Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Indology and the British

From Hindu Wisdom's page.

Thomas Babbington Macaulay (1800-59) was the first Law Member of the Governor-General's Legislature and is best known for introducing English education in India. Speaking in the British Parliament, he said on February 2, 1835 the following:  

“Such wealth I have seen in this country (India), such high moral values, people of such caliber, that I do not think we would ever conquer this country unless we break the very backbone of this nation, which (backbone) is her spiritual and cultural heritage. And therefore, I propose that we replace her old and ancient education system, her culture, for if the Indians think that all that is foreign and English is good and greater than their own, they will lose their self-esteem, their native self-culture and they will become what we want them, a truly dominated nation”.

Dr. Dipak Basu of Nagasaki University in Japan has written:

"The British historians glorify the Muslim rule in India and dismiss the Hindu period as myths and fantasy. They dismiss the Marxian analysis of the British oppression of India. They emphasize the improvements in administration, construction of railroad, universities, abolition of ‘Sati’ and ‘Thugis’ from India and ultimate peaceful transfer of power to Gandhi-Nehru. In that history, there was no freedom movement in India , no man made famines, no transfer of huge resources from India to Britain, no destruction of Indian industries and agriculture by the British rule, but only a very benign and benevolent British rule in India.  History according to the JNU or AMU is not much different."

India’s Missing Historians

By Mihir Bose
History Today Volume: 57 Issue: 9 2007

Mihir Bose discusses the paradox that India, a land of history, has a surprisingly weak tradition of historiography.

Nehru with Pamela MountbattenNehru with Pamela MountbattenIndia, the land of contrasts, presents no greater contrast than this: in a land rich in history there is a dearth of native historians, particularly those willing to tackle big subjects. Few academic historians are ready to explain how modern India emerged. Nor do they write biographies of prominent Indians. Even scarcer are large format illustrated books of popular history.

Indian historians appear to worry that they might ruffle too many feathers, and there is every reason to sympathize with this fear. A couple of years ago, an American academic James Laine wrote a biography of Shivaji, the seventeenth-century Maratha king. Some modern-day Shivaji followers were so outraged by certain passages in the book, Shivaji: Hindu King in Islamic India, that the Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute where Laine had carried out the research was attacked. Oxford University Press withdrew the book from India where it was banned.

The lack of historical writing has deep roots. Ancient Indians believed poets are not only more valuable than historians but better able to write history. Kalhana, author of Rajatarngini, a twelfth-century history of the kings of Kashmir, began his book by saying, ‘who but a poet can bring back the past in sweet composition, and what can make it intelligible if his art cannot?’ As R. C. Majumdar, doyen of Indian historians, lamented in Ancient India (1968), ‘One of the gravest defects of Indian culture, which defies rational explanation, is the aversion of Indians to writing history. They applied themselves to all conceivable branches of literature and excelled in many of them, but they never seriously took to the writing of history,’ with the result that ‘for a great deal of our knowledge of ancient Indian history we are indebted to foreigners’. So to write about ancient India today you have to consult Herodotus and the Greek writers who accompanied Alexander the Great’s campaign to India; Megasthenes, the Greek historian who in c. 300 bc was ambassador to the court of Chandragupta Maurya and collected material there for his work Indica; Ptolemy’s Geographia; and the Chinese travellers Faxian and Xuanzang.

The first history of India was written in the eleventh century by Alberuni, a Muslim scholar who accompanied Mahmud of Ghazni’s invasion of northwest India. The Muslim presence in India encouraged the recording of history and nearly all the great Mughal emperors from Babar, founder of the dynasty, left behind fascinating memoirs, something that their contemporary monarchs in the West did not emulate. Yet when it comes to evidence of what life was like in Mughal times the historian still has to turn to foreigners – as Abraham Eraly (an exception to the rule that Indians do not go in for big picture history books) discovered when he came to write The Mughal World (2007): ‘For everyday life in Mughal India, the only sources are the writings of foreign travellers, and I have used them extensively.’

It is understandable that Indians do not want to study the Raj. British historians do that well enough, and many Indians would rather forget what they see as a shameful episode in India’s past. But it does seem remarkable that the two most popular books to deal with the gaining of India’s independence are Freedom at Midnight (1997) by Dominique Lapierre, a Frenchman, and Larry Collins, an American, and Liberty or Death (1998) by Patrick French, who is British.

Indians have not even been keen to tell the story of the India that has emerged since 1947. A rare example of excellent narrative history is India After Gandhi (2007) by Ramachandra Guha. He complains he has had to struggle because there are no biographies of many of the leading politicians of the last sixty years, the only exceptions being Gandhi, Nehru (who himself had a taste for writing history, something he shared with his fellow Harrovian, Winston Churchill) and his daughter Indira. As for other Indians, if a foreigner does not write the biography it does not get written. A good example is The Man Who Knew Infinity (1991), the biography of the mathematical genius Srinivasa Ramanujan (1887–1920) by American Robert Kanigel. Indians honour Ramanujan: his face is on postage stamps. They just do not seem to feel his life needs to be recorded.

This has left huge gaps in historical study. Take the story of how India assumed its present political and geographical shape. The British had left behind a curious state, without a uniform civil or criminal code. A third of India was ruled by princes who enjoyed considerable internal autonomy. In 1947 the 500-odd princely states were given the right to either accept India or Pakistan or seek independence. The integration of these princely states into India – with one glaring exception, Kashmir – was achieved much more quickly, and with less violence, than the transformation of the American colonies into the modern United States. Yet, apart from a book written by V. P. Menon, the civil servant who masterminded the operation, there has been no historical study of this remarkable exercise in nation-making.

Unlike America, there is no simple narrative explaining the creation of the nation. India did not have a Yorktown where the British surrendered. Gandhi may be the Indian Washington and popular folklore may have it that he drove the British out, but the real story is more complicated. During the Second World War the British jailed nationalists like Gandhi and Nehru for demanding freedom, while many Communists supported the British war effort, seeing it as a fight to save the motherland of Communism, Russia. While some 2.8 million Indians volunteered to fight for the British, the largest such volunteer force of the war, many Indian soldiers taken prisoner by the Japanese joined the Indian National Army fighting against the British. In 1946, when the British put these men on trial, nationalist Indians rushed to their aid. But when India won its freedom, none were allowed back into the Indian Army.

Other aspects of post-Independence India await their historian. In the last sixty years India has seen the biggest experiment in positive discrimination anywhere in the world, by which members of the lower castes have jobs and educational places reserved for them. This hugely controversial subject is little examined by historians. Nor are there any histories to explain how the Indian army was kept out of politics when the Pakistani army, created by the same British masters, could not wait to leave the barracks to take over power.

The gap left by the absence of a clear freedom narrative has been filled by a persistent desire to prove that the Indian nation that emerged in 1947 was a truly secular state. It is understandable why Indians should want to assert this. Pakistan, a confessional state, was created on the basis that Muslims could not co-exist as a minority in a Hindu-dominated India. Looking back now, it is astonishing how many British officials supported the creation of this religious state, how pro-Muslim and anti-Hindu they were, and how contemptuous of the secular credentials of the Indian state.

Indian secularism led by Nehru took a curious turn. Almost any mention of religion was considered inappropriate, and the very word ‘communal’ was (and still is) used pejoratively of people who are biased in favour of either Hindus or Muslims – a usage that had its origins in the way the Raj allocated seats in representative assemblies by dividing Indian communities along religious and caste lines. By so completely ignoring the religious factor in India, India’s secular historians have left a back door open to be exploited by those keen to promote their own agenda about the religious divide in India.

This is underlined by the absence of a tradition of popular history writing in India. The wall between academic historians and popular historians seems as strong as the old Hindu divide between the higher castes and untouchables, bridged only by a very few, such as the businessman Gurcharan Das, who has written some fine popular books on Indian history. Such works are all the more important because, unlike in the west, there is a dearth of primary source materials. Often the best material on India is to be found in western libraries.

It is easy enough to laugh at the efforts of some so-called Indian historians – for example, P.N. Oak, who claimed in one book that the Taj Mahal built by the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan was really a Hindu palace, and in 1985 sought to prove that India once had an empire that included Britain. But more credible histories examining the effect of religion in India have generally been the work of foreigners, such as William Dalrymple’s splendid studies of Mughal India. Historians such as Ramachandra Guha and Pankaj Mishra – arguably the best Indian writer of non-fiction today – do seem ready to deal with this historical deficit, but even Guha found it necessary to preface his India after Gandhi with an apology labelling narrative history a ‘primitive technique’.

Guha is revealingly reluctant to discuss the personal lives of the politicians he is writing about. He does not tell us that Nehru had an affair with Lady Edwina Mountbatten but that ‘with both delicacy and truth [Edwina Mountbatten] can be referred to as his closest lady friend’. I cannot imagine a British historian being so coy. It means that Guha refrains from discussing whether Nehru’s policies  were influenced by his friendship with her husband, Lord Mountbatten – in particular, his disastrous policy towards China. And while Guha has found fascinating information, it is based on printed sources rather than interviews, even though many of the figures he writes about are still living.

Guha calls his section dealing with India since the 1990s ‘historically informed journalism’ rather than history, since the thirty-year rule for releasing official documents has not yet elapsed. Not many British writers would accept such a distinction. Indian historians have a horror of oral testimony. They need to overcome that, and be prepared to provide narrative histories, however ‘primitive’ the technique, if the story of India is not to be left to foreigners.

Battling for the Buddha

by William Dalrymple

Religious disputes were to India in the Nineties what strikes were to Britain in the Seventies: more than annoying irritations, they define the sickness of a nation and an age.

The first, and still the most serious, of such squabbles flared up in 1989. In that year India's resurgent Hindu party, the B.J.P, embroiled itself in what was then a local dispute over the Mosque of Babur at Ayodhya. The controversy - which in time became as baffling as the most unfathomable Hindu myth - revolved around a claim by Hindu fundamentalists that the mosque had been raised by the first Mughal Emperor on a site previously occupied by a great Hindu temple. This supposed temple was, in turn, said by the B.J.P to be built over the birthplace of the blue-skinned God, Lord Ram.

Historically, this was all most unlikely. The mosque, despite its name, was not in fact built by the Emperor Babur. There was no archaeological evidence to indicate that a temple had ever stood on the site. Moreover, scholars were unanimous that Ayodhya, Ram's legendary capital, was probably situated in an entirely different place to the small modern town bearing the same name. But in India, matters of fact rarely impinge on matters of faith. After four years of riots and demonstrations, the massacre of around five thousand Muslims and the fall of three governments - a period in which Hindu holy men dominated India's politics to an extent unknown since the second millennium B.C - the dispute reached its denouement in December 1992 when pick-axe wielding Hindus finally reduced the mosque to a pile of rubble. The rioters were cheered on by the Parliamentary leadership of the B.J.P who watched the entire performance from the comfort of a special platform.

Awakened by this heady scent of fundamentalism wafting through the Indian air, cudgels were soon taken up by the Jain community. Jainism is a gentle philosophy akin to Buddhism which, with hippy-like abandon, espouses non-violence, vegetarianism and total nudity: to this day Jain monks go about (as they put it) 'sky-clad'. Although Jains make up only 2.5 million of India's total population of 880 million, the community has an importance out of all proportion to its numbers. This is due to its astonishing wealth: forbidden for religious reasons from pursuing military or agricultural careers (the latter involves ploughing and the possibility of massacring unknown numbers of earthworms) the Jains have traditionally turned to trade. For centuries they have controlled the Indian diamond market, and as a result become per capita by far the richest sect in the subcontinent.

Just as the Hindus complained that the Muslims had occupied their sacred soil at Ayodhya, so the Jains claimed that they had suffered a similar indignity at the hands of the Hindus. At Udaygiri, the Mountain of the Sunrise in Orissa, the first century B.C monarch, Raja Kharavela, had excavated a Jain cave-monastery honeycombing the sacred mountain. In the sixth century A.D the complex was captured by Hindus who turfed out the monks and converted the image of Mahavira (the Jain's founding divinity) into an image of Vishnu.

So things remained for 1,400 years until, in 1991, the Jains suddenly decided that they wanted their caves back. Letters were written, hunger strikes organised, but despite the intervention of Ashok Jain, India's biggest media tycoon, the Brahmins who occupied the Udaygiri caves refused to move. The dispute currently remains deadlocked, awaiting a decision by the Ministry of Culture in whose files all the claims now lie - and will probably long remain.

