Tag Archives: India

Ireland told-you-so: “I don’t think there’s any real support for violence, but you can see how quickly things can unravel…It’s very bleak, and it is something to worry about.”

21 Nov

New York Times piece about things coming to a head in Ireland: “Northern Ireland Is Sinking Into a ‘Profound Crisis’” :

As the standoff drags on, and polarization increases, people find it harder to envisage Northern Ireland as an autonomous entity. “We’re back to this binary situation where people either see it as a problematic part of the U.K. or as a part of united Ireland,” said Graham Walker, a politics professor at Queen’s University, Belfast.

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My previous Ireland posts, the top more Ireland-specific, at bottom a broader look at nation and minorities:

Is England ready for fresh Irish blood on its hands?

15 Sep

This is not a question I ask glibly or to be deliberately provocative.  In fact, I think I was a little too glib in my earlier opinions about the issue of Brexit and Ireland and I’ve been sobered up a bit.

Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker at a summit of the EU, Brussels, June 2017Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker at a summit of the EU, Brussels, June 2017

And it’s The New York Review of Books’ excellent piece by Fintan O’Toole, Brexit’s Irish Question“, that made me think a little more carefully about the whole issue.

I suggest everybody read the whole article since it’s open to the public, but I think even it pulls its punches a bit too much and doesn’t realize the degree of danger this “question” poses.  This is not “Brexit’s Irish Question.”  This is England’s Ireland Problem.  AGAIN.  STILL.  A reversion to form.  Before 1999.  Before 1921.  So all parties, but especially England, not Britain, should tread very carefully.

A good if rather lengthy summary/call out are the following three paragraphs from the piece:

“The Republic of Ireland was one of the most ethnically and religiously monolithic societies in the developed world. Its official ideology was a fusion of Catholicism and nationalism. The anti-homosexuality laws reflected the dominance of the Catholic Church, which was also manifest in extreme restrictions on contraception, divorce, and abortion. While the vast majority of its population was repelled by the savage violence of the Irish Republican Army’s armed campaign against British rule across the border in Northern Ireland, most agreed with the IRA’s basic aim of ending the partition of the island and bringing about what the Irish constitution called “the reintegration of the national territory.”

“But the Irish radically revised their nationalism. Three big things changed. The power of the Catholic Church collapsed in the 1990s, partly because of its dreadful response to revelations of its facilitation of sexual abuse of children by clergy. The Irish economy, home to the European headquarters of many of the major multinational IT and pharmaceutical corporations, became a poster child for globalization. And the search for peace in Northern Ireland forced a dramatic rethinking of ideas about identity, sovereignty, and nationality.

“These very questions had tormented Ireland for centuries and were at the heart of the vicious, low-level, but apparently interminable conflict that reignited in Northern Ireland in 1968 and wound down thirty years later. If that conflict was to be resolved, there was no choice but to be radical. Things that nation-states do not like—ambiguity, contingency, multiplicity—would have to be lived with and perhaps even embraced. Irish people, for the most part, have come to terms with this necessity. The English, as the Brexit referendum suggested, have not. This is why the Irish border has such profound implications for Brexit—it is a physical token of a mental frontier that divides not just territories but ideas of what a national identity means in the twenty-first century.”  [My emphases]

The passage’s conclusion pretty much says it all.  As the second decade of the twenty-first century comes to a close, and as Ireland approaches 100 years of freedom from almost 800 years of English rule, Ireland will enter the historical record as having taken a step forward and England as having taken a step backwards.  Good riddance, to be frank, as I have to say so against some pretty deep Anglophile sentiments.  It took me till much too late in life to realize that the best thing to do to an irate lover who loudly announces he’s not talking to you anymore is to ignore him, but that is what the European Union is rightly and justly doing to Britain.  And Britain is doing exactly what the “irate lover” always does when you call his no-talking bluff: trying to somehow work his way back into the position where he can regain at least some of the power that he forfeited with his drama so that he can manoeuver a bit.  But it’s not going to work.  Europe is genuinely tired of the drama.

The issue here is that it’s unconscionable that England’s drama should again be made Ireland’s.  Here’s a political map of the past two decades of Northern Irish life:

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What the map shows really clearly is that, as the percentage of Protestants in Northern Ireland has declined, the two groups have actually — during almost twenty years of what we have liked to imagine was peace — grown further apart and polarized into staunchly Sinn Féin Republican constituencies and Protestant DUP constituencies.  As the Review article points out Sinn Féin supporters in a non-EU Northern Ireland will now be deprived of the ability to have either or both Irish and British citizenship, something to which I cannot see them taking to very kindly.  I also do not see supporters of DUP, a corrupt bunch of thugs that represents the absolute worse of the English Reformation’s traditions of Guy Fawkes’ Day, anti-Catholic hatred and racism (no, Catholics aren’t always the bad guys), easily giving up their attachments to London.

