Grievances of the present magnified by memories from the past

Category: World Affairs Topics: Conflicts And War Views: 3321

What the world demands from the West is respect. The modern dialectic between the West and other civilizations is colored by the often bloody history of colonialism. Centuries of domination and exploitation has fostered in many parts of the world an abiding distrust of the West. On the other hand, attitudes of superiority persist in pockets of Europe and America. 

The present must come to terms with the past for a meaningful dialogue across cultural, national, ethnic and civilization divides. Mere slogans and platitudes will not do. In this article we recall but a few of historical events that are all too familiar to our readers and which may have shaped their perceptions of the West. 

It was the year 1799. On a hot summer day in May of that fateful year, British troops stormed Srirangapatam, the capital of Tipu Sultan, the Tiger of Mysore. The sultan, alone among the princes and potentates of South Asia, had successfully resisted the advance of the British Empire for forty years. Tippu fell in battle, as a valiant soldier fighting for his people. That is well known. What is less known is the looting that followed.

When the news of Tippu's death was confirmed, British troops fell on the city. Looting continued through the night. It was not until late in the following morning that the mayhem was stopped. The British, known for their pomp, organized a state burial for the sultan, then turned again to the business of looting. 

The state treasury had more than 150,000 gold coins. These were distributed among the troops. Next it was the turn of the royal belongings. Tippu's gold throne was melted down, divided into small lots and the officers haggled over the size of their lot. The only item that was spared was the jewel studded huma bird that had graced the throne. It was packaged and sent off to London for the royal collections. 

The loot of Srirangapatam was not unique. Similar episodes were repeated both before and after the fall of Mysore. 

When the kingdom of Oudh fell in 1762 after the Battle of Buxor, Warren Hastings, the governor of Bengal embarked on an extortion spree to fatten up the coffers of the East India Company. He demanded all the gold and diamond jewelry from the Begums of Oudh. When the Begums refused, they were confined to their homes and starved until they surrendered their belongings. 

In 1857, when the Sepoy uprising in India failed, and the British marched victoriously back into the capital, they expelled the entire population of the city for six months. More than fifty thousand people were hanged so much so that every street of Delhi looked like an execution chamber.

It was the year 1919. The First World War had ended and a large number of Punjabi troops fighting for the British had returned home. Woodrow Wilson's rhetoric of democracy and freedom had caught their imagination. But alas! Returning home from war, they discovered that the rhetoric of freedom did not mean freedom for India. Instead, the British, determined more than ever to hang onto their Indian colony, passed the infamous Rowlett Act, reminiscent in so many ways of the draconian anti-terrorist laws passed by modern nations. Its purpose was to prevent any organized movement for Indian independence. Protests ensued. One such peaceful demonstration was in Jallianwalla Bagh in the Punjab. Thousands gathered to hear the local leaders. Unknown to them a contingent of British troops, under the direction of one General Dyer, waited for them. Without warning, they shot point blank and massacred thousands of men, women and children. 

The story is familiar. If you wish to discover the ancient heritage of a country, your best option is to visit one of the great museums in London, Madrid, Paris or Rome. Therein you will find the most valuable artifacts of a nation, from Egyptian mummies to the gold coins from Samaria. Perhaps the only major country that escaped large scale looting was Turkey. The Turks managed to hold their own against the West until the First World War and then waged a successful battle to retain their independence and carve out a homeland for themselves. 

The British were not alone in the imperial game. France, Italy, Russia and Holland were co-players. The French gained control of the Algerian coast in 1840 when the Ottomans, weakened by continuous warfare with Russia and Austria, could not defend their far flung possessions. By the time Sultan Abdul Hamid ascended the Ottoman throne (1876), French control of most of West Africa was complete. Substantial French colonization of the Algerian coastline followed. By the end of World War II, more than a million French were settled in Algeria, claiming it to be a part of France. 

Weakened and exhausted by Hitler's war (1939-45), the European powers could not hold on to their colonies. When the Algerians, like the Indians and the Indonesians, made a demand for independence, the French who had just been liberated from Nazi occupation (1940-45), unleashed their guns on the hapless Algerians. In 1945, over fifty thousand Algerian demonstrators were slaughtered by French gunfire in Setif and Guelma. Over the next fifteen years, from 1945 until Charles De Gaulle gave up the Algerian colony in 1962, more than one million Algerians, almost five percent of the total population, was butchered by the French.

The Italians, under Mussolini, invaded Ethiopia, brutally occupied Addis Ababa and forced Emperor Haile Salassie into exile. Resistance was mercilessly crushed and the treasures of the land carted away to Rome. 

The Dutch were defeated and evicted from Indonesia by the Japanese during WWII. Following the surrender of Japan (May 1945), the Indonesians under the leadership of Sukarno declared their independence. The Dutch were not going to give up their colonies so easily. The Dutch navy, backed up by the British navy, bombarded Jakarta, landed troops, and reoccupied the islands. A bloody war of liberation followed. Thousands were killed. It was not until 1948 that the Indonesians were victorious and the Dutch finally packed up and went home. 

The Russian occupation of Central Asia and the Caucasus was even more brutal. Starting with the decade of the 1850s the Czarist armies made relentless war on the Khans of Samarqand and Bukhara in Central Asia, and on the Chechens and Daghistanis in the Caucuses. Resistance was stiff. The exploits of Shaykh Shamyl of Dagestan against the Russians are legendary. Nonetheless, the superior power of the Russians finally prevailed and all of these areas came under Czarist occupation. What followed was a century of cultural and national suppression until the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1992. The lands of Central Asia gained their independence but Chechnya and Dagestan remain under Russian control to this day.

The American historical experience with non-European peoples has been equally tragic. The elimination of Native Americans and the Atlantic slave trade were so monstrous in their human impact that they are a painful sore in the collective conscience of humanity. More recently, the selective internment of Japanese Americans during WWII was a reminder that ethnic distrust is a living reality. Notwithstanding this background, perceptions of America around the world were free of the stigma of colonialism until 1945. This was in spite of the American occupation of the Philippines and Cuba after the Spanish-American war of 1896. American colonial rule in the Philippines was so benign that many in the islands genuinely liked the Americans. As for Cuba, Fidel Castro would not stand a chance if the Americans had treated the island with a little more respect than a playboy resort to be ruled by Battista and his henchmen. 

The Second World War thrust the United States on to the center stage in world affairs. As a nation dedicated to democratic ideals and an open society, the emergence of the US brought hope to large sections of Afro-Asia and Latin America. The expectations evaporated as the United States got involved with geopolitics and soiled its hands. The Vietnam war, the not so secret American role in the overthrow of Mussaddaq of Iran, perceptions of partisan role of the US in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and scores of interventions around the world have destroyed much of the goodwill that America enjoyed. The Iraq war is an ongoing tragedy about which it is too early to form a historical perspective. Even a cursory survey of colonialism and its legacy of distrust must include non-Western empires as well. The Japanese occupation of Korea and China was brutal and cruel beyond description. The atrocities committed by the Japanese forces continue to mar international relations in the eastern Pacific to this day. It was the intervention of Japan, starting with Manchuria after the Russian-Japanese war of 1904, and the social havoc caused by military occupation (1931-45) that prevented the success of the modernizing, democratic reforms introduced by Sun Yat-Sen (1867-1925). Ultimately, it pushed China in the direction of a Communist takeover in 1948. 

A shrunken world has brought the former colonizers and the colonized closer together. Thousands of angry African men roam the streets of Paris and unemployed Asian youth saunter around in London. They may not know history but history has a way of getting into your blood. It is passed on through a mother's milk. Memories shape attitudes. Grievances of the present are magnified by memories from the past. Those concerned with civil unrest and the evolution of democratic, civil societies must come to terms not only with social conditions of the present but also perceptions of the past.

Professor Nazeer Ahmed is President of American Institute of  Islamic History and Culture in Corcord, California.

  Category: World Affairs
  Topics: Conflicts And War
Views: 3321

Related Suggestions

The opinions expressed herein, through this post or comments, contain positions and viewpoints that are not necessarily those of IslamiCity. These are offered as a means for IslamiCity to stimulate dialogue and discussion in our continuing mission of being an educational organization. The IslamiCity site may occasionally contain copyrighted material the use of which may not always have been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. IslamiCity is making such material available in its effort to advance understanding of humanitarian, education, democracy, and social justice issues, etc. We believe this constitutes a 'fair use' of any such copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law.

In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, and such (and all) material on this site is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.

Older Comments:
Romesh: you have hit the nail on the head there! Musharraf is not a hero of the muslim. in fact he is an enemy that shall be eradicated. He is responsible for the sins and mischief caused by the colonialists and imperialists. He has an attitude that violates the teaching of islam. He have committed felonies, he have the blood of hundred of thousands of muslim in his hand, he has done mischief and transgressed the limits enjoined by God. If it's not because of traitors like him, the rapacious foreign powers would have long left the muslim lands, defeated in shame by the true heroes of islam (though the sweet smell of victory is in the air, God willing).

You can't tell Musharraf to "stop cooperating with the CIA/Mossad"... he's one of them! Once you cooperate with the enemy you considered to be one of them. In Islam a hypocrite is considered to be even more dangerous than the enemy itself. But what he does now will backfire on himself... you could never befriend the US... just like all the dictators before who met their fate so will this dictator, one day these same masters are going to lynch him just like they did to Saddam Hussain.

This is exactly the point I am trying to get across... if there were (so-called) muslim rulers in the past that do mischief in india, it was by those of the same species as musharraf, who misused the power for personal/worldly gains and ruled in a way contrary to the principles of islam. We are aware of this exceptions. But they are many more who are righteous. Why would you rather focus on this small percentage.


You seem to have it "in" for Muslims even as though you claim it is them who dwell on the past. Take a deep look in the mirror. I could not care less what Azhar folks say. Why are you so uptight about it! Try to be a voice for peace now. Instead you hark on about divisions and repeating same old stuff and your defence? Just coz Muslims do it! Who were the Crusaders? Some Europeans who had no business in the Middle East just as your American army has no business there but they seem to have installed their military camps to promote 'democracy' and 'freedom'. Likewise the Crusaders spelt blood beyond imagination and mostly of the innocent, Jews included. Am done with trying to show you that peace begins with you and it is not in trying to analyse thousands of years of history written at best by dubious characters and read by folk who want to prove their already set-in-concrete beliefs. Have a better life next time if you believe in re-incarnation.

Note to Al-Bruni:

I don't know where to start. You are saying that I am dwelling on the Negatives. But so was the author dwelling on the negatives of the British in the Indian sub-continent(as far muslim were concerned) but the author was conveniently ignoring the misdeeds of muslim rulers in Indian sub-continent (and that is exactly what I pointed out). And similarly, you conveniently only talk about China, Indonesia, etc but not the Indian sub-continent. We are not discussing world history here and neither was the author; we are discussing misdeeds in certain parts of the world (the British in India and muslims in India). Why are you ignoring Indian sub-continent?. Believe me, I have absolutely no love lost for the British and have no respect for British imperialism; they have wrought terror and destruction in one fourth of the world, have been responsible for most of the wars; finally, even Mhtamta Gandhi got fed up with the British and told them point blank that he does not trust them at all.

And you are asking me to forget the past. But it is mostly who refuse to forget the past; they are the ones who are reminding the world about Crusades. Why don't you forget Crusades?

You write "And if you bother to know the current mess in Pakistan is not without the involvement of any foreign imperialist powers... but it is orchestrated by the American govt. And dont forget the illicit and subversive activity of the CIA and Mosad.". CIA/Mossad are no prince charming. But blame lies with the Pakistan; they cooperate with US/CIA. Castro refused to cooperate with CIA and so did Chavez; they are the heroes of the world, not Musharraff. Musharraf invades Lal Masjid the moment 2 new shiny F-16 are delivered at Sargodha (Pakistan) as the first installment. Don't blame CIA/Mossad for all the problems; start taking responsibility yourself sometimes; stop cooperating with CIA/MOssad.

Romesh wrote:"...I find the professor is highly biased.
The author correctly catalogs the misdeeds of British Imperialism in Indian subcontinent as well as those of other imperialist powers elsewhere. But he conveniently ignores the misdeeds of muslim invaders/rulers of the Indian subcontinent for a period of 1000 years (i.e., before the British came in)...."

You know Romesh, with your own words, you are only describing your own self. You're looking at history through biased eyes. You only see the negative things (though mostly incorrectly)done by the muslims. But you overlook the positives... you conveniently ignore the spread of Islam in indonesia, philippines, malaysia or china which have the highest percentage of Muslims. Since you claimed to be knowledgeable in world history, i dont think that i need to explain to you of how islam was spread there...
as another poster has said " stop dwelling on the past (especially the negative), look right in front of your feet..." we dont need to look far.. just ponder on why the fast-growing Islam is winning converts in the world today... certainly not through coercion...

And if you bother to know the current mess in Pakistan is not without the involvement of any foreign imperialist powers... but it is orchestrated by the American govt. And dont forget the illicit and subversive activity of the CIA and Mosad.


