Against being an intellectual subaltern

Over at my other weblog, The blood on brown hands is a legacy of all of history. Basically, a long essay where I fire broadsides at reductive postcolonialism in the context of Indian history and communal divisions. The motivation was straightforward: twitter is not really good to outline more subtle or detailed perspectives. But, it is a good platform for people to pepper you with many, many, questions.

Below is the first paragraph of the post:

Yesterday I put up a tweet which went a bit viral (I won’t embed since it has a vulgarity). It was the result of my frustration with a very liberal Indian American who was using unfortunate tensions in the Indian subcontinent to attack “white supremacy.” My frustration was due to the reality that a major conflict between India and Pakistan would not just impact India and Pakistan, though that is dire enough. In a globalized world, a war involving the world’s fifth largest economy, situated athwart the southern flank of Asia, would impact many people outside of the subcontinent. In the midst of this, the fact that someone was using this to promote their own ideological hobbyhorse was offensive to me.

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20 Replies to “Against being an intellectual subaltern”

  1. The best man ! I could only hope I could put down my thoughts as coherently as you do. Really great post. 👍🙏

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  2. Was going to write a huge response to this but decided to spare us all and just be brief.

    1.) The Naqshabandism and other pre-colonial revivalist movements had success only in that they kept Indian-Muslims from doing an Akbar (abandoning Islam altogether). They didn’t in any way turn Muslims into what we would consider an orthodox Muslim today. They attest to this furiously in their accounts from India.

    Also, the British themselves have extensive records of how syncretic Muslims and Hindus were during the late 18th century. Religious antagonism as we know it in the modern-period had not in any meaningful way existed at that point (in India at least).

    2.) Hindus and Muslims virtually never thought of their political affiliations as being dependent on their religion in the pre-colonial era. There aren’t any examples of it (you tacitly admit this by simply implying it must have been so based on a general history of Muslim conquest, but avoid specifics). We have plenty of examples indicating the opposite (Sepoy rebellion, role of Hindus in Muslim Sultanates and visa-versa).

    3.) The British themselves say they used divide and rule to make India easier to manage in the wake of the Sepoy rebellion. And that’s “coincidentally” when we see communal lines forming for the first time in India.

    I do think the hardening of Muslim identity was inevitable in the wake British conquest, as pretty much wherever Muslims lost power to Europeans in the colonial period resulted in a orthodoxy-revival among those Muslims.
    But (and this is agreed upon by most scholars in the field), the Hindu antagonism to Muslims as we know it today, is entirely a product of the British.

    Fuck this ended up being long anyway. Sorry.

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    1. Hindus and Muslims virtually never thought of their political affiliations as being dependent on their religion in the pre-colonial era.

      what does this mean???

      They didn’t in any way turn Muslims into what we would consider an orthodox Muslim today.

      what does that even mean???

      the Hindu antagonism to Muslims as we know it today, is entirely a product of the British.

      the contingent specifics are british mediated. my point is that it was probably inevitable and would have happened.

      Religious antagonism as we know it in the modern-period had not in any meaningful way existed at that point (in India at least).

      modern period. what does this mean???

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    2. “But (and this is agreed upon by most scholars in the field), the Hindu antagonism to Muslims as we know it today, is entirely a product of the British.”

      Allow me to give a very simple explanation for this – demographic change.

      In 1800, the Muslim population of the entire subcontinent was 13%. This would have been limited to peripheries (present day Pak and BD) as well as pockets in India (Delhi, Lucknow etc).
      (https://history.stackexchange.com/questions/33670/what-was-the-population-of-muslims-in-the-indian-subcontinent-in-1800-ad
      Will welcome a better source if you have any.)

      Today the number stands at around 30% with much more interaction between the communities at a mass level.

      Even if you could control for everything else (hardening of identities etc), I would assume there would be much more of conflict.

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      1. In 1800, the Muslim population of the entire subcontinent was 13%. This would have been limited to peripheries (present day Pak and BD) as well as pockets in India (Delhi, Lucknow etc).

        the 13% is not sourced. the author just says ‘various sources’ without specifying. since the first censuses began in 1865 this is an estimate based on assumptions. so it is essential the sources be given so that the parameters can inspected.

        basically please don’t post numbers that are giving a false degree of certainty. it’s a bullshit move.

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        1. btw, one of the common things on this website are ppl putting up bullshit numbers about muslim percentages whether they mean to or not. unfortunately i end up being skeptical of ppl i shouldn’t be with numbers because so many of you are credulous numerical bullshitters.

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          1. I am skeptical that 13% is accurate. But I don’t know what the actual percentage was.

            Another note, past estimates of population and per capital income are usually crap.

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          2. Mea culpa.
            Shouldn’t have put up numbers.
            My point was just that population growth + demographic change might explain to a large extent the putative rise in communal hostilities.

            Will try to validate the hypothesis with more credible data.

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  3. “how syncretic Muslims and Hindus were during the late 18th century. Religious antagonism as we know it in the modern-period had not in any meaningful way existed at that point”

    Oh Wow!

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  4. Assertion: “the Hindu antagonism to Muslims as we know it today, is entirely a product of the British.”

    Response: “the contingent specifics are british mediated. my point is that it was probably inevitable and would have happened.”

    Am completely out of my depth here, but this seems like a major concession? That contingent specifics are British mediated- isn’t that a huge part of the argument of the opposite side? Besides, “it was probably inevitable” seems a low standard to defend?

    Impressive, well-argued piece otherwise. But these things seem to me are extremely complex, and given the fragmented data with numerous confounding factors we have, it is possible to pick any hypothesis across the spectrum and defend it well.

    This is happening with complex data even in supposedly more robust sciences (medicine comes to mind), where after a favorite theory has a run of many decades, it is quietly abandoned when more incremental data shows that the entire hypothetical edifice was fundamentally wrong. In the social sciences we maybe part of that swing to the other side now.

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    1. Parallel Universe and Armaghan, where do the genocides of the Delhi Sultanate and to a lesser degree Aurangzeb fit into this?

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  5. In West Asia, the post-WWII collapse of the British Empire, was accompanied by armed inter communal strife as it was in South Asia. Neither the Israelis nor the Palestinians have blamed the British for their conflict.

    My perspective is that Empires (European or not) have tamped down inter communal conflict everywhere. When they have receded, especially in the Muslim world, but also in places like the Balkans, conflict has flared up. What you see in the Levant, the Iraq, and the Maghreb today is what the world without Empires looks like — bloody.

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    1. “My perspective is that Empires (European or not) have tamped down inter communal conflict everywhere. ”
      Walter this is now. The English and European history during their empire was different.

      The English had many local allies in part because locals wanted to be free from Shariah law, slavery and laws that restricted freedom of religion, art and thought.

      The anti slavery movement around the world had a very anti Islamist tilt to it for a long time.

      The Europeans have on many occasions backed Islamists against moderate muslims.

      Europeans have greatly exacerbated conflicts all over the world through their promotion of marxism, structuralism and post modernism.

      Milan can you respond with respect to the Balkans?

      With respect to the greater middle east . . . many challenges were triggered by the rise of Sunni Islamism in 1919. This is something the Europeans might have supported . . . but had zero understanding regarding.

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      1. The ‘exceptional’ guy says that it was ok that English starved 85 million in India and they should stay there forever to prevent problems you had in previous couple days. And the global colonial system also should remain unchanged where empires should exploit minerals, resources and slavery work, otherwise savages would start fighting between themselves. The truth, sometimes less satisfied empires could attempt to initiate the redistribution of colonial assets and cause worldwide wars, but the risk is worth in order to prevent locals to fight themselves. If they are so keen to fight they can do in an imperial army against their peers in other imperial army.

        On the US 60 Minutes, the then secretary of state, Madeleine Albright, was asked: “We have heard that a half million children have died in Iraq. I mean, that’s more children than died in Hiroshima. And – and you know, is the price worth it?” Albright: “I think this is a very hard choice, but the price – we think the price is worth it.”

        So, here we go, it is clear now. You, Venezuela, get ready with your the largest reserves of oil, gold, minerals plus your slavery work, otherwise you will start fighting internally (of course, with small help from your ‘exceptional’ friends).

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        1. Milan, most people don’t understand what the English did around the world before WWII.

          The worst was the colonization of the mind with inferiority complex to damage self confidence.

          “the global colonial system also should remain unchanged where empires should exploit minerals, resources and slavery work, otherwise savages would start fighting between themselves. The truth, sometimes less satisfied empires could attempt to initiate the redistribution of colonial assets and cause worldwide wars, but the risk is worth in order to prevent locals to fight themselves. If they are so keen to fight they can do in an imperial army against their peers in other imperial army.”

          I believe in globalized free markets. I suspect this was the economic system of the ancient Arya people (from Serbia/Greece to SAARC, Xinjian, Indonesia, Malaysia, Cambodia and Thailand).

          The English hurt themselves by their imperial policies. Free markets benefit most parties, English, European and Darkie. This is why ending the post modernist fabian socialist big government empire benefited the whole world.

          “So, here we go, it is clear now. You, Venezuela, get ready with your the largest reserves of oil, gold, minerals plus your slavery work, otherwise you will start fighting internally (of course, with small help from your ‘exceptional’ friends).”

          What are your thoughts on Maduro and Guaidó?

          Who do you think China and India will end up supporting? India is neutral so far. Guaido is negotiating with China to convince China to recognize him as President. Wonder what Guaido is offering China?

          India has a difficult decision to make. Help Guaido or continuing to stand at the very center of the tight rope.

          If India backs Gauido, Gauido becomes President. What will India do?

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  6. where do the genocides of the Delhi Sultanate and to a lesser degree Aurangzeb fit into this?

    in general i avoid terms like ‘genocide’ for premodern periods because premodern states did not have the power to engage in organized top-down killings. the ‘genocide’ of the native americans was more about disease…and the spaniards would actually have preferred that they live so that they could exploit them and live the life of aristocrats. black slaves were a response to the massive die-off.

    similarly, though there were ethnically targeted killings in the roman empire against dues during the rebellions against rome, they were ‘bottom-up’ affairs where greeks in places like alexandria settled scores with their jewish rivals, as opposed to a top-down imposition. the roman state simply didn’t have the power to do what happened in iraq against the assyrians, what happened in turkey against the armenians, or against the native peoples of namibia in the early 20th century by the germans.

    the early modern period is is a boundary case. the manchus in the 18th century clearly committed conscious and coordinated genocide against the dzhunghar mongols (with the help of the majority khalkha mongols). so we know that early modern states were more capable of it. similarly, the spaniards attempted to expel all moriscos in the early 17th century…but we know it was a sloppy job (the majority of morisco descendants had become catholic and were not expelled).

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    1. most of those are likely exaggerated tho. has to be collateral starvation. one of the things the nazi genocide taught us is that it starts to get expensive to kill ppl with even automatic rifles (bullets). that’s why gas chambers were invented.

      imagine killing 400,000 ppl with your swords….

      (remember most pre-modern battlefield casualties were really due to infection and such)

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