Month: January 2015

Come, Let Us Reconcile …

Lurking beneath cozy semantics, relations between the West and the Islamic world remain trapped in the past.

Three factors scream their guts out for a seat in related paradigms.

The 13th century Siege of Baghdad by the Mongols under Halaku Khan marks the end of the Islamic Golden Age, and not the Western Industrial Revolution’s need for raw materials and markets that led to colonization. Yet, no bitterness is directed at Mongols or Mongolia, perhaps because their underdeveloped state is unconsciously taken to be nature’s punishment!

Secondly, Islam expanded into Eastern and Western Christendom well before European powers occupied Islamic lands.

Thirdly, while the Islamic world and the former Christendom beat their chests about their superior colonial governance, neither is untarnished by the dark stain of institutionalized discrimination and slave-trading.

They claim the moral high ground and undermine each other in callisthenic one-upmanship!

Halaku Khan the Mongol ground the Abbasids and their fine civilization into dust, danced gleefully around burning libraries and spitefully had salt ploughed into Iraq’s fertile land.

Consequently, the Ottoman and Persian empires were unable to spawn an Age of Enlightenment and its golden goose, the Industrial Revolution.

Yet, simmering resentment at the West’s success is close to boiling point.

Preaching from pulpits can stoke, cool or redirect resentment.

Preachers need to be taken on board to tell their congregations why the West took a lead and guide their flocks in the same direction.

The past neither needs to be buried, nor resurrected, but studied as a compass for a common, interlinked and interdependent future.

Over a thousand years of blood-drenched Franco-German rivalry was neutralized after World War II by creating a structure of economic interdependence. Admittedly, both nations had the same level of economic, scientific and social development. That seems to be the one way out of this impasse of alarming Western-Muslim rivalry, further complicated by the many warring worlds the Islamic world.

The much maligned and politically incorrect Clash of Civilizations was the work of Professor Huntington, a staunch American Democrat and life-long liberal. Now George Friedman of Stratfor seems to have excelled himself in a forthright and pointed analysis entitled A War Between Two Worlds, despite a title rich in multi-directional meaning.

Although Friedman is right in saying that much of the Muslim antipathy comes from having been bypassed by the industrial revolution, it is regrettable that he has circumvented the effect of the 13th century Mongol invasion.

Yet, his scholarly article remains a time-worthy read:

However, at the end of the day, time-honored models for studying geo-strategic challenges were never expected to be infinite and need to be re-assessed.

Newer models relevant to the imperatives imposed by the raw intelligence material are a compelling need.

The Charlie Hebdo Attack: aftermath?

Tuesday, January 6th , 2015, in remembrance of the Magi who followed a star to visit the new-born Christ child, epiphany was being celebrated in France with the usual tradition of eating an almond and butter stuffed gallette. Whoever bites on the hidden ornamental figure is pronounced king and wears the paper crown. Very few remember the blood drenching of the day following Epiphany. When the Magi failed to report the location of the Christ child to King Herod, he had every new-born baby massacred.

In a macabre display of blood-letting on the day after Epiphany, two French citizens by birth decided to avenge the insult to the Prophet of Islam (PBUH) who had been satirized in cartoons by the French left-wing weekly Charlie Hebdo in 2006.

The magazine had rerun the Danish Juland Post’s cartoons and added a few of its own. Islam having a strong aniconic tradition, a graphic representation of any of the prophets mentioned in the Holy Qura’an is taken as a deadly insult. That includes Hazrat Issa, (Jesus Christ), Hazrat Musa(Moses) Hazrat Daud (David) and of course Prophet Muhammed (PBUH).

The preceding decades have seen strong criticism of movies such as The Last Passion of Christ, King David, The Ten Commandments and others, banned in most Muslim countries. Although there was no lampooning of the prophets, yet their graphic representation was enough to incense the Islamic world. Muslims do not, by and large, feel that a simile might lead to a metaphor and thus become a pardonable offense. Nor do they appreciate the didactic value of image-based teaching.

Not where their holy prophets are concerned.

Eight years after Charlie Hebdo exercised its Voltairian right to use satire in order to draw public attention to situations in need of remedy, the French born brothers Kouachi burst into the offices of Charlie Hebdo, coolly shot dead the editor, ten of his staff, two police officers, and calmly walked out declaring that they had avenged their prophet.

That may be, but the act has received condemnation from Muslim clerics across the spectrum of the Islamic world.

The perpetrators were cornered in business premises and shot dead by France’s elite GIGN counter-terrorism troops. Their associate had taken hostages in a Kosher supermarket, killed four, and also been shot dead.

The final body count between January 7 and 9 was twenty including the three offenders, with twenty-one injured.

