Being a history/ian

Sometimes I wonder: if I’d had more faculty of color mentors, would they have warned me against the project I am doing when I first conceived of the idea? Against this project of historicity, against this project of walking back through the lives of my own community to see what happened, to see exactly how we came to where we are. 

And then I tell myself,  I’m being too sensitive. I’m over thinking. I’m being too sensitive. 


Blundell and other European observes realized that indigenous governmental institutions which did not fit into the British - Indian system were decaying and that the foundations of the traditional ties of village and family life were also giving way. But business demands invariably took precedence. From Calcutta’s perspective, economic production needs were more important than accommodation to popular desires. Little attention was accordingly given Blundell’s insistence that Talaings recently freed from Buremse misrule could not be handled by Bengali methods, especially if the attempt were made in accordance with the presumptuous pattern of personal privilege set up by the British mercantile community. 

- “A History of Modern Burma” by John Cady 


A few things immediately run through my mind.

First: “Calcutta” does not necessarily imply Indian administration. The excerpt above is a *history snapshot* of 1842, when India was pretty firmly under British rule. 

Second: a flashback to a class about Pre-Modern India when a south asian student was reading about satti. She had come back to class, and after prompted, told the class about how various economic changes that the British implemented, fully knowing that they weren’t working, fully knowing how much harm they were bringing to the community,  was regardless implemented. One of the results of the new economic changes and laws was how the practice of satti became entrenched in the region. 

Third: scholars.

  • Jonathan Saha has presented John Comaroff’s argument in his book Law, Disorder and the Colonial State that colonial law should not be treated as a functional, monolithic entity. Further in his introduction, Saha points out that colinial state in history books are often protrayed as “a rational, impersonal, bureacratic actor, separate from, and yet increasingly intrusive in, society. This dominant narrative has created a dichotomous, Manichean picture the relationship between the state and society that can be mapped directly onto the binary of the colonizer and the colonized. There is little room in this framework to examine the complexities of how the state was experienced in everyday life. Nor is there much scope to study the role played by the mostly Indian and Burmese subordinate state officials; a group on which precious little historical work has been published”. [The view gave me pause: there’s substance in there but I need to read more, to think more.] 
  • Marc Epprecht wrote in his book Sexuality and social justice in Africa : rethinking homophobia and forging resistance that he is against the idea of blaming colonials for everything, but colonialism shouldn’t be discounted in relation to current events in post colonial regions.When he talked about his abhorrence of blaming everything on colonialism to make ourselves feel better, it made me laugh.
  • Uma Narayan argued in her 1989 essay, “The Project of Feminist Epistemology: Perspectives from a nonwestern feminist”, that just because an individual is oppressed does not mean said individual has “epistemic advantage” to the *oppressed* view point. She pointed out that many  of the *oppressed* group are so Westernized that they lose knowledge of their own culture. And so criticism is necessary. 


"Calcutta" does not imply British administration. Not in 1842. However, shortly after that, the Chettiyar community came to Burma, and essentially did become rich from the opportunities that opened up in Burma. We also know that though administration was essentially British, it did not mean that Burmese/Indian officials weren’t present in the administration.  British administration. Burmese official. Whose ambitions? 

A complicated picture. 

I go back to reading the above excerpt again. “… realized that indigenous governmental institutions which did not fit into the British - Indian system were decaying and that the foundations of the traditional ties of village and family life were also giving way. But business demands invariably took precedence”.


British ambitions. Burmese/Indian players. Burmese/Indian pawns. The destruction of old ways and emergence of new ways of living. 


A century and a half later, the identity of Muslim Rakhine is being debated in the Burmese parliament. Are they Burmese? Foreign Bangladeshis who came to take advantage of the fertile rice delta? Do they have the right to citizenship? Owning property? Vote? Hold office? 

The questions are not new. They can be traced back to the 1930s and 1940s and before when Burmese national identity was being debated. When the Chettiyar Indians - and so by relation, all Indians - in Burma were considered foreigners. When the choice to remain sovereign under India was being debated. 

Questions asked for a century have a peculiar kind of pain behind them. And so I turn back to my history books. To solve the riddle of how we came be this way.


Are current kalar-Bama relations wholly the result of colonial practice and greed? How much can be blamed on the subordinates? There were so many looking for more opportunities, who also played a role in the colonial state. How much is my own history intertwined in this pain?

I don’t know. There’s so much more I need to read. And so I pause.

Perhaps I am over thinking everything.  Being too sensitive. Regardless, I have a lot more reading to do. 

"Colonization does not, after all, affect people only economically. More fundamentally, it affects a people’s understanding of their universe, their place within that universe, the kinds of values they must embrace and actions they must make to remain safe and whole within that universe. In short, colonization alters both the individual’s and the group’s sense of identity. Loss of identity is a major dimension of alienation, and when severe enough it can lead to individual and group death. When an individual’s sense of self is… distorted by the impact of contradictory points of view, colonization and its terrible effects will not be assuaged by mere retention of land rights and economic self-sufficiency."

— Paula Gunn Allen (via aloofshahbanou)

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Recommended Reads: The Orphans of Modernity and the Clash of Civilizations by Khaled Abou el Fadl

I have no qualms in describing what took place on 11 September as the undoing of all that is civilised or decent. By any legal or moral measure, what took place was an act of immoral barbarism that exhibited a suicidal and destructive psychosis. The issue that concerns me here, however, is not the assessment of the immorality of the 11 September attacks; rather, I am interested in assessing the morality and civility of our discourse in response to the attacks.

There are several aspects of our anti-terrorism policies that contribute to a symbolic leap from a declared “war against terrorism” to a “war against Islam”. Initially, it is important to keep in mind that the moment we intimate that we in the West are civilised and Islam is barbaric, we effectively equate Islam and terrorism. The civilised West and uncivilised “other” is a frame of mind that is inherent in the very idea of the clash of civilisations because no one, not even Huntington and his supporters, truly believes the claim that the purportedly “clashing civilisations” are equal in moral merit or ethical value. Logically, it is possible for the good to clash with the good, but the socially constructed imagination will find this a theoretical possibility difficult to accept. If two civilisations are clashing, the natural assumption will be that one is good and the other is bad, and that we, whoever the “we” might be, are necessarily the good. In social psychology, this is often referred to as the binary instinct of “us” versus “them”.

(The full article can be read here.)

The article starts off considering bin Laden and his motives behind 9/11 and takes us through the “clash of civilization” through the Bush’s anti-terrorism laws and the dichotomy of good vs. evil that Bush created. The author does a good job of explaining the complex historical and social contexts behind “fundamentalist” Islam and how they should be understood in the context of a frustrated post colonial group. There is background history for Wahhabism, Salafism, ‘Salafabism’, and Osama bin Laden. Though I do wish he had elaborated on post colonialism a little more, it is all in all a really good and comprehensive read especially for those who are new to these ideas and subjects.

Why Am I Not Allowed My Rage?

I had a discussion at my college’s MSA today. 

It was about current events. #MuslimRage. The video of “The innocence of Muslims”. You know. What’s been on the news. And there were some people who said: “we should pick and choose our battles” and not get upset about everything. 

Which I can agree with, yes, people should definitely choose their battles, but it kind of becomes hard when things are pushed towards you, but anyway. Also, apparently even Clinton had something to say about it. And one of the people commented as to how “it’s such a shame that a non-Muslim had to remind us this.”

There was another concurrent theme of the whole, “we should educate people, because there are peaceful Muslims etc etc”.

And I agree with the sentiments, I do. I think it was abhoring that the American ambassador was killed in Libya. I was horrified with the rioting that happened in places like Pakistan. That’s not Islam. That’s not what the Prophet taught us. I saw campaigns erupt on Facebook condemning and shaming fellow Muslims into please, please, please not do what the Prophet wouldn’t do. One of the most famous incidents from the life of Prophet quoted: how he’d walk past peacefully when a woman threw rubbish on him, and the one day she didn’t, he asked after her health. I think that’s a powerful narrative, and is something that most Muslims know about, and can relate to.  I also love the campaign of trolling that started on twitter (see #Muslimrage), and it even migrated to tumblr here. Humor is a powerful tool. Violence isn’t always the answer.

One of the things that I keep hearing over, and over, increasingly from both non-Muslim and Muslim commentators is that the Muslims who protest incidents like these (the film of “Innocence of Muslims”, the Danish Cartoons etc.), are too “sensitive”. They need to learn tolerance etc. etc. One of the best counter argument was provided here by blogger Mehreen Kasana:

Also, remember: These protests arranged by Muslims aren’t only about the Islamophobic film (created by an extremist Coptic Christian to pit Jews and Muslims against each other again) but most of the rage comes from the resentment and frustration the Middle East and Central and South Asia have for US foreign policy (which happens to be extremely dishonest, exploitative and violent). Anyone thinking all Muslims are “touchy” is over-simplifying the issue. This film only triggered it once again. I spoke to one of the students in Pakistan who has been protesting other Islamophobic productions and he had a very simple thing to say: “It’s not just the film. It’s everything. Their politics, abuse and mockery for us. We don’t talk about the clash of civilizations; they do. They created the battle of West against East. It’s not just the film. You’re naive to think so.” He had a point.