But that’s exactly what London has to do.  England left Ireland in 1921 with a sizeable chunk stuck between its teeth that, like a pitbull, it would not let go of and which is why we find ourselves where we are today.  It left India in 1947 like a teenager who sheepishly goes off to sleep at his girl’s after his friends have trashed his parents’ place while they were away.  It left Cyprus in 1960 exactly the same, a time bomb ready to go off — which did.  Under no condition should England be allowed to leave a similar mess this time.  Time for the international community to make the English clean up after themselves.

The international community and NATO more specifically did not support Portugal in its attempt to hold on to Goa after Indian independence.  That means the UK neither, obviously.  It’s now time for the world to tell the UK to entirely and finally Quit Ireland, its closest and perhaps most deeply brutalized colony.  I’m usually not so intransigent on these issues, but the historical record calls for a complete rejection of any attempts by Irish Protestants to keep England involved in Irish affairs by “protecting” them or their rights; complicated compromises only kick the can down the road.  The historical record calls for a complete rejection of even a syllable of their “position.”  The historical record calls for a referendum, which Unionists will lose, and calls for London to make it clear to them that they are being cut loose.  Let them keep British citizenship if they want.  Come up with a resettlement scheme for them if that’s what they want, immigrants that the English can live with since they can’t tolerate detestable, lazy, dirty Poles.  Otherwise, bye-bye guys…

But if Theresa May and her government of buffoni were ethical enough or had the balls to do something like that, they would have started that process already, instead of still talking gibberish about everything like they are.

This might end badly.  Let’s hope not.

Comment: nikobakos@gmail.com

Ireland — Gimme a break; I can’t believe this is even up for discussion

13 Aug

26 plus 6 equals 1

Check out the Times article from a few days ago: “On Irish Border, Worries That ‘Brexit’ Will Undo a Hard-Won Peace“.

I was once dragged by force into a corner by a Lebanese friend at a party in Cambridge and told to never ask anyone Lebanese their religious affiliation, I guess because I probably just had done.  Of course, I still ask. Like I implied in my Turkish post a few days ago, pretend unity (that you’re a passionate Erdoğan supporter and I’m not, or if you’re Maronite and I’m third-generation Palestinian doesn’t mean that we can’t still be “unified”), can only become real unity if differences are acknowledged. (*1)

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I’ve had not dissimilar experiences with Irish folks if I’ve ever tried to talk about religion or Ulster or “the Troubles.”  I once asked a guy at an Irish bar in Queens who was from Northern Ireland if he was Catholic, and I got a blank and frankly angry stare in response, and with so much alcohol and testosterone in the mix, realized quickly I should shut up and look the other way or change the topic.  A female bartender who heard the one-sided exchange said to me softly: “not a good idea to ask people those things…”  Ok.

pPJAwhu n ireland religionMap of Northern Ireland with distribution of Protestants (red) and Catholics (green) according to age group, showing a clear demographic decline of Protestants.

I also hear Irish anger at what they think is an out of touch diaspora that funded continuing IRA violence when the Irish themselves on both sides were starting to get tired of the violence and the fences were starting to come down — though that’s slightly disingenuous — in the early days these diaspora funders were heroes — and, as a non-metropolitan Greek, immediately assuming that the “diaspora” is “out of touch” or stuck in a time warp is a seriously irritating train of thought; there’s lotsa ways we’re more in touch than you lot.

So I’m really setting myself up as an easy target since I’m not even Irish or Irish-American.  But I feel I can’t be silent as the English decide the future of any part of Ireland again.

I know that the Brexit vote came as a shock to a lot of Americans, as we were forced to confront the fact that the English are not all that smart, and can be as jingoistic, xenophobic, ignorant and proudly “know-nothing” as Americans can be.  And I say the English because Scotland and Northern Ireland voted against leaving the European Union — in Northern Ireland, particularly, in percentages that would indicate a large number of Protestants voted to stay as well — and they should now be free to decide their own fates free of London.

Sometimes I feel that my views on the ethnic nation-state and minorities come across as selective and sort of random to readers, so let me take this moment to clarify a bit.  I am, of course, against the brutal assimilationist policies of the nation-state and a supporter of minority language and cultural rights.  On the other hand, I’m also against a minority holding an entirely polity hostage because it refuses to conform with the conditions of living in a state where they don’t hold numerical superiority.

There’s a great and frustrating passage in Rebecca West‘s beautiful Black Lamb, Grey Falcon, where her Serbian (and half-Jewish) tour-guide is arguing with a Croatian intellectual in Zagreb; “but you are not loyal” says the Serb:

Croat: You treat us badly.  How can we be loyal?

Serb:  You’re treated badly because you’re not loyal.

Croat:  How can we be loyal if we are treated badly?

Serb:  If you were loyal, you wouldn’t be treated badly.

Croat:  When you treat us better, we’ll be loyal.

Serb:  As long as you’re not loyal you can’t expect to be treated better.

And on and on and on…

Rebecca-West

(Rebecca West, who along with disconcertingly smart and honest, was clearly a real babe as well — broke a lot of hearts and refused to forgive when hers was…cool.  As Lauren Cooper would say: “Forgiving is for l-o-o-o-o-z-u-u-h-h-z-z!!!”)

Of course, we saw, during WWII, just after West’s second trip, and then again by the end of the last century, that Croatians had no intention of being loyal to Yugoslavia no matter how much bending-over-backwards to ‘treat them better’ Belgrade did.

img_0973 BLGF worn

Or take Catalans again, in a state where as a minority they are treated exceptionally well.  Still, with full language and cultural rights, they feel Madrid is oppressing them and they want full independence, threatening to rip apart the fabric of a country that has made impressive democratic achievements over the past few decades.  And those of you who bought the public relations crap about how “hip, cool and Mediterranean” Catalonia is, and who spend your tourist money in Barcelona and the Balearics have only contributed to the discriminatory tendencies of Catalan chauvinism and the worsening crisis of Catalan separatism.  Try Galicia or the Basque Country if you want to see parts of Spain that are not part of the Castilian center, but where ethno-linguistic difference has made its peace with the Spanish state and society has agreed to co-existence.  Or if they’re too rainy and un-Mediterranean for you, go to Córdoba and Granada (skip Seville, too Catholic and bull-obsessed), poorer parts of the country that need your money and where you can buy the public relations spin of Edward Said instead, who once outrageously made the claim that 60% of Spanish vocabulary is of Arabic origin, (or maybe the spin of Al Qaeda and ISIS) and wallow in Al-Andalus nostalgia.

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Spain4 autonomous regions

Even more and very closer to home: my father’s Greek minority village of Derviçiani in southern Albania.  My early-days romance with the village is kinna over and I feel free to express things that I’m angry at myself for not saying to the faces of people there earlier.

EpireDuNOrd1913

I’d love to ask: what the f*ck do you want exactly?  They have Greek primary and secondary education; they have Greek churches (a Church about which few of them know anything or take seriously in any way, or have bothered to learn about in order to address the consequences of four decades of enforced atheism, but they have them); the Albanian Orthodox Church itself — meaning not just Greek minority churches, but the Church of Orthodox Albanians — in fact, is headed, run and staffed by Greeks, (extremely enlightened ones, I have to admit), the way the Arab Orthodox Churches of the Levant were for so many centuries; they have, I believe, two political parties that have members who sit in the Albanian parliament.  If their villages are experiencing slow to rapid depopulation, it’s not the fault of Albanians or Tiranë; they were simply trapped — Greeks and Albanians together — in a Stalinist cage for fifty years and now are free to leave: the villages of Greek Epiros started hemorrhaging inhabitants soon after WWII, and neighboring Albanian villages, both Christian and Muslim, are also emptying of young people.  Still, they’re hostile to neighboring Albanians; still, they want autonomy for “Northern Epiros,” which for some of them stretches half-way up to the middle of Albania (I don’t care if “the stones speak Greek all the way to Dyrracheio/Durrës” — The. People. Who. Live. There. Now. Don’t. And don’t want to be part of a Greek autonomous region. 2**); still, they make Muslim girls get baptized if they want to marry any of their precious boys, μη χέσω (thank God Albanians still wear their Islam kind of lightly or these poor girls would be in serious trouble) and will ostracize any Christian daughter or sister who falls in love with and marries a Muslim; still, they get offended, even a hip, British-educated nephew does, if you visit the pleasant, well-watered, historical Muslim village of Libohovo — Albanian Libohovë — across the valley and you come back and say it was very nice and that the young people there don’t seem much different than ours.  Of course, this attitude is a self-fulfilling prophecy, as the conversation from Black Lamb… above indicates, so that when you put up the flag of Autonomous Northern Epiros 1914 on August 15th and the Albanian police has to come and take it down, then you’ll just end up on the bad side of the Albanian authorities and ordinary Albanians’ retaliatory instinct and the vicious cycle will just keep going.

neolaia derbitsanis flagA flag of the Youth of Derviçiani, which, just by wild and completely invented coincidence, happens to have been “founded” in 1914, the year there was a short-lived experiment in Northern Epirote autonomy, which was squashed by Italian objections, because Italy considered Albania within its sphere of influence.  Obviously not a sign of just the “youth” of the village — there was no Youth of Derviçani in 1914.  And if there are still any doubts, the Palaelogan double-headed eagle lays them to rest.

(Really, is there anything as idiotic as a flag?)

But back to Ireland.  I think Ulster Protestants caused enough “troubles” by acting — with the hypocritical support of England — like they were a besieged minority that couldn’t be part of the Irish Republic.  So if a majority of Northern Irish voters chose to exit the Brexit, that’s a golden opportunity just dropped out of the heavens into our laps to correct an egregious historical wrong.  The invasion and conquest of Ireland, its depopulation and the ripping to shreds of its society, culture and language did not start with the Potato Famine of the nineteenth century.  It started with the Normans and the Plantagenets, and then the Tudors and the Stuarts and, finally, Cromwell and his Taliban, and it was a grueling, vicious, murderous process, as violent, or more, as any of Britain’s other colonial wars and right on Europe’s front door, and the Plantation of Ulster itself and the rest of Ireland was a conscious colonial policy of appropriating land and settling poor Protestant Scots and northern Englishmen in the country in order to “civilize” it and break Irish resistance to English hegemony.

Ireland_Protestants_1861-2011

If the above maps seem to indicate that a large number of Protestants left the Irish Republic in the twentieth century because they didn’t feel comfortable without the English crown’s protection, that’s unfortunate (it was not so unfortunate in cases where the Anglo-Irish elite felt they had to flee when their expropriated land was re-expropriated) but that can’t be a justification for the continued amputation of the country.

It’s a classic strategic move, though.  Ulster Protestants are not a socioeconomic group comparable to the Anglo-Irish landowners; they were always as squire-ridden as their Catholic neighbors and are still pretty much on equal footing in that sense.

But everybody has to be better than somebody, or else you’re nobody.  So, just like Catalans have to think they’re really Mare-Nostrum-Provençal Iberians (3 ***) and not part of reactionary Black Legend Spain; or Neo-Greeks have to think that they’re better than their Balkan neighbors (especially Albanian “Turks”) because they think they’re the descendants of those Greeks; or the largely lower-middle class, Low Church Anglican or Presbyterian or Methodist Brits who fled their socioeconomic status back home and went out to India in the nineteenth century in order to be somebody, had to destroy the socially laissez-faire modus vivendi that had existed there between Company white-folk and Indians, creating an apartheid and religiously intolerant, aggressively evangelizing, social system that laid the groundwork for the unbelievable blood-letting of the Indian Rebellion of 1857; or, perhaps history’s greatest example, poor whites in the American South (many, ironically, of Northern Irish Protestant origin) that had to terrorize Black freedmen back into their “place” because the one thing they had over them in the old South’s socioeconomic order, that they weren’t slaves, had been snatched away (and one swift look at the c-ontemporary American political scene shows clear as day indications that they’re, essentially, STILL angry at that demotion in status); or French Algerians couldn’t stomach the idea of living in an independent Algeria where they would be on equal footing with Arab or Berber Algerians.  So Protestant Ulstermen couldn’t tolerate being part of an independent state with these Catholic savages.

White Mughals Dalrymple

Freedman_bureau_harpers_cartoonA Bureau agent stands between armed groups of whites and Freedmen in this 1868 sketch from Harper’s Weekly.

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Recent White supremacist rally at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville — thanks to @JuliusGoat: “Imagine if these people ever faced actual oppression.”

The colonial power — or just the colonized mind — then disingenuously but actively seeks to right these wrongs and protect the embattled minority.  The results?  A Lebanon torn apart by Maronite phobias and Palestinian victim-entitlement; the greatest threat to Spanish democracy since Franco; a Greece completely isolated from its nearest and closest — in every sense — neighbors; an India where British response to the Rebellion effectively disenfranchised Indian Muslims (4 ****) — Dalrymple shrewdly locates one of the beginnings of modern Islamic fundamentalism in that disenfranchisement and the Deobandi Islam it created 5 *****; the Ku Klux Clan and the murder of Emmett Till and Donald Trump; the vicious Algerian War of Independence, which resulted in French Algerians having to flee the country entirely to a France where they’re still a bulwark of reaction and racism, and the still bad blood between Algerian immigrants and natives in that country.

(I thought about adding Cyprus to that list, that’s going on forty-some years of division after the 1974 Turkish invasion, but didn’t, because Turkish Cypriots actually were an embattled minority, and Greek Cypriots have to do some moral self-searching about their terrorizing, or passively supporting the terrorizing, of their Turkish neighbors, before they blame either Turkey or the Greek junta for f*cking things up for them.)

I was against the Scottish independence referendum of a few years ago because I’m against separation and the putting up of borders generally.  But then the apparently stoned British electorate went and separated itself from the rest of Europe, and if Scotland and Northern Ireland and Wales even, or Cornwall or the Isle of Manx or Jersey and Guernsey for that matter, want independence from England now, England will have only brought that down on its own head.  If Northern Ireland votes to stay in the European Union then de facto reunion with the Republic will have occurred; I would just like de jure recognition of that facto too, so that there’s no more excuse for meddling in Irish affairs.  Irishmen have done a lot of genuinely hard work confronting the demons of their own past in recent years; today’s Ireland is a democratic, pluralist, morally progressive society where the Catholic Church’s death-grip has been broken.  That Ulster Protestants can’t live there in peace and security and without English protection is a ludicrous idea.

So let it happen, and if Ulstermen don’t like it — sorry to sound like a reactionary nativist — but they’re free to go back to Scotland where they came from.  Or if they want they can come here and join their distant cousins in Kentucky and the Ozarks.  I’m sure President Trump will consider them the “right” kind of immigrants.

Comment: nikobakos@gmail.com

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1 * It’s a little reductive, but I think it’s not outrageously so to see the Lebanese Civil War as essentially, or initially,  a conflict between Maronite demographic panic and paranoia (not entirely unjustified) and Palestinian entitlement of the oppressed (even more justified); every other group seems to then have had no choice but to choose sides.  Then add Israel — which arguably started the whole problem — and Syria to the mix, και γάμησέ τα.

2 ** Of course, Northern Epirote Greeks’ δήθεν innocent desire for autonomy is completely disingenuous — though we’re supposed to think that Albanians are too stupid to get that — and is really just a prelude and first step to independence and union with Greece, though they’re a demographically fast-dwindling percentage of the population of the region they lay claim to.  That’s not a deterrent, however; all you have to do is believe that all Orthodox Albanians are reeeeeeeally Greek and you’ve solved your demographic issue, since Muslim Albanians are just turncoat intruders in the region as far as Northern Epirotes are concerned.

The only obstacle that would then be left is to get Albanians to forget what happened to the Muslim Albanian Çams of western Greek Epiros (Albanian: Çamëria, Greek: Τσαμουριά Tsamouriá) during WWII, when they were subjected to massacre and expulsion in a campaign of ethnic cleansing by the Greek right-wing resistance and had to flee to Albania.

Chameria_map2

I still haven’t figured out how, as Muslims, they escaped the Greco-Turkish Population Exchange of the 1920s; it would’ve been a more merciful fate.  I also haven’t figured out how the tsamiko, a dance of central and southern Greece, got its name.  Or else, what clues to a forgotten past the fact that my grandmother’s maiden name was Çames provides; almost all our last names are Albanian — with the Greek male nominative -s ending added to them — as in Bako-s — but as far as I know there’s no clan in our villages whose last name is actually the name of an Albanian sub-ethnic group.  See: (Easter eggs: a grandmother and a grandfather“.

Scratch a Greek and find an Albanian, I guess…  Or a Vlach…  Or a Slav of some sort…  (See: Albanians in Greece and the “documentary that shocked Greece” from SKAI)

This kind of issue always reminds me of the Puerto Rican expression from a song of I dunno what period: “¿Y tu abuela donde está?” or ¿Y tu agüela, aonde ejtá?“And where’s your grandmother?” i.e., before you get all high and mighty and Whitey on us, show us the Black grandmother you’ve got hidden in the kitchen.

3 *** This fetishizing of the Mediterranean as a region, a lost paradise of cosmopolitanism and healthy diets, drives me nuts.  Everyone is suddenly “Mediterranean.”  The big laugh, of course, is that Turks are Mediterranean.  Then comes the less funny one about Croatians being Mediterranean, whereas Serbs are clearly not — Croats wanting to have it both ways, and be Mediterranean and Mitteleuropean at the same time — even if they’re from neolithic Herzegovina and about as neanderthal themselves as their Serbian and Muslim neanderthal neighbors; Istrians have sealed their Mediterranean-ness by buying every Italian restaurant in New York City’s boroughs, and of course the largely Italianate Dalmatian coast seals in most Europeans’ minds the idea of Croatia as a country on the f*cking M-E-D-I-T-E-R-R-A-N-E-A-N.  Actually, the closest example to Croatians’ appropriation of a largely Venetian Adriatic is the Turkish appropriation of Greek Aegean imagery, in tourist and p.r. language, on both the Anatolian coast and in Imbros and Tenedos.

Just as nicely condescending is the saying from some-where in the Iberian periphery that “de Madrid no se ve el mar,” “you can’t see the sea from Madrid.”  Supposedly a jab at Castillian casticismo, and inward-looking provincialness.  No, you can’t see the sea.  That’s why Castille is such a beautiful, high plateau, dry and bright and chilly and Romanesque and stunning in its emptiness and vastness.

A White Turk friend once dragged me to Sorrento on our trip to Naples and Campania, which I knew would be a mistake, because it would be and turned out to be a tourist-swamped, hellish Thomas Cook holiday trap because it was “on the sea.”  (but one makes concessions to one’s travelling partner’s fantasies.)  We cut out as soon as we could and headed to Ravello, up in the mountains away from the sea and she was blown away by how beautiful it was.

And what happens to Greeks like me? who are from a part of the Greek world that is clearly more Balkan in every way than it is Mediterranean?  What do we have to do to join the club?

4 **** William Dalrymple is a great historical writer who does what professional academics can’t do because they’re so specialized that they can easily say: “Sorry, I don’t work on that period” when you ask them anything they don’t know.  The breadth and depth of his knowledge on South Asia is truly amazing and he makes it all interesting and stimulating for the layman without dumbing it down.  When I first started this blog I wrote to him asking to reproduce some of the passages on the British destruction of Mughal Delhi contained in his book, The Last Mughal, and he immediately and generously shot back with an email that said: “Go for it.”  Thanks again.

So check out those posts here and here and here .  Better yet, buy the book.

5  ***** Worth reproducing here in whole:

“Following the crushing of the Uprising, and the uprooting and slaughter of the Delhi court, the Indian Muslims themselves also divided into two opposing paths: one, championed by the great Anglophile Sir Sayyid Ahmad Khan, looked to West, and believed that Indian Muslims could revive their fortunes only by embracing Western learning.  With this in mind, Sir Sayyid founded his Aligarh Mohamedan Anglo-Oriental College (later Aligarh Muslim University) and tied to recreate Oxbridge in the plains of Hndustan.

“The other approach, taken by survivors of the old Madrasa i-Rahimiyya, was to reject the West in toto and to attempt to return to what they regarded as pure Islamic roots.  For this reason, disillusioned pupils of the school of Shah Waliullah, such as Maulana Muhammad Qasim Nanautawi – who in 1857 had briefly established an independent Islamic state north of Meerut at Shamli, in the Doab – founded an influential but depressingly narrow-minded Wahhabi-like madrasa at Deoband, one-hundred miles north of the former Mughal capital.  With their backs to the wall, they reacted against what the founders saw as the degenerate and rotten ways of the old Mughal elite.  The Deoband madrasa therefore went back to Koranic basics and rigorously stripped out anything Hindu or European from the curriculum.*

*(It was by no means a total divide: religious education at Aligarh, for example, was in the hands of the Deobandis.)

“One hundred and forty years later, it was out of Deobandi madrasas in Pakistan and Afghanistan that the Taliban emerged to create the most retrograde Islamic regime in modern history, a regime that in turn provided the crucible from which emerged al-Qaeda, and the most radical and powerful fundamentalist Islamic counter-attack the modern West has yet encountered.”

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See also his magisterial The Return of a King on nineteenth-century Afghanistan, which I have a few issues with, particularly his conclusions, but which was a couldn’t-put-it-down one for me.

Dalrymple return

Comment: nikobakos@gmail.com

Indian carpets and comfort in Pergamonmusuem, Berlin

20 Nov

Two images from Pictures of Comfort and Design: Carpets in Indian Miniature Painting:

“Recline in a comfortable place, an atmosphere of general well-being: nowhere do carpets play such a large role as in the Islamic world. In a region where furniture was little known for centuries, carpets allowed for relaxed sitting and sleeping. At the same time, they served as an important representational element and created an impressive ambience at courtly events.”

Screen Shot 2017-11-20 at 4.09.29 PM.pngThe Mughal Emperor Jahangir (r. 1605–27) with his wife on an imperial carpet with a lattice and flower pattern, probably from Kashmir, India or Lahore, present-day Pakistan, early 17th century, opaque watercolour and gold on paper © Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Museum für Islamische Kunst / Ingrid Geske

Screen Shot 2017-11-20 at 4.15.26 PMThe Mughal Emperor Muhammad Shah (r. 1720–48) on a grey carpet with green scrolling vines and pink blossoms, India, first half of the 18th century, opaque watercolour and gold on paper © Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Museum für Islamische Kunst / Ingrid Geske

Comment: nikobakos@gmail.com

Image: Mirza Nili, a son of Shah Alam II,with his sons Mirza Kamran & Mirza Humayun.

31 Oct

By the family workshop of Ghulam Ali Khan, Delhi c1810.  From

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Comment: nikobakos@gmail.com

Taj Mahal — spoken like a true nationalist: “…we will change this history…”

30 Oct

Taj MahalSome members of India’s ruling Hindu rightwing party claim the Taj Mahal does not reflect Indian culture. Photograph: Pawan Sharma/AP

From the Guardian: Hardline Hindu nationalists step up campaign against Taj Mahal.”

Article doesn’t make clear what BJP nationalists want exactly.  Ban images of the building?  Make people stop looking at it?  Don’t think, الحمد لله, anyone wants it torn down yet.  But the money quotes are priceless:

“Taj Mahal should have no place in Indian history,” he said, claiming Shah Jahan, the emperor who built the mausoleum for his deceased wife, had “wanted to wipe out Hindus”.

“If these people are part of our history, then it is very sad and we will change this history,” he added.

And a cool mad-wacky history narrative almost as funny as that of the Turkish Republic:

Fuelling the controversy are the writings of a fringe historian, PN Oak, whose works were dismissed for decades but are enjoying new prominence among Hindu hardliners.

Oak claims that much of the world was once ruled by an ancient Hindu empire, that the English language is a dialect of Sanskrit, and that Westminster Abbey is, in reality, a temple to the deity Shiva.

The Taj too, he argued, was originally a Shiva temple built by the maharajah of Jaipur, and initially named the “Tejo Mahalaya”.

His theory has been cited by several BJP legislators this month to cast doubt on the provenance of the monument. A dozen students were arrested at the Taj last week for offering prayers to Shiva on its grounds.

Frustrating to me though, that whenever anybody steps up to the plate to take on the myth of “tolerant Islam” it’s always dopes and freaks like these.

Comment: nikobakos@gmail.com

No, not the first Amritsar massacre; Brits apparently played a role in the 1984 massacre as well — from the Guardian

29 Oct

British government ‘covered up’ its role in Amritsar massacre in India

A Sikh group is demanding an inquiry into the SAS’s involvement in the storming of the Golden Temple in 1984

Sikh militants surrender to the Indian army in 1984 in Amritsar.
Sikh militants surrender to the Indian army in 1984 in Amritsar. Photograph: The India Today Group/India Today Group/Getty Images

The government has been accused of covering up the full extent of the UK’s support for India’s bloody crackdown on Sikhs in 1984.

A new report calls for a full inquiry into the role played by Margaret Thatcher’s government in the events leading up to a massacre in which hundreds, possibly thousands, of Sikhs and Indian soldiers died.

In 2014 David Cameron ordered a review after the accidental release of secret documents revealed that a British SAS officer had been drafted in to advise the Indian authorities on removing armed Sikh militants from the Golden Temple at Amritsar, Sikhism’s holiest shrine.

The documents said the plan, known as Operation Blue Star, was carried out with the full knowledge of the Thatcher government.

A report, Sacrificing Sikhs, published by the Sikh Federation UK, described Cameron’s review, conducted by Sir Jeremy Heywood, as a “whitewash”.

It claims that attempts to expose the full facts have been thwarted by government secrecy rules and conflicts of interest. More than half of the Foreign Office’s files on India from 1984 have been censored in whole or in part.

Some documents suggest the Foreign Office was aware of what was at stake when the Indian authorities approached the UK for help.

A week before the Golden Temple assault, Bruce Cleghorn, a diplomat, wrote that “it would be dangerous” for the UK government “to be identified” with “any attempt to storm the Golden Temple in Amritsar”. He was also named in correspondence discussing possible SAS assistance to India immediately after the massacre.

In 2015, Cleghorn became a Foreign Office “sensitivity reviewer” whose job involved censoring documents about the Amritsar massacre before they were released to the National Archives.

Sir John Ramsden, a member of the Advisory Council on National Records and Archives, which adjudicates on government censorship applications, was a member of the Foreign Office’s south Asia department in 1984. Ramsden wrote a letter advocating further SAS assistance for India immediately after Operation Blue Star and also argued in favour of equipping India’s paramilitary forces.

The role of the SAS officer in the days before Operation Blue Star are shrouded in secrecy as are the full extent of the fatalities. The Indian government puts the figure at about 400. Sikh groups say it was in the thousands.

According to the Sikh Federation’s report, immediately after the SAS officer carried out his reconnaissance with an Indian special forces unit, the Sikhs pulled out of peace talks believing they had seen a commando unit move into the city. The negotiations never recovered and eventually the Indian army stormed the temple in June 1984. Four months later, India’s prime minister Indira Gandhi was assassinated by one of her Sikh bodyguards, prompting reprisals that led to the deaths of more than 3,000 Sikhs.

The report suggests the UK was keen to help India because the country was one of its biggest purchasers of military equipment between 1981 and 1990. It also claims that repressive measures against Sikhs were carried out in the UK to appease the Indian government and secure arms deals.

“The government needs to finally come clean about Thatcher’s role in the Amritsar massacre and India’s crackdown on Sikhs,” said the report’s author, Phil Miller. “Whitehall censorship of historical files is like an old boys’ club that prevents the public from ever knowing how taxpayers’ money was spent. This culture of secrecy around Britain’s special forces and intelligence agencies is undemocratic and unsustainable.”

Bhai Amrik Singh, chair of the Sikh Federation (UK) said: “This report casts serious doubts on the adequacy and integrity of the inhouse Heywood review commissioned by Cameron. There has been a massive cover-up and parliament and the public have been disturbingly misled. An independent public inquiry to get to the truth is the only way forward.”

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See: Jallianwala Bagh massacre and Operation Blue Star.

Comment: nikobakos@gmail.com

Agha Shahid Ali: While I’m on Kashmir again…

23 Oct

…a reposting of one of my oldest posts, with one of the most devastatingly lyrical pieces of his opus.

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Agha Shahid Ali: “I See Kashmir from New Delhi at Midnight”

19 May

The Marty's Cemetery, SrinagarThe Martyrs’ Cemetery, Srinagar (click)

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I See Kashmir from New Delhi at Midnight

Now and in time to be,

                             Wherever green is worn…

                             A terrible beauty is born.

— W. B. Yeats

1

One must wear jeweled ice in dry plains

to will the distant mountains to glass.

The city from where no news can come

Is now so visible in its curfewed nights

that the worst is precise:

                                        From Zero Bridge

a shadow chased by searchlights is running

away to find its body. On the edge

of the Cantonment, where Gupkar Road ends,

it shrinks almost into nothing, is

 

nothing by Interrogation gates

so it can slip, unseen, into the cells:

Drippings from a suspended burning tire

Are falling on the back of a prisoner,

the naked boy screaming, “I know nothing.”

2

The shadow slips out, beckons Console Me,

and somehow there, across five hundred miles,

I’m sheened in moonlight, in emptied Srinagar,

but without any assurance for him.