Paris was terrified and France was outraged.

Some mosques were defaced, but in general there has so far been no repressive backlash on France’s five million Muslims unrelated to this misguided act.

Which, its savagery apart, it is.

Somewhere down the line, the perpetrators gave the perceived interests of the Muslim Umma a higher priority than the land of their birth. They elected themselves judge, jury and hangpersons on the behalf of Muslims who, however incensed they might be on the issue, do not believe it justifies cold blooded murder in the name of their prophet.

The Kouachi brothers had obviously rejected their affiliation with their welfare nation state. That association is one of the foundations of the vaunted French public education system, which failed the Kouachi brothers and the French nation when and where most needed. The Kouachi brothers too, failed their system and deliberately betrayed the land of their birth.

Something is rotten somewhere, in and far beyond the state of Denmark.

Attacking Charlie Hebdo for its cartoons eight years after the commission means that the act hopes to generate a backlash on Muslims, widen communal gulfs and destabilize France. And that is strategy beyond the reach of the Kouachi brothers.

Someone somewhere is pulling global strings following an agenda with strategic objectives. A million marchers in Paris led by forty-eight world leaders bursting with high-calorie semantics that make good press will not impress them.

The Last Lost Kingdom

Lost kingdoms, sequestered civilizations and isolated tribes interconnect fact and fiction, illusion and reality, and imagination and substance. 21st century means of communication, observation, archiving, analyses and publication should ensure the boredom of knowing it all. But hidden gems such as the former Himalayan kingdom of Lo remain untouched.

Nicole Crowder’s photo editing is a stunning exhibition of controlled talent.

A fortress in the sky, the last forbidden kingdom of Tibetan culture.

Nicole Crowder:

Sheltered by some of the highest mountains in the world — Annapurna and Dhaulagiri — and bordering China on the Tibetan plateau, hides an ancient kingdom called Mustang, or Land of Lo. The kingdom is often confused with the mythical Shangri-La. The capital of the Mustang kingdom, Lo Manthang, is home to the Loba people, and its walled city is considered by some scholars to be the best preserved medieval fortress in the world. It is a candidate to become a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Thanks in part to its ancestral location — and because it has been forbidden to foreigners until as recently as 1992 — Mustang has retained its ancient culture. Though its capital is located in Nepal, it is one of the last strongholds of traditional Tibetan life left in the world. It remains a restricted region that is difficult to access. Foreigners must obtain special permits and pay high rates to visit it.

Photographer David Rengel visited the region recently to document the culture and observe its long-preserved way of life. Part of the project was realized while he began filming a documentary alongside producer and director by Larry Levene called “The Last Lost Kingdom” for the production company Es.Docu.

The lower part of Mustang yields more moist land and is rich in vegetation, while the more arid land in upper Mustang makes agricultural life a bit harder.

For centuries, caravans roamed the Kali Gandaki gorge between regions of Tibet, China and India with salt, yak wool, cereals, dried meat, spices and other goods on the so-called Salt Road. A road is being built along this route that will directly connect Mustang with China. When the road is completed, it will become one of the most accessible corridors of the Himalayas, and Mustang’s inhabitants’ lives may rapidly change with the influx of foreigners. Many of the young Loba people are waiting expectantly and anxiously for the road’s completion, but many older residents are hesitant about what it will mean for their culture and identity.

The Indo-Pakistani Caste System: multi-hued Smarties!

Transcript of Dr. Ramaswamy’s radio interview on Caste in South Asia

Hello, Claire Herringstone for the weekly Asia Today.

Our guest on tonight’s program is Dr. Ramaswamy, social anthropologist from Madras University, whom we’ll be interviewing for our viewers on the subject of untouchables within the South Asian caste system.

“Dr. Ramaswamy, good evening and thank you for joining us.”

“Good evening, and thank you for inviting me.”

Hen-henh. The first question is — how did a country with such fine philosophical roots end up with something like the caste system?”

“Caste is an old, established institution, almost as old as history. Gautam Buddha opened temples to all castes, so even before Christ, it was well entrenched in India. It’s hard to say whether the migrant Caucasian tribes brought caste with them, or whether the social structure of the Aryans of the Saraswati was already based on caste. According to the Rg Veda, Purush, the primal man, destroyed himself to create a human society. The Brahmin priests sprang from his head, the warrior Kshatriyas from his hands, the land-tilling Sudras from his thighs, and the untouchables from his feet.”

“Indeed, but surely there must be something more than history and religious mythology to enforce it?”

“Yes. Manu’s Laws as they are commonly referred to in the West greatly reinforced the caste system.”

“When was that?”

“About two thousand years ago. Even then, Indian craftsmanship was highly valued beyond its borders. India was renowned as an exporter of the highest quality weapons steel at that time.”

