take care of its needy. Vast amounts of money locked into trusts for funding these activities were seized by the British, and led to a collapse of these social institutions. The resulting vacuum in provision of social services for the needy has never been filled. As a result, there were over fifty famines in the British colonial period, and vast numbers of people died of starvation and disease.
De-Industrialization of India: Many sources including The Rise and Fall of Great Powers provide evidence for the strong industrial manufacturing sectors of India on the eve of colonization. In textiles, ship-building and steel industry, glass blowing, among others, India was second to none. Our manufacturing sector was creative and efficient, and many technologies flowed from our industries to the backwards England. However, adoption of power looms in India posed a threat to British textiles and were banned by the Colonial powers. When muslin weavers shifted to hand production, their thumbs were cut off to prevent production of competitive muslins. Similarly many attempts at development of industry, tanneries, etc. were prevented directly by British intervention, which saw the future of India as a supplier of raw materials to England, and not as a producer of industrial goods. This transformed India from an industrial country to an agricultural one, and lead to deaths in large numbers of those who had once earned comfortable livelihoods from industry. One Viceroy stated that ” the bones of the cotton weavers are bleaching the plains of India. The misery hardly finds a parallel in the history of commerce.”
Causes of British Victory: If India was prosperous and relatively well-governed, why did it succumb so easily to British invaders? History testifies to the frequency with which barbarian hordes have defeated, looted and pillaged more advanced civilizations. The Mongol conquest of Baghdad provides an important example from Islamic history. Conquest proves military superiority, but not philosophical, cultural or moral superiority. If thieves, pirates and bandits took over and pillaged and looted our country for over a century, it does not follow that we should seek to emulate them. An important additional factor is the centuries of constant warfare in Europe, which led to development of military strategies and tactics. Relative peace prevailed in Islamic lands, so that techniques of warfare did not develop with equal speed. A thousand years of success led to confidence and pride, and under-estimation of Europeans, who were deemed to be barbarians and incapable of development by our early historians like Ibn-e-Khaldun. Thus reports of European developments in warfare reached the Ottomans but were discounted by Muslims, who later paid a heavy price for this neglect.
Moral Degeneration of the West: This retelling of history is not for the purpose of romantic and idealistic glorification of our past. It is of vital importance in showing us the way to the future. The unpleasant and bitter reality of the present is that pirates, robbers, and thieves are firmly in control of the world, and dominate the stage. Those at the reins of power in the West have such low standards of morality that they cannot even honor their commitments to be faithful to their wives. They openly state in international public forums that the killing of half a million Iraqi children is a fair price to pay for control of oil. Deceit, torture, damage to environment, violation of treaties, use of assassinations and murder, and all manners of immoral behavior is justified in the name of profits. The law of the jungle prevails, and any country can be invaded and conquered on the flimsiest of pretexts if it suits the interests of the West. In this situation, it would be the greatest of folly to think that Western powers have (as they claim in Iraq) our own best interests at heart. Those in power who make such claims to justify compliance with Western dictates have either been purchased or are being incredibly naïve.
Complicity of Local Elites: To compound the problem, the ruling elites all over the developing world are in the pockets of the West. Colonial administrative structures designed for efficient extraction of revenues are now utilized by local political parties for the same purpose. Foreign power and bribes prop up regimes which carry out policies favorable to Western interests and harmful to the public. Oppression and injustice, and extraction of revenues from a colonized public by alien powers, continues as in the colonial era. Western education systems teach the morality and ethics of pirates and thieves to our children. There is emphasis on luxurious lifestyles, greed, acquisitiveness, selfish pursuit of career goals, wealth etc. The concept that we should serve humanity, even if it takes sacrifice of personal interests, is not taught.
Pathways to Progress: Current society bears a striking resemblance to the Jahiliyya of pre-Islamic Arabia. Loose morals, drugs, unbridled pursuit of pleasures, callous disregard for those not of your tribe (nation), and even the murder of babies by their own parents (see Mothers who Kill Their Children) has become commonplace. The message of Islam transformed this society into one which became exemplars of human behavior for all time to come. This message carries the same power today, but unfortunately at the present time we are looking to the West to solve our problems for us. We need to re-learn our own heritage, which provides solutions not on the menu of choices offered to us by the West. The Quran tells us that God does not change the conditions of a people unless they change themselves. If we strive for the inner transformation demanded by Islam at the individual level, that of surrendering our will to the will of Allah, then Allah will change the condition of the Ummah.
For Related Materials and Links, see: The Ways of the Eagles