Tuesday, July 24, 2012

A denier on temple destruction

Llewelyn Morgan, who teaches Classical Philology in Oxford but has never taken a critical look at Islam's source texts, prefers to take on bloggers. In a recent piece in the Huffington Post titled ‘Bamiyan, Timbuktu - Are the Pyramids Next?!’ (http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/llewelyn-morgan/bamiyan-timbuktu-are-the-pyramids-next_b_1673750.html?ir=UK+Universities+%26+Education), he writes : 'If you believe this, the days of the pyramids are numbered: "According to several reports in the Arabic media", writes Raymond Ibrahim, "prominent Muslim clerics have begun to call for the demolition of Egypt's Great Pyramids." In actual fact, it seems the story originated in a spoof tweet. But hey! It's the easiest thing in the world to find someone somewhere expressing some wacko view or other; and then Mark Steyn repeats it all, and off we go...'

Unlike Llewelyn Morgan, Mark Steyn was hauled before the Canadian Human Rights Commission there to defend freedom of speech. The reason is that Islamic militants and their Western dupes are attacking free speech everywhere: the former with guns and bombs, the latter with litigation and specious arguments.

The pyramids and the sphinx

As for Raymond Ibrahim: if the story is true, he seems to have fallen for one of the tricks of the internet age, and should have checked his story more carefully. No, the pyramids are not scheduled for a blow-up; but his story is nonetheless more realistic than Morgan would have us believe.

'Let's be crystal-clear about this right here. The answer to the question in my title is a mile-high, neon "NO". The pyramids of Giza are under no threat whatsoever, and neither is any of the rest of Egypt's glorious archaeological record. This is as radical as the thinking is getting among anyone anywhere near power in Egypt.'

Well, the Pharaonic constructions are not entirely safe: the explosion of a bus carrying tourists to the temples of Luxor (1997) was an attack on all those Pagans coming to look at the ancient Egyptian gods. Sometimes, a busload of American New Agers actually come to worship Ra and Hathor, and otherwise, it is still at Pagan artwork and architecture that foreigners come to gaze, so a stop must be put to all this international tourism. Fortunately, Mohammed was a businessman, Egypt needs money, and the tourists won't come in equal numbers just to see the mosques of Egypt, so Muslims are making a living off their Pagan heritage (though Mohammed stil preferred to be known on Judgment Day as an idol-breaker rather than an idol-seller, as the Sufi poet Farid-ud-din Attar said about Mahmud Ghaznavi, destroyer of Somnath). That is what keeps the pyramids alive.

It is also a fortunate circumstance that many temples are located away from the population centres, or have been covered with sand; when the sphinx was laid bare once, it was treated as an idol by the countryfolk and consequently earmarked for destruction, as Morgan himself testifies: "The Egyptian Arab historian al-Maqrīzī, writing in the 15th century AD, attributes the loss of the nose to iconoclasm by Muhammad Sa'im al-Dahr, a Sufi Muslim. In AD 1378, upon finding the Egyptian peasants making offerings to the Sphinx in the hope of increasing their harvest, Sa'im al-Dahr was so outraged that he destroyed the nose, and was hanged for vandalism.'

If true, this seems to be representative of the different forces in the field: Islamic iconoclasm, an idol too big to be destroyed, and soft-Muslim authorities who were concerned with their national riches. But note that smaller items of Pagan religion have disappeared from Egypt: what modern European archeologists found, they had to dig up. Here, both Christians and Muslims conspired to make the Pagan heritage disappear. Note however that Islam was more thorough about this than Christianity, which integrated Mithraic beliefs and Greek philosophy into its theology. Pakistan may sell its Harappan heritage to tourists as ‘5000 years of Pakistan’, but teaches national history to its own schoolkids from Mohammed the Prophet and Mohammed bin Qasim’s landing in Sindh, belittling Harappan civilization as part of Jāhiliyya, the Age of Ignorance.

Timbuktu and Sufism

Morgan alleges: 'Not to put too fine a point on it, Ibrahim is scaremongering, and it comes as no surprise when he goes on to offer a deeply misleading account of what has been happening in Timbuktu: "Currently, in what the International Criminal Court is describing as a possible 'war crime,' Islamic fanatics are destroying the ancient heritage of the city of Timbuktu in Mali -- all to Islam's triumphant war cry, 'Allahu Akbar!'" To read that, you'd think that the only Muslims involved in events at Timbuktu were the ones doing the vandalism. But of course it was Islamic buildings that they were attacking. Ansar al-Din, the al-Qaeda-affiliated zealots in northern Mali, consider the traditional  Sufi practices of Timbuktu to be heretical. What Ibrahim is doing is treating the most extreme voices of Islam as representative of the whole religion, to the extent of implying that the Sufi Muslims of Timbuktu aren't really proper Muslims at all.'

Islam has its roots in general human nature, partly accepting it (e.g. patriarchy or “male chauvinism”) and partly going against it. When turning against it, the religion found itself unable to wipe out all undesirable human traits, though it tried. The worship of saints and their shrines or graves came naturally to the people, and  though Mohammed tried to uproot this tendency, it came back. The Wahhabites in Arabia, and their contemporary followers like al-Qaida and now in Mali the Ansar al-Din, try to emulate the prophet in wiping out all traces of idol-worship, including the worship of Mohammed himself (whose house was destroyed by the Wahhabites) and of the Sufi saints. There is in effect a grey area of ‘Islamic idol-worship’, e.g. worship at Sufi graves, the Moghul school of painting (the paintings were not worshipped, but just to make sure, strict Islam prohibits all depictions), and ‘Muslim music’ (Mohammed, who must have had a nervous impairment, couldn’t stand the sound of music, so that serious Muslims like Aurangzeb and Ayatollah Khomeini did indeed prohibit music), etc.

Al-Qaida and other ‘fanatics’ are quite right: their prohibitions are Mohammed’s own, they are by definition loyal to the ‘essence’ of Islam. But as a matter of history, we have to concede that many nominal Muslims, both among rulers and among commoners, did allow or practise this ‘Islamic idol-worship’, giving a certain Muslim legitimacy to these practices though they were against the prohibitions of the Prophet.

Llewelyn Morgan is in tune with the reigning delusion, viz. the postmodern distrust of ‘essentialism’. He touches on the heart of the matter by making an issue of the “essence” of Islam. Postmodernists including most Islam-watchers and media people abhor the idea that Islam has an “essence”, an unchangeable core. Problem for them is that practically all Muslims do accept the idea of such an essence. ‘Islamic extremism is against the principles of Islam’, or so the so-called moderate Muslims claim. This may be right or wrong, but at any rate presupposes that there is an essence of Islam. Moderates and extremists may have differences of opinion on just what constitutes the essence of Islam, but they agree on the principle that there is an essence to Islam.

Morgan is right when he observes: 'Islam is a very broad church, with no central organizing authority (like a Pope, say) to fix doctrine. As in other religions, there's a tendency for different traditions within the religion to claim themselves as the uniquely authentic face of Islam, and al-Qaeda and their allies make that claim in a particularly uncompromising and brutal way.’

Well, there is a centre, acknowledged by all Muslims, viz. Islamic scripture. But we agree that there is no institutional centre, no Congregation of the Faith as exists in the Catholic Church. This pluri-centrism is not always a virtue. In the Catholic Church they say: Roma locuta, causa finita, ‘when Rome has spoken, the matter has been decided’; so when Rome decrees a reform, it has the force of law throughout the Catholic world. By contrast, if a Mufti (jurisconsult) gives a reformist fatwa, another Mufti can give a counter-fatwa re-establishing the orthodox position. Reformers of Muslim society, like Ayaan Hirsi Ali, bewail this pluri-centrism as a factor of Islamic conservatism. But conversely, the bright side is that Ansar al-Din’s interpretation of Islam is not the only one.

            According to Morgan: ‘But there's a further point: if Raymond Ibrahim treats the Sufi of Timbuktu as not proper Muslims, he's in effect adopting the viewpoint of al-Qaeda. What a stunning victory for extremists this is, that people across the US and beyond are being encouraged to accept al-Qaeda's distorted ideology as the truth!'

Well, truth. Raymond Ibrahim is one of those who don’t believe that Mohammed heard God’s voice or that the Quran is anything other than what the Prophet’s all too human mind made up. So any version of Islam, al-Qaeda’s or Morgan’s own or another, is bound to be false. What is truthful here is at most the interpretation of Islam as meant or not meant by Mohammed, and in that respect, al-Qaeda is very close to the truth as Islamically conceived. Al-Qaeda’s view of idolatry may not be the only one, but they are entirely truthful when they assert that their interpretation of Islam follows the Prophet, and not some innovator during Muslim history. Today and in the West, it may be possible to find a TV Imam giving a modernist interpretation, but most Islamic courts will, if asked, uphold the ‘al-Qaeda interpretation’ and fail to find Islamic grounds to condemn al-Qaeda’s anti-idolatry campaign. Al-Qaeda and the Ansar al-Din are faithfully walking in the footsteps of Mohammed himself when they condemn the veneration of graves and shrines as crypto-idolatrous.

Morgan and his ilk are very annoyed that a group like al-Qaeda or Ansar al-Din shows us what real Islam is. They would rather espouse a’moderate Islam’, which in reality can be analysed as partial Islam compromising with un-Islamic human nature and modern influences. Those who are serious about Islam try to weed out these compromising human and modernist elements.


Next, Morgan refers to an important source of information: 'The comments under my blog on Timbuktu told a similar story. Someone came in with a link to Ibrahim's article; others encouraged me to read polemics by Hindu nationalists such as Sita Ram Goel's Hindu Temples – What Happened to Them, which seeks to prove that Muslim rulers in India systematically destroyed Hindu shrines.'

The late Sita Ram Goel (1921-2003) was a Master of History from Delhi University. His two-volume book is entirely scholarly, full of references to original sources. It is far less deserving of theterm ‘polemics’ than Morgan’s article. Goel's list of about 2000 cases of temple destruction and presentation of the Islamic theology of iconoclasm, as well as of numerous contemporaneous Muslim sources on effective Islamic iconoclasm in India, is more than Llewelyn Morgan can handle. The philosopher of science Karl Popper defined a scientific statement as one that can be falsified. Well, to start with, Goel in his book (1990-1991, second edition 1997) gives some 2000 falsifiable claims of Islamic temple destruction. More than twenty years have elapsed, yet none of these 2000 has effectively been falsified by Morgan and his friends, though they are numerous and well-funded. Nor has the qualitative part, Goel’s presentation and discussion of the Islamic theology and history of iconoclasm, been refuted.

According to Morgan: 'That brought me back to where I started with this whole issue, the Buddhas of Bamiyan. One way that the Taliban and their sympathizers sought to justify the destruction of the Buddhas was to claim it as payback for the demolition of the Baburi Mosque at Ayodhya by Hindu hardliners in 1992… On the other side, numerous Islamist terrorist attacks on Indians have claimed the destruction of this mosque as their motivation.'

 As Morgan certifies, the Babri Masjid has by now been avenged numerous times. It started with the attacks on hundreds of Hindu temples throughout South Asia in the days after the demolition, and twenty in the UK alone. Ever since, these revenge operations have been piling up, to the extent that realistic observers have started suspecting that something else was the matter. These attacks after 1992, and the far more numerous ones before 1992, obviously have a deeper root than the Babri Masjid's 'martyrdom'. But the Indian ‘secularist’ ruling class has, by making the Ayodhya issue far more difficult and far more important than it really deserved, really asked for these numerous Islamic ‘revenge’ operations.

Still according to Morgan: ‘An intense and polarized debate continues to this day about Ayodhya, what was there before the mosque was built by the Moghul emperor Babur, and what (if anything) happened to Hindu buildings on the site, and it was an issue of great interest to Sita Ram Goel.'

