History and Interpretations: Communalism and Problems of Indian Historiography 2

by Shaheryar Ali

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

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

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

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

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

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

Eqbal Ahmad, Confronting the Empire.

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

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

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

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

Romila Thapar, the Future of Indian Past.

At another place, She again explains, this view point

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

In defence of History, Romila Thapar.

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

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

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

In Defence of History, Romila Thapar

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

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

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

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

Eqbal Ahmad, confronting the Empire.

To be continued—-

23 Comments

Filed under Pakistan

23 responses to “History and Interpretations: Communalism and Problems of Indian Historiography 2

  1. Aliarqam

    It’s really the most finest effort…I have read on PTH
    for the last 4 months…
    I think it would be accepted as a part of debate on this e-zine of PTH….

    Thanks Sherry for….
    -those mindsets who are legitimizing british rule…
    -The most realistic interpretation of Turkish nationalism. which was misinterpreted here
    -Analyzing Marx view of India
    -Appropriate referance of Eqbal Ahmad
    -Critique of Marx…
    -Using modernization as a tool of Legitimization…. -the pseudo-religious style of declaring some one Commie… A lot more….Thanks again

  2. YLH

    Little knowledge is dangerous and Sherry has amply proved why. Sherry is mixing and matching ideas… he has no knowledge of Turkish History or Kemal Ataturk …. nor has he bothered to understand the argument that I put up earlier….

    Kemal Ataturk used Islam and Muslim Identity during the war of independence in Turkey from 1917-1922… his adoption of Latin alphabet and modernization fo the Muslim identity came later. Till 1928 the Turkish Constitution remained commtited to Islam as state religion. This is all that was pointed out.

    “Ataturk earned his place in history by directing the successful resistance of the Muslim inhabitants of Anatolia” m

    Page 532, ATATURK by Andrew Mango, 1999 Overlook Press Woodstock and New York.

    Here is another “useless detail” ie Ataturk’s own words

    “The Turkish nation is the main component of the Turkish state but there are other components people who had linked their endeavors and their destinies with those of the Turks. They do not have to share the Turks’ Muslim religion. The Jews would continue to find security in Turkey. Members of other communities who would stay on after an exchange of population would also benefit from the accepted rules of humanity”

    30th January, 1923.

    Page 373 – ibid

    It is clear from the reference above that the term Turk referred to Muslims of Anatolia regardless of ethnic origin.

    The treaty of Lausanne, Ataturk’s crowning achievement, established Religion as Ethnicity as the principle for exchange of populations.

    “was he giving pledges of following Koran and Sunnah? .”

    YES! Kemal Ataturk’s speeches from 1917-1922 are replete with Islamic symbolism, Quran and Sunnah, references to the Holy Prophet, Jehad and even Houris in Janat.

    Infact Kemal Ataturk in his landmark speech in 1928 described this as necessary to motivate the Muslims of Anatolia …. but in 1928 Ataturk made a clean break by separating state from religion. In that sense is 1928 speech was analagous to Jinnah’s 30 odd speeches as governor general where he sought to make Pakistani nationaism inclusive of all communities.

    Sherry, I have come to the conclusion that you have no sense of honesty. You are dead wrong about Turkey and Turkish nationalism… but you are not man enough to admit that you were caught with your pants down.

  3. YLH

    Ali,

    No need to be so pernicious. You don’t even understand what others are trying to say let alone go about making generalizations which are not rooted in fact.

  4. YLH

    “ascribe to religious nationalism becomes a commie”

    No my friend… not everyone who does not agree with commies ascribes to a religious nationalism.

  5. YLH

    PS: In addition to my post about Ataturk above…

    If Turkish Nationalism was not a form of Muslim nationalism… why didn’t the Turkish speaking Christians support Kemal Ataturk ?

    No doubt the Turks were moving away from the Islamic identity… it was entirely because Ataturk felt that Islam had kept Anatolian Muslims backward.

    He wanted to modernize his people. His adoption of latin alphabet, his attempt to break away from the Arabs and the Muslim tradition were all the result of his deep love for his people. It was latent Muslim nationalism (i.e. Turkish Nationalism) which made him reject Islam (because he blamed Islam for Muslim backwardness).

