The world breaks down into three major factions: ——post modernists (psychotic in need of urgent medical services) ——Islamists ——“non post modernists and non Islamists” Can Rwanda, the Asian Tiger of Africa, inspire and lead the global “non post modernists and non Islamists”? Can Rwanda inspire and lead the globalists?
As the United Kingdom’s Labour Party swallowed a staggering loss, it’s clear that we see a pattern across the world. Election after election, Left parties collapse against either centrist or frequently right wing parties. Does this imply a victory for the “Global Right?”
The crux of Joseph’s argument lies in the fact that Leftists have become constantly concerned with grand humanitarian conflicts and cosmopolitan problems while Right Wingers are more concerned with “skin in the game” local issues. The Leftist leader shouts in a city square about human rights abuses in Israel, America, India, the UK, etc… (all while conveniently ignoring much, much worse abuses in less pluralistic and less democratic countries). The Right Wing leader is on the hinterland battleground listening to disaffected and ignored voters about their latest economic or communal ailment. The Left has become caught up in the noise in the air while the Right have their ears to the ground.
Of course, you may notice that lately there has been some hobnobbing amongst many “nationalist” or Right Wing leaders. Yet this exercise will only go so far.
Consider this – put an American Evangelical Christian and an Indian Hindu Hardliner in a room together. While they may both agree on their disdain of radical Islam, they will reach an impasse when the Evangelical explains to the Hindu Hardliner that they will burn in hell for eternity for not believing in our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. The Hindu Hardliner will then tell the Evangelical to stop sending missionaries who destroy indigenous Indian culture with their conversion agenda. This clash will overwhelm any commonalities in the long run.
Bring a group of Leftists from disparate places such as London, New York, and New Delhi and you will have free flowing conversations about the liberation of Palestine, proper pronoun use, and how one needs to read more Marxist theory for communism to work.
Even on economics, Right Wingers from different nations will have vehement disagreements. The British Tories are distinctly to the left of American Democrats. Narendra Modi (who many times is described as “Far Right”) has enacted more “Socialist” policies in 5 years than Bernie Sanders will probably ever do in his lifetime. Modi has achieved the wildest economic initiatives of American Democrats yet is labeled as India’s doom and gloom; which is in direct contrast to his staggering electoral victories.
Finally, we have to acknowledge the grand chasm between international media’s narratives and ground realities. The raucous and slanted theater over the 2016 US, 2019 UK, and 2019 Indian elections show how massively wrong reporting was. This was a validation of localist siege mentalities regarding the media as well as the growing distrust people have in it.
What is a nation?
Is it its citizens? Its borders? Its values? Its history? Its present? Its future?
Of course, a reasonable take is that it is all of the above. The Left’s problem is that it has disconnected from its old base (the working class) partly because it has more or less forsaken the first 3 (notions of citizenship, borders, and local values).
The rural proletariat backbone of Left parties across the world have now been labeled as bigots, uncouth, and “deplorables;” simply because they refuse to digest runaway academic politicking, sneering towards their local tradition, and denigrating of their skin color or religion.
The Left’s relentless attack on their countries’ respective “majorities” has manifested into electoral backlashes. Even in loss, we’ve seen their ideologues double down on this suicidal oration.
Does this mean all minorities should be shamed and hounded for their misdeeds? Absolutely and unequivocally no. All communities in a nation, whether in majority or minority should move to remove their faults and prosper forward. However, the reality is that localist parties have now been given enough ammo from the Left to consolidate majorities in their countries. The Left’s vote bank vetos have lost their old potency and must face the mirror or face the music.
From Revolution to Rosé
The march of muddied boots under red flags used to send shivers up the spine of capitalists. Now capitalists rally around the latest “woke” trend and other inane culture wars that are ripe for the investment into perpetual outrage. Old Left leaders came from factory floors, while the current crop comes from Ivy Leagues and ivory towers. The formally faithful worker base asks for policy changes regarding welfare, wages, and trade; while the bourgeoise urban elite donors and leadership demand new articles highlighting “X-phobia” and identity politics.
And when the Left does decide to finally wade into economic issues, the results have been lackluster.
The topic of the Left’s economic evolution is worthy of a book in and of itself. Every country’s economic situation and externalities are very unique; so it is futile to paint their economic portrait either free market green or a socialist red. However, a common theme across the world has been Left parties holding the torch of economic reform only to run either half measures or trip up over useless communal quarrels.
