Why I write on India’s lack of Asabiyyah

SC writes:

I have a suggestion for the bloggers. if you really want this blog to become popular and attract more insightful, witty and intelligent commenters, then you need to outgrow this India-Pakistan never-ending soap opera. This, and the other done-to-death Aryan-Dravidian debate occupies 90% of reading space on this blog.

There are many other interesting topics to talk about. If you are running out of ideas here are some from the top of my head.

Do I want this Blog to be Popular?

I can’t presume for the others on this blog but in many ways I would rather not have an uber-popular blog. In my journal last night I touched on the pressures of the D-List fame that Brown Pundits had brought to me.

Since I know I have a ready audience; my mind often wanders to BP posts and masalification. My journal always me to flush my mind from such stimulation and bring about an equanimity so that I can go deeper into my writing (the equivalent of a Saatvik Diet).

Locking Content

Furthermore with BP’s increasing popularity, I’m beginning to lock more of my content onto my private blog. This is a natural outgrowth as the freedom to express oneself becomes severely constrained.

I wouldn’t have written yesterday’s post if the readership was in the millions (maybe that’s a good thing) and the highly intimate style (veering on honest) would be replaced with a much formalistic, cautious and “populist” theme.

BP’s Authenticity and Heart

I feel a big advantage of BP is that since it’s not commercial (we simply need a minimum number of views to make sure we are heard and enough activity in the comment thread that it’s not an echo chamber) there is alot of authenticity to the blog.

It doesn’t mean that I don’t want the blog and podcast to be popular but that for once in my life I’m not going to chase popularity.

Making the Bourgeois Choice

Those are my “2 paisas” on trying to make the more blog popular. I feel I may have done it in BP 1.0 & 2.0 when I was young and foolish but in BP 3.0 it’s simply been my intention to meander on and retain a link to my Bohemian past in a Bourgeois present.

In some way in the past few weeks there has been another evolution whereby I’m increasingly interested in my own novel-writing and discovering my strengths as a writer.

I have always felt very guilty that when confronted with the major questions of my life I have always made the Bourgeois choice but now I’m realising that my choices always retained an unconventionality to them.

Beyond Atonement

In matters of work, Wife and worship I’ve subconsciously been driven to alternatives that now give me a happy freedom to actually write and flow. So I’ve begun to realise I no longer need to “atone” or consider myself a failed writer simply because I didn’t do a Hemingway or that I have a rather fulfilling life (mA).

The Tragedy of Eastern Islamicate Culture

I also retain a disposition towards tragedy since I see that to be the sublime expression of art. It’s also a nod to my Urdu-Persian heritage, which draws on tragic themes. It’s interesting how Urdu dramas are cleft between a populist Punjabi culture, which is joyful and bombastic, and a highly Persianate culture, which is mournful.

India has no Asabiyyah

After 10 paragraphs talking about myself (what can I say I’m a millennial on the cusp) I will mention that I feel India’s biggest hindrance is that it simply cannot match the Asabiyyah of the Islamic world.

Pakistan is a make believe nation but is extraordinarily effective at surviving. I can only put that down to the Asabiyyah of Muslim societies.

I like to think I have a somewhat unique insight since I have seen both South Asia and the Middle East. Europe and the West have evolved institutions whereby they don’t need Asabiyyah.

East Asia seems to have a formidable discipline (the Confucian ethic) and national histories that makes up their own variant of Asabiyyah.

Islam and Asabiyyah

The Muslim world (UAE, Saudi, Iran, Turkey & Pakistan) have very high levels of Asabiyyah; they get shit down when they want to get it done. Pakistan has cleverly insured that Afghanistan, post Soviets, will reorient its Asabiyyah on religious rather than ethnic or national grounds.

India’s Experiment with Liberal Democracy; a Hindu Spiritual Experiment?

This brings me to India and I feel very passionately that India needs a lot more Asabiyyah. This may be a Hindu predilection for spiritual challenges since India’s advanced liberal democracy is suited for an economy 20 times larger. It takes an extraordinary amount of willpower to such a highly evolved political system.

The Chaos of India

However the cost of that is that India does seem chaotic and can’t really move quickly enough (except when attacking Pakistan). The one time Indians do manage Asabiyyah is when Pakistan (the manifestation of everything Muslim & Mughal in the Indian mind) is involved; attacking Pakistan becomes a way for India to deal with itss Muslim past and history.