    The analogy with Indian Muslims is not only apt but is very logical… except that Jinnah was cut in the British constitutional mould and not the french revolutionary mould that Ataturk had.
    Infact the Mullahs of deoband time and again claimed that Muslim Leaguers were actually Kemalists, using Muslim Nationalism to create a Kemalist state and thereby reduce the power of the Mullahs…

    To quote EQBAL AHMED (who Sherry selectively quotes) from his essay “Jinnah in a class of his own”:

    In the 1930s the Muslim world as a whole had entered what Albert Hourani has described as the Liberal Age when Muslim nationalism grew exponentially on the premises of modernism and reform. Mr Jinnah returned from England in 1935 to find himself swept to the crest of this wave.

    The influence of Kemal Ataturk on Jinnah is well documented by all his biographers. Hector Bolitho spends two pages on how it was “Grey Wolf” by H C Armstrong which inspired Jinnah to return to India …. Wolpert speaks of it on page 132 of his book “Jinnah of Pakistan”…. In his book M J Akbar from India speaks of Jinnah telling his sister “I want to modernize the Muslims of India like Kemal Ataturk”….

    The correspondence between Turkish President and Ataturk’s Ismet Inonu and Mahomed Ali Jinnah throughout the 1940s shows the Kemalist Turkish government’s wholehearted support for the Pakistan Movement primarily because they recognized the congruence of Indian Muslim Nationalism and the Anatolian/Thrace Muslim Nationalism i.e. Turkish Nationalism.

  6. YLH

    PS: In addition to my post about Ataturk above…

    If Turkish Nationalism was not a form of Muslim nationalism… why didn’t the Turkish speaking Christians support Kemal Ataturk ?

    No doubt the Turks were moving away from the Islamic identity… it was entirely because Ataturk felt that Islam had kept Anatolian Muslims backward.

    He wanted to modernize his people. His adoption of latin alphabet, his attempt to break away from the Arabs and the Muslim tradition were all the result of his deep love for his people. It was latent Muslim nationalism (i.e. Turkish Nationalism) which made him reject Islam (because he blamed Islam for Muslim backwardness).

    The analogy with Indian Muslims is not only apt but is very logical… except that Jinnah was cut in the British constitutional mould and not the french revolutionary mould that Ataturk had.
    Infact the Mullahs of deoband time and again claimed that Muslim Leaguers were actually Kemalists, using Muslim Nationalism to create a Kemalist state and thereby reduce the power of the Mullahs…

    To quote EQBAL AHMED (who Sherry selectively quotes) from his essay “Jinnah in a class of his own”:

    In the 1930s the Muslim world as a whole had entered what Albert Hourani has described as the Liberal Age when Muslim nationalism grew exponentially on the premises of modernism and reform. Mr Jinnah returned from England in 1935 to find himself swept to the crest of this wave.

    The influence of Kemal Ataturk on Jinnah is well documented by all his biographers. Hector Bolitho spends two pages on how it was “Grey Wolf” by H C Armstrong which inspired Jinnah to return to India …. Wolpert speaks of it on page 132 of his book “Jinnah of Pakistan”…. In his book M J Akbar from India speaks of Jinnah telling his sister “I want to modernize the Muslims of India like Kemal Ataturk”….

    The correspondence between Turkish President and Ataturk’s Ismet Inonu and Mahomed Ali Jinnah throughout the 1940s shows the Kemalist Turkish government’s wholehearted support for the Pakistan Movement primarily because they recognized the congruence of Indian Muslim Nationalism and the Anatolian/Thrace Muslim Nationalism i.e. Turkish Nationalism.

    My suggestion to people here is to not take out their personal vendettas by writing articles which make no sense whatsoever.

  7. YLH

    PS: The difference between Armenians and Turks was of religion…. so the nuance you wish to establish is not factual.

  8. Majumdar

    Shahryar babu,

    We have demonstrated, how Muslim and Hindu identities, are not monolithic and how they dissolve in class conflict.

    This is classic, considering that it is actually classes which dissolve far more easily when confronted with faith, ethnicity, race, colour, language etc.

    The Hindutva approach to history ignores all other histories and schools of interpretation. They are all dismissed as Marxist or equivalent.

    This is a trick that Hindutvists have learnt from the “progressives” Anyone who disagrees with the progressives interpretation becomes a “reactionary” “Hindutvist” “Islamist” “Muslim communalist”- take your pick.

