The Muslim intrusion into India was probably inevitable

Taking after Edward Gibbon it is often stated in some histories that the Islamicization of Europe was probably prevented by the defeat of the Muslim armies coming up from Spain by Charles Martel at the Battle of Tours.

This is probably wrong for several reasons. First, with hindsight, it seems clear that people like to anchor on salient contingent events which seem plausible bifurcations in our timeline. This is a cognitive bias. The fact is that sally north of the Pyrenees into Francia was probably simply a probing raid, not the precursor to a full-scale invasion. At least that is the impression given by the Muslim textual records, which barely mention this battle (in contrast to the second Siege of Constantinople, which had occurred a few decades earlier). A raid is not a campaign.

Additionally, Muslim armies and corsairs operated north of the Pyrenees and in what became southern France for several centuries after 732. The defeat at the Battle of Tours was simply another battle in the gradual rollback of Islamic depredations in the Western Mediterranean. Perhaps more important was the shift of the world-wide Islamic polity eastward with the emergence of the Abbasids in 750, and the detachment of western Muslim domains from Abbasid authority (a renegade Umayyad even reigned in Spain!).

Finally, limits of supply-lines and ecological constraints probably meant that a protracted campaign in Europe would have met difficulties that were less relevant for North Africa and Spain. The conquest of North Africa and Spain occurred in less than a generation (the conquest of the Maghreb was an opportunity opened during a period of tumult in Byzantium in the late 7th century) and were still recent when the Battle of Tours occurred. Additionally, ecologically North Africa and much of Spain were familiar to the Arabs, and in the latter case Berbers. This is not the case with Francia and much of Northern Europe. It is not well known, but Arab armies sallied north of the Caucasus into the territory of the Khazars for several centuries, but ultimately failed in permanent conquests, probably in part due to lack of preparation and experience with harsh cold (the lack of fitness of Arab armies for the harsh winters is noted in the texts).

Remember that the conquest of much of the more frigid regions of peripheral Europe occurred under the Ottoman Turks, who were culturally an Inner Asian people from Siberia.

Which brings us to India and the beginning of widescale Muslim intrusions under Mahmud of Ghazni. I immediately pointed out below that the true conquest, as opposed to raiding, did not occur until the late 12th century. But, to be honest, I think this is a minor detail, and the fact is that Muslim incursions were inevitable, and probably like to succeed to some extent, no matter the outcome of a particular battle.

The key here is less about Islam, and more about the period between 500 AD and 1500 AD, and what you see across Eurasia in terms of the balance of power between mobile people from Inner Asia, and the agricultural civilizations. In books as distinct as War! What Is It Good For? and Strange Parallels the authors observe that in the period after 500 AD, until the rise of “gunpowder empires”, pastoralists from the Inner Asian steppe were dominant, destructive, and overwhelming military forces (the Mongol conquests were the apotheosis, but not exceptional).

In Strange Parallels, the author reminds us that only a few societies among the Eurasian oikoumene polities avoided major shocks from pastoralists. Mainland Southeast Asia, Japan, and the far west of Europe were insulated from their depredations by and large.* The reason for this was almost certainly geography: Japan was separated by a sea from the mainland, while Southeast Asia and Western Europe were ecologically difficult for pastoralists to penetrate as well as distant. In “mainland Europe” the settlement of the Hungarian basin by repeated groups of steppe pastoralists, beginning with the Scythians and ending with the Magyars, is partly a function of the fact that its broad flat expanses were the westernmost suitable pastorage for large herds of horses typical on the Eurasian steppe.

In the centuries after 500 AD, most of the major civilizations of Eurasia were impacted by migrations of nomads seeking greener pastures. In China, the northern half of the country was occupied by various groups of Turkic origin between the Han and Sui-Tang. The southern half the country maintained local rule, in part because of the difficulty of penetration by pastoralists of the Yangzi basin. In the Near East, Persia was buffeted by both Inner Asians from the north, and Arabs from the southwest. The Arabs conquered Persia and severely diminished Byzantium. Like China, the persistence of part of Byzantium is probably due to geography: Constantinople occupied a strong position on the other side of Bosporus and could be provisioned by sea when encircled. The Persian heartland was much more exposed to the Arab advance (in contrast, the conquest of Turan took many centuries).

Which brings us to India. The pastoralist eruptions that impacted Persia also affected India. But, the initial impacts were of more political than cultural relevance. Groups like the Huna were absorbed into the South Asian cultural matrix.

The arrival of the Turks and Afghans after 1000 AD was different. These people, now Muslims, were not absorbed into the South Asian cultural matrix. The reason is obvious: with Islam, they had their own high culture, one which was assimilative insofar as native converts could be somewhat integrated into the ruling class, and unassimilable from the perspective of native elites due to its ideological and ritual predelictions.

There is here a contrast to the Mongols who conquered China in the 13th century, and the Manchus who conquered it in the 17th century.

First, the raw numbers of Mongols and Manchus in comparison to Chinese was probably far less than the potential mobile Muslim populations which might have settled in India. In fact, Mongols who migrated west were eventually all assimilated into the Turkic or Persian cultural context due to the force of numbers (though they often retained genealogical awareness of part Mongol origins, as the Hazara and Timurids both did despite a Persian and Turkic cultural background).

Second, neither the Mongols or Manchus brought a hegemonic and oppositional high culture. The Mongols were predominantly shamanists, though a minority were Eastern Christians (Kubilai Khan’s mother was a member of the Church of the East, as was the norm among her tribe of Turks), and some were Muslims (the mass conversion of the Mongols to Buddhism occurred in the 16th century, prior to which they dabbled in Islam, Christianity, and Buddhism, as well as their dominant shamanism). The Manchus generally favored shamanism, or, as was the norm among northern border peoples in China, a form of Buddhism. Neither of these prevented assimilation to the Chinese substrate, a major problem for the Manchus over the centuries (like Mongol ancestry, in today’s China “Manchu” national origin is more a matter of genealogy than culture, as the Manchu language is now moribund, only a few thousand out of millions of Manchu speak it).

In regard to India I want to pinpoint a few key issues:

  1. Starting around 1000 AD the whole zone of pastoralist western Inner Asia began to adopt Islam as its standard religious ideology. To a great extent, West Asian Muslim societies were captured by Inner Asians, and they served Inner Asian aims and goals. Societies such as Egypt were ruled for a thousand years by Inner Asians, who created a Mamluk system which depended upon continuous migration and recruitment from Inner Asia.
  2. India was arguably more “exposed” to this culture than China due to geography. While Inner Asians adjacent to Muslim West Asia adopted Islam, those nearest to China tended to be shamanist or Buddhist (Magyars and Bulgars adopted Western and Eastern Christianity respectively).
  3. Mobile Inner Asians, of any religion, were “natural” soldiers (though to be fair, it seems a consistent pattern that Inner Asians, such as Mongols, who were shamanist were less “civilized” and often better soldiers than those who converted to “higher religions”). In the period between 500 AD and 1500 AD mobile mounted warriors had major advantages in continuous warfare against settled peoples. The main way that settled societies held the pastoralists in check was through bribery or co-option, or both. The Byzantines and Chinese deployed both, elevating frontier peoples with mobile fighting skill to their ruling castes, as well as paying nomadic groups tribute. By and large West Asian Muslim societies co-opted and were conquered by Turks (or their Caucasian federates).
  4. India was subject to the same dynamic as West Asian societies: pastoralists from Inner Asia continuously migrated into the subcontinent for opportunities of exploitation and domination down to the early colonial period. Each wave of migrants was more “raw,” and brought alien and alienated sensibilities, to the subcontinent.

In discussions with individuals of South Asian origin, there is some exploration of the possibility that Indians, Hindus, were naturally a less vigorous and martial people than Muslims. That Islam was a muscular and masculine ideology, while Hinduism was feminine and passive (Hindu nationalism then emerging through some dialectical process as a superior synthesis; muscular, masculine, and Hindu).

I believe that this analysis suffers mostly from the issue of confounds. In the period after 1000 AD with the exception of the Mongols under Genghis Khan, the Inner Asian intruders were all Muslim because they were drawn from the broad zone of Inner Asia where Islam was the dominant high culture. The reality is that after 1000 AD Iranian speaking peoples also were dominated by numerically smaller groups of Inner Asians. Reza Shah in the 20th century was the first major ethnic Iranian founder of a dynasty to dominate most of Iran since the Buyids and Samanids.

The difference between Iran and India is that the former eventually became majority Muslim, while the latter remained majority non-Muslim. Iran’s relative pliability can even be seen in sect, as the Turco-Kurdish Safavids forcibly converted the Persians from their predominant practice of Sunni Islam to Twelver Shia Islam in the 16th century. But of course, demographics is an important variable here. There were probably always an order of magnitude more Indians than Iranians. In Turan Turkic languages became dominant, and in Iran proper, they remain a substantial minority. In India, Turkic languages never took hold, presumably because the numbers were never sufficient. An analogy here might be made with Egypt, where the Mamluk caste drawn from non-Arabs eventually Arabicized in language and identity.

As a follow-up to my post, India as a hydra against Islam, I will suggest then a two things:

  1. India is not comparable to West Asia because it is a more robust civilization with more demographic heft. Like parts of Europe it “absorbed” the Islamic demographic impact without being totally captured. The difference here is not qualitative, but quantitative. There were so many more Indians than Iranians that erosion of indigenous culture took much longer and was never complete.
  2. Unlike parts of Europe which absorbed the Inner Asian shock, such as Russia, India never managed to reorganize and turn the tide. To some extent, the Russians adopted Inner Asian tactics with their Cossack bridges (some of the Cossacks were assimilated Muslim Tatars).

But, the emergence of the Maratha in the 18th century and the Sikh Empire in the 19th century, illustrate that a South Asian counter-reaction was occurring eventually. The reality is that this period saw the decline of Inner Asian military superiority because of mass mobilization of infantry with shock weapons (guns, artillery), which were finally decentering mounted warriors after nearly 1,500 years of supremacy. Though the later Mughals relied on cadres of Inner Asians, they were fundamentally a “gunpowder empire”, and the logic of mass mobilization means that it is unlikely that in the long term a culturally alienated elite could have persisted. The French republican armies’ defeats of rival powers showed European nation-states the power and necessity of mass mobilization.

Several years ago an Indian American friend of Hindu nationalist sympathies expressed to me the opinion that if it weren’t for the arrival of the British, the Marthas might have spearheaded the emergence of a new Indo-centric polity. At the time I was skeptical because Indians lacked access to horses, which gave Inner Asians an advantage. But now seeing the logic of massed infantry with guns, it does seem that the Inner Asian, and therefore Muslim, the advantage would eventually have given away to the force of numbers.

Of course, we’ll never get to see how history would have turned out. The British had different plans.

Note: This post was inspired by my reading of Imperial China 900-1800.

Addendum: I won’t tolerate stupid comments on this post in the beginning. Please understand that if I delete I think your comment was stupid. Perhaps you are smart, so try harder!

* The Mongol directed invasions of Japan, Burma, and Java, were arguably less a function of steppe pastoralism, than the militaristic Yuan co-opting and projecting the force capabilities of the Chinese state system.

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118 thoughts on “The Muslim intrusion into India was probably inevitable”

  1. probably, unless one believed that people’s beliefs could have changed. For left historians it seems generalizations are not acceptable.

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    1. For left historians it seems generalizations are not acceptable.

      you don’t read historians coming out of a marxist tradition? what is marxist but deriving general inferences from materialist presuppositions?

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          1. yes,but is there still a popular orthodox marxist tradition?. I dont hear them much and what is their opinion of Islam?. I know what karl marx said, I dont hear them speak about it. Noam chomsky used “islamic extremism” after ISIS. Before that, he used in regards to general zia. Rare term for them to use. He is anarchist, no? or marxist?