 

On Residency Road, by Mir Pan House,

unheard we speak: “I know those words by heart

(you once said them by chance): In autumn

when the wind blows sheer ice, the chinar leaves

fall in clusters –

                                 one by one, otherwise.”

“Rizwan, it’s you, Rizwan, it’s you,” I cry out

as he steps closer, the sleeves of his phiren torn.

“Each night put Kashmir in your dreams,” he says,

then touches me, his hands crusted with snow,

whispers, “I have been cold a long, long time.”

 

3

“Don’t tell my father I have died,” he says,

and I follow him through blood on the road

and hundreds of pairs of shoes the mourners

left behind, as they ran from the funeral,

victims of the firing. From windows we hear

grieving mothers, and snow begins to fall

on us, like ash. Black on edges of flames,

it cannot extinguish the neighborhoods,

the homes set ablaze by midnight soldiers.

Kashmir is burning:

 

                                   By that dazzling light

we see men removing statues from temples.

We beg them, “Who will protect us if you leave?”

They don’t answer, they just disappear

on the roads to the plains, clutching the gods.

 

4

I won’t tell your father you have died, Rizwan,

but where has your shadow fallen, like cloth

on the tomb of which saint, or the body

of which unburied boy in the mountains,

bullet-torn, like you, his blood sheer rubies

on Himalayan snow?

 

I’ve tied a knot

with green thread at Shah Hamdan, to be

untied only when the atrocities

are stunned by your jeweled return, but no news

escapes the curfew, nothing of your shadow,

and I’m back, five hundred miles, taking off

my ice, the mountains granite again as I see

men coming from those Abodes of Snow

with gods asleep like children in their arms.

 

(for Molvi Abdul Hai)

 

(See whole post “India’s Blood-stained Democracy…” by Mirza Waheed)

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*  “Don’t tell my mother / my beloved brother / my sister….I’m dead” is also a common stock phrase in Balkan epic poetry of guerrilla fighters, kleftes, haiduci.

*  “By that dazzling light we see men removing statues from temples”…”Who will protect us if you leave?”…”men coming from those Abodes of Snow with gods asleep like children in their arms.”

Shahid Ali’s universalist soul was as hurt by the exodus of Kashmiri Hindus (Pandits) from the region as he was by the brutality of the Indian Army against its innocent Muslim majority.  I can only assume that the men with the gods asleep in their arms is a reference to this exodus.  Shahid suffered from a recurrent nightmare, in fact, that the last Hindu had left Kashmir, and he fought that haunting image through the curious fashion of reproducing their distinctive cuisine as meticulously and often as possible — he was an excellent cook; there are now hardly any Hindus left in the tormented region.  “Who will protect us if you leave?,” directed to the departing Hindu murti, is a line that always breaks my heart, and could only come from a poet of as sophisticated a background and from as beautifully Sufi-syncretic a region as Kashmir.

“I See Kashmir from New Delhi at Night” reprinted from The Veiled Suite: The Collected Poems by Agha Shahid Ali. English translation copyright © 2009 by Daniel Hall. With the permission of the publisher, W.W. Norton & Company, Inc.

Does India, its world’s largest democracy rhetoric and “marigold p.r.,” get away with shit we would freak about if it were Pakistan?

23 Oct

Some meanwhile-Kashmir p.s. articles…

From today’s Guardian: India to open talks with all parties in disputed Jammu and Kashmir: Former intelligence chief given unrestricted mandate, indicating that even separatist leaders will be consulted.”

And a “long read” by Mirza Waheed from last fall that’s still worth reading, on a conflict we often forget about, despite its up-and-down escalating ugliness:  India’s crackdown in Kashmir: is this the world’s first mass blinding?:

“How did India get here? How is it all right for a constitutionally democratic and secular, modern nation to blind scores of civilians in a region it controls? Not an authoritarian state, not a crackpot dictatorship, not a rogue nation or warlord outside of legal and ethical commitments to international statutes, but a democratic country, a member of the comity of nations. How are India’s leaders, thinkers and its thundering televised custodians of public and private morality, all untroubled by the sight of a child whose heart has been penetrated by metal pellets? This is the kind of cruelty we expect from Assad’s Syria, not the world’s largest democracy…

“Two-and-a-half decades of rebellion in Kashmir have hardened the indifference of India’s political and intellectual classes to the human cost of the country’s repressive tactics in the valley.”

See “more on this story” articles at bottom of Waheed piece.

And a reality check: does India, with its world’s largest democracy rhetoric and “marigold p.r.,” get away with shit we would freak about — or at least make some nominal fuss — if it were Pakistan?

Screen Shot 2017-10-23 at 6.59.12 PMVictims of police shooting who have been blinded in one or both eyes in hospital in Srinagar. Photograph: Yawar Nazir/Getty Images     

Waheed is author of the best, most disturbing piece of Kashmir fiction I know of: The Collaborator.  Check it out.

Collaborator Mirza Waheed

A follower of William Dalrymple’s suggests he’s in Kashmir doing research on new book.  Anybody have any leads or other knowledge on such project?

Comment: nikobakos@gmail.com

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