However beyond Pakistan, India has to urgently find ways to creating Asabiyyah, which is the first step to Civic consciousness on a Western scale. There are some extremely low-hanging fruit solutions to many of India’s great problems but there’s no will power to address them because most Indians & Hindus take to the blogosphere to talk about Islam and Pakistan.

Maybe if that issue was resolved then everything else would click into place?

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20 Replies to “Why I write on India’s lack of Asabiyyah”

  1. ppl say the genetics stuff is not interesting. and i agree we’ve done it to death….

    BUT in terms of traffic/fb shares/comments they kill it. so someone is very interested.

    i don’t pay attn much to pak vs. india, but the high comment count seems mostly “kabir against the kufars” dynamic.

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  2. ‘Bohemian past’? Wow! This Zach is a boem, too? La boheme? Rhapsody in blue?
    Well, re India (and SA)… A real discussion hasn’t started yet. Sooner or later, Indian scholars and intelligentsia must pull out their heads from the sand and face their real history, identity and linkages with Europe. So far, they can’t turn out their eyes of the former colonial master and use common sense. Even those who are aware of some intruders in the past, talk about nomads, hunter gatherers who, at the best, had encounter with unshaven Punjabi (Bollywood like) girls. Nomads could not have superior arms, metallurgy knowledge, epics nor could enforce the use of their language.

    BP had pioneering role to be the first in SA and wider to publish some facts related to regions’ ancient past which is a cornerstone of world history. I still can see deep reservations even with regular BP commentators to accept new facts about not only SA history, then also related to ancient Greek and Roman history. It seems that SA public is still not mature to critically assess new information or they are simply not ready yet to get of their conformity zone. The future will show what the truth is. I am sure that future researchers will refer to the BP archive to reevaluate early announcements of the facts relevant to region’s identity.

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  3. Hi Zack
    On the whole I agree with your sentiments. Giving it a second thought to Assabiya, no doubt it makes a great community feeling of Umma. OTOH has it not been a delusional of cohesion? It has not prevented bloody civil wars all in the name of Assabiya. On top of that it has kept those societies at a medieval level. When the chips are down, 7th century ethos takes over due to Assabiya.
    I agree with your comments on India

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  4. I completely understand that Indians don’t have the concept of “Assabiya” but in history we never had one. We didn’t have one god or one language or one religion to inculcate the concept of “Assabiya”. I agree with almost all of your statements.

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  5. The lack of Assabiyah might not be much due to Islam but just be a function of scale. Saudi, Iran, Pakistan are pretty small compared to India.
    Islam has not stopped Saudi and Iran to be at each other’s throats all this while.

    Some parts of India do have strong sub-national sentiments.

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  6. Pakistan is as “make believe” as any other nation. Most nations have somewhat arbitrary boundaries. It has now existed for more than 70 years, so it’s time to accept it as a reality and move on.

    I agree with you that it is much easier for Indians to attack Pakistan (and for Pakistanis to attack India) than to deal with our respective problems.

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  7. “However beyond Pakistan, India has to urgently find ways to creating Asabiyyah, which is the first step to Civic consciousness on a Western scale.”

    In a way India wont have that because its heterogeneity and democracy wont allow that, at least not like the western countries which is still comparably homogeneous in some ways. There are just too many competing interests/social groups . But ironically there will be islands of “Civic consciousness” through out India which will give Indians solace that they are moving in the right direction.

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    1. Analogy false. In Europe there are historically strong nationalism like French, Hungarian, Italian, German, etc. They have partially ceded sovereignty to EU to prevent the conflict between these nationalism that wrecked Europe for 200 years.
      In India , there is no real nationalism confined to individual states and they don’t have a history. Basically there is no competition to Indian nationalism now in any area except may places like Nagaland.

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      1. “Analogy false”

        Agree. EU is a 70 year old construct. Before that EU states were rabidly nationalistic. EU was formed precisely to rein in this destructive nationalism.