 A lot of commentators, in their zealousness to portray Muslims as a peaceful people overall, forget this point. In today’s world, Muslim are othered. Mocked. They are attacked, not only in the name of free speech, but also attacked and exploited in political, and economical terms. I am not denying that Muslim identities are very interwoven with their national ones in many countries, so it seems that they erupt over “religious issues”, but frankly, I am getting tired of this discourse being set only in terms of religion. 

Because may God help the Palestinian who gets angry at their situation, and at Israel (their colonizer), and at America (their colonizer’s ally). May God help the Pakistani who gets angry and protests against the drone attacks that’s happening (which is not even really acknowledged by American politicians or popular media, btw). It is all nice and great to say that when Muslims protest and it turns violent, that is the image that goes out to the world, so we should abstain from it. But who decides what image goes out to the world? Popular media does, first world countries with their monopolies do. I have heard the argument: “well, when, for example, Christians are offended, they don’t go all crazy”. Firstly, they are not.  Secondly, when, for example, the Westboro Baptist priest started burning Quran, he was not the face of #ChristianRage. He is not portrayed as the face of Christianity, he is not portrayed as the face of America. Neither was the Norwegian Christian who killed kids. Politicians and media changed their tone the moment they were made aware of his ethnicity, and religion. Priests who sodomized young boys are not the face of Christianity. So then here’s my question, why is there this image of “Muslim radicals”, the mainstream image of Islam? In media which is supposedly “open minded”, and “liberal”, and for the “educated masses” (aka, supposedly not Fox News Watchers).

Because rhetoric shapes politics. Because while Americans are killed by non-state terrorist groups, Muslims are killed by the States. And I am a little tired, that not only are these facts not acknowledge, Muslims are expected to tolerate these facts. Not only am I tired of having to defend over and over, people and places and incidents that are only connected to me because of a common belief, but I am also tired of seeing, over and over, that there is no legitimate discourse when #MuslimRage is talked about. So few popular media talks about drone attacks. So few talk about all the ways in which First World countries still exploit Third World Muslim countries, where these protests are happening. 

It stinks of colonialism. 

It stinks of colonialism, because not only are First World countries allowed to tell Muslims as a whole, what to get offended at and not get offended at (that is such a supremacist mentality), First World countries are still deciding what image of Muslims gets out on popular media. Yay for Orientalism, Hollywood, and print media, which btw, is not obsolete. It stinks of colonialism because they get away with it. Because both Muslims and  non-Muslims often paint it as a black and white picture of “idiot, angry Muslims” vs “educated, secular, peaceful Muslims”.

And I am tired of this. I am tired, and defensive, and aggressive about this. That Muslims, as a whole or as a fraction, are not allowed our hurts and our anger. I am tired, that we are exploited, that we are killed, but we should still have “peaceful protests”. Please don’t get me wrong. I don’t condone violence. But I wish we were treated humanely, we were treated like our First World (white) counterparts. I with that a few people wouldn’t become “the face of Islam”, I wish we were allowed diversity, I wish this didn’t become a linear debate. 

"Orientalism was a European enterprise from the very beginning. The scholars were European; the audience was European; and the Indians figured as inert objects of knowledge. The Orientalist spoke for the Indian and represented the object in texts. Because the Indian was separated from the Orientalist knower, the Indian as object- as well as its representation- was construed to be outside and opposite of self; thus,both the self and the other, the rational and materialist British and the emotional and spiritual Indian, appeared as autonomous, ontological, and essential entities. Of course, the two essential entities, the spiritual India and the materialistic West, made sense only in the context of each other and the traces of each in the other, which suggested that heterogeneity and difference lay beneath the binary opposition, although the process of rendering India into an object external both to its representation and to the knower concealed this difference. It also made the colonial relationship- the enabling condition of British Orientalism- appear as if it was irrelevant to the production of knowledge. As a result, although colonial dominance produced the East-West construct, it looked as if this binary opposition not only pre-dated the colonial relationship but also accounted for it. In other words, Orientalist textual and institutional practices created the spiritual and sensuous Indian as an opposite of the materialistic and rational British,and offered them as justifications for the British conquest."

Gyan PrakashWriting Post-Orientalist Histories of the Third World: Perspectives from Indian Historiography (via sitaronse)

(via pbnpineapples)


This makes me want to decolonize my name. Because کامران ≠ Cameron. mixed feelings :/

“I will not break my name so yr lazy English can sleep it’s tongue on top.”

