Something which having this blog allows is to elaborate on theories/positions I’ve exposited for years on the Sepia Mutiny weblog. One of those ideas is an inclusive model of being brown (Desi). In set theory basically I’m suggesting that the set of those who are defined or self-define as brown/Desi can be reasonably modeled as the union of various other sets. In contrast, an exclusive model would posit that a brown person is an intersection of various other sets. Arguably some proponents of Hindutva explicitly adhere to this exclusive model, where only Hindu South Asians who are resident in South Asia are real browns. In contrast, in my model Bobby Jindal remains brown, despite him being American, and being a convert to an Abrahamic religion. Evangelical Protestant Gypsies in France are arguably brown; they may have some residual South Asian ancestry, and often retain many South Asian customs as well as Indo-Aryan language. People of European descent born and raised in India are also brown. They may not be typical in appearance, or even religion, but their upbringing in a South Asian milieu makes them at least as brown in my opinion, if not more so, than Diasporic browns. Adopted children who are of South Asian origin are also brown because of their indubitable ancestry through their appearance. It doesn’t matter if they have a Minnesota accent and are involved in the Lutheran youth group, and couldn’t tell Kolkota from Karachi from Kodaikanal.
But this inclusive model doesn’t deny that there are some brown people who are more prototypically brown. Hinduism is the South Asian religion par excellence. Islam is not, despite the largest numbers of Muslims in the world being resident in South Asia. All things equal being a Hindu gives one more of a brown stamp than being a Muslim. Similarly, being a Syrian Christian and not an evangelical Protestant in Kerala roots one in South Asia as opposed to a world wide Protestant community. There are white skinned pale brown people, but the reality is that the typical brown person is…brown-skinned.
This doesn’t mean that I’m the pope of brown people. You’re brown/Desi if you say you are in my book. But terms and categories need to have some utility. And this sort of way of classification and identification is I think instrumentally useful. It allows us to make comparisons. I would say, for example, that Zach is arguably more brown than I am despite his mixed ancestral heritage because of his manifestly clearer association with a South Asian nation, Pakistan, and his identification with many aspects of South Asian civilization. Myself, I admit frankly that I’m very alienated from South Asian high culture, and am drawn more to China and the West. But because of my ancestry it would be foolish for me to deny that I am South Asian.
The minute I read the title, I knew this would be the sort of post that would race away in the comments thread. As I read the conclusions the more startled but less surprised I got. I’ve been reflecting on the post, comments and its ramifications on the larger human picture.
I’ve divided the post into several sections because it ran on and now makes for much easier reading:
Pakistanis are shocked (just shocked I tell you) that their federal minister can’t pray correctly. It says alot about the current state of affairs in the “land of the pure”; they want the instant gratification of the Western way of life (consumption, women, liquor) but there has to be a puritanical Islamic mask to it.
It goes a very long way to explaining the hypocritical perspectives of Pakistanis toward Shariah and other religious ruling; they will agree to it but carry on with their “unIslamic” activities. After all alcoholism and substantial drug abuse is prevalent among the Pakistani middle and lower classes, which is unusual since its the chattering elite who are more into this sort of stuff anyway (traditionally).
I’ve experienced this time and again; the other day I was chatting to a Pakistani back in Lahore, who was moaning about how difficult it was to find a girlfriend there. He ended the conversation since his mother was calling him for breakfast (yes Desistan is like the 50′s) and as I bid him goodbye with a traditional “Khuda Hafiz” (go in the peace of God) he blared back “ALLAH HAFIZ“.
The controversy is that Khuda is a Persian-Zoroastrian name for God, which some Pakistani puritans are finding increasingly “impure” (the land of the pure must be pure after all; sarc mark required) so they’re opting for the traditional Arab name “Allah Hafiz”. Considering “Allah Hafiz” is a fictitious and made up word (the Arabs use Alamaiq); its displacing a wonderful Pakistani (Indo-Persian) tradition.
Anyway going back to topic the chappie was talking about wine and women the whole time but when it came to our greetings; he became a moral puritan. This is time and again a recurring feature among the religious, their need to socially conform and outdo one another in increasingly obscure and irrelevant acts of worship.
The term originates from the Hindi term pandit, which in turn originates from the Sanskrit (a language from ancient India) term paṇḍitá, meaning “learned” (see also Pandit). It refers to someone who is erudite in various subjects and who conducts religious ceremonies and offers counsel to the king.
My friend Dr. Daniel MacArthur thinks I’m quite erudite.
Zach introduced us pretty well earlier. I’m Razib Khan, I generally cover science and history. I am also known as “razib the atheist” on the Sepia Mutiny weblog. I am brown. All four of my grandparents were born in the eastern part of Bengal, what became Bangladesh. Some of my great-grandparents were born outside of Bengal, from Delhi to Assam. But to my knowledge all my recent forebears are of South Asian provenance, though I suspect Burmese heritage as well.
I have known Zach Latif since 2002. We disagree on many issues, but we are united by a deep interest in history, the superstructure of culture, and the broader patterns of society. Additionally, we are both atypical as South Asians go. Zach, a Baha’i of Pakistani background and recent Persian ancestry. Myself, an atheist American of Bengali ethnicity and originally Bangladeshi nationality. I should also add that I have a deeply skeptical, and moderately unsympathetic stance, toward Islamic civilization, and general lack of comprehension of the abstruse biases of South Asian philosophy and religion. My own personal orientation is in sympathy with the Cārvāka.
Razib Khan and I have co-founded a blog together; Brown Pundits.
I’ll leave Razib to make his own fuller and personal introduction but I’ll provide a brief one here. His first blog has been Gene Expression, which he started in 2002 and has continued right on to this day. He has also written for Comment is Free and now maintains his own section of Discover Magazine. A pretty good synopsis of himself is provided here; Welcome.
As for me; my name is Zachary Latif and I’ve also been blogging on and off at My Cavern since 2002. I’m very excited and intrigued to be a part of the Brown Pundits. I envision this blog about approaching Desi topics from a holistic level. There are far too many taboos and barriers inhibiting rationalism in our cultures; sometimes the 2nd & 3rd gens carry the silent prejudice over. It is my personal hope that we can at the very least create a neutral space to engage and discuss our age-old traditions and hope to understand. I’m going to try to keep a learning perspective and also begin to understand a few of my own sacred cows.
Welcome on my part and oh I just got hacked so the good comes with the bad.