        Also, I disagree that India doesn’t have an Asabiyyah. It does have it, though probably not as strong as smaller, homogenous countries like Turkey or Israel or Iran. I would even argue that Indian Asabiyya even transcends its Hindu core (case in point – outrage in India whenever Shah Rukh Khan is stopped at US airports). I suspect delusions of grandeur weakens India’s Asabiyya (Indians fancy themselves as world power with international outlook, so look down upon as concepts such as Asabiyya as inherently petty and limiting).

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      2. “Basically there is no competition to Indian nationalism now in any area except may places like Nagaland.”

        Well i know that place which is like in the South…. 😛

        ” I would even argue that Indian Asabiyya even transcends its Hindu core ”

        LOL. Dont know which country are we talking about here. As i said islands of “Civic consciousness” …..

        In a way its good that India doesnt have Asabiyya, it has allowed the country to muddle along. I mean even the closest thing to Asabiyya , pan N-Indian Hindu nationalism, has led to rise in counter forces like NE and South regionalism which were actually dieing , until a few years ago.

        So yeah, better to have a country with no Asabiyya rather than have no country at all.

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        1. Saurav, the south is more religiously and spiritually Hindu than any other place in the world. The south is India’s spiritual heartland.

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      3. Yeah, the analogy falls flat when you compare the histories on the same timeline. But nationalism apart, the EU is a conglomeration of countries that are linguistically and culturally related (albeit tenuously.) That is quite similar to historical India: “Hindudom”, like “Christendom”. One could imagine the old Holy Roman Empire having turned into something resembling today’s India if it had been able to develop a strong state capacity in Vienna.

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  8. Have any of you ever been in the room when a south indian family and north indian family are to meet, and there is no link language? This still happens btw, even in the middle class, a lot of folks don’t speak much english or hindi, and there are many reasons such a meeting would take place. The two parties are utterly foreign to each other. They avert eye contact, fidget, and are extremely uncomfortable if they are not accustomed to interacting with foreigners. Part of it is the lack of a common language, and I presume another part derives from the alienness of manners and customs. Indian unity is still a shallow affair. Culture is not all canonical classical lit, there are so many other layers to it. The fact that a mallu and a sindhi in bombay may feel that being indian is their primary identity and eschew regionalism says more about their class background than it does about the vast majority of people.

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    1. “The fact that a mallu and a sindhi in bombay may feel that being indian is their primary identity and eschew regionalism says more about their class background than it does about the vast majority of people. ”

      “(y)”

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    2. Girmit this does happen in spiritual communities all the time.

      They can do Pujas and Kirtan together. They can meditate together. They can partly communicate through sanskritized words.

      It is hard though. Communication is imprecise.

      I have seen hundreds of examples of this. Much of my life has been like this.

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    3. Umm, have you ever been in a room when there are two families of any type without a link language ?

      The key point is what happens when there is even a semblance of a link language.

      My brother-in-law is a Tulu speaker from Mangalore, and my sister is of course from Haryana. Never observed any tension like what you are mentioning here. Right from the start.

      The only thing still shocking my brother in law is the absolute and utter deference with which everyone in my family treat him. People 40 years older than him addressing him as ‘ji’, ‘khaiye’, ‘baithaiye’ … South Indians dont fawn over daamads as much I think.

      On the other hand, put a Hindi speaking Hindu and Muslim family from UP in a room ….

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      1. That speaks to the gracious nature of his new family, and I’ve experienced such warmth personally as well. That said, a typical tulunad person will experience a haryanvi as a foreigner. That may change in the future, and not just for regional subcontinental cultural differences but even intercontinental ones. Btw, none of this precludes affection between people of different cultures. Up until recently, many small town relatives of mine in karnataka had a noticeable interest and fascination with other regions like punjab/up/bengal, probably because they were becoming exposed to music, fashion and literature from those places. Alienness doesn’t imply antipathy.
        Regd, the UPite hindu and muslims, I’ve seen many contrary examples in my own circles. Maybe its a small town thing vs a city people thing but when you are far from home, all the folks from your native place are like family regardless of religion. There is that intense taboo of marriage between hindus and muslims no doubt, but the other affection still exists.

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  9. “Indian unity is still a shallow affair. ”
    “The fact that a mallu and a sindhi in bombay may feel that being indian is their primary identity and eschew regionalism says more about their class background than it does about the vast majority of people.”

    Couldn’t agree more.

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