    Regards

  9. YLH

    I think you have to take a broader view of this article. You are getting stuck in the Turkish references – indeed there are more than one interpretations of history.

    I am happy that this subject is being discussed -i.e. about identities and how history has been distorted, divided into periods and imposed identities. In Pakistan, such debate has been lacking at least within the country.

    Now about your attacks on little knowledge etc. I think it would be better if you write a piece to explain your position rather than spend so much time on comments.

    Comments are useful and increase interaction but sometimes they can be misleading.

    We need to educate each other – learning is a shared goal and a mutual process –

    I don’t think that the commie references were personal.

    The idea here is not to ‘attack’ but to expand, refine the nuances and widen the scope of inquiry. This is why I liked your selected quotes; and this is why I like what Sherry has contributed from Romilla Thapar.

    Pak Tea House will publish your contribution on history and its myriad interpretations pretty soon.

    RR

  10. Majumdar

    I humbly beg to disagree with your first comment. The class – in the Indian subcontinent – has time and again proven quite formidable.

    Perhaps, we should reflect more on this.

    Sherry, you may wish to write a separate article on the class issue – as the alliances between Hindus and Aurangzeb’s court for one prove that class interest does not recognise faith imperatives.

  11. PMA

    Mr. Shaheryar Ali: Your analysis on the subject of nationalism in Sub-continental Indian context is only one-sided. Instead of giving multiple quotations from the authors you are already in agreement with, why don’t you summarise your thoughts and give us what is your definition of nation and nation-state; that is if you believe in such entities. If you think that Pakistan has no basis to be a nation-state, lets not go around and around beating the bush. Lets just say it so.

    Let us move beyond historiography as we already know that history writing is self serving at best. Damn the British, damn the colonial imperialists. You are a Pakistani national and you are posting on ‘Pak Tea House’. For the Indians, let them solve their own problems. For us Pakistanis tell us what is the way forward for us. Please share your wisdom with us. Let us move on.

  12. Aliarqam

    @YLH
    I humbly request you to avoid personal attacks…..it was the point which compell U stop interacting at CHOWK…Though U have a relation of almost 4 or 5 years…
    When someone interact at PTH…it’s not necessary for his views to be approved by You…
    It reminds me of Khalid Mehmood(killed by Taliban a few years ago) quote…Ikhtilaf ray se irtiqa k raste phoothe hein…

    @Raza
    I have protested earlier for his way of criticizing the others…
    I think this space is a hostage of his rhetorics…

    @PMA
    Commentary on history is the most easiest job…when U wanna propagate your own concepts/misconceptions…

    Maududi when started his Tehreek Islami…the efforts of establishing Khilafat Elaahia…
    For legitimacy of his thoughts and ideas…he criticize almost all the reformers…from Ghazali,Ibn timiaa and Waliullah Dehlvi…in his Tajdeed o ahyaa din…
    But when he came to the practicals…the history of his Jamaat is filled with compromises…
    Anyhow…everyone is champion of history…but for the present…nothing except compromises and excuses….

  13. YLH

    Holding history hostagee to ideology is not a good idea.

    My suggestion is that people should argue with facts instead of making statements trying to skew the discussion.

    How is your effort to recruit more chowkies going along btw?

  14. YLH

    Raza bhai,

    What can one do as long as Sherry mian continues to make strawman fallacies like “he calls me commie because I reject religious nationalism” blah blah …to side step honest debate about his half baked ideas.

    You know the famous urban legend that Ataturk sunk ship full of Mullahs? It is not entirely true but nor is false. Somebody sunk a boat full of commies on the way to Trabzon in 1919 … Somebody it was said was acting on the orders of the president of the Ankara government.

  15. Aliarqam

    @YLH
    Kuch din aap ko apne daisi nuskhey baichney ki Ijazat hai…
    If they would have come here…on another blog…U will call PTH in the same way…as the CHOWKIES…

  16. Majumdar

    RR sahib,

    “Class” doesn’t explain Partition, 1970-71, Hindoo-Muslim riots, Kashmir or Jihad. The only major conflict in post-I era in the subcontinent which can be traced back to Class is Naxalism, else it is religion, caste, ethnicity.