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  2. If the early Mongol invasions of India had been successful, do you think the shamanist Mongols would have adopted and assimilated into some form of Buddhist/Hindu/Jain culture or Islam? And how serious were those expeditions? Obviously, a lot is made of them in India

    the mongols were most favorable toward buddhism on the whole during the 13th century. though basically they drifted away after being kicked out of china. the mongols who went west and settled among the turks became turks, and so muslim. the mongols in iran eventually converted to islam ~1300.

    so the key issue would be how many turks there were in india, as the mongols had a lot in common with turks culturally. if there were enuf turks perhaps they may have convinced the mongols to become muslim. but it is also entirely possible that they would have become hindus. the last buddhists in india were fading…but nalanda had been sacked only a generation before.

    the mongols in china for a century ruled the state in large part through muslim intermediaries but never became muslim. that is a plausible model for india.

    the problem with a mongol invasion of india is that it was far from the mongol homeland AND it was not ecologically suitable for mongols. mongol migrations across the eurasian steppe are easy (the dzhungar/kalmyks went from mongolia to the volga, and some back to mongolia). but pushes south were more difficult and far less successful in the long-term.

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  3. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ahom_people


    The Ahom (Pron: /ˈɑːhɒm/, Assamese: আহোম, people of Assam) are the descendants of the ethnic Tai people who accompanied a Tai prince, Sukaphaa, in his migration from what is now the frontier regions between Myanmar and Yunnan Province in southwest China into the Brahmaputra valley in 1228. Sukaphaa and his followers established the Ahom kingdom (1228–1826), which controlled the Bramhaputra Valley and the territory of modern Assam until the British gained control of the region through the Treaty of Yandabo after their 1826 victory in the First Anglo-Burmese War. In the early days of the Ahom kingdom, although the Ahom made up a relatively small portion of the kingdom’s population, they maintained their original Tai language and practiced their traditional religion. Over time however, the kingdom adopted the dominant local language, Assamese, and the royal court eventually converted to the dominant local religion, Hinduism.

    in 1671 the hindu ahoms stemmed the mughal tide
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Saraighat

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  4. Between the lines is the reflection of fabricated European history. Byzantium is an artificial term, coined in the 16th century. This is actually the name of one village near to Constantinople. It has never existed, East Roman Empire existed. Bulgars are an Asiatic tribe, which came in 590AC to Besarabia. They got permission (from Serbian ruler Vladin) to settle in Walachia. In 677 led by karan Asparuh crossed the Danube and came to today’s Bulgaria. Indigenous Serbs lived there. There were tensions between them until the 9th century when Bulgars also converted to Christianity. Han Boris became Mikhail. Original Bulgars’ language was not spoken at that time. Serbian language was spoken without much differences until the 18th c. Bulgarians are 60-70% ethnically Serbs.

    It is similar situation with Hungarians. They came in 896AC (according to their Academy of Science) to Europe in place where indigenous Serbs lived. They were assimilating local Serbs over hundreds of years and now is considered that about 40% of Hungarians are of Serbian origin. However, in the 17th c.AC, Serbs were still the majority in today’s Hungary.

    Wlachs (i.e. today’s Romanians) are also descendants of Serbian tribe Dacians. They spoke Serbian language until 1856, when Jesuits (who worked there for 300 years) and French invented for them new, quasi-Latin language with quasi-Roman origins. They belonged for hundred years to Serbian Orthodox Church (which was forced to sign the union with Jesuits in 1700 AC) until 1925 when bought the tomos of authocephality from Constantinople. The point is to prepare them to be the cannon fodder in future invasion on Russia (similar to Ukrainians and Polish). Almost 160 thousands of Romanians died under Stalingrad.

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  5. I won’t say any religion is naturally masculine or feminine but the land that births and/or breeds it does give it whatever qualities.

    The post is on point. One thing that amazes me in a comparative between the Chinese and Indian civilizations is their understanding of importance of buffer. To both the Chinese and Indians, the inner Asia nomadic folks were a liability. The latter have also always been better horsemen.

    Since both Chinese and Indians are plains/river based civilizations, one can just compare the borders/buffers the Chinese always sought to maintain far far away from their civilization centers vs how far Indians kept. If Punjab and Sindh are the extent of the Indo Gangetic plains to the northwest, the furthest Indic polity would be this Gandhara and Kashmir. To be comparable to the Chinese we would have drawn it deeper like in Kazakhstan.

    There is clearly a cline in martial prowess of the cultures from inner Asia through northwest South Asia into deeper south Asia, existing in a reverse cline of industriousness and general economic mindedness. Indian polities had been dealing with inner Asia depredations for millennia before the encounter with inner Asian Muslims. I do see the Mughals trying to reconquer their homelands in Uzbekistan as part of a strategy they knew innately, that if they wanted to avoid being replaced by anther group from northwest, they need to hold down the fort on that end. Alas the world was changing to gunpowder and mass mobilization by then and inner Asia military power was getting increasingly relegated.

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  6. For those TLDRing, a summary: There has been a switch in interpretation of history, from the human, i.e., seeking glory, power, sex and need to deracinate the culture of other and replacement by one’s own, to: the considerations such as pastoralist vs. farmers, and other “group theories”. While it is necessary, it may not be sufficient to interpret the human dimensions aka “great Man” theory. Let me explain.

    First, consider the case of the muslim expansion. Granted, the Arabs were mobile (camelback? horseback), but for 1000s of years before Muhammad, and after, no man led them on war. Even Muhammad did not, his weapon was his teachings. Even then, his cavalry was primarily made of settled people from Damascus and southern Iraq. Once the PBUH died, within 20 years Islam settled into Basra and Damascus, and was spread by the agriculturalists from there, and the primary aim was power, money and glory to replace the Eastern Roman empire and Persian empire.

    Second, consider the case of the Mongols; there is not much evidence that before Ghengiz, there was a massive Mongol expansion beyond Northern China. It was one man, whose need for power and glory caused the massive Mongol expansion. Before adter (ok, 200 years latere) Mongols were a peaceful people in the steppe.

    Consider Babur; for 100 years after Timor, the Timurids were content with infighting in central Asia; it needed the vision of one man, and his need for power, money and Glory to push all the way to Delhi. It is not very evident to me that the Khiljis (Turkic slaves) or Ghaznavids (more plunder) had the same long range vision and glory as the Mughals.

    History did discuss the human element and the vision of the individual in seeking power, glory, riches and sex, for a long time; now I am afraid that the pendulum has swung too much into battles between agriculturalists and pastoralists; I am not denying the ability of people on horseback to plunder settled populations. But those are more like Comanche raids into Mexico in 19th century; in order to go beyond, it needs the vision of the individual and the ability to sell his package to his followers, either, as a religion or collective goal to succeed, and build empires. Think Stalin and Mao, the greatest “pastoralists” of all.

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    1. To both the Chinese and Indians, the inner Asia nomadic folks were a liability. The latter have also always been better horsemen.

      to be clear, the inner asians also HAD lots of horses. the chinese and indians didn’t. so both.

      First, consider the case of the muslim expansion. Granted, the Arabs were mobile (camelback? horseback), but for 1000s of years before Muhammad, and after, no man led them on war. Even Muhammad did not, his weapon was his teachings. Even then, his cavalry was primarily made of settled people from Damascus and southern Iraq. Once the PBUH died, within 20 years Islam settled into Basra and Damascus, and was spread by the agriculturalists from there, and the primary aim was power, money and glory to replace the Eastern Roman empire and Persian empire.

      1) revisionists think islam came after the conquest, not before
      2) it’s possibly not coincidental that it came after the removal of buffer polities (ghassanids and lakhimids) and an exhausting conflict

      Second, consider the case of the Mongols; there is not much evidence that before Ghengiz, there was a massive Mongol expansion beyond Northern China. It was one man, whose need for power and glory caused the massive Mongol expansion. Before adter (ok, 200 years latere) Mongols were a peaceful people in the steppe.

      this is false. the mongols were a menace to ming china for hundreds of years, and defeated ming armies, capturing one emperor. the mongols were also critical collaborators with the manchus in mobilizing to conquer china. secondly, the western oirat mongols remained a menace into the 18th century. they were basically exterminated in their core zone (dzhungaria).

      (also, the khitai were probably ‘mongolic’ more than ‘tungusic’, in case you don’t know who they were, they were a menace for +-/200 years 1000 AD)

      History did discuss the human element and the vision of the individual in seeking power, glory, riches and sex

      you can have your theories. but you need to read some history. you just made a fuck-ton of errors in a few paragraphs. perhaps reflect a bit on that.

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    2. I agree completely. The importance of Charismatic leaders , whether Prophet Mohammed or Mahatma Gandhi, or even Hitler, or Lenin or Stalin ( even though Stalin’s charisma can be questioned) in giving emphatic direction to the course of history. Ironically, theory which denied individual role in history to economic classes as the mover of history produced most individuals in charismatic category in it’s heyday like Lenin or Mao tse Tung or Ho Chi Minh . Mohammed was both a charismatic warlord as well as religious leader . It needed a charismatic leader like Genghiz Khan to lead steppe nomands and turn the tables on settled agricultural populations. Without leadership, all this steppe overcoming regular empires and vice versa remains only a possibility. To turn potentiality into actuality , you need individual leaders .

      Even Pakistan remained only a potentiality till 1941 , along with equally possible or even better potentialities. It needed Jinna’s leadership to make it an actuality.

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  7. Few Points

    I agree that battle of Tours was a bit exaggerated, but i would call it more than a raid and the consequences of the battle somewhere between Gibbon and the “inconsequential” folks . At least for Christendom. It did galvanize the Catholics which the fall of Visigoths or Count Odo’s defeat didn’t . So for one side it was indeed consequential. One reason for the lack of muslim records might be just that Constantinople was seen as a bigger Prize than some land in France. But had they won they would have also valued it /written about is similar to their win in Iberia. The subsequent battles between them shows that they were interested in France itself and it was not just another raid. Many Kingdoms (India is a good example) have fallen to less than full scale invasion. I am also not sure as to how much can we say about “Tours defeat stopped Islamization” vs “The muslims had already reached their extent in Europe anyway”. There is no way to decide either way. Perhaps the pagan germans could have stopped them. Perhaps had Franks fell and Islamic France would have achieved the same result as Charlemagne did for Christianity in Germania. One thing is sure that there was no power comparable to the Franks and their fall would have opened the final gates to interior Europe. Now whether the Caliphate could have taken advantage of that is another story.

    It leads to the point that Hordes vs else , Hordes mostly win during that time. When they Buddhist they won, when they Tengri they won, so it was not really a surprise when they won against “Indians” when they were muslims. I would add that just like to add with the Hordes its important to make the distinction of Pre Abrahmic and post Abrahmic religion they practiced . Almost all pre Abraham religion they practiced it looked more nominal or their respective personality/taste, considering you could have one Huns/Kushan king following some religion and the next following the other. I agree on the co option and their natural soldiers part . I would add Abrahmic religions and Islam more so was more “natural” religion and a better fit for the hordes.

    “In discussions with individuals of South Asian origin, there is some exploration of the possibility that Indians, Hindus, were naturally a less vigorous and martial people than Muslims. That Islam was a muscular and masculine ideology, while Hinduism was feminine and passive.I believe that this analysis suffers mostly from the issue of confounds.”

    I think this is not entirely incorrect either. The raw power of the Hordes “coupled” with the doctrine of Islam does help. Indians were both”settled people” and practitioner of religion which was passive in terms of religious sanction for conquest/reconquest.