Romesh, I really hope you are of 100% Dravidian stock, because if not you are probably the descendant of another group of invaders who completely changed the framework of the subcontinent, the Aryans. Plus, if you take an unobjective look at Muslim rule in India, something you seem to be very outspoken about, I think you will find that for the most part, the Muslim rulers were not as you claim, looting and raping the population. I am quite aware of the exceptions, especially earlier on when the Muslims based in Afghanistan and Sindh. But taken in context, they weren't doing anything different from what the various Indian kings were doing at the time either. Take an unobjective look at Muslim rule of Jerusalem, and I think you will find the same thing, that for the most part, Muslims ruled far better than previous rulers there as well. Muslim rule was as integral a part of India's history as Ashoka or the Maurya kings. I also believe that most Indians share my views, not your bigoted anti-Muslim ones. The Muslim legacy on India was a positive one, and continues to add much to the culture and progress of the country. All this aside though, as another commenter noted, it's probably more useful to look at contemporary circumstances and recent history.

To Ahmed Asghar:

You write "Who cares what people did a 1000 years ago? Let me give you a sound advice: Quit dwelling on such stuff. It does not help. ".

Well, Ahmed, it your muslim folks and intelligensia at Al-Azhar and other institutions of higher learning who will not forget the 1400 years of (in)glorius islamic history and the Crusades; so you do not expect non-muslims to forget it either. Remember, 1400 years of islamic history automatically becomes 1400 years of history of non-muslim.

You also write "Sure Arabs attacked Israel but only to regain their lost territories". Ah, but that is exactly the argument christians have starting the crusades -- to recover the christian territories conquered by Islam over a period of 300 years; though the crusades were ineptly organized and executed. But unfortunately, muslims are unable to accept the argument of recovery of christian lands. To them, once a muslim territory is always a muslim territory.

It is amazing and one must appreciate and thankful to the Muslim rulers who ruled India for 1000 years (as according to Romesh) and still more than 80% of the population are non-muslims and their religious sites and the architecture though un-islamic ...exhibiting sex and nakedness are still existing.
Look at what the west has done to the native Indians and the Mexicans... go to the reservations and see .....don't need to read the so called history.

The paradoxical commandments by Dr.Kent M. Keith, popularized by Mother Theresa.

People are illogical, unreasonable, and self-centered. Love them anyway.

Give the world the best you have and you'll get kicked in the teeth. Give the world the best you have anyway.

The good you do today will be forgotten tomorrow. Do good anyway.


Romesh. Thank you for advising me how to study history! I just have no time for such frevilous stuff. Who cares what people did a 1000 years ago? Let me give you a sound advice: Quit dwelling on such stuff. It does not help. Look right in front of your feet and concern yourself with NOW. Look at what is happening now and try to leave this world a better place and that is my advice not only to you but to ALL humanity. Otherwise we will continue creating the same outcome. Besides it is really unfair for you to judge a people with such suspecion that "if" they had the power they would invade others. So, you condemn them if they do or don't. What kind of school of thought your studies have taught you? Sure Arabs attacked Israel but only to regain their lost territories or don't you know that some 3 million Jews worldwide migrated to Palestine and wiped every village from their map? thus sending 750,000 people into exile. Do you condone such action? Yet all Europeans, The Brits and The Amricans help the perpetrators and shun the victims. here is a recent history:
The lesson is that skullduggery goes on and history is written by those who want to paint their own legends in good light. There is no history of America according to a black or natives persons. Alex Haley comes close but even if there were it would not be taught at schools in America.

I don't much about Islamic history of Indian but I do know that a bunch of Arabian muslims could never conquer India and that most of such Indian muslims were and are actually Indian and their in-fighting still goes both in India and Pakistan. Is it because of Islam or in-spite of Islam. Again we could agrue till cows come home. It does not help. I prefer to put my energy in promoting peace and kindness. I accept it you whoever you are and can only hope that you do likewise. Namaste.

To Romesh and Asgher

"History plays an important role in shaping national identity," and how history is used for political means.

His story or your story or my story or HISTORY? They have named it right.

10 big lies

Creating again new series of history books§ion=0&article=94034&d=23&m=3&y=2007&pix=opinion.jpg&category=Opinion

Holocaust...the people behind the screen.

Ouch! The worst part about the article is that it is true! We in the West must be made to remember the events here recounted (our memories being rather short and selective); especially in this age where neo-con radio demagogues pander to the imperial designs of Washington Inc. with dressed up fear and loathing (and it isn't even dressed up that well). For my own part, I would like to say to the good people of Dar Al-Islam that I am very sorry for everything, and I know that all the apologies in the world aren't enough. May God have mercy on us.

In response to the comment that: "A shrunken world has brought the former colonizers and the colonized closer together. Thousands of angry African men roam the streets of Paris and unemployed Asian youth saunter around in London." May I suggest that the above mentioned dissatisfied African and Asians leave Paris and London and go back to Africa and Asia where I'm sure they'd be much happier, and leave the French British who would also be much happier.

Thank you brother Ahmed Asgher for commenting on Romesh's comments.

If you have any faith in my insights you might want to pay attention to this post. Bush only has 18 months left. That makes him more dangerous than he has ever been.

The world has to deal with "the most powerful man in the world" being possessed. The other day riding the train home I overheard a man saying "if he is in Jesus then anything he does is forgiven". Bloody if these folks can't tell the difference between a snake and a rope.

To Ahmed asghar:

You write "I have seen enough in my lifetime (57 years)to know that no Muslim country has invaded a none Muslim country and that in the same period many European/British/Americans have staged huge interference and invasions in many parts of the world.".

True. No muslim country has invaded non-muslim country (except Israel) in the last 57 years. But why? But it was not for lack of trying. Because they were powerless (and they have been powerless for almost 300 years now). They invaded Israel 3 times but got defeated.

You want non-muslims to forget about 1400 years of Islamic history? But it is the muslims who cannot get rid of Crusades out of their minds as if that event happended yesterday. My friend, crusades were over 800 years ago.

I don't need to remnind you of Islamic rule / invasions on Europe (Italy, Spain, Portugal), N Africa, India, Byzantine empire; those are well known in Islamic history (believe me, I don't have any love for Byzantine empire, and I have no love for Mughal empire either). That rule did not happen because people wanted to become muslims; that rule was because of islamic invasions leading to butchery, loot, and descration of temple. Have you heard of Somnath, Vrindaban temples?

I cannot teach you history on this website; you will have to do research work for yourself (and probably in a library, rather than on the internet). And you will have to look at all kind of evidence before making up your mind; that is how scholars do.


You seem to have your own data. Can you please enlighten us: How many Muslim invasions took place in the last 100 years? And: How many people were killed as a result of such invasions?

It would be futile to talk about thousand years history as it all depends on who has written such accounts. Even then the West would be the winner for invasions - America, Australia, NZ, India, Most of Africa, Middle East, take your pick. Besides with their WMD they have a lot of firepower at their disposal to inflict major damage and they use: from Nagasaki to Shock and Awe. That is why I always like to limit discusion to our times, otherwise we would never get anywhere. Besides people in those times did a lot of atrocities but today we are supposed to be more civilised (?). So let us behave as civilised people. Let me run some figures past you and see what you think:
This website gives fair figures as to how many Iraqis have died as a result of the US invasion, which took place only 4 years ago! So much for Western civilisation.

This website shows how many Palestinians have been killed versus Israelis. The figures have always been gravely disporoportionate and always Western/European powers blaming the victims for their suffering. How do you account for that?

I have seen enough in my lifetime (57 years)to know that no Muslim country has invaded a none Muslim country and that in the same period many European/British/Americans have staged huge interference and invasions in many parts of the world. From Diego Garcia to V'nam. Try doing some research before being ruled by your emotions.

I was very relieved to read an article that is rich with history from all around the world. The area in which I can relate to most is the final paragraph that speaks of how those with a stained history can feel the plight of their people regardless of their knowledge of their native country's past. It is very obvious in American society. Although many may see it take shape in the abundant amount of racism, I see it as more of an identity crisis that lives within us [non-Europeans]. This is a huge issue especially with the impending clashes of culture and people across the globe.

The Americans are arrogant and have lost their main goal to make peace with other nations.

If a person is a professor, he should be unbiased as much as is possible. One cannot have a dialog if one does not try to be fair and objective; you cannot convince anybody if one is not objective enough. I find the professor is highly biased.

The author correctly catalogs the misdeeds of British Imperialism in Indian subcontinent as well as those of other imperialist powers elsewhere. But he conveniently ignores the misdeeds of muslim invaders/rulers of the Indian subcontinent for a period of 1000 years (i.e., before the British came in). He conveniently ignores the butchery of the citizenry, the looting of their valuables at homes and temples, and the arbitrary assignment of lands to muslim invaders from Central Asia, Iran, Turkey and Afghanistan, and to the newly converted locals.

I find the hands of muslim invaders no less bloodier than those of the European imperialists, if not more. However, the British Imperialism lasted only 150 years in India; muslim rule lasted over 1000 years. I wonder what dialog the author is suggesting in Pakistan; the current mess there is not a creation of any foreign imperialist powers.

Stop being a cry baby.


Wonderful visionary article. Humanity needs thinkers, intellectuals, activist and reflective brave individuals. Hopefully that will lay the foundation of unity, equality and peace.