It is true that Goel was interested in Islamic iconoclasm, but not that ‘an intense and polarized debate continues to this day about Ayodhya’. Firstly, the Allahabad High  Court has decided the matter, largely in the Hindu side’s favour (30 September 2010), after a thorough perusal of the Court-ordered diggings by the Archeological Survey of India; and secondly, the BJP as the main political conduit for Hindu activism has pulled its hands off  the Ayodhya controversy after the demolition in 1992. After the Court verdict, the secularists widely hoped that the Muslims would rise in revolt, but they didn’t think the Babri Masjid worth more trouble. They had chosen for ‘moderation’, much to the dismay of the secularists. Touching wood, we dare say that calm prevails among Indians on the Ayodhya front. 

‘Extreme Hindu nationalism, like the ideology of al-Qaeda and the paranoid theories of certain US commentators, is very interested in history, but deals in radical historical simplifications--for example, the idea that Islam is a religion hard-wired to destroy the religious monuments of its opponents. That is simply a false account of what happened, historically, when Islamic peoples encountered non-Islamic [peoples].’

A false account? That is a serious accusation. Prof. Morgan’s opponents have made such accusations against Islam only after gathering lots of evidence. He himself can start with the book by Goel which he himself mentioned, and prove it wrong. Let’s say that he begins by proving ten mosques not to have been built on destroyed temples, and ten accounts of temple destruction (by Muslim authors!) to be untrue. That shouldn’t be too difficult if he is right.

When Mohammed started his career, Arabia was a multicultural society. When he had finished his mission, it had only one religion, viz. Islam. Christians and Jews were at best banished to Mesopotamia, Pagans were given a choice between Islam and death. Those who came over in time, “voluntarily”, could only join the victorious Muslims by destroying their idols and turning their temples into mosques. If not, we invite Prof. Morgan to present to us ten of the 360 idols in the Kaaba which, according to Islamic scripture, were destroyed by Mohammed and Ali. He should not dig them up but show how Muslims still worship them or allow others to worship them. If he cannot do that, then not he but Sita Ram Goel stands vindicated.


According to Morgan, Buddhism in Afghanistan didn’t suffer all that badly: ‘The Buddhas of Bamiyan survived, and were celebrated, for 1,200 years among Muslims before the Taliban and their allies in al-Qaeda destroyed them.’

Some encyclopedias say that both the Moghul emperor Aurangzeb and the Persian king Nadir Shah trained their cannon on the Buddhas. Cannon in those days were not very high-tech, so they only managed to damage the giant Buddhas somewhat, not to fully destroy them. That’s already two, and some attempts at destruction may have gone unreported, while of others, we may have lost the chronicles. At any rate, it seems that Morgan has devoted a whole book to the Bamiyan Buddhas, so we are curious to read this Latin professor’s refutation of the Nadir Shah and Aurangzeb accounts.

In nearby Dunhuang, in the Chinese province of Xinjiang, something similar happened. The Buddha statues were systematically defaced or beheaded by the Muslims, but their feet or trunks remained standing – proof enough for Islamophiles to present it as proof that Islam tolerates Buddha statues. Oh, and no Buddhist artifacts remained overground and in the population centres once the Uyghurs converted to Islam.

Indeed, none of this alters the fact that Muslims have made the smaller Buddhist artifacts disappear from Afghanistan, the cradle of the Buddha statue. The Taliban, jointly with the smugglers and black marketeers, did this a second time by removing from the Kabul museum all Buddhist artifacts which mostly Western archeologists had dug up. But we wouldn’t mind the artifacts disappearing, if only the practice of Buddhism had continued. But only foreign tourists kept it alive, busloads of Japanese and Taiwanese tourists who transmuted into devout Buddhists once they saw  the statues in Bamiyan. And this ‘idolatry’ is why the Taliban chose to destroy these gigantic idols.