    Ali aqram sahib,

    YLH did not badmouth anyone on chowk, it was (some) chowkies who launched a vicious attack on him.

    Regards

  17. Ali: thanks for the detailed comments

    Class explains Partition – the national Hindu and Muslim bourgeoisie, trained by the Imperial masters settled for a blood-bath and protected their interests!!!

    I think a separate post is needed on this subject
    cheers
    Raza

  18. YLH

    Desi nuskhay? Why don’t you respond to them with something that atleast remotely makes sense.

    The debate on chowk is there for everyone to see.

    Anyone can see who made sense there and who didn’t. My views stand unimpeached. Nor have I left chowk…I just can’t waste time explaining the same point again and again to people respond with abuse instead of logic.

    Your inability to respond with counterpoints that make sense is probably the reason why you are trying to lure some of the most foul mouthed and illogical internet hyenas to this website. Still it will be an infinite improvement over the quality of arguments put up by sherry and yourself.

  19. YLH

    And I have been on chowk for 9 years… not 5. Check out my article list.

  20. YLH

    Which means ofcourse that I have been selling my “desi nuskhay” there successfully longer than anyone else I guess 😉

  21. Vandana

    The simple fact remains that the Indian subcontinent, though now known as India,Bangladsh and Pakistan, was historically and geographically a single but complex fabric with various sub threads of different religious identities,class idenities and diverse influences from the Mughal rule,colonial rule and even the earlier rules and kingdoms.Unfortunately,as the seperation into 3 states took place on the basis of religious ideology/identity the new nations have tried to make theie own versions of history.Thus in Pak many would like to believe that Pakistan’s history started with Qasim and in India the zeal is to somehow go back to the era of pre-islamic India.One gets endorsement from the Islamists and the other from Hindutva ideology.If some Pakistanis went overboard in trying to deny its links to the earlier Indus Valley,Hindu and Buddhsit histories of its land and made simplistic efforts to connect to an Arab identity and find (often)tenous genealogical connections, in India the confusion is over its secular status.If others seperated on basis of religion( Islam) then why are we not a Hindu nation is the question that vexes the minds of those who speak for Hindutva.This question neglects the fact that Christianity arrived in India even before it was adopted in Europe and Islam with the earliest conquests of Sindh.Jainism,Buddhism and Sikhism were born on this soil.Jews were given shelter by kings of Malabar(modern day Kerala) when they fled olden Palestine to escape religious persecution.We are a complex nation of many identities and finding a monolithic version of history is a doomed cause.We have to bring the various versions together and acknowledge our many identities.

  22. YLH

    Vandara,

    Our history starts with the Indus valley civilization.

    Most of the arguments above are addressed to strawman fallacies and exhibit the pitfalls of lack of original thinking on part of the author.

    On another note the Arab nationalist argument is a crappy one. It is like saying that Pakistan should embody all Muslims of the world or atleast Afghanistan because they were once part of the Mughal Empire,

    The Arab nationalist revolt -inspired by British prodding- predates the Turkish war of independence.

    Turkish nationalism denoted the nationalism of the Muslims of Anatolia, thrace and to some extent the Balkans just as the nationalism that led to the creation of Pakistan embodied the Muslims of British India alone.

  23. PMA

    Vandana: Thanks for the input. In Pakistan serious scholarship rejects the notion that history of Pakistan starts from General Mohammad bin Qasam. More true is that Muslim period of the Sub-continental India starts from the Muslim invasion. But since Pakistan is a Muslim state this particular historical incident caries unproportional weight.

    Geographically even though a continuation of the Asian land mass, the Sub-continent is separated from the rest by the high mountains. But there is no denying of the fact that what existed post-1947 was the British Indian Empire; a colonial entity directly and indirectly ruled by the English Crown.

    As you have rightly pointed out that as an Empire or as a Sub-continect…..considering its history and cultural, racial and linguistic diversity……it is a complex place. But it is no more complex than Europe.

    The problem arises when erroneous claims are made that somehow all inhabitants of the Sub-continent India belong to a single nation. Look at the weakness of even a lesser argument that all Hindus or all Muslims of the Sub-contonent belong to one nation.

    It is a multi-nation Sub-continent and even its three-way division is an oversimplification. The old Empire should be further divided up on European lines to bring peace to the land.