America is a prime arena as the economic tug of war is in full force here.
While markets have recovered and wildly prospered post-2008, many Americans feel like they missed the ship. These same Americans would propel Trump into power as they saw the Democrats’ half hearted economic agenda failing them. The Democrats would face a wave of economic populism to finish what Obama started, but this would drown under toxic identity politics introduced by the mainstream Clinton camp to nullify Sanders’ swell. The problem came about when Clinton lost and now a new wave of Democrats combined both Clinton’s social agenda with Sanders’ economic direction. As various elections across the world have shown, this is not a reliable concoction.
While older Left parties were seen as champions of the working class, they have increasingly championed policies that hurt them. Open borders and mass immigration rhetoric would be devastating to lower income people with depressed wages and increased job competition. Scathing criticism of the “billionaire class” by multi-millionaire politicians not only looks like ridiculous rhetoric but is absolutely ineffective policy. Billionaires and the mega rich are indeed the global citizens that many Leftists wish they were. As Europe’s failed wealth tax experiment showed, the rich will simply move abroad or tell their accountant to move their money.
A Path Forward
A light in these dark times for the (Western) Left is demography. The youth overwhelmingly favor Left parties in places like the US and Europe (India is the opposite where youth are placing faith in the BJP). American youth even have a positive tilt towards socialism. I can imagine a recession in the near future will shatter the walls to universal healthcare, major subsidies in education, and maybe even UBI.
However, what the Left must work on is ushering in renewed faith amongst the majorities of their nations. A ceasing of incessant attacks on majority culture, customs, and values is a must. It is all right to call out the problems of slavery, imperialism, etc… of the past, but the crimes of the past should not rest on the shoulders of those in the present. Likewise, current issues regarding discrimination shouldn’t be blanketed over whole populations.
Concerning immigration, it is a topic for individual nations dependent on context and demographics. An open or loose border ideal won’t work for most nations if any due to either economic constrains or demographic antagonism.
In America at least, I see glimpses of a future winning ticket in politicians such as Andrew Yang and Tulsi Gabbard (though both will most likely not win the primaries) who shun the vociferous social histrionics of much of their party while presenting decidedly Left articulations of economics without wading into full blown socialist visions. They stand their ground all while standing up for minorities as equal citizens instead of coddled vote banks or vilified communities. All this, while tackling the impending massive changes to the economy as the information age veers into full swing.
It is more than clear that Left parties have their work cut out for them. Introspection is the best prescription I can offer them as their current path will only lead to ruin. The world needs their kind for ideological balance, sensible opposition, and checks to an increasingly dominant right wing across the world.
Time will tell when sense returns to the Left. Till then, localism will reign.
Over the past generation or so there has been a meme, “Africa Is Not a Country”, which reflects the reality that many well-meaning people don’t know much about Africa, to the point where they confuse a diverse continent for a country.
There is a similar reflex though which to me is redolent of the same intuitions and confusions: making Islam into a racial identity. This is particularly common among two groups:
– the type of people who have Greek statue images in their Twitter profiles
– the type of people who have pink-hair avatars and rainbows flags in their Twitter profiles
I won’t say much about the former.
But the latter is interesting and curious to me personally. Many in my immediate family are Muslims (e.g, parents, the vast majority of my cousins). I come from a line of ulems and Sufi mystics. The law of the Hanafi tradition is deeply embedded in my family’s culture. Though never a big believer myself in the religion, I had a vaguely Muslim identity until my tweens, and know a bit about the religion intellectually.
In other words, engaging in blasphemy against Islam is racism to him (which is blasphemy to a progressive).
It has gotten to the point where progressives have accused me of being an anti-Muslim racist when I suggest that many Muslims are Creationists. Progressives are of course being stupid but note these progressives are often white secular types who in their lives don’t encounter believing Muslims. They have the idea of what Muslims represent to them. It’s about them, not Muslims.
Perhaps others have different experiences, but the way I was raised as a Muslim, the idea that Muslims are a race would be deeply offensive since Islam was presented as the most antiracist and egalitarian of religions. Believing Muslims assert they have a deep connection to the Ground of all Being, not that they are a corporeal identity-group. In contrast, many secular progressives are taking the far-right racialization of Muslims and enshrining it into their understanding of the religion, so that Islam, the belief-system, becomes a “protected class.”
Of course, the reality of what Muslims believe and how they live their life might not comport with progressive expectations, which seem to involve someone just like them, but with a headscarf on. From the perspective of an Islam-skeptic person though the lesson is clear: Islam is now the progressive party at prayer. Though real Muslims often have major issues with progressives and their modern cultural projects, progressives have embraced their idea of Islam and Muslims in the fight against the Greek statue profiles.
We live in a really strange world.
Addendum: As an atheist from a Muslim background I have looked dimly upon Muslims and the Islamic project for much of my life. But progressive revolutionary rhetoric and action have softened my heart toward the religion and the people. It turns out that religion is not the root of all evil.
Much of the discussion over the last few weeks on this weblog (see “Open Thread”) has involved the internal politics of India, and its clearer trajectory in regards to a Hindu sense of self. Most of the comments are not really worth reading, as they repeat platitudes. I have said little because I know very little which would add much to the discussion.
That being said, let me take a break from pre-Christmas activities, and just express the framework or “filter” which I use to understand what’s going on in India (and elsewhere) today. I am not someone who believes that to understand modern social-political ideologies in post-colonial nations all you need to do is understand the colonial experience. On the contrary, I lean toward the position that many national identities have deep roots and histories (e.g., China, Iran, and England, to name three). For more on this perspective, see Azar Gat’s Nations.
But, neither is it true colonial, Western, and international, currents are irrelevant in understanding notionally primal and indigenous nationalists and pan-nationalisms. To give three examples. Chinese nationalism in the early 20th-century explicitly looked to the West, and east toward the success of Japan, in attempting to create a post-imperial identity. Iran in the early 20th-century coalesced around a resurgent Persian national identity in a multi-ethnic society which had heretofore been bound together by Shia Islam (imposed on Iran by Turkic Safavids in the 16th and 17-century). Finally, the emergence of the German nation-state under the Kleindeutschland vision is hard to understand without the French Revolution, and the shock it imposed on German elites, and in particular the Prussians.
These three instances are clear, distinct, and organic nationalisms. In many ways, elements and configurations of these nationalisms were preexistent to the 19th/20th-century variety. The Safavid state under Shah Abbas I to me served as a template for the Pahlavi project. There were inchoate elements of German nationalism in various polities of the Holy Roman Empire, in particular in the Habsburg domains, where aristocratic cosmopolitanism was always balanced with the hegemony of German culture around Vienna. Finally, the imperial Chinese state in various forms was already proto-modern quite early. I would emphasize the Northern Song period, around 1000 A.D.
But there are other nationalisms developed in the 20th-century which created something de novo in a very real sense. Kemal Ataturk attempted to fashion a form of Turkish post-Ottoman identity explicitly modeled on a Western European template. Though Ottoman Turks did have an ethnic identity, and some level of ethnic chauvinism, the reality is that the Ottoman identity was primarily one of religion. Modern Turkish is written in a Roman alphabet. This means that modern Turks are detached psychologically from the literature of the Ottoman period, which is written in Arabic script. This was clearly a conscious attempt by Ataturk to fashion something new and unmoored from the past.
Even more nebulously, Pan-Turkism and Pan-Arabism appealed to an ethnonationalism more organically suited to the European context and history. Though Pan-Turkism never became much more than moral and logistical support by the Turkish government for various national resistance movements (Turkey has long supported a community of Uighurs), Pan-Arabism was influential in much of the Arab world in the middle of the 20th-century.
Pan-Arabism was closely connected to Arab Nationalism and in particular the Ba’ath parties. A reductive way to describe Ba’athism is that it was a escape valve for religious minorities to espouse a form of nationalism that united them with Muslims, and often Sunni, majorities. But Ba’athism became popular for a reason. The rationale for Ba’athism may have some connection to the discomfort with majoritarianism by minority elites in the Arab world, but the 20th-century demanded a form of social cohesion beyond what Sunni Islam had earlier provided (the radical Leftism of some Arab nationalist movements is another path).
Because of Arab opposition to Western imperialism in the early 20th-century, it is not surprising that Ba’athism has been connected in some way to fascism. The problem with our understanding of fascism and right-wing nationalism in the early 20th-century is that Nazism has overshadowed all other forms. But movements to challenge Communism’s appeal to the young and radical were diverse and widespread. For example, right-wing Zionism of the Revisionist school (the ideological ancestors of the Likud party) had connections to these broader trends.
Which brings me to three ideologies which also arose in the modern period: Hindu nationalism, Pan-Islamism, and the “Two-nation theory.” Hindu nationalism and Pan-Islamism arose at the same time, as notables and intellectuals within Hindu and Muslim traditions reacted to the shock of Western modernity. Both these traditions have a mythos of being primal, but the reality is that many elements are quite modern.
To illustrate this, the Iranian Islamic Republic was an explicit attempt to turn back toward indigenous forms and values, but it retains a broad democratic system of governance (democracy being Western). The Shia movement in Iran clearly had resonances with earlier Pan-Islamists, in particular in its early ambitions, and over the past few centuries had integrated and reacted to stimuli from the West far more extensively that modern traditionalist Shia establishments.
Hindu nationalism is in a similar boat. On the one hand, its roots are ancient, and it reflects a vision with deep local roots. But it has had to adapt and develop tools which are quite modern, and only comprehensible in the modern context. Which brings us back to some associations of right-wing Hindus with right-wing movements elsewhere…and a connection to Nazis and genocide.
You could present the case that Hindu nationalism is particularly pernicious at the root. It is brown Nazism of a sort. I am very skeptical of this take, because Hindu nationalism has a rationale of its own, and must be viewed as an indigenous reaction to Western imperialism. Palestine’s Zionist Revisionists associated with Italian fascists in the 1930s. If you know the history of Italian fascism this is not so peculiar. Similarly, various Arab notables and nationalists expressed pro-fascist, and later even pro-Nazi views. Some of this is due to shared affinity because of common enemies, while some are purely mercenary and situational.
This brings me to the “Two Nation Theory.” As above, this is based on a myth. The collapse of Ashraf hegemony, the rise of Indian Muslims, reconfigured the social and political landscape. Muhammed Ali Jinnah was the grandson of a Hindu merchant of ambiguous sectarian affiliation who was personally not particularly pious. The idea of an Indian Muslim nation makes sense for such a man, but not the Turco-Persian grandees of yore.
For various reasons, the Indian republic rejected this vision. I believe that in doing so they rejected the march of history, which has been toward greater sectarian identity and passion. Western commentators attempt to understand Hindu Nationalism on their terms, but just like the rise of an indigenous Indian Muslim identity is now stripped of West Asian accretions in the substance*, Hindu Nationalism is not comprehensible without understanding the interests and foci of native elites.
Where does this leave us? Everywhere and nowhere. In the past and looking to the future. Extracted out of the context of world history over the past 200 years Hindu Nationalism can seem uniquely invidious. But I doubt it is so unique at all. Rather, it is a novel cultural complex that draws deeply on indigenous atavisms. It is part of a broader waxing of local movements the world over.
* Pakistanis may claim West Asian origins or associations, but the national language is Urdu and Indo-Aryan dialect. The Ashraf of yore would have enshrined Persian as the national language.
This book is a great review of the rise and fall of classical Europe, from the earliest civilizations in Crete and Greece to the fall of the Roman Empire and the rise of Christianity. The authors are professional historians and remarkably free of either Left or Right wing cant. They provide an excellent summary of the rise of Mediterranean civilization and the origins of the notion of Europe. They manage to pack a remarkable amount of facts into this book, including quantitative data where possible (“X percent of all crockery at this site changed from Greek to Etruscan between Y and Z years” kind of thing). Greco-Roman nerds will know many more details obviously, but even they will not be disappointed with how much information and perspective the authors can fit into a small space. Well worth reading.
I wrote a piece about recent changes in Kashmir. While working on the background, I stumbled on an interesting chapter of Kashmir & Pakistan history that I have never seen in any mainstream publication. I decided to dig a more deeper to understand it better. Following is the outcome of that exercise. I thought it was important for those interested in the history of the region. Enjoy.
Ahmadis and Kashmir
“Independence of Kashmir can only be achieved by Kashmiris. Outsiders can only help in two ways; with financial support and by advocating their cause. Kashmiris should forget that outsiders will fight their war. Such outside help will not be useful; in fact, it will have opposite effect on the struggle for independence. If control of the struggle is in the hands of outsiders, it is possible that they will sell Kashmiris for their own interests. It is in the interest of Kashmiris that they should get advice as well as financial help from outsiders but never ask them to come and fight their war in Kashmir. In this case they will lose control. Long term sacrifice and not temporary emotional outburst will serve their cause and long term sacrifice can only be done by Kashmiris”. Head of Jama’at Ahmadiyya, Mirza Bashir Uddin Mahmud, 27 September 1931
Jama’at Ahmadiyya is a sect founded by Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (1835-1908). In early twentieth century, it was a small community with disciples mainly from Punjab; the birthplace of the founder. There was much hostility against the group in view of doctrinal differences especially when Mirza claimed to be Messiah and prophet. Agitation of orthodox clerics over decades finally culminated in an unprecedented act where Pakistan’s parliament declared the sect non-Muslim in 1974. This started a wave of persecution forcing many Ahmadis to leave the country and find refuge all over the world. General hostility including outright abuse against the group is at such an abnormal state that it is impossible to have any kind of meaningful discourse about the role of Ahmadis in Kashmir as well as independence movement of Pakistan. This part of the history disappeared from almost all historical works in Pakistan.
Kashmir was a Muslim majority princely state ruled by a Hindu Dogra ruler. Kashmiri Muslims were economically poor and politically powerless. Muslims of neighboring Punjab, many with Kashmiri heritage were concerned about the plight of Kashmiri Muslims. In 1911, they established All India Kashmiri Muslim Conference (AIKMC) in Lahore. This organization remained only on paper with no connection with Kashmiri Muslims and no program. In the summer of 1931, simmering discontent in Kashmir resulted in riots. On 25 July 1931, leading Muslims mainly from Punjab gathered at Simla and established All India Kashmir Committee (AIKC). The list of attendees of this meeting included literary and intellectual powerhouse Sir Muhammad Iqbal, head of Ahmadiyya community Mirza Bashir Uddin Mahmud Ahmad, leading Punjabi politician Sir Mian Fazal Hussain, Nawab of Maler Kotla Sir Muhammad Zulfiqar Ali Khan, Nawab of Kanj Pura Ibrahim Ali Khan, leading cleric of Delhi’s Barelvi community Khawaja Hassan Nizami and a former teacher of the leading orthodox Sunni seminary Darul-Uloom Deoband Maulvi Mirak Shah. Fazal Hussain wanted Iqbal to head the organization but on recommendation of Iqbal, Mirza Mahmud was unanimously chosen as president of AIKC. Muslims of different walks of life were members of AIKC including politicians affiliated with different parties, lawyers, educationalists, landed aristocracy, clerics from different schools of thoughts, journalists and businessmen. At no other time, such a consensus developed among diverse Muslim population of India. Continue reading “The Role of the Ahmediyya Movement in Kashmir”
I find twitter to be a great tool for cultural anthropology. There are a lot of views discussed and often many people hold these views very seriously and see twitter as a medium to express them freely. Relative anonymity also makes it easier to utter that you wouldn’t otherwise in public.
One of my occasional observations is how strong the pattern of denying ethnic cleansing of Kashmiri Pandits is within various groups of people on Twitter. I am interested in it because I have lived through these events, but also because I want to understand what kind of moral or political imperatives drive people towards holding such views sincerely.
[Author’s note: With the celebrations of Guru Nanak’s 550th Anniversary and the opening of the Kartarpur Corridor being in the news, this is an opportunity for discussing the importance of the Sikh message, not just from a religious perspective – for Sikhs – but for Indian history. This article places the founding of Kartarpur, and Guru Nanak’s message, in a historical context – juxtaposing it with Babur’s founding of the Mughal Empire.]
I. Turning of the Wheel: Baba Nanak and Babur
In 1519, Babur invaded India – ‘ever since coming to Kabul we had been thinking of a Hindustan campaign, but for one reason or another it had not been possible,’ he writes in the Baburnama (translated by William Thackston, see pp 270-280). For some time his armies had been campaigning on the frontiers of the Hindu Kush, but these campaigns had yielded ‘nothing of consequence to the soldiers’. So, he turned to Hindustan. In the next few months, despite dogged resistance by the Afghans, Gujjars and Jats of the upper reaches of the Jhelum and Chenab, northern Punjab was subjugated, and plundered, by Babur’s armies. Babur himself spent most of his days inebriated, contemplating the legacy of Timur and setting poems to rhythmic metres. While his next great invasion of Punjab would come few years from then, in this interregnum, Punjab burned.
Among the towns and villages devastated was the settlement of Sayyidpur.