Marxist support

Morgan then seeks support from the American Islamic scholar Richard Eaton, a self-described Marxist: ‘I encourage anyone interested in Islamic attitudes to Hindu and Buddhist holy places to read Richard M. Eaton's measured, careful analysis, Temple Desecration and Indo-Muslim States, Part 1 and Part 2. He tells a story of Muslim rulers in India who for the most part protected non-Islamic shrines, and on the rare occasions they did otherwise were following a time-honoured tradition within India of destroying your enemies' favourite temples: Hindus had been demolishing other Hindus' places of worship for centuries before Islam arrived.’

That is simply not true. Firstly, even Eaton manages to find only a handful of Hindu cases of destruction of a temple or abduction of its main idol, a small fraction of the number of Islamic idol destructions that even he has no option but to admit. Though his random list of Islamic temple destructions allows for only some 80 campaigns, the number of 80 which Eaton’s followers bandy about, is woefully inaccurate. Thus, Eaton himself counts as one case the thousandfold temple destruction in Varanasi by Mohammed Ghori’s troops in 1194, so these “80” cases really affected  thousands of temples.

Secondly, there is a big difference between the extremely rare Hindu (and perhaps more frequent Mesopotamian) practice of idol abduction and the frequent Islamic practice of idol destruction. In the rare cases where Hindu rulers abducted an  idol of some prestige, they installed it in their own temple and continued its worship, all while leaving the victim population free to install another idol of the same  respect the svadharma (own religion) of his new subjects. By contrast, where Muslims destroyed  idols and their temples, they did not resume worship of the idol or the deity: theirs was an attack on a religion, and their idol destruction was conceived as part of the destruction of a religion.

Thirdly, there are no cases, even Eaton doesn’t cite one, where an Islamic temple-destroyer (of the pre-Ayodhya-demolition age) cites a Hindu precedent as justification. When they sought a precedent, they found it among their Islamic predecessors and ultimately in Mohammed. I already argued this in my review of Eaton’s theory in 2002 (in my book Ayodhya: the Case Against the Temple), and haven’t received any attempted refutation ever since.

Morgan adds a familiar argument: ‘The crucial point, though, is that these Muslim rulers in India were never driven by religious fanaticism.’

In India, this is the classic put-down when the so-called secularists have to admit that Muslims by their own account destroyed thousands of temples. But the fact is that Muslims themselves don’t make the distinction between ‘fanaticism’ and plunder, between religious and economic warfare. This again goes back to Mohammed, who organized raids on caravans and called them jihād, religious war. So, plunder is Islamically justified, but so is the destruction of little temples where no gain is expected.  

And Mogan argues further: ‘However, in the context of tension between India and Pakistan, extreme simplifications of history thrive: Hindus are superstitious idol-worshippers; Muslims are intolerant idol-smashers. Scrupulous scholars like Richard Eaton prove that it is just not that simple.’

No, Eaton has not done that. He has not  refuted the Hindu and Muslim stereotypes, which have a sound basis in historical reality. But Morgan shows his bias by juxtaposing “idol-worshippers” with “superstitious”, which are two entirely different concepts, and “intolerant” with “idol-smasher”, which are nearly synonyms. Of course idol-smashers are intolerant, but there is no reason why the worship of murtis/statues should be superstitious. It is perfectly possible for a non-idol-worshipper, indeed for an idol-smasher, to be superstitious.

Belief in Muslim testimonies

 Morgan makes his main point again: ‘But, as I commented at the end of my blog on Timbuktu, "Ideologues in one camp have a habit of creating ideologues in other camps, and the argument goes on and on and on..." That notion was illustrated in glorious technicolor below the line. Get your head around this logic, in one of the comments: "if Ansar al-Din, the extremists doing the damage in Timbuktu, claim to be the only true Muslims, then we have to accept that claim, and regard what is happening in Timbuktu as Islam attacking non-Muslims." In other words, we must accept al-Qaeda's analysis of Islam and the world, that they are the only authentic Muslims and all other Muslims must be forced to follow their creed. That strikes me as plain bonkers. What on earth compels us to accept al-Qaeda's view of things?’

Well, again, it is the truth that can decide this. When Muslims talk about themselves, we have to believe them. Thus, when Mohammed Atta, Mohammed Bouyeri and hundreds of other Muslim terrorists declare in their farewell letters/videos that their motive is Islam, we have to believe them. But when they talk about Islam, claiming that their own interpretation is the same as Prophet Mohammed’s, we have to ascertain for ourselves the truth of that claim. And then we find that Prophet Mohammed’s intention was indeed closer to al-Qaeda’s than to that of the Sufis, a movement which invokes Quranic authority but was quite unknown in Mohammed’s day.   

But not according to Morgan: ‘Sufi Muslims are Muslims. Full stop.’ We are inclined to believe every statement by people about themselves. Since Sufis declare themselves Muslims, we should take them at their word. But when Sufism began, it was distrusted by the orthodox and some Sufis ended their lives on the gallows as heretics. They were  takfīr’ed, declared Kāfirs, Pagans. Mohammed did something similar with those who called themselves Muslims but withheld themselves from warfare: he lambasted them as Munāfiqīn, ‘hypocites’. They are the grey area of half-Muslims or soft-Muslims, whom al-Qaeda chooses to treat as non-Muslims. At any rate, they treat these soft-Muslims’ shrines the same way they treat the temples of non-Muslims, viz. destruction.

Islam has an essence, and it is highly questionable whether mysticism satisfies the criteria to be truly Islamic. Al-Qaeda takes the same position today. But medieval authorities decided to allow Sufis in because they could render specific services to Islam, viz. making Islam acceptable to forced converts and even getting people to convert voluntarily. The good is sometimes the enemy of the better, and true Islam sometimes comes into conflict with useful Islam. Muslims may fight this out among themselves, but neither school is well disposed to real religious pluralism. (Thus, in Pakistan, the Ahmadiyas are persecuted by the majority Sunnis, but try to undo this persecution by proving that they are good Muslims, viz. by struggling hard against Hinduism.)

 Morgan: ‘But credit where credit is due: irrational as it is, that comment does capture something essential about the thinking (for want of a better word) on this issue. Radicals like al-Qaeda want to provoke their opponents to be equally radical, because they want to create unbridgeable divisions between peoples, and an existential conflict which (they fondly suppose) will bring their appalling ideology to world domination. Commentators who define Islam as essentially incompatible with Western values are doing al-Qaeda's job for it.’

Again, is this true or not? Some doctrines are incompatible with ’Western values’ (or simply with humanism), and some are not; deciding to which of these two categories Islam belongs, requires something that Llewelyn Morgan has never done, viz. a study of Islam itself. The question of truth doesn’t arise for Morgan, but it is crucial. It allows us to discover the many words and deeds of the Prophet on which al-Qaeda bases its policies; but maybe Morgan can convince the Muslims that Islam is better off without Mohammed?


Morgan claims: ‘Sita Ram Goel, Raymond Ibrahim and Ansar al-Din are all, in a peculiar way, speaking the same language, the language of extremes, where religions cannot communicate peacefully with one another, and complex and diverse faiths are reduced to crude caricatures. In the words of the Arab Spring activist Iyad El-Baghdadi, "Islamophobes and extreme Islamists are two peas in a pod. Both invent a radical, extreme sect and call it 'the one & only true Islam'."’

Arab Spring activists are in the unenviable position of having to please both sides, so they have to sell Islamic values to their fellow countrymen and moderation to outsiders. Whether such a position is conducive to truthfulness, is another matter. Was Mohammed a moderate? Sometimes he was a diplomat, but mainly he was a strategist, choosing between compassion and ruthlessness depending only on his own and his religion’s interests. The thousands whom he killed will not consider him a moderate, but fortunately for Morgan, these inconvenient witnesses are dead. History is written by the victors, and so Islam has always had many public relations agents, even at Oxford.

That is why Sita Ram Goel drew attention to the ‘mute witnesses’, the destroyed temples and idols which have been retrieved by archeologists, or of which parts have been integrated into mosques. They are the witnesses that have survived the attempt at their annihilation.