Not wishing to be left behind by India's other warring religious communities, the supposedly peace-loving Buddhists stepped into the fray a year later. The Buddhists were upset because the Mahabodhi temple in Bodh Gaya, the site of the Buddha's Enlightenment, was controlled not by the monks of their religion but by a nearby monastery of aggressively anti-Buddhist Hindu monks. According to Buddhist mythology, Bodh Gaya is not only the most sacred spot on earth but the very navel of the universe. It was only fair, argued the Buddhists, that they should be allowed to control their Holy of Holies.

The Buddhists were also extremely critical of the Hindu's guardianship of the Bodh Gaya temple. They accused the Temple Management Committee of furtively selling off several ancient Buddhist idols and of surreptitiously converting others into Hindu Gods: one year, a set of five superb Gupta-period Buddha images were suddenly rechristened the Pandava brothers and declared to be idols of the five semi-divine heroes of the great Hindu epic, the Mahabharata. These meditating Buddha images now lie dressed up in tinselly warrior garb similar to that worn by the brothers in the camped-up version of the epic broadcast on Indian television two years ago.

The Brahmins who controlled the temple remained unmoved by the Buddhists' complaints. Backed up by the big guns of the B.J.P, they declared that the Buddha was really just an extra incarnation of the Hindu God Vishnu and that Buddhism, far from being a separate religion, was no more than an unorthodox sect of Hinduism. They thus had the right, so they implied, to seize control of any Buddhist temple whenever they chose.

Tension at the site finally erupted into violence in May. Led by a Japanese monk, a column of 1,000 Buddhists vowed to 'liberate' the temple and marched into the complex, banners raised. They disrobed 'the Pandavas' and damaged an ancient Buddhist pedestal, claimed by the Hindus to be a Shiv Lingam - a model of Shiva's sacred phallus. Furious at this impertinence, the Brahmins retreated behind the bastions of their monastery and sent out 200 armed gundas [hired thugs] to do battle with the Buddhists. A number of the orange-robed monks were badly beaten before the police intervened.

I had been told that as the hot season progressed, the atmosphere in the temple town was getting tenser by the day. It seemed the ideal moment to pay a visit to the embattled shrine where the gospel of universal peace was conceived.

The mahant of the Hindu monastery was an old man and he was sitting on a tiger skin.

Jagdishanand Giri was thin and emaciated and quite naked but for a thin saffron waist-wrap. A long, grey dreadlock-beard hung down over the slack skin of his chest. On his forehead was daubed the mark of Shiva's trident.

The abbot received me in the throne room at the top of the monastery. Through windows punched into the thick walls, you could look down over the monastery's estates: rich green paddy fields bisected by windbreaks of bottle palms. In some fields there were lines of labourers: the serfs that the monks kept to harvest their crops, and herd their goats and cattle.

The abbot indicated that I should sit on a straw mat at his feet. He said: "If the Buddhists continue to make trouble, my men will prevent them staying in this town."

"But this is their temple also," I said. "They built it."

The abbot stared at me for a minute without blinking.

He said: "There is no logic to their case. These Buddhists are all foreigners: Sri Lankans, Tibetans... They have no business to be here. The temple is my place, my property. In it is my God."

"And which God is that?"

"Lord Shiv is my God - and the Lord Buddha also. But as far as power is concerned, Shiv is the more strong. He can destroy the world in a blink of his eyelids."

The abbot grunted.

"This is the country of the Hindus. If the other religions are to be here, they must be... restrained. In this matter," said the abbot, "there can be no compromise."

It had taken seven hours to get to Bodh Gaya from Patna. In the Buddha's day, this journey would have taken the traveller through the heartland of classical Indian civilisation. Today the same journey took you through the Badlands of Bihar, the most backward and criminalised country in India: despite the fantastic fertility of the alluvial soil, all the villages seemed locked in impossible poverty.

But then straight ahead, dividing the horizon, rose the great pyramid-spire of the Mahabodhi temple. Its shape floated above the ripening paddy like a cathedral rising from the stripfields of mediaeval Europe. Drawing closer, you could see the clutter of centuries of Buddhist veneration: stupas, Buddha images and incense-blackened shrines. To one side rose the monasteries of the different Buddhist congregations: the gilt dragonsback profile of the Thai monastery and the bantering white walls of the Tibetan dharmasala.

