#ReadingNow – “Levianthan 2.0: Inventing Modern Statehood” by Charles S. Maier

The following is an excerpt from Charles S. Maier’s Levianthan 2.0: Inventing Modern Statehood from The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press. It paints a painful but unflinching account of what the history of this country—this civilization—has been built on: the erasure, or as he puts it, “success stories” of European/American settlers, not simply the defeat of those indigenous peoples.

“Communities we used to label casually as nomadic or tribal—whether (to cite only a few generic cases) of desert Bedouins on the fringes of the Ottoman Empire, the villagers of the Causasus or the highlands of Central Asia facing the tsar’s administrators, the Indians of North American arid lands, and the peoples of the African savannas—were slowly but inexorably subjugated. Their long and difficult retreat, of course, had started well before the late nineteenth century: when Europeans reached the Americas, the Portuguese and Dutch pressed inland from the coasts of Southern Africa, the French and British sought to control the North American Great Lakes, or the Qing and Romanov dynasties established adjacent imperial control over Xinjiang and Mongolia. By the twentieth century they survived as depleted units, allowed legalized or de facto tribal habitations, sometimes even subsidiary states within the empires, but their earlier confederations and international roles were just a memory— often neglected by the later anthropologists who studied their local customs and family structures but not their politics, or ignored by historians who were encouraged by all the resources of the victorious states to focus on their nations’ success stories.”

Now all we are left with are the “noble” depictions of defeated peoples. Something tells me they weren’t considered “noble” when they were having war waged against them and being slaughtered.

Colonialism, Decolonization, and the Need For Muslims to Move Beyond Crass Symbolism

Yesterday I made a post on Twitter which sparked some difficult but worthwhile conversation about the topics of colonialism and decolonization. The following are some additional thoughts I had on the topic:One reason why the Muslim world was so ripe for conquering is because they were overly invested in symbols and not The Truth. In other words identity politics and I sort of crass conservatism mixed with a simple minded symbolism is what contributed to the ease of them being conquered. This is why large tracts of the Muslim world will flip when one white dude draws a cartoon but will either turn a blind eye to, or participate in, corruption. ‎Instead of the Qur’anic

(رب إني ظلمت نفسي)

“O God I have wronged myself”Qur’an, 28: 16

it’s “the West is bad”. And the ulama’ have in large part enabled this line of thinking particularly from the vanquished lands of the Muslims.

If identity is not subservient to The Truth then you’ll have a people who espouse The Truth while contradicting it in their every day lives. Additionally, symbols and identity are easily hijacked, whereas The Truth remains aloof, an independent arbiter.

American Muslims and the Need To Be on the Right Side of Society

Daniel Haqiqatjou, of the Yaqeen Institute, brings to light an important topic challenging American Muslims: the pressure many feel to be on the “right side” of a whole cadre of subjects ranging from Darwinism and eurocentric science to homosexuality. Paraphrasing Marwa Elshakry1 from her Reading Darwin in Arabic, 1860-1950, Haqiqatjou says,

“…accepting Darwinism was due less to a careful intellectual assessment of the theory and more to Muslim intellectuals, politicians, and elites simply signaling their social and political alignment with modernization, secularization, and Europeanization. Likewise, the rejection of Darwinism by traditional Muslim scholars and their students was at times a marker of their general opposition to colonialism and its cultural and religious impact on Muslim society.”

What’s important to note here is that while Haqiqatjou’s article speaks to the question of will American Muslims adopt Darwinism wholesale or not, the phenomenon he outlines is even more critically important. The bigger question is not the embracing Darwinism “inevitable”, but more urgently, is the abandoning of an independent skepticism — regarding all that is western and its implied bias that that which is western is inately better — inevitable? Will Muslims, due to pressure from their society as well as a collapse of a relevantless leadership in the face of these challenges, relinquish the ability to think on their own? If this happens, the question not only becomes “how will Muslims thrive in the West”, but also how can they contrinute to it as Muslims, with any sort of Muslim genius, if intellectually Muslims cast themselves into the dustbin of bygone ideas?

You can read Haqiqatjou’s article here.

Notes

1. Elshakry, Marwa. Reading Darwin in Arabic: 1860-1950. Chicago. The University of Chicago Press, 2016.

Coolies – How British Reinvented Slavery

The slave trade was officially abolished throughout the British Empire in 1807. This documentary reveals one of Britain’s darkest secrets: a form of slavery that continued well into the 20th century – the story of Indian indentured labour. “Coolies: How Britain Reinvented Slavery” tells the astonishing and controversial story of the systematic recruitment and migration of over a million Indians to all corners of the Empire. It is a chapter in colonial history that implicates figures at the very highest level of the British establishment and has defined the demographic shape of the modern world. Combining archive footage and historical evidence the program includes interviews with Gandhi’s great-grandaughter, Uma Dhupelia-Mesthrie, about Gandhi’s campaign to end indentured labour and David Dabydeen – author and academic – whose great-grandfather was an indentured laborer in British Guyana.