& occasionally about other things, too...

Sunday, March 16, 2014

India, Empire and the First World War - II

Continued from the post above

It isn’t quite possible to capture an hour’s lecture into a coherent report. What follows are some nuggets gleaned from his talk.  

According to Akbar, the birth of the modern world lies in the collapse of two major Muslim empires – the Ottoman and the Mughal. Both the empires started in the 13th century and ended the 19th century (although the Ottoman ended after World War I, Akbar termed the gap of 60-odd years between the end of the Mughal and the Ottoman Empires minor, meriting no more than three paragraphs in any conventional history book).

The World Wars were so termed not because the worlds were at war, but because these were wars for the control of the worlds, he said.  “At the end of the First World War, Muslims across the world were either defeated or colonized.”

However, unlike the Western paradigm of empires (as laid down by Edward Gibbon in The History of the Decline and Fall of the Holy Roman Empire) which evolved in three stages – rise, decline and fall, the Islamic paradigm envisaged a fourth stage – renewal.

So, post-World War I, when there were no Islamic empires left in the world, the struggle continued within Islam for renewal. Hitherto, Muslims had never equated a change in ruler to a threat to faith. This happened only after World War I when the holy centres of Islam – Mecca and Medina – came under British control.   

There weren’t just two World Wars, there were, in fact, four – the first two, then the Cold War, which ended in with the Soviet Union’s withdrawal from Afghanistan, and then the War on Terrorism, which will end with the US withdrawal from Afghanistan in 2015.

For the radical Muslims, within a period of a century – from 1914 to 2014 – Islam had successfully defeated three of the biggest powers that the world had ever seen – the British Empire, the Soviet Union and the United States.

Akbar said it’d probably take a century more for the complexities in the Islamic world to work out. If the First World War ended two of the last Islamic Empires – the Ottoman and the Mughal, it also gave birth to two modern models of renewal – again in Kamal Ataturk’s Turkey and Gandhi’s India.

Congress view of Khilafat
Muslims had several options for renewal and among these were Gandhian nonviolence, the Intifada movement of insurrection, Pan Arab nationalism (socialism and Arab nationalism, which reduced itself to Naseerism),

The Khilafat movement that Gandhi launched was the first jihad where the leadership of the movement was in the hands of a non-Muslim. 

In Shades of Sword, Akbar has termed it the peaceful jihad. The unity that Gandhi forged during Khilafat was lost forever when he abruptly withdrew the movement. The Muslims of the subcontinent never went back to Gandhi.

Muslim view of Khilafat
In 1939 Jinnah changed the story – from the future of Muslims in the subcontinent, it became the story of the future of Islam. Pakistan was formed on the belief that religion could be the basis of nationhood. It failed.

India followed the path of modernism which involved following four broad principles – democracy, secularism, gender equality and economic equality. 

According to Akbar, Pakistan and China are not modern societies because they don’t fulfil these four prerequisites of modern statehood.

A video of his talks is going to be made available on Munk Centre's website.

Visuals: http://www.thehistory-project.org/book/index.html

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