“Could you tell our listeners a little more about that?”

“What the West today calls Damascus steel, and is unable to duplicate.  The ingots of this exceptional steel were exported to Persia and the Middle East, where sword-smiths fashioned blades whose cleaving power and flexibility held the Crusaders in awe. Sir Walter Scott’s description of the cutting power of Saladin’s sword in The Talisman is a good illustration. In fact, the pre-Islamic Arab word for sword was Muhannad, meaning from Hind. Thus, at that time, the skills of India’s craftsmen had placed the Indian economy in a unique position in the world. So the Indian leadership was keen to ensure the continuity of these techniques. It was considered that skills were best passed on from father to son. Encouragement soon became edict. A caste-based society further reinforced this institution by adding scriptural and scholarly justification, further empowering the ruling class.”

“Most illuminating, Doctor. In India, there’s been this name change. Mahatma Gandhi called untouchables Harijans, and they call themselves Dalits. Why is that?”

“I myself am a Dalit, and we prefer it to Harijan which we consider to have been condescending, and untouchable, or backward, which is an insult.”

“Are Dalits, then, a separate race?”

“Yes and no.”

“How’s that? Sounds like a typically Indian response!”

“I object to that. It’s an anthropologist’s informal way of saying ‘to a certain extent yes’. Indian academics prefer not to speak pompously with laypersons! Anyway, Dr Ambedkar’s research proved genetic similarities between the highest and lowest castes in Maharashtra State.”

“So how do you account for the genetic similarities between the highest and lowest castes?”

“Victors have always raped the subjugated, and India’s states and chiefdoms were forever fighting each other — that’s one reason. Then there were concubines, and love matches. Over the centuries, India’s myriad states of varying sizes saw periods in which they came under a central empire and times when they receded from its grasp. Thrones regularly changed occupants while dynasties waxed and waned. The losers either vanished into mendicant yogi orders, or disappeared into the impure bastis of the untouchables. Thus it is that among the chuhras, lowest on the rung, there are those who talk of royal lineage. The oldest of these are descendants of royal families who escaped conquering blades that sought to eliminate dynastic lines. They are the Chuhra Choudhry leaders of today, and over the centuries, have been inter-marrying with other chuhras.”

“So caste does have something to do with wealth and fortune!”

“Although caste may appear to be almost genetically fixed, it can be won, lost and reinstated by force and fortune. It is also an overlap of geography, race, profession and politico-military power. In Tamil Nadu and Uttar Pradesh, Jatt farmers were considered Sudras. However, the British historian, Colonel Todd attributed Rajput origins to them.  This places them in the Kshatrya warrior caste. Up until the rise of Sikhism in the Punjab, Jatts were lower than Rajputs. With the evolution of Sikhism as a militant force, their status rose. In the eighteenth century, as a result of Banda Bahadur’s revolt against the Mughals, Punjabi Jatts assumed the status of Kshatryas, for the simple reason that they exchanged their ploughshares for swords. Tribes that had jealously claimed loftier origins were content to pass themselves off as Jatts rather than Rajputs. Conversely, at the height of Muslim power in India, tribal bards invented fantastic Arab and Central Asian origins for their chiefs. Muslim Arains claimed to be from Iran, whereas as Hindus, they were Kumbhos and claimed Rajput origin which society in general denied them anyway. If, by some freak accident of history, a region had come under Chuhra rule, these very tribes would have started claiming Chuhra origin. Maybe that is why India has this proverb “the buffalo belongs to him who wields the staff.”

 “But the Sikhs and Muslims have no caste!”

“Their religions don’t recognize it, but their communities practice it. Despite calling itself an Islamic Republic, Pakistan practices caste! So do the Christians, especially the ones in the South.”

“And why’s that, Doctor?”

“Because, it is India’s curse, with which we are all tainted. On the other hand, as Deepa Kandaswamy says, the West suffers from race and class.”

“Indeed. Could you tell our listeners a little more?”

“Chuhras converted to Sikhism are called Mazhabis, full fledged members of the warrior brotherhood that served the British and now serve India in its armed forces. Chuhra converts to Muslims who remained serfs are called Mussalies, and often with a change in fortune, assume the tribal names of their former masters. Those that managed to leave serfdom took the titles Sheikh and Khwaja, which were the titles of the highborn Muslim missionaries from the Middle East or Central Asia who converted them. Chuhras converting to Christianity took the family name of the British missionary who converted them. Thus it is that in India and Pakistan are found Sheiks who would scandalize an Arab, Smiths and Johnsons who would shock an Anglo-Saxon— we are indeed, a multi-hued nation, like a packet of smarties!”;

%d bloggers like this: