Old maps

It’s true that on old maps published a hundred years ago, there is no Israel, only Palestine. But then there’s no Pakistan, either. Another colonial misadventure that displaced 15 million people and left up to 2 million dead, spawning conflict and distrust that lasts to this day. Old maps can tell us lots, but you have to be prepared to examine them with open eyes. Often they bear witness against us.

Populist causes

These days I find myself puzzled by so many issues which animate my brethren. The truth is, I am too much detached from the populist causes which many raised in a Muslim culture imbibe as essentially religious matters. To me, such issues are often overwhelmingly political — and the legacy of the politics of past empires at that. Caliphs in the dim and distant past legitimised political decisions by coopting the sanctity of region, and so here we are hundreds of years later championing the same cause as a measure of piety and belief.

Most of us don’t have any inkling of Muslim history further back than the European colonial period, except for a very whitewashed version of it. If we adopted the same moral stance that we take towards our enemies today, we would condemn most of the actions of the Muslim imperial forces of old. If we had to adopt the same moral stance, might we have to reconsider the actions of our own conquerors, whom we conveniently call “liberators”? At some point would we need to reconsider the 9th century dogma that makes our position exactly the same as the enemy we decry?

How is it that when our people transgress boundaries, we pass over it, whereas when our enemy does the same thing, we are suddenly animated in the cause of law, justice and morality? Isn’t it simply about whose side you are on? We champion what is sacred to us, just as our enemies do. We may have the moral high ground today, but it is built of the shaky foundations of the past — and who dares reexamine such foundations, when popularism has transmogrified politics into deeply held faith?

Jerusalem

Peoples have been fighting over this city for 4000 years. From Canaanites to Egyptians to the Jewish people to Assyrians and Babylonians, from Persians to Romans to Arabs, and Turks, and Europeans. Empires have claimed it theirs for millennia, its inhabitants sometimes granted peace and security, and sometimes subjugated, exiled or put to death. Continue reading “Jerusalem”

Imperial Archives

On numerous Muslim news sites in Turkey and now on social media, the document below is being celebrated as evidence of a timeworn relationship of solidarity between the Turkish people and the Rohingya Muslims of Myanmar. Continue reading “Imperial Archives”

Similitude

For all its overtures in respect to the Myanmar crisis, your celebrated Leader of the Ummah — the pious nation of legend — has much in common with that indicted State. Continue reading “Similitude”

Old Blighty

It would be wise to study Burmese history, particularly the period of British Colonial rule and World War II, rather than circulating articles about Rohingya fighting for the British during World War II and invoking it as a special relationship. Continue reading “Old Blighty”

The historian’s curse

Historians and students of politics will aways be cursed to take the long view, and not succumb to the passions and emotions of the moment, condemning them for eternity to the realm of the indifferent. Continue reading “The historian’s curse”

Moral arguments

It is occasionally worth recalling that the concept of “terror bombing” was not dreamed up in a cave in Afghanistan, but by a celebrated British statesman, who legitimised the mass killing of civilians as a means to defeat the enemy (37,000 in Hamburg and 25,000 in Dresden).

Collective amnesia forces us to wash our hands of these unpalatable truths, but painful introspection is necessary if we are to understand our modern afflictions. Terrorism and the targeting of civilians is always odious, and we should be able to condemn it in all its forms, not excuse and venerate some practitioners simply because they are or were on our side.

The moral argument does not work like that.

Witnesses

So once more our activists and scholars petition us, “Why are you silent? Why do you not speak out?”

And yes, it is true, we feel like renegades, as if indifferent to the suffering of afflicted innocents everywhere.

But the communal amnesia they demand of us won’t stick. We have been browbeaten by tragedy before, and driven by emotion to join the bold choruses demanding war.

And now the millions dead and nations in anarchic turmoil stand witness against us.