But I don’t want any fucking exotic/orientalist “yr last name is so beautiful bs.” It means construction worker you asshole.

One of the most often discussed things I see in a lot of media is the discussion of how atheism is punishable by death in a few Muslim (majority) countries. 

Of what I know of history (admittedly, very little), there were many Muslims that turned away from Islam when there were still Muslim empires. Not all of them were killed/beheaded. 

Please note: I am not arguing here the reading (?) that an apostate of Islam must be beheaded or not. 

But I do wonder if atheism was seen as something influenced by Euro-centric ideals, and the hurt of colonialism, and imperialism meant that in many modern day Muslim majority states,  vehement rejection of Eurocentric ideals meant that, yes, atheists/apostates are ordered to be killed. 

Hence, (I wonder) if this mindset is a legacy of colonialism and imperialism. Muslims as a whole were a really tolerant people in history. It was the Christians who drove anyone who didn’t fit the status quo out. It wasn’t a Muslim thing. 

Again, as I said, this is just me thinking out loud. I don’t have real proof to back me up here. But. Just a thought. 


…It is possible to argue that Asia, Africa and South America are the only cultural regions that are truly multi-cultural today. Because in these parts of the world, living simultaneously in two cultures-the modern western and the vernacular-is no longer a matter of cognitive choice, but a matter of day-to-day survival for the humble, the unexposed and the ill-educated. Compared to that multicultural sensitivity, the fashionable contemporary ideologies of multiculturalism and post-coloniality in our times look both shallow and provincial.

One of the most damaging legacies of colonialism, however, lies in a domain that attracts little attention. The West’s centrality in all intercultural dialogues of our times has been ensured by its dominance of the cultural language in which dialogue among nonwestern cultures takes place. Even when we talk to our neighbours, it is mediated by western categories, western assumptions and western frameworks. We have learnt to talk to even our closest neighbours through the West.

This inner demon that haunts us has managed to subvert most forms of cultural dialogue among the non-western cultures. All such dialogues today are mediated by the West as an unrecognised third participant. For each culture in Asia today, while trying to talk to another Asian culture, uses as its reference point not merely the West outside, but also its own version of an ahistorical, internalised West, which may or may not have anything to do with the empirical or geographical West. One can no longer converse with one’s neighbour without conversing with its alienated self, its internalised West, and without involving one’s own internalised West.


Defining A New Cosmopolitanism: Towards a dialogue of Asian Civilizations by Ashis Nandy


Apart from the characterization of the political condition of India preceding the British conquest as a state of anarchy, lawlessness and arbitrary despotism, a central element in the ideological justification of British colonial rule was the criticism of the “degenerate and barbaric” social customs of the Indian people, sanctioned, or so it was believed, by their religious tradition. Alongside the project of instituting orderly, lawful and rational procedures of governance, therefore, colonialism also saw itself as performing a “civilizing mission.” In identifying this tradition as “degenerate and barbaric,” colonialist critics invariably repeated a long list of atrocities perpetrated on Indian women, not so much by men or certain classes of men, but by an entire body of scriptural canons and ritual practices which, they said, by rationalizing such atrocities within a complete framework of religious doctrine, made them appear to perpetrators and sufferers alike as the necessary marks of right conduct. By assuming a position of sympathy with the unfree and oppressed womanhood of India, the colonial mind was able to transform this figure of the Indian woman into a sign of the inherently oppressive and unfree nature of the entire cultural tradition of a country.

Of course, within the discourse thus constituted, there was much debate and controversy about the specific ways in which to carry out this project. The options ranged from proselytization by Christian missionaries to legislative and administrative action by the colonial state to a gradual spread of enlightened Western knowledge. Underlying each option was the colonial belief that in the end Indians themselves must come to believe in the unworthiness of their traditional customs and embrace the new forms of a civilized and rational social order.


Partha Chatterjee, Colonialism, Nationalism, and Colonialized Women: The Contest in India

This is a great essay about the inadvertent construction of a new patriarchy through nationalism as a response to colonialists and their manipulative characterization of the colonized Indians.

You can click through to read it.

(via sitaronse)

(via themindislimitless)

"[M]any nations of the third world are described as ‘underdeveloped’. These less wealthy nations are generally those that suffered under colonialism and neo-colonialism. The ‘developed’ nations are those that exploited their resources and wealth. Therefore, rather than referring to these countries as ‘underdeveloped’, a more appropriate and meaningful designation might be ‘over exploited’. Again, transpose this term next time you read about the ‘underdeveloped nations’ and note the different meaning that results."

— Robert B. Moore, “Racist Stereotyping in the English Language” (via wretchedoftheearth)

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