    On the Marathas i see them as Indian “horde” vs the now “Settled people” Mughals. The roles were reversed and the anyway the superiority of horses was already diminishing by their time. And even there the Marathas were competent /better at least against the other Indian muslim forces in the way Vijayanagar was not. Lot of other characteristics of Hordes(Living off the land, Fighting better in harsher terrain,Ambush warfare) etc , too. The sikhs too having been forced to live under sort of perpetual resistance mode , developed characteristics which helped them in good stead against Afghans. But i am not sure how much of Indo centric polity Marathas would have led. Considering lot of Indians communities were against them at that time too. (Bengalis,Jats,Rajputs). The “acceptability” of the Marathas in wider India is mostly a post 20th century phenomena

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  8. I am also not sure as to how much can we say about “Tours defeat stopped Islamization” vs “The muslims had already reached their extent in Europe anyway”

    the issue is less about francia than that. iberia already looks at the edge of islamic reach. they never conquered the whole place, unlike north africa and elsewhere. france would have been a further reach. additionally, martel wasn’t the only prominent warlord. he was a bastard who had grasped power from the legitimate like of mayors of the palace.

    remember that muslims had refuges all across the coast from provence south to sicily (which they ruled for a few centuries before the normans arrived). the battle of tours didn’t mark a definitive break. perhaps it would have resulted in conquest, but i’m skeptical, especially in light of the fact that spain was already a freelance operation.

    Almost all pre Abraham religion they practiced it looked more nominal or their respective personality/taste, considering you could have one Huns/Kushan king following some religion and the next following the other.

    you’re not using the word nominal right. these people believed. but they were fluid in their beliefs.

    I would add Abrahmic religions and Islam more so was more “natural” religion and a better fit for the hordes.

    why? the mongols were drunks. also, many of the turks and mongols during genghis time were eastern christians. they all fell away. the khazars were jews (and christians and muslims and pagans). ultimately, only islam succeeded among the steppe people. the eastern steppe people became tibetan buddhists after experimenting with christian (first) and islam (some of the mongols did convert to islam without becoming turkic, but those are a small minority and now recognized as distinct ethnic groups within mongol lands).

    as for islam being the religion more natural. it’s a city religion. an urban religion. the steppe peoples were actually quite nominally islamicized until recently. the kazakh’s were famously introduced and indoctrinated to orthodox islam under the russians! (catherine)

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  9. I agree that Iberia was a free lance operation but disagree that they didn’t conquer it totally. Yes apart from the thin narrow northen strip they did mostly conquer it, even thought for a brief time . We do say that Arabs conquered Persia not withstanding the Mazandaran strip. On Martel he was already the mayor of the palace at that time and apart from Odo there was no other real power in France. It was not the “three kingdoms” type thing. I agree that Tours was not a definitive break , its definitive in sense that Martel victory was seen as a victory for “Christendom” during his time itself , which Odos’ victory wasn’t. All i am saying we cannot say either way because once something is fait accompli (Iberia) , historians see it as a part of some plan all along, while when its not they say its not important enough.

    Nominal was not the right word probably. But you get the drift.
    Also apart from Mongols, lot of other muslim rulers did not see themselves as less “muslim” because they drink. Ismail and Babar drank as well as being zealous. When i said natural i was making a comparison of whether the theology adds to the horde mentality . Hinduism/Buddhism theology didnt add anything extra in terms of conquest / battles etc to the White Huns/Kushans which was already not present. Its only that limited scope i was making the comparison . Of course on other aspects of life there are other effects on what religion one follows

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  10. In Strange Parallels, the author reminds us that only a few societies among the Eurasian oikoumene polities avoided major shocks from pastoralists. Mainland Southeast Asia, Japan, and the far west of Europe were insulated from their depredations by and large.

    I suspect that this was of small comfort to the residents of the far west of Europe (or would have been, had they known it at the time) during the 2-3 centuries that they were largely unsuccessful in fending off the Vikings.

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    1. Vikings were precursors of European maritime empires from 17th century. Actually there is a parallel between steppe, desert and Sea based raiders on settled societies. All the three are vast expanses of boring nothing.

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  11. I agree that Iberia was a free lance operation but disagree that they didn’t conquer it totally. Yes apart from the thin narrow northen strip they did mostly conquer it, even thought for a brief time . We do say that Arabs conquered Persia not withstanding the Mazandaran strip.

    it’s a quantitative difference though. the al-andalus situation had ups and downs and back and forths until tolosa. in contrast, the persia situation was one of continuous and unidirectional change. at least after about 750 and the abbasids brought turan under total control.

    When i said natural i was making a comparison of whether the theology adds to the horde mentality . Hinduism/Buddhism theology didnt add anything extra in terms of conquest / battles etc to the White Huns/Kushans which was already not present.

    what do you mean theology adds to horde mentality? i have no idea what you mean.

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    1. when I want to say Islam, i just say it. When others want to say it, they hide behind much theory/words.

      Horde mentality >>> wink wink, Islam.
      1) did mohammad steal? check
      2)did mohammad allow taking away of women as slaves? check
      3) did mohammad allow for conquest? check

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          1. There was one exemption. Ancient Serbian tribes NEVER had any slaves. There were peasants without land but they’ve never been slaves.

            Greek Demosten (Athens’s mayor), who constantly spoke against the Macedonian king Phillip (so-called ‘Phillipique’), the father of Alexander the Great, and denigrated its kingdom, many times said: “What is this country? Over there you even cannot buy a slave.”

            The total population of free citizens in Athens (4th c.BC) was 135.000. Athens’s highly corrupted democracy had at that time 5.000 paid officials, 6.000 judges and 100.000 slaves!
            In other, not so big Greek areas were:
            Erbey – 20.000 slaves
            Beotiya – 50.000 slaves
            Megarida – 20.000 slaves
            Argolida, Korint & Egin – 175.000 slaves (more than free citizens)

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          2. PS. Serbs had a class (caste, rank) meritory system. There were ranks of: warriors, farmers (subrank – shepherds), merchants. Greeks introduced the tribal system of power which was called ‘democracy’. It was a highly corrupted system where you for little money could buy anything and where all vices were present.

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        1. Everyone in Eurasia, and even all over the world all war lords did that. But the critical difference is that, they did not claim to be the messenger of God.

          Beginner seekers of spirituality are usually shocked when they study Islam and the life of its prophet. They come to expect a Jesus Christ or Buddha like figure, who would readily offer another cheek when slapped on one cheek. What they discover is, to put it delicately, Muhammad was different. At his very core he was just another ruthless warlord who crushed everyone in his path to achieve power and establish a state.

          To be fair to Muhammad, when compared to other warlords of history, he was actually on the benign side. His score of death and destruction pales in comparison to Alexander or Timur or Chinggis Khan. The problem starts when he is compared to other spiritual leaders of the world.

          Roots of this dichotomy in Muhammad’s personality lies in the fact that he was both a spiritual leader and a ruler. To adopt Churchill’s quip about Gandhi in this context, Muhammad was a saint among warlords, a warlord among saints. Depending upon in what context you are evaluating his career, he will come across a very different character.

          To give you just one example, the ruthlessness with which Muhammad destroyed https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Banu_Qurayza tribe is astonishing. There are historical sources, coming from Islamic scholars themselves, describing in detail the scene Muhammad’s emissaries witnessed when they went inside Banu Qurayza’s fortress in an attempt to convince them to surrender. (Children crying and women wailing and like). It is impossible to believe that Muhammad wasn’t aware of the miserable conditions of the besieged. Despite this, he eradicated the whole tribe. Massacred all adult males and sold women and children to slavery.

          And finally, despite your loud professions of atheism, it is quite obvious that there is some residual soft corner in your heart towards Islam and Islamicate cultures. Therefore apologies in advance if it ruffled some feathers. I just had to call a spade a spade.

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          1. i know all this shit. i’ve forgotten more about religion and history than you probably know to be honest. calling a spade a spade.

            my opinion on the relevance of this is that it’s not that important. the reason is that there is a substantial body of cognitive anthropological research that people interpret texts and ideologies in very plastic ways, and, that most people don’t even have strong understandings of their own ideology.

            here are two books you won’t read because you are probably not that curious:

            In Gods We Trust: The Evolutionary Landscape of Religion

            Theological Incorrectness: Why Religious People Believe What They Shouldn’t.

            one result of the second book that is interesting is a fair amount of research in places like sri lanka buddhists, hindus, muslims and christians have the same mental image of what god(s) are. no matter whether they *say* they believe the gestalt psychology is the same.

            secondarily, the reality is that the origins of christianity and islam are not particularly relevant when the hebrew bible has plenty of stuff you can selectively cite. phillip jenkins has done an analysis and it turns out the christian bible is MORE violent than the koran because of the hebrew bible (old testament). e.g., moses demanding his followers kill all non-virgin captives and male children, but leave nubile women and girl children for utilization later.

            the fundamental problem is that you believe religion shapes culture, where i think culture shapes religion. this explains warrior buddhist monks in japan who lived in fortified monastaries with their wives and children (no idea how you are a monk and married, but yeah).

            And finally, despite your loud professions of atheism, it is quite obvious that there is some residual soft corner in your heart towards Islam and Islamicate cultures.

            hey asshole, i posted a picture of muhammad getting raped by a camel on this weblog. what have you done?

            the problem with you less intelligent people is that you fall back on attributions of identity (common from ppl of jewish and hindu backgrounds for obvious reasons). i may be wrong, but i know a lot more than you, so it’s hard to convince me that you are right. sometimes you bring interesting information, but invariably your general pictures are unpersuasive cuz you know so little (splapstik’s comments on linguistics stand out because i read them closely to learn at the feet of a master! 😉

            anyway, i forgive a low IQ and lack of curiosity. you guys have thoughts as sophisticated as mine when i was 20 years old.

            [ending the kabir impersonation ;-] though i am sincere about this in this case as so many stupid comments presenting cliche if common arguments]

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          2. “And finally, despite your loud professions of atheism, it is quite obvious that there is some residual soft corner in your heart towards Islam and Islamicate cultures. Therefore apologies in advance if it ruffled some feathers. I just had to call a spade a spade.”

            Of all people, Razib cannot be accused of this.

            Snake Charmer, we interpret Banu Qurayza differently. My view is that Mohammed pbuh was in considerable danger of a green and green insider attack while those atrocities were going on. Many of senior people around Mohammed pbuh were muslims in name only. Perhaps this is why many of Mohammed’s pbuh sayings are subtle and in code.

            Razib is correct that religions (most of them at least) have a lot to do with the brain and nervous system. But this would take many books to flesh out.

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      1. “everyone in eurasia did that.” Razib, “some” others in Eurasia did that. I would not say everyone. [At least with respect to sexual slavery and stealing. I mostly agree with you on conquest.]

        bharat, do you really trust that the 6 hadiths and sira are 100% accurate on every aspect of Mohammed’s, peace be upon him, life? If you are not, then shouldn’t we be careful about accusing someone unless we are completely sure? By legitimizing the accuracy of parts of Islamic scripture you are making the job of liberal muslims, reform muslims, minority muslims and atheist muslims (here separating them from ex-muslims since atheist muslims still want a connection to their extended families, tribe and Islamic community) that much harder. Why would you do this?

        Mohammed pbuh engaged in politics, statecraft and wars. This doesn’t make him “bad” by itself. Many good people do that too.

        “did mohammad allow taking away of women as slaves? check” You are referring to versus in the holy Koran. This is a legitimate issue. Having said this aren’t you deeply suspicious that after Mohammed pbuh died some parts of Islamic scripture might have been altered because muslims alive after Mohammed pbuh died wanted sex slaves?

        “did mohammad steal”
        I think you are referring to some battles mentioned in the Sira and Hadith? If so, I got the distinct feeling that Mohammed’s pbuh “devotees” and “followers” were not completely loyal to him and didn’t completely listen to him. I am suspicions that Mohammed pbuh was frequently in danger of a green on green insider attack. As a result Mohammed pbuh might have threaded very carefully around “his” men.

        Do you remember Safiyya? Mohammed pbuh tried to rescue her from his men who wanted to sexually assault her. Mohammed’s pbuh had a lot of difficulty and ultimately threatened his men and paid them a lot of money. Then Mohammed pbuh married her. But have you considered that Mohammed pbuh had to do this to protect her from being gang raped by his close “followers”? Mohammed’s “followers” frequently and openly defied Mohammed’s pbuh pleas to not rape, steal and take sex slaves.

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    1. the old explanation was the stirrup, but that’s probably wrong. on the western front i think part of the standard explanation is that barbarian societies got more and more advanced over time, and the organization gap btwn the romans/persians and the barbarians closed. that is, the small tribal groups of the 2nd century give way to the ‘alemanni’ of the 3rd, and eventually the massive confederation of the huns.

      on the eastern plain, full-blown pastoralism seems not to have been a major thing until around 200 BC. groups like the mongols until the 900s were still doing a lot of fishing and hunting, while jurchen/manchus switched btwn fishing, hunting, farmign and pastoralism.

      the whole suit of massive herds, nomadism, and powerful reflex bows, came together late….

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    2. p.s. please note that the scythians and other groups had an initial phase of mobile havoc in the years around 1000 BC. the emergence of iron age polities checked that. seems like a cultural-technological ‘arms race.’

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    3. froginthewell, new scholarship from China strongly imply that gunpowder and other explosives were used in China 300 AD. The ancients were far more technologically advanced than historians (of the mostly marxist and post modernists bent) thought in the 1800s and 1900s.

      I am unaware of evidence of a major technological breakthrough 500 AD.

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        1. You just need to berate a few more people and they will stop commenting. I do have to say you are pretty good at berating people 🙂

          On a serious note, I do have one question. Why is it that you used the word “Muslim” in the title of this post as opposed to say “Turkic”? Many historians such as Romila Thapar have argued that religion was not the main reason for the various Turkic invasions of India. In her book “Somnatha” for example, she goes into the various reasons why Mahmoud came to India and argues that, like many medieval rulers, he was interested in conquest and plunder. “Jihad” only served as a convenient excuse for the former.

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          1. mostly because the turks took the lead, but the overall project after 1200 is clearly one where”afghans” (mostly meaning pashtuns) were junior partners, and persians and other west asians (and in some cases africans!) were also essential parts of the ruling class, which was dominated by if not exclusively by muslims. muslims viewed india as part of dar-ul-islam even if muslims were a minority. ibn battuta, a moroccan arab, clearly thought so.

            i agree that material considerations were the proximate cause. in part, due to the fact the muslim conquest dynasties kept overthrowing and destroying each other to get to the rents they wanted! but clearly india developed a distinctive muslim civilization, as opposed to conquest populations which were absorbed (this is the case in egypt where the mamluks were a separate, but were absorbed into the egyptian arab substrate).

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          2. Kabir, Islamism Jihad was a clear motivation. Not the only motivation. But a clear motivation. Many during the time of Muawiyah, Yazid, Marwan and Malik thought they were serving the world by conquering it and spiritually uplifting all humans. The conquests didn’t make sense financially or in terms of human cost (meaning the cost of the wars and lost productivity of casualties exceeded any possible conceivable gain.)

            They brought Shariah with them and tried to convert and transform society, culture and civilization. This made them different. Alexander and the Persian Arya empires were “EXTREMELY” different. They also shared a common open architecture cultural/civilizational/linguistic/financial system/legal system/scientific ecosystem with those who joined their plural federations (many of the constituents of their empire were autonomous countries that wielded great power inside the empire.) For example they all had similar calendars, tracked processions of the equinox, had 360 degrees in a circle, had the same seven days in a week dedicated to the same celestial objects, had similar astrological properties for each celestial object, similar cultures, similar mythologies, similar philosophy.

            Islam represented dramatic change . . . at least outside of Christiandom.

            It is true, however, that there were moderate muslim emperors who rejected Islamism and Jihad. Sufism some say was partly the syncretic melding of Islam with other cultures. I don’t want to say anything controversial . . . but twelvers and sixers have many similarities with non Islamic cultures too. You can read between the lines.

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          3. That makes sense. But “Muslim intrusions” to me seems to privilege the religious identity or the religious reasons behind the conquest. This conceptualization is flawed. The British colonial classification of India’s history into the “Hindu period”, “Muslim period” and “British period” is also problematic for the same reasons.

            We are agreed that Islam as such didn’t have much to do with the invasions of India. Babur, for example, would not have come to India had he not lost Samarkand.

            However, this is mostly a semantic issue.

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          4. Anan,
            Respected historians like Romila Thapar will disagree with you on how much of a motivation “Islamism” was. As Razib says, material considerations were much more important. Let’s just leave it at that.

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    1. think i’m going to start considering firing the bottom 10% of commenters through bans soon

      And what rewards are you planning to give to the top 20%? 😉
      Perhaps signed T-shirts saying: “Don’t write stupid comments, a*****e” ?

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  12. >>” i’ve forgotten more about religion and history than you probably know ..”
    Therein lies the problem. You have forgotten too much 😉

    >>”the fundamental problem is that you believe religion shapes culture,”
    Over one and half billion people on this earth, from the rain forests of Indonesia to the frozen steppes of Kazakhstan give their children Arabic names, change their diet (no pork), memorize passages from Quran in Arabic, make annual visits to Mecca, and you think religion does not shape culture? What kind of argument is that? The reason we are seeing horrendous crimes by ISIS in Syria (beheadings, rape of girls as young as 9 but not younger than that, trading in sex slaves etc.) because they are directly following the precedence set by Muhammad. Do you really think Syrians would be so vicious if they were Christians. I don’t think so.

    >>”here are two books you won’t read ..”
    I found both books on google books. If I find the preview interesting I will buy them.

    >>” i posted a picture of muhammad getting raped by a camel on this weblog. what have you done?”
    Never done that, nor do I see any point in doing that. May be such antics give you a kick. I just find it juvenile.

    >>”the problem with you less intelligent people is that you fall back on attributions of identity ”
    This will happen however much you try to avoid it. You have a muslim name. Changing the name might help a bit, but wont stop people from guessing your identity and cultural roots, and judging you based on that. That is how human mind works.

    >>”anyway, i forgive a low IQ…”
    At one point or another, you have called every one on this blog stupid. Now I don’t even know how to react. I guess I will just pass.

    Anyway, ban me if you will. Protect your echo chamber from uncomfortable outside voices. I use these pages mostly as a reader. As I mentioned earlier, nothing works better to induce sleep that this blog. :). For staying awake, there are other blogs which require much more intellectual rigor.

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  13. Razib, if not for Ghazwa-e-Hind Hadith and Sahih Muslim 2900 : Book 54, Hadith 50 about conquering Rome and Constantinople; I don’t think Islamists would have tried so hard to conquer their empire at such a huge expense of blood and treasure and at such huge risk. They could all die in a war and bring enemies who chase them back home.

    The way they went about war and the way Alexander went about war was very different. Alexander carefully fought only one campaign at a time. Focused heavily on combat enablers, trainers, integrated military units (where people from many nations fought with integrated officers/command and control). Alexander didn’t launch reckless attacks against overwhelming odds and without proper planning betting on the suicidal religious fervor of his troops.

    Militarily the victories of the many Islamist conquests against the odds are very hard to understand.

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  14. Romila Thapar is widely viewed by Hindus/Buddhists/Jains/Sikhs as being sectarian against their faith. She is an anti-theist marxist post modernist.

    I am not an expert in her books; but I have heard a ton of very strong criticism of her by Indians.

    ” material considerations were much more important.” In many cases they were definitely not. Many reckless offensives were launched that on paper would almost certainly resulted in defeat and mass slaughter of Islamist Jihadi armies. By some miracle, they won many of these battles. These are some of the biggest questions in military history.

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    1. Romila Thapar has much more credibility than you have on any of these topics. If you want to disagree with her, it would perhaps be wise to engage with her material first.

      But of course it is much easier to call your ideological opponent a “marxist post-modernist”.

      I’m done here. There is no need to keep spamming Razib’s post.

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  15. “We are agreed that Islam as such didn’t have much to do with the invasions of India.” Strongly disagree.

    “Babur, for example, would not have come to India had he not lost Samarkand.” On this we are agreed. I also think Babur might have been an improvement over the Delhi Sultanate for nonmuslims and minority muslims. The Moghuls were Mongols descended from Genghis Khan after all. I “LOVE” Mongols!

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          1. It would have been better had you looked the word up in a dictionary before making such a comment.

            Mogul/Mughal/Moghul are all recognized usages. Mogul, to my mind, being the most common. English has no ghayn, so the /gh/ is simply transliterated as /g/.

            https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/mogul

            (On a more general note, English is not French. Nobody polices English usage save crusty old curmudgeons)

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          2. A rose by any other name would smell as sweet; nos ancetres les Moghuls by any other name would be just as great..

            By the way Mughal is far and away the most common spelling for the Dynasty in English; Kabir would know a thing or too about his antecedents I suspect..

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          3. I have never seen the Dynasty spelled any other way in English except “Mughal”.

            Your comment about Farsi was frankly irrelevant since BP operates in English.

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          4. “English is not French”

            Even in French only Académie française can really police words and ultimate arbiter , not any Tom , Dick and Harry. There are lot of dialectical variations of many non-European foreign personal/place names like Mogul . We have to live with that. I heard the problem is much worse for Arabic names, even within their countries. Name like Gaddafi can be spelt in 40 different ways , depending on the Arabic dialect you go for. Internet policing of English words or grammar is a silly game and non-productive, where the point of discussion is not language itself.

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  16. However, this is mostly a semantic issue.

    you explicitly remove the causal motivation, then yes, it is semantic.

    the muslims of south asia viewed themselves in a variety of ways. e.g., west and central asians viewed themselves as ‘white’ as opposed to the ‘black’ natives, both muslim (convert descended) and non-muslim. so this bifurcated muslims (the old ashraf vs non-ashraf later). and the turki, afghan and other groups (eg large groups of africans in some areas, periods) jostled. meanwhile, the persians in particular ruled the civilian domains.

    despite all these considerations they did view themself as ‘muslim,’ a people apart governed by shariah, as opposed to the non-muslim populace. a muslim nation. the rational behind pakistan.

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    1. It is debatable how important Shariah was to the Mughals, for example. But we can leave this here.

      Pakistan has nothing to do with this. The TNT arose as a negotiation tactic during the decline of British colonialism and that is a whole separate issue.

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      1. It is debatable how important Shariah was to the Mughals, for example. But we can leave this here.

        many of them were not orthodox in belief, and obviously did not practice. but they were connected to the naqshbandiya ‘international’ that emerged during the gunpowder empire phase. and though laxity was often tolerated, the later mughals (aurangzeb) engaged in concerted efforts to convert organized heterodox muslims. ismailism was very common in gujurat for example, as ismailis had been active across the subcontinent. many of these groups were forcibly brought back to the sunni fold, and barring that, at least shifted toward a twelver identity (this recapitulates an ancient christian pattern, where persecution was directed to unorthodox christians more than pagans).

        the point being that a particular religious vision did exist that transcended ethnicity practice and other identity aspects.

        Pakistan has nothing to do with this. The TNT arose as a negotiation tactic during the decline of British colonialism and that is a whole separate issue.

        i don’t believe it is purely that. i’ve argued this for a while. the “TNT” is just an expression of the self-conceived Muslim elite “will to power” which was always there. you can disagree, i obviously don’t care.

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        1. Pakistan and the TNT have nothing to do with the topic of your post. It is generally accepted that the TNT was an argument used by Quaid-e-Azam to put the Muslims of British India on an equal footing with the Hindu majority and have them be treated as a nation, not as a minority. It arose in a specific context and really only applies within that context.

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          1. It is generally accepted that the TNT was an argument used by Quaid-e-Azam to put the Muslims of British India on an equal footing with the Hindu majority and have them be treated as a nation, not as a minority.

            I have problems with the “It is generally accepted…” prefix, but let’s take that for granted.

            Just want to point out that this (putting a quarter of the population on the “same footing” as almost the entire remainder of the population) is inconsistent with democratic principles (which was also glaringly apparent at the time.) The demand for separate electorates, for example, was indistinguishable from a demand for special privileges. A liberal democratic struggle this wasn’t. It was more akin to an attempt to recreate the older feudal hierarchy.

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          2. Numinous,
            I don’t think much is to be gained by re-litigating Congress-League politics but the demand for separate electorates arose out of a desire to avoid having British Raj be replaced by Hindu Raj. In a one man one vote system the Hindus would always be in the majority and Muslim rights would not be protected. This was before the Indian Constitution had been written and the Muslim community had some legitimate anxieties about their future once the British left. If Congress had negotiated on separate electorates and weighted representation, Partition would have been avoided.

            It is in this context that Quaid-e-Azam thought that declaring British India’s Muslims a “nation” would get the community more leverage then being treated as a minority. As things worked out, no compromise was reached and we had to form a nation of our own.

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          3. The concept of Hindu Raj is badly understood. A Hindu Raj is a plural open system architecture based on freedom of art, thought, intuition and feelings. A place where many Darshans flourish and thrive. Including several muslim darshanas. This is what Hindu Raj means to those who believe in it.

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          4. You are entitled to your own personal meaning of “Hindu Raj”.

            The Muslims of British India did not want to exchange British rule for Hindu rule. That is why Pakistan exists.

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    2. To Razib’s point I would add that early Indian sources call Turks by (Indianized version of) the name they chose for themselves: amir ul momineen

      Now it does not take Sherlock to deduce why the Turks chose an Arabic title in the first place, and who the momineen are meant to be.

      Besides, while Thapar et al are right that many/most Turkic invasions had loot as the proximal cause, to discount how they moralized the looting and slave-taking (and forced conversion on occassion) is rather disingenuous. Islamic bigot and looter are not mutually exclusive categories.

      (PS: I am expecting usual whataboutery as a response to this comment. So this will be my last on this thread)

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      1. The point is which motivation was more important. There are those who would argue that material reasons (conquest, plunder, etc) were more important while others think “Islam” was more important. I am obviously with Professor Thapar on this issue.

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          1. Saurav, Islamism/Jihadism is about utopian revolution. Transforming entire societies and cultures, including through conversion. Changing universalist meta-narratives and universalist norms; including on issues such as free art and free thought.

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      2. Hey Slapstick:

        I’ve been meaning to ask you this for a while. The Tamil word for “Muslim” happens to be “Tuluka”. That’s most likely a derivative of Turushka/Turk, right?

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        1. @Numinos

          Seems like it. /r/ > /l/ labialization is a common thing. May be someone more informed about Dravidian phonetics can confirm.

          As an aside: IIr had the opposite feature. E.g. Greek lexei (to protect) Skt. rakSa (to protect). So, Alexander would be ArakSinara (protector of men). Interestingly enough, the name is attested in MBh.

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          1. “Skt. rakSa (to protect)” Very true. Which is why I am puzzled that some today have a negative opinion of Rakshashas. They protect us!

            “Greek lexei (to protect)”
            How is this pronounced?

            “Alexander would be ArakSinara (protector of men)”
            pronunciation?
            Can you break down the meaning of the syllables? What word means man and what word means protector?

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          2. @AnAn

            रक्षस् n. ” anything to be guarded against or warded off ” , harm , injury , damage RV.

            rAkSas is a demon or evil spirit in Sanskrit. Causal form of rakSas (see above) = that which one needs protecting from (not that which protects one).

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          3. I use to want to ask you to write in Deva Nagri. But now I increasingly get how you use write Sanskrit in english.

            In the Puranas and Mahabharata the Rakshashas defined themselves as protectors (versus their Yaksha brothers) who chose another function. Read this long ago and need to research where. I think maybe Adi Parva Mahabharata?

            Rakshashas and Yakshas were born of Prajapati Kashyapa through his granddaughter Muni. In Adi Parva Mahabharata they come from Viraat Purusha’s anda.

            There were many good and dharmic Rakshashas too. It is not like humans are all that great.

            Both Rakshashas and Yakshas are regarded by many Hindus as coming from out of our solar system. Which would make them ETs or UFOs from a certain point of view. For whatever reason, they took off from earth. The last significant record of them from narrative literature (other than the odd sighting) might be Mahavamsha and prince Vijaya. Another reason I would like to read Mahavamsha.

            Many words changed meaning over time. I wonder if Rakshashas is one of them. Asura is definitely one of them. Asuras are portrayed positively in the Vedas.

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          4. When you get the chance:

            ““Greek lexei (to protect)”
            How is this pronounced?

            “Alexander would be ArakSinara (protector of men)”
            pronunciation?
            Can you break down the meaning of the syllables? What word means man and what word means protector?”

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          5. //Many words changed meaning over time. I wonder if Rakshashas is one of them//

            No, it is not. The “RV” in dictionary entry above refers to the Rg veda. You don’t get any older than that in Sanskrit.

            ArakSa = to protect closely (cf. Sanskrit loanword used in Hindi aarakshan = reservation)
            nara = man

            ArakSinara = one who protects men (short for: nRNAm ArakSati iti)

            // Which would make them ETs or UFOs//

            Sorry, but this sounds pure speculation on your part.

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          6. @Slapstik Nouns have a causal form, or rakShas also has a verb form? Both of these would be surprising to me. (Edit: vRddhi as required in, e.g., rakShaso bhAvaH?)

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        2. Its Turuka in Kannada, Turushka in more formal speech. Its a pretty clear link. It may be in the histories of Ferishta, based in the court of Bijapur, where he mentions that foreign origin muslims are called Turks whether or not they were. In higher circles the nuances were better understood, and on that level even hindus distinguished between anatolians, abyssinians, persians, ect. because these divisions were key to understanding court poltics.

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          1. in latin america the christian arab migration in the late 19th and early 20th century was from the ottoman empire, ruled by turks. so middle eastern and sometimes south asian ppl (muslims?) are called ‘turks’ by latin americans! (turco i think?)

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  17. Razib: Several years ago an Indian American friend of Hindu nationalist sympathies expressed to me the opinion that if it weren’t for the arrival of the British, the Marthas might have spearheaded the emergence of a new Indo-centric polity.

    Seems possible with the caveat “Of a sort”. Possibly not in the manner of a single unified polity that your friend might be thinking of – not what happened in Japan, Europe or MSEA absent pressures from Inner Asian pastoralists, after all! (Polities not polity). As discussed elsewhere, some theories are that pastoralists provided a pressure that held China together as a mega-empire, and in the absence tendencies towards multi-polity system.

    I do wonder about the exact contribution of firearms to any of this gradual eclipse of the Inner Asian threat though.

    Besides firearms and artillery, we have at least: late medieval to early modern populations drawing upon larger populations, maybe more total surplus to fund armies, more tactical experience of dealing with Inner Asian groups, more logistical tools (better maps, etc.), European maritime traders circumventing Inner Asia (and so denying a source of revenue to Inner Asians as Silk Road traders / raiders / mercenaries) and crucially, expansion into the Inner Asian sphere by Russians and China (and other gunpowder empires of originally Inner Asian origin) “closes” the steppe more and blunts ability to retreat.

    It’s impossible to “re-run” a world where gunpowder and firearms would not have happened, but I wonder if that would’ve turned out much differently at all by 1500-1600 AD. I would kind of offer a hypothesis that the trends of social evolution to larger and richer settled societies in general were just much against the late Iron Age to medieval zenith of Inner Asian nomads as a dominating force – they kinda needed a window of a sweet spot where the settled Eurasian rim was pacified, but Malthusian, and had relatively equal population sizes. Outside the sweet spot, at the start when agriculturalists were pretty militarized and “barbarian” themselves, and after it when they can fund significant armies, Inner Asians couldn’t do so much against them?

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    1. I doubt it really matters much if a horde of a few hundred thousand nomads are at war against 50 million or 150 million Indians or Chinese. And Russia’s population and population density always paled in comparison to India or China, but the great pushback against nomads happened at about the same time in all three areas.

      Massed cavalry are just less effective against massed infantry armed with muskets. At around the same time as the steppe was being rendered militarily irrelevant, European armies started ditching the pike. That probably isn’t a coincidence.

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      1. Fraxinicus,

        Do you think think this is why Babur defeated the Delhi Sultanate in 1526?

        In general I find civilians have a terrible understanding of military issues. Maybe I could write several articles on military strategy.

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  18. “the “TNT” is just an expression of the self-conceived Muslim elite “will to power” which was always there”

    There is a interesting argument in Ambedkar’s book in 1940s where he noticed that in states like Kashmir where muslims are a majority the elite want the Raja to be more democratic and allow more constitutional rights to the “citizens”. But oppose this principle in Junagarh/ Hyderabad where Hindus are a majority. He feels that its not just the muslim elite but also common muslims too. We sort of put all the blame on “muslim elite”. The TNT is not just a muslim elite theory it reverberated within the masses as well.

    ” The dominating consideration with the Muslims is not democracy. The dominating consideration is how democracy with majority rule will affect the Muslims in their struggle against the Hindus. Will it strengthen them, or will it weaken them? If democracy weakens them, they will not have democracy. They will prefer the rotten state to continue in the Muslim States, rather than weaken the Muslim ruler in his hold upon his Hindu subjects.”

    0
    1. Everyone uses principles that benefit them. India did exactly this. A referendum was conducted in Junagarh (Hindu populace, Muslim ruler). No plebiscite has been conducted in Kashmir (Muslim populace, Hindu ruler).

      0
  19. “//Many words changed meaning over time. I wonder if Rakshashas is one of them//

    No, it is not. The “RV” in dictionary entry above refers to the Rg veda. You don’t get any older than that in Sanskrit.”

    Very interesting. The earliest references to Rakshashas are beings others need protection from?

    “ArakSa = to protect closely (cf. Sanskrit loanword used in Hindi aarakshan = reservation)
    nara = man

    ArakSinara = one who protects men (short for: nRNAm ArakSati iti)”

    Very intersting. “ArakSinara” was another name for Alexander? Which people used this name?

    // Which would make them ETs or UFOs//

    Sorry, but this sounds pure speculation on your part.”\

    True. Only the progeny of the 7th Manu (Vaivasvata) are homo sapien. Everyone else are not homo sapien. They are something else. Almost the entire Sanathana Dharma literature corpus is about non hominids. What are they? Unknown.

    Kashyapa and his wives and his many children are all not hominids. Through Aditi, Kashyapa had many children; including but not limited to the 12 Adityas. One of the Adityas (Surya) had a son called Vaivasvata Manu. All of Surya’s children are not hominids except for one.

    Many of Kasyapa’s children come explicitly from stars (Nagas and Garudas). Others are less clear.

    Rakshashas and Yakshas are one of many lineage lines in Dharmic texts. They are depicted as deformed and strange. They definitely are very non hominid looking who behave very differently from humans. They also live far longer and have other abilities/technologies. Including flying vessels. They can change form. They can communicate through thought with their vehicles, weapons and each other. Sounds an aweful lot like brain computer interface. They could be some type of advanced non hominid species. Or a non homo sapien hominid. Or ET/UFOs. I think modern science will learn a lot about ET/UFOs soon.

    In 2017 a lot of previously secret information about UFOs became public. The US government has recently declassified a lot of ET documents. We also now know about US government programs to study Yoga Sutras, Buddhist texts to learn Siddhis and mental abilities. They had a great deal of success. Thinking about writing about this . . . since it is now on the public record.

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  20. “You are entitled to your own personal meaning of “Hindu Raj”.”

    Kabir, to engage in dialogue with members of the RSS or what you call Hinduttva, you need to understand what their positions and what words mean to them.

    A good place to learn more about the RSS is the Carvaka Podcast:
    https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCKPxuul6zSLAfKSsm123Vww/videos
    Carvaka are one of the 10 schools of Hinduism (like Jainism, Buddhism, Samkhya, Yoga etc.). An atheist school. The host is a highly respected Hindu atheist. He is friends with many in the RSS, BJP and Hinduttva.

    The RSS has a lot of twelver and Sufi members. The RSS deeply respects the Hindustani muslim darshanas. The way they understand the universe is different. To even be able to have a conversation with them you need to understand them.

    A Hindu Raj would involve freedom of art, thought, religion and a more limited government (close to classical liberalism). And probably a common civil legal code; although they might be flexible on this. Since they seem to have a love affair with twelvers (including Sistani), sixers and Sufis. As the muslim membership has grown, their thinking must have evolved.

    I have wondered how the BJP was about two fifths of the muslim vote in Gujarat. Could it be muslim woman who were concerned about talat, talat, talat and Shariah? While the BJP does well with sixers, twelvers and Sufis; many of them also vote for other political parties. This suggests to me that many Sunnis are voting for the BJP too. Maybe these are female Sunnis?

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    1. I have zero interest in having a “conversation” with the RSS or anyone else who believes in right-wing anti-Muslim ideologies. You just need to see how the Modi regime has behaved while in power to understand the animus against Muslims. People are being lynched for supposedly eating beef.

      You are free to understand your own religion the way you like. However, those who are ruling India are following Savarkar’s playbook.

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      1. Muslims were lynched over beef even when Alauddin Khilji ruled Delhi lol

        People don’t get it but gomata is the thing that can make Hindus equivalently crazy as Muslims with prophet cartoon.

        The first edict passed by Bahadur Shah Zafar after Delhi was liberated briefly in 1857 was… banning cow slaughter lol.

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        1. India is a secular state.

          Just as Muslims do not have the right to kill people who draw offensive cartoons, Hindus do not have the right to kill people who eat beef.

          0
          1. Actually no. India is India and has Indian secularism. If you notice Hindu right doesn’t stand by Hindus who insult the prophet, because those people have gone beyond the expected social mores. Similarly I can bet Muslims are involved in the mobs that lynch Muslim cow killers. Many hardcore Hindus (who will kill a gohatyakaari in a heartbeat) are affected spiritually deeply as well if you talk crap about prophet of Islam.

            Indian secularism is about enforcing “stay in your lane” lol. You can take it or leave it.

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          2. In no truly secular state is it acceptable for people to be killed for their dietary choices. In many cases, we are not even talking about “cow killing” but simply eating beef.

            No one has the right to impose their dietary choices on minorities as well as those Hindus who do eat beef.

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          3. India is an extremely under policed state. The writ of the Indian state isn’t that deep. There is a natural law at work at the bulk rural levels…”stay in your lane”

            0
          4. Under policed is one thing. But the full force of the law should come down on those who lynch human beings. Instead excuses are made for them. This is unacceptable.

            0
          5. Actually a disproportionate amount of media and judicial attention does come to Muslim victims (only victimized when they violate the natural laws).

            Many Hindus even seethe at this because they feel Muslims get a “jamaai” or son-in-law treatment.

            The bulk of Muslims stay in their lane regarding beef and/or live in areas where the natural law is Islamist driven (strength in numbers), so they are not victimized or immune to victimization. This is nature. Accept and move on. Indian Muslims in areas where they are demographically strong go torching cars and businesses when a Hindu teenager posts something defamatory over Islamic prophet.
            https://m.timesofindia.com/city/kolkata/communal-clashes-in-west-bengal-state-government-rushes-paramilitary-troops/articleshow/59445515.cms
            “Communal clashes have broken out in North 24 Paraganas district of West Bengal over an “objectionable” post on Facebook, prompting the state government to rush 400 troops of paramilitary BSF today to assist the police in containing the situation….

            Official sources in Delhi said the clashes were triggered last evening over the Facebook post about a holy site. A demonstration was held in front of the Baduria police station by the people belonging to one community. In an indirect reference to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Israel visit, Banerjee said, “He is going abroad to forge unity and the country is on fire. This must be stopped.”
            She said, “I told police yesterday to stop it. They should have blocked the Facebook account. But, how many Facebook accounts can be blocked? If the police had opened fire, 200 people would have been killed.”

            We’re not crying over the kid’s right to Facebook post whatever he wants. Bigger fish to fry…

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          6. No one here is defending Muslim violence over offensive comments or Facebook posts.

            As long as eating beef is not illegal, there is no excuse for anyone being lynched for it. Even if it were illegal, then the person should be arrested not murdered.

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  21. Kabir, I simply don’t understand you. What exactly are your concerns with the RSS and Hinduttva? What do you want from them? Are you afraid they will remove the 1st Amendment from the Indian constitution to allow free art, speech and thought? Are you afraid they will ban Shariah? Are you afraid they will side with the Sufi, twelvers, sixers, liberal muslims and atheist muslims in a conflict against conservative Sunnis and Islamists? Are you afraid that they will do more to help Afghanistan, the Afghanistan National Army (ANA) and the Afghanistan Air force (AAF)? Are you afraid India will form an alliance with Iraq? Are you afraid that Iranian Indian relations will tighten? Are you afraid that Modi will make friends with China (this appears to be one of his objectives)?

    There is no chance they will ban beef in India. India is the world’s second largest exporter of beef. In all of last year, based on what I can research, only 16 people died because they killed cows. That is almost nothing in a country of 1.36 billion people. In all the cases I am aware of, someone stole the cow from the poor owner and killed it. This is like killing a poor person’s daughter and livelihood. Poor people are deeply emotionally bonded with their cow, similar to their bond with their child. Poor people sometimes respond emotionally.

    Most of India has almost no police . . . I don’t know any other large country remotely like this. India needs more police. If poor people call the police the vast majority of the time the police either do not show, or they show up after 24 hours and are of almost no help. There is no legal recourse if someone murders your beloved cow (child, pet, and livelihood wrapped into one). The only recourse is extra-legal.

    Of course this needs to be handled through the legal system. The way to solve this is to double police, judge, public advocate payrolls paid by the government. Then police will be able to solve law and order and reduce crime.

    India still has a lower rape rate than many European countries. India has a low crime rate despite an extremely low law enforcement budget.

    Kabir, your desire to help others is commendable. But shouldn’t we carefully consider how we can help others?

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    1. What is the difficulty in understanding? I am a center-left person and believe firmly in Nehruvian Secularism. I despise Hindutva just as I despise other right-wing, majoritarian ideologies.

      The less said about this “cow is like their child” argument the better.

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      1. Kabir, some people very close to me operate goshalas (small cow shelters.) Human beings get very attached to cows and fall in love with them, the same way humans fall in love with cows and dogs. Human beings are imperfect.

        Isn’t RSS center left and an advocate for secularism? Hinduttva is not majoritarian unless you define the term differently than I do. RSS loves Jews and Israelis! They also love Buddhists, Jains, Sufis, twelvers, sixers, Sikhs. They openly eulogize and praise Mohammed as a great spiritual master. They don’t believe in publicity and focus on transforming themselves into better people. They have faults. But if you want to offer them constructive feedback, you need to understand them.

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        1. Hindutva is a right-wing movement. It believes that only Hindus are first-class citizens of India and that Muslims need to do “ghar wapsi”. They obsess about the fact that the Muslim and Christian holy lands are not in India and therefore Muslims and Christians cannot be truly loyal Indians. They denigrate the Mughals and other Muslim rulers. Don’t take my word for it, see Savarkar himself.

          In the Indian context, the center-left party is the Indian National Congress.

          I am repeating myself but I have zero interest in offering “constructive feedback” to the Hindu Right. I can only hope they get voted out next year and the Opposition wins.

          I propose we agree to disagree and shelve this discussion. Don’t try to convince me of the greatness of the Hindu Right. It’s not going to work.

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  22. My critique of RSS is different than yours.

    It believes that only Hindus are first-class citizens of India and that Muslims need to do “ghar wapsi”. They most definitely don’t believe this. They believe that all Indians are “Hindus” because they define Hindus broadly. Including all Indian muslims and Indian Christians and all Indian atheists.

    “Muslims need to do “ghar wapsi””
    Sufis and twelvers are seen by the RSS as part of their base. They don’t want them to leave India. They distinguish between what they see as Hindu muslims (Indian muslims) and Wahhabis for example. I think they lack a sufficiently deep and nuanced understanding of Islam. One of the reasons for this is that their cadre attracts are certain kind of muslim versus muslims across the board.

    The RSS is pro Pakistan and don’t want Pakistan to join India. The RSS, BJP, Hinduttva are probably the most pro Jinnah group in India. They were the least opposed to partition.

    “They obsess about the fact that the Muslim and Christian holy lands are not in India and therefore Muslims and Christians cannot be truly loyal Indians.” This is a misunderstanding. They want Indian muslims to revere Shirdi, Ajmer, Nizamuddin Aulia and other Indian muslim spiritual centers and be loyal to Indian muslim communities versus take orders from Saudi Arabia and Al-Azhar. They are less concerned about Iran; but there is a lot of ignorance at play.

    ” They denigrate the Mughals and other Muslim rulers”. They praise Dara Shikoh and Jahanara to high heavens and think they should have defeated Aurangzeb. And they do criticize Aurangzeb too harshly. I would say that to them; but not to you. Kabir, your love for Aurangzeb appears blind. 😉

    They have more of a problem with pre Mughal emperors than the Mughals. [Personally I pronounce and prefer to write Moghal . . . since it is closer to Mongol.]

    Savarkar . . . I have not read or studied him. I can’t intelligently comment about him. Both Rajiv Malhotra and Kushul Mehra [The Carvaka podcast . . . India’s great atheist hope] are great sources for current RSS thinking. The RSS has a great deal of naivety.

    But note the following, the BJP is the most likely to make peace with Pakistan and to take huge risks for peace with Pakistan. They can and do more directly praise Islam and muslim masters than any other major political trend in India.

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    1. The Hindutva movement was started by Veer Savarkar, who was a fascist:

      “In many of Savarkar’s speeches and writings, he praises Nazi ideology.[45][46] Savarkar criticized Nehru for opposing Nazism, arguing “Surely Hitler knows better than Pandit Nehru does what suits Germany best”.[47] In his 1949 book, Hindu Rashtra Darshan, Savarkar wrote “Nazism proved undeniably the savior of Germany”.[48] Savarkar often compared Germany’s German majority and Jewish minority as analogous to India’s Hindu majority and Muslim minority,[47] though Savarkar never mentions the persecution of Jews in Germany. Savarkar never said that he was a proponent of murder and genocide against minorities, and instead desired peaceful assimilation.[49] Savarkar condemned both German Jews and the Indian Muslims for their supposed inability to assimilate.[50] In 1938, he wrote, “if we Hindus in India grow stronger in time, these Moslem friends of the league type will have to play the part of German Jews.” He further added that India “must be a Hindu land, reserved for Hindus”.[51]”
      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vinayak_Damodar_Savarkar

      Anyway, there is no point in you trying to convince me of the greatness of the RSS. As someone on the center-left, I will always support Indian National Congress. I am firmly opposed to those who want to destroy Nehruvian Secularism.