So-called Islamophobes (or so they are termed by liberals incapable of imagining that someone sane could disagree with their own opinion) want nothing more eagerly than ‘peaceful communication between religions’. Only, they find that Islam stands in the way. In their study of Islam, they have, along with most Muslims, discovered an essence, viz. the precedent behaviour of the Prophet, and they find that this conflicts with interreligious peace. But the crucial difference between Goel and Ibrahim on the one hand and al-Qaeda and Ansar al-Din on the other, is that the former don’t believe Mohammed’s claim and don’t emulate him, while the latter do. This is a crucial difference, but Morgan tries to paper it over by merely juxtaposing their names and alleging a similarity between anti-fanatics and declared fanatics.

 ‘But we must insist that there is another language, a precious but undervalued one. It isn't glamorous, and it requires the kind of laborious hours in the library that Richard M. Eaton put in. It resists seductively black-and-white explanations of events, and the temptation all humans feel to demonise what they do not know. It is never going to inspire young men to pull down a mosque or become suicide bombers. It is fiddly, unexciting, humane--and true. It is called moderation.’

When a knave writes a book, he is soon followed by a bunch of fools. That is why Richard Eaton is applauded by the likes of ex-nun Karen Armstrong and indeed by Llewelyn Morgan. We haven’t visited Eaton’s library, but we wonder what books they have there. After all, the Quran itself as well as the traditions and biography of the Prophet show that few were ever as adept at ‘demonizing’ as Mohammed. And all Muslims believe that Mohammed was the model man, whose conduct had  and still has the value of precedent. Fortunately they don’t all put  the beliefs to which they pay lip-service, into practice. This abstention from (or lukewarmness in) the practice of Islam  is called moderation. The less Islam, the more moderation. We are all for ‘fiddly, unexciting, humane’ culture, and that is why we hold Islam up to scrutiny.

Read more!

Monday, July 23, 2012

The British were not guilty of Partition; somebody else was

The easiest way before an Indian audience to get hands clapping, is to accuse the British of the Partition of India. Try it for yourself and say out loud: “Partition was engineered by the wily Britishers  in their nefarious design of ‘divide and rule’”, success assured. And the applause is sure to follow no matter whether the audience, whose sensibilities you may not know, is Gandhian, Nehruvian-secularist or Hindu nationalist. Yes, Hindu nationalist too.

“Jinnah was brainwashed into dividing India”, I read in RSS mouthpiece Organiser. Well, if it is that  easy, why doesn’t the RSS brainwash the Indian Muslims into becoming India-loving Hindus? Incidentally, how is it done, this “brainwashing”? In reality, the Hindu nationalists are taking a cheap shot at the British in order to mask their fear of pinpointing Muslim guilt.

One would have expected at least Mahatma murderer Nathuram Godse to have criticized Islam, apart from laying as much of the blame as possible at Gandhi’s feet. But Godse says very little about the guilt for Partition. He accuses the British of a “divide and rule” policy, alright, but doesn’t make this the cause of the Pakistan movement. He accuses Gandhi of not countering the Muslim League’s demand of Partition with his trademark means of action, viz. the fast unto death; but he does not go into the question of why the Muslim League made this demand in the first place. So, even among Godse’s fans you won’t find many articulate opponents of the British conspiracy thesis.

In this article, I will argue that the British had nothing to do with Partition, and that this was a purely Muslim operation necessitated by the present democratic age’s belief in numbers. In the medieval period, the Muslims constituted far less than the 24% of the Indian population which they were in the 1940s, yet they ruled. Mohammed Ali Jinnah thought that this was no longer possible in modern times, so if they wanted to be in power, they needed a smaller country where they would constitute the majority. So, the Two-Nation Theory espoused by the Muslim League necessitated two separate states, one of which would have a Muslim majority.