The crowds within the temple complex reflected the international spread of Buddhism. At the back of the temple, near the Throne of Enlightenment, a group of red-robed Ladhakis were lost in meditation; beside them two Bhutanese in short green dressing gowns stood rooted, eyes closed, heads bent. Every so often there would be a flash of yellow silk as a group of Burmese monks circambulated the shrine, prayer wheels spinning.

But inside the sanctuary, past the police picket, Hindus suddenly outnumbered Buddhists. A pundit in a white lungi was bowing before the disputed Shiva lingam; nearby, a group of pious Hindu ladies were arranging a marigold garland over its domed head. All the women had their backs pointedly turned against the gilt Buddha which filled the rear wall. A Ladahki monk who had been venerating the statue picked his way past the ladies as if through a patch of thistles.

"You don't get on with the Hindus?" I asked.

The monk grimaced: "We try to live together," he replied. "Buddhists should be patient. But the situation here is impossible."


"There are always problems. The Hindu priests sell the old statues of Lord Buddha or go up to the rich Buddhist pilgrims and beg for money. Then they use this money for their Hindu rites. We feel very unhappy when this happens."

"But are the Brahmins actually hostile?"

"Of course. They threaten us and tell us to get away from Bodh Gaya. Several of our monks have been beaten up. But I train myself to ignore these threats. What they say and do is their business. My business is with my own soul."

I asked: "Do you think the Hindus will eventually succeed in driving you all away?"

"They are trying to," said the monk. "But it is not possible. They have tried before. We are still here."

The monk was referring to a period of history which few Hindus are aware of, and which the B.J.P is keen to forget. Every child in India knows that when the Muslims first came to India that they desecrated temples and smashed idols. What is conveniently forgotten is that during the Hindu revival of the first millennium A.D, many Hindu rulers had behaved in a similar fashion to the Buddhists. Because of this persecution, the philosophy of the Buddha, once a serious rival to Hinduism, had virtually died out in the country of its birth.

Several Rajas went out of their way to destroy Buddhist temples and murder monks: Harsha Deva, a single Kashmiri Raja, boasted that he had destroyed no less than four thousand Buddhist shrines. Another raja, Sasanka of Bengal, went to Bodh Gaya and cut down the Tree of Wisdom under which the Buddha had received Enlightenment. According to Buddhist tradition, Sasanka's "body produced sores and his flesh quickly rotted off and after a short while he died." Certainly it was the Raja's forcible conversion of the Mahabodhi shrine into a Shiva temple that had caused the current dispute.

Before you can begin to attack a people it is necessary to demonise them. By constantly telling pious Hindus that the Muslims desecrated their temples but suppressing the fact that contemporary Hindu rulers behaved in a similar fashion to the Buddhists, the B.J.P are guilty of deliberately distorting history. This sort of selective use of the past has resulted in many of the worst horrors of the twentieth century: in order to commit their different atrocities, the Turks lied about the past of the Armenians, the Germans about that of the Jews, and the early Zionists about that of the Palestinians. In India these historical distortions have already led to the loss of thousands of Muslim lives; those who remain are increasingly regarded as aliens within their own country.

The reclaiming of lost sacred sites - the attempted righting of past wrongs - has opened a Pandora's box which in a country with as fraught a history as India will never again be easily closed. But to judge by the growing list of disputes and the astonishing effect that the Ayodhya affair has had on B.J.P's popularity- in 1989 the party held 2 seats in the Indian Parliament, now it possesses 119 - it seems unlikely that Indian politicians will be willing or able to let sleeping Gods lie. In such a situation, the future for India's religious minorities looks extremely grim.

The only hope is that the Indian people will cease to dance to the tune played by fundamentalists. As I was leaving the Mahabodhi Temple I saw something which perhaps provides a small glimmer of hope that this could happen. An orange robed monk and two teenage boys were squatting on their hams in front of the temple sanctuary. The monk was teaching the boys a mantra: he would sing a phrase and the boys would repeat it. The boys were Hindus; the monk was a Buddhist.

"Do your parents know about