      “Ghar wapsi” by the way doesn’t have to do with Muslims leaving India, but “reconverting” to Hinduism. This is a truly disgusting concept.

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      1. ““reconverting” to Hinduism”
        Kabir, evangelism is a big no no in Hinduism. Most Hindus believe in Sarva Dharma, or that all paths may be true and lead to the truth. Specifically including Islam. The RSS hosts many Sufi conferences and have a lot of twelver cadre. I seriously doubt that they want to convert muslims. The concept doesn’t exist. They would be happy with Hindu muslims. Their concept is that we can authentically be many religions at once.

        Note that a lot of the scholarship on the RSS has been manipulated by communists. Communists had backed the National Socialists (Nazis) until 1941 and instead of owning their support for Nazism they tried to blame others for supporting Nazism.

        Many Indians supported Netaji. That doesn’t mean they were Nazis. They didn’t know much about Nazism. The RSS was also extremely pro Jew and pro Israel.

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        1. Let’s just Google “ghar wapsi”. You don’t have to believe me, but you will hopefully believe Google. Making Muslims (or Christians) become Hindu is beyond disgusting.

          https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ghar_Wapsi

          Obviously, Hindutva people are pro-Israel. Hindutvadis hate Muslims just as much as Zionists do. That’s why they fully support the “Jewish State”.

          We have to agree to disagree.

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          1. Numinous,

            Voluntary conversions are one thing and I have no issues with people deciding to follow a different faith for whatever reason. But that is not what “ghar wapsi” is.

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        2. AnAn , you are right. In the 1930s , even many Europeans gave Nazis the benefit of doubt , if not actual sympathy. Why blame endlessly some Indians who were fighting the British. Ireland was pro-German (in WW1 and WW2) as an automatic opposition to Britain. in fact, after Hitler committed suicide Eamon de Valera, the Irish president went to the German embassy and wrote condolence.
          Muslim pro-Nazi sentiment was more than sentiment. There were Nazi Muslim divisions drawn from Albania and Bosnia, who fought along Nazis in many fronts and were violently anti-semetic. That was because Mufti of Jerusalem, Husseini , uncle of Arafat, was friends with Hitler and was egging him to exterminate Jews. It was he who organized Nazi Muslim divisions. The present day leftists dare not talk about these nazis – literal nazis – from Muslims .

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  23. @froginthewell

    You are over-analysing the usage of “causal” in that sentence. I did not mean it in the technical sense of causative tense in Sanskrit (10th conj.), but in more colloquial sense of “causing to protect (from)” as opposed to “protect from”. Technically speaking it is vRddhi.

    (Sorry, didn’t see your comment earlier – too many under this topic!)

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  24. Interesting article. A couple of points:
    1. Yes, the Indus and Gangetic plains did fall to repeated incursions from Central Asia. [And perhaps Afghanistan, but Afghanistan can be viewed as a buffer between India and Iran on the one hand and Central Asia on the other.] After the spread of Islam, these invaders were Islamic, regardless of whether their motivation was plunder or proselytizing Islam. What is being ignored in this discussion is what percentage of the invading armies over time were Muslim soldiers from India. I guess we do not have reliable data on the spread of Islam in India.
    2. As has been noted elsewhere, the Marathas were much like the Afghans. Difficult terrain and a difficult people to conquer. Marathas became the sword arms of some of the Muslim rulers in the Deccan and later went on to assume power themselves. Political and military factionalism and inability to build coalitions with their neighbors meant that the Marathas could never consolidate power for long durations outside their heartland. The earlier Maratha armies were dominated by extremely mobile cavalry units and infantry that could operate effectively in the difficult Deccan terrain. There was another interesting aspect about the Marathas. Maratha armies were not limited to those traditionally identified as Kshatriya. There was broad participation from the peasantry, as also Brahmins. Later Maratha armies were trained and armed by Europeans and gave a good account of themselves when faced with East India armies. However by then the East India Company was well established in India and the Marathas too disunited and lacked any shared vision other than plunder and taxing conquered territories. The Marathas had a historic opportunity but they blew it.

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  25. J T,

    Marathas allied with Takfiri Islamist Jihadis (which was extremely wrong). This is why Audh (moderate sufi/irfan tilted minority muslims from UP/Bihar) switched sides in 1761 (Third Battle of Panipat). Several hundred thousands of people might have died that day. India was broken on the fields of Panipat that day; not to recover until 1947. The Mughal empire rump set up remained an Afghan protectorate until the English replaced Afghanistan in 1805.

    Many brave Afghans never returned home. Afghanistan was also shattered that day. Afghanistan still hasn’t recovered. Afghanistan was no longer capable to effectively supporting the Moghul artifice and India’s/Pakistan’s decay accelerated.

    The third battle of Panipat is remembered by the Taliban, many but not all of whom see Kashmir, Punjab, Delhi and North India as a natural part of Afghanistan. This is a major reason the Mujahadeen intervened heavily in Kashmir in 1989-1994; and why the Taliban engaged India in Kashmir 1994-2001. After 9/11/2001 the Taliban withdrew their troops from Kashmir causing violence in Kashmir to fall 90%; and a dramatic decline in the terrorist threat against India. But should the Taliban win again (very unlikely) they are likely to have a bulls eye on India again. In addition to a bulls eye on Iran, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, China and Russia.

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  26. Great post! I have two things to add here. Please forgive the length of the second. I’ve been doing a lot of reading on the 18th c maratha and early 19th c Sikh empires recently and I love to talk about them!

    Firstly, I’m not super confident on my Andalus knowledge so please forgive me if I’m wrong but what I’ve read indicates that the primary reason for the failure to conquer France was the same reason that Al-Andalus ultimately failed-demographics. The original conquest of Andalus was done by a teeny minority of Arabs over a sea of Berbers. Andalus was already reaching the very limits of how much the Arabs could rule esp considering the discrimination inflicted on even muslim non-arabs. This possibly could have been alleviated by reinforcements from the east, but the Umayyads were almost entirely occupied by the byzantines. What might have happened had Constantinople been conquered (say, after the Battle of the Masts) thus allowing the Ummayads to turn their full attention to the west? Fascinating thought.

    Secondly, I both agree and disagree with your thoughts on the “South Asian counter-reaction”. I agree in that I think it’s certainly true that mass mobilized infantry French Revolution style has a decisive advantage over mounted warriors. Actually you don’t even need to go that late. 18th c European infantry tactics in general were extremely effective against mounted indian warriors as the victories of relatively small French/English forces (with sepoys) over huge indian armies in the war of austrian succession/7 years war/etc show. Now ofc this doesn’t mean that traditional Indian armies couldn’t win. They just needed to be able to rely on asymmetric tactics like guerrilla warfare at the Battle of Wadgaon. Besides that though, various Indian states also adopted westernized army reform after fighting against Europeans and were fairly successful depending on the state. The Maratha, Mysore,Sikh, heck, even Mir Qasim in Bengal tried. I certainly think with different circumstances they could have prevailed over the British so you don’t even need to remove the Brits for new indo-centric polities to survive. I also certainly think these westernized armies would also do well against inner asian cavalry. The Sikh empire did quite well against the Afghans frex. Mass mobilization would be a further crushing advantage once implemented.

    What I disagree with however, is the idea that the “counter-reaction” RELIES on the infantry revolution (caps are just for emphasis since there’s no bold here, not yelling). You say that you were sceptical of your friends idea bc Indians lacked access to horses but the Maratha were a culture of the horse. Infantry were held in low regard and it was most prestigious to be mounted. Also, Haider Ali’s army was cavalry dominated and performed excellently against the British. Light cavalry was also crucial even in Tipu’s infantry dominated army. Much of 18th c India had states relying on huge amounts of horses as the primary method to wage war with infantry being a low-status afterthought. See frex “The limited adoption of European-style military forces by eighteenth century rulers in India” by Stewart Gordon:

    “Perhaps even more interesting, during the seventeenth century, the whole ethos of horse
    service and its symbols of honour had reached people never before associated
    with it and was used as a means of upward social mobility. For example, in
    broad areas of tribal Central India, the horse-based ethos of Rajput kings
    displaced the indigenous tribal ethos of kingship. The process of tribals
    aspiring (often successfully) to become Rajputs had begun.28In Maharashtra,
    horse service in the Deccan Sultanates had deeply changed the
    self-image of various castes into something known as ’Maratha’; it was the
    common traditions and symbols of cavalry service which differentiated the
    ’Marathas’ from relatives who were cultivators, ironworkers, or shepherds.29

    In summary, whereas both muskets and artillery were thoroughly
    embedded in an indigenous military system of symbols, practice and honour,
    well before the advent of the new European system in the mid-eighteenth
    century, cavalry was the high-prestige, high-pay branch of military service.
    Local militarised families pledged cavalry service against lucrative shares
    of local government taxation. For rulers, these forces were the principal
    troops in the countryside, performing police duties and joining main force
    armies. The symbols of honour such as robes and swords were overwhelmingly
    associated with horse service.

    Some small evidence indicates that muskets were starting to be considered
    ’honourable’, when carried by cavalry, who dismounted and fired.3° Infantry,
    nevertheless, remained low-pay, low-prestige and rarely decisive in battle.3’”

    Or “Military Synthesis in South Asia: Armies, Warfare, and Indian Society, c. 1740–1849” by Kaushik Roy:

    “Both the Marathas and the Sikhs made extensive use of light cavalry in the early eighteenth century. Though their equipment and tactics differed, both the Maratha and Sikh cavalry followed an attrition strategy against their enemies. The Maratha light cavalry, armed with spears, conducted Ganimi Kava (predatory warfare). Extreme mobility and the ability to make deep penetrations behind enemy lines characterized the Maratha cavalry. They could cover fifty miles in a day because the cavalrymen carried neither baggage nor provisions. The troopers and their ponies lived off the country.26 Their operational aim was to avoid pitched battles with the enemy’s army and instead to ravage the enemy’s districts until the economy collapsed. In 1750, Bhaskar, a general of Bhonsle, invaded Bengal with 20,000 cavalry. They carried out night raids, pillaging the Bengal Nawab’s camp. They then destroyed the convoys which were bringing provisions to the Nawab’s army. The Marathas followed a “scorched earth policy,” burning the neighbouring villages to prevent grain from reaching the enemy. The Nawab’s soldiers were thus denied food, clothing, and conveyance.27″

    The watan system was very well ingrained. Actually opposition from watan holders was a large factor in preventing thorough modernization of Indian armies.

    Despite the Maratha armies relying primarily cavalry however, they were still exceedingly effective against other Indian traditional cavalry armies. In fact, before Panipat they were on the verge of taking over all India! If they had won I’m not sure what would have been able to stop them from swiftly conquering south and east India in a few more years. Furthermore, even after they were a strong contender for conqueror of India until the death of Madhavrao, while the Afghans declined precipitously and were never as big a threat again. Now, it’s still fair to say that the tremendous loss against the inner asian cavalry army of Abdali on Panipat indicates the weakness of maratha cavalry against inner asian cavalry comparatively speaking. However, multiple analysis’ of the military situation that I’ve read revealed that the Maratha lost primarily bc-wait for it-they relied too much on the fancy new European style infantry!

    When Maratha commander Sadashivrao Bhau was warring in southern india, he gained the services of Ibrahim Khan Gardi, an officer under Bussy who had French military training. Ibrahim was put in charge of the artillery, had western trained infantry and was extremely successful. Sadashivrao was so successful in fact that he was chosen to lead the general Maratha forces against Abdali and regain Punjab. However, his positive experiences in the south led him to rely on Ibrahims advice as opposed to more traditional maratha leaders like Holkar. Instead of going for a guerrilla strategy that probably would have worked, he went for the method of capturing the cities and eventually trying to destroy Abdalis army in pitched battle. However, bc the Maratha army wasn’t integrated properly like a proper western army, the western infantry wasn’t able to coordinate properly with the traditional cavalry. The effectiveness of both was severely lowered. Thus, despite it being a fairly close battle, Abdali triumphed in the end. Traditional guerilla cavalry tactics would have emphasized the weaknesses of Abadli army instead of its strengths like the “western” strategy did.

    So in the end, I don’t actually think western mass infantry was required for the Maratha to kick out the inner asians and establish an indo-centric polity. If Sadashivrao had died in the assassination attempt of 1759, we might have been speaking Maratha today! Rather, it seems to me that the primary factor behind the “counter-reaction” was the accumulation of bureaucratic and fiscal capacity that “challenger regime” states like Mysore, the Marathas, Travancore, and the Sikhs acquired during the process of state strengthening. Roberto Foa describes this in his excellent Phd dissertation Ancient Polities, Modern States, particularly chapters 3 and 5. T.Greer referenced it and I highly recommend reading it. You can read the whole thing here: https://dash.harvard.edu/handle/1/26718768. The continually increasing state capacity of the challenger regimes seems to me to be the primary driver for potential indo-centrism in the 18th and 19th c. Westernized infantry/artillery modernization is an expression of that, not the cause IMO.

    Also, a sidenote: the Mughal Empire itself separated due to various factors but I think it’s possible it’s successor regimes could have still modernized their militaries. This would be fairly difficult bc Mughal successor states had inherently more state weakness than the challenger regimes (for reasons Foa goes into) but it is possible and was desired. Mir Qasim in Bengal raised an army of 25,000 European regimental infantry under European mercenary Walter Reinhard and a regiment of gunners under Europeans. This was cut short by the Battle of Buxar but it’s interesting to speculate on what could have been.

    If you like, I can cite more sources for statements of mine that seem iffy to you. I mostly didn’t cite more bc I’m lazy right now lol.

    2+
  27. Great post! I have two things to add here. Please forgive the length of the second. I’ve been doing a lot of reading on the 18th c maratha and early 19th c Sikh empires recently and I love to talk about them!

    Firstly, I’m not super confident on my Andalus knowledge so please forgive me if I’m wrong but what I’ve read indicates that the primary reason for the failure to conquer France was the same reason that Al-Andalus ultimately failed-demographics. The original conquest of Andalus was done by a teeny minority of Arabs over a sea of Berbers. Andalus was already reaching the very limits of how much the Arabs could rule esp considering the discrimination inflicted on even muslim non-arabs. This possibly could have been alleviated by reinforcements from the east, but the Umayyads were almost entirely occupied by the byzantines. What might have happened had Constantinople been conquered (say, after the Battle of the Masts) thus allowing the Ummayads to turn their full attention to the west? Fascinating thought.

    Secondly, I both agree and disagree with your thoughts on the “South Asian counter-reaction”. I agree in that I think it’s certainly true that mass mobilized infantry French Revolution style has a decisive advantage over mounted warriors. Actually you don’t even need to go that late. 18th c European infantry tactics in general were extremely effective against mounted indian warriors as the victories of relatively small French/English forces (with sepoys) over huge indian armies in the war of austrian succession/7 years war/etc show. Now ofc this doesn’t mean that traditional Indian armies couldn’t win. They just needed to be able to rely on asymmetric tactics like guerrilla warfare at the Battle of Wadgaon. Besides that though, various Indian states also adopted westernized army reform after fighting against Europeans and were fairly successful depending on the state. The Maratha, Mysore,Sikh, heck, even Mir Qasim in Bengal tried. I certainly think with different circumstances they could have prevailed over the British so you don’t even need to remove the Brits for new indo-centric polities to survive. I also certainly think these westernized armies would also do well against inner asian cavalry. The Sikh empire did quite well against the Afghans frex. Mass mobilization would be a further crushing advantage once implemented.

    What I disagree with however, is the idea that the “counter-reaction” RELIES on the infantry revolution (caps are just for emphasis since there’s no bold here, not yelling). You say that you were sceptical of your friends idea bc Indians lacked access to horses but the Maratha were a culture of the horse. Infantry were held in low regard and it was most prestigious to be mounted. Also, Haider Ali’s army was cavalry dominated and performed excellently against the British. Light cavalry was also crucial even in Tipu’s infantry dominated army. Much of 18th c India had states relying on huge amounts of horses as the primary method to wage war with infantry being a low-status afterthought. See frex “The limited adoption of European-style military forces by eighteenth century rulers in India” by Stewart Gordon:

    “Perhaps even more interesting, during the seventeenth century, the whole ethos of horse
    service and its symbols of honour had reached people never before associated
    with it and was used as a means of upward social mobility. For example, in
    broad areas of tribal Central India, the horse-based ethos of Rajput kings
    displaced the indigenous tribal ethos of kingship. The process of tribals
    aspiring (often successfully) to become Rajputs had begun.28In Maharashtra,
    horse service in the Deccan Sultanates had deeply changed the
    self-image of various castes into something known as ’Maratha’; it was the
    common traditions and symbols of cavalry service which differentiated the
    ’Marathas’ from relatives who were cultivators, ironworkers, or shepherds.29

    In summary, whereas both muskets and artillery were thoroughly
    embedded in an indigenous military system of symbols, practice and honour,
    well before the advent of the new European system in the mid-eighteenth
    century, cavalry was the high-prestige, high-pay branch of military service.
    Local militarised families pledged cavalry service against lucrative shares
    of local government taxation. For rulers, these forces were the principal
    troops in the countryside, performing police duties and joining main force
    armies. The symbols of honour such as robes and swords were overwhelmingly
    associated with horse service.

    Some small evidence indicates that muskets were starting to be considered
    ’honourable’, when carried by cavalry, who dismounted and fired.3° Infantry,
    nevertheless, remained low-pay, low-prestige and rarely decisive in battle.3’”

    Or “Military Synthesis in South Asia: Armies, Warfare, and Indian Society, c. 1740–1849” by Kaushik Roy:

    “Both the Marathas and the Sikhs made extensive use of light cavalry in the early eighteenth century. Though their equipment and tactics differed, both the Maratha and Sikh cavalry followed an attrition strategy against their enemies. The Maratha light cavalry, armed with spears, conducted Ganimi Kava (predatory warfare). Extreme mobility and the ability to make deep penetrations behind enemy lines characterized the Maratha cavalry. They could cover fifty miles in a day because the cavalrymen carried neither baggage nor provisions. The troopers and their ponies lived off the country.26 Their operational aim was to avoid pitched battles with the enemy’s army and instead to ravage the enemy’s districts until the economy collapsed. In 1750, Bhaskar, a general of Bhonsle, invaded Bengal with 20,000 cavalry. They carried out night raids, pillaging the Bengal Nawab’s camp. They then destroyed the convoys which were bringing provisions to the Nawab’s army. The Marathas followed a “scorched earth policy,” burning the neighbouring villages to prevent grain from reaching the enemy. The Nawab’s soldiers were thus denied food, clothing, and conveyance.27″

    The watan system was very well ingrained. Actually opposition from watan holders was a large factor in preventing thorough modernization of Indian armies.

    Despite the Maratha armies relying primarily cavalry however, they were still exceedingly effective against other Indian traditional cavalry armies. In fact, before Panipat they were on the verge of taking over all India! If they had won I’m not sure what would have been able to stop them from swiftly conquering south and east India in a few more years. Furthermore, even after they were a strong contender for conqueror of India until the death of Madhavrao, while the Afghans declined precipitously and were never as big a threat again. Now, it’s still fair to say that the tremendous loss against the inner asian cavalry army of Abdali on Panipat indicates the weakness of maratha cavalry against inner asian cavalry comparatively speaking. However, multiple analysis’ of the military situation that I’ve read revealed that the Maratha lost primarily bc-wait for it-they relied too much on the fancy new European style infantry!

    When Maratha commander Sadashivrao Bhau was warring in southern india, he gained the services of Ibrahim Khan Gardi, an officer under Bussy who had French military training. Ibrahim was put in charge of the artillery, had western trained infantry and was extremely successful. Sadashivrao was so successful in fact that he was chosen to lead the general Maratha forces against Abdali and regain Punjab. However, his positive experiences in the south led him to rely on Ibrahims advice as opposed to more traditional maratha leaders like Holkar. Instead of going for a guerrilla strategy that probably would have worked, he went for the method of capturing the cities and eventually trying to destroy Abdalis army in pitched battle. However, bc the Maratha army wasn’t integrated properly like a proper western army, the western infantry wasn’t able to coordinate properly with the traditional cavalry. The effectiveness of both was severely lowered. Thus, despite it being a fairly close battle, Abdali triumphed in the end. Traditional guerilla cavalry tactics would have emphasized the weaknesses of Abadli army instead of its strengths like the “western” strategy did.

    So in the end, I don’t actually think western mass infantry was required for the Maratha to kick out the inner asians and establish an indo-centric polity. If Sadashivrao had died in the assassination attempt of 1759, we might have been speaking Maratha today! Rather, it seems to me that the primary factor behind the “counter-reaction” was the accumulation of bureaucratic and fiscal capacity that “challenger regime” states like Mysore, the Marathas, Travancore, and the Sikhs acquired during the process of state strengthening. Roberto Foa describes this in his excellent Phd dissertation Ancient Polities, Modern States, particularly chapters 3 and 5. T.Greer referenced it and I highly recommend reading it. You can read the whole thing here: https://dash.harvard.edu/handle/1/26718768. The continually increasing state capacity of the challenger regimes seems to me to be the primary driver for potential indo-centrism in the 18th and 19th c. Westernized infantry/artillery modernization is an expression of that, not the cause IMO.

    Also, a sidenote: the Mughal Empire itself separated due to various factors but I think it’s possible it’s successor regimes could have still modernized their militaries. This would be fairly difficult bc Mughal successor states had inherently more state weakness than the challenger regimes (for reasons Foa goes into) but it is possible and was desired. Mir Qasim in Bengal raised an army of 25,000 European regimental infantry under European mercenary Walter Reinhard and a regiment of gunners under Europeans. This was cut short by the Battle of Buxar but it’s interesting to speculate on what could have been.

    If you like, I can cite more sources for statements of mine that seem iffy to you. I mostly didn’t cite more bc I’m lazy right now lol.

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    1. Interesting observations. I have always viewed the Marathas as a successor state of the Mughal Empire. After all, the heartland of the Marathas was one of the areas that Aurangzeb controlled – albeit intermittently – as part of his conquest of the Deccan. The state of Hyderabad under the Nizam was another successor state and in fact the Nizam had legitimate claims to representing the Mughal emperor in the Deccan. The Nizam lost many a battle to the Marathas, but was able to play one Maratha faction against the other and his domain survived well into the middle of the 20th century.

      The survival of the state of Hyderabad under the Nizam is in fact symptomatic of the challenge that the Marathas never quite overcame. They were never quite able to unite their forces. We tend to forget that even under Shivaji, there were many Maratha “sardars” serving various Deccan Sultans, as well as the Mughal Empire. And this included Shivaji’s father Shahaji!

      Aurangzeb’s disastrous foray into the Deccan which many credit with the demise of the Mughal empire. One other way of looking at this is that if the Marathas had been left to their own devices, they may in fact have united under Shivaji’s successors and emerged as a much bigger threat to the Mughals.

      While the Marathas may well have taken a big risk by fighting a pitched battle with Abdali’s army, there was a more important reason for the defeat of the Marathas. They were largely bereft of allies on the eve of the battle. The reasons for this are many. Even if they had won the battle, it is doubtful if the Marathas would have been able to create a truly unitary empire.

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