To be sure, the British were guilty of many things, and the fixation of Hindu nationalists on them is understandable. Principally, they caused several very serious famines, they dismantled the technology and economic structure of India, and they imposed a foreign ideology that harmed the natives’ self-respect. This did not make British rule “the biggest crime in history”, as L.K. Advani claims on his blog (15 July 2012), but it was pretty bad. However, none of that made them guilty of Partition. Nor did their policy of “divide and rule” cause the pre-colonial or post-colonial (and generally not even the colonial) hostility between Hindus and Muslims. It was a tactic used at the negotiation table, not meant for the streets (where riots would only upset economic life), much less for a final Partition of the Indian empire.

Viceroys Lord Victor Linlithgow and Lord Archibald Wavell told Jinnah to his face that they would not countenance the division of their nice and neat Indian empire, not even in the event of decolonization. Their successor, Lord Louis Mountbatten, only accepted Partition because the Muslim League threatened and started violence. Congress leaders did the same, including even Mahatma Gandhi in June 1947. All his so-called fasts unto death, his promise that “India will only be divided over my dead body”, proved hollow in the face of the real chance that these opponents would not give in, so that his fast would only be concluded with his death. .

It is only the fledgling Cold War that made the British and also the Americans see a silver lining in the Partition, viz. that one of the parties would join the Western camp and provide it an outpost to monitor the Soviet  threat. This was apparently also what made Lord Mountbatten more pliable. But it was only in 1945 that the Soviet ally became an enemy, five years after the Muslim League adopted the Pakistan resolution, and more than ten years after the idea of Pakistan was first mooted.

In reality, the ideology of Partition was rooted in Islam. According to Islam, Muslims must always be in power. Thus, Muslim men are allowed to marry non-Muslim women but non-Muslim men are not allowed to marry Muslim women because wives are deemed to be at the husbands’ command. In the Middle Ages, Muslim minorities had seemed to subdue the Hindus by military means, and Muslim leaders with a medieval mindset concluded logically that numbers were unimportant to decide who will dominate whom. Thus, Maulana Abul Kalam Azad (who had given an emigration fatwa during the Khilafat movement) is mis-termed a Nationalist Muslim but aimed in fact at the Islamic domination of the whole of India. However, Jinnah had interiorized the modern value of democracy and didn’t dare to ask for more than a country in which Muslims would form the majority.

Islam is against multiculturalism unless it is treated with utmost respect and has at least the perspective of becoming dominant. By contrast, the Hindu nationalists including Nathuram Godse were prepared to give the Muslims far-reaching concessions in order to keep India united. They were not guilty, Congress was not guilty when it proved insufficiently accommodating to the League, and the British rulers were not guilty. If a section of the Muslims had not desired Partition, then Partition would never have happened.

Hindus who blame the British for Partition, show that they are afraid of the truth, and afraid of Islam. It is far easier to accuse the British, who have safely departed, than to lay the blame at the door of Islam. Blaming Islam opens a can of worms, it is difficult to deal with this religion. It is a challenge to one’s courage, but it is mainly a challenge to one’s intelligence. If you are deficient in these departments, then go ahead and blame the British.

On the other hand, if you have courage and intelligence, it should be easy to face the fact of Muslim causation of the Partition of India. Today, it takes a moderate dosis of courage to criticize Islam: you risk the ire of the institutions (and your job if you are a scholar in the Humanities), the violence of some indignant Muslim, and if you are a Hindu, also the displeasure of your fellow Hindus. But these risks are manageable, and as I will explain on some future occasion, I do not buy the myth of Hindu lack of bravery. Criticizing Islam also requires a large amount on intelligence, viz. the power to discriminate between causes (the doctrine of Islam) and symptoms (the behavior of Muslims, only partly caused by this doctrine), and the balancing act between uncompromising criticism of the doctrine and sympathy at the human level. Even you could have been born and brought up as a Muslim and developed an attachment for Islam’s irrational beliefs. If you believe in reincarnation, you should realize that you even could have been a Muslim, perhaps several times over. So, responsibly criticizing Islam and its role in the Partition of India requires intelligence.

It is here that I have more reason to worry. Though Hindus have shown great intelligence in the literature of the past and ICT initiatives of the present, they have mostly failed to apply their intelligence to the Islam problem, though this is staring them in the face every day. But I am confident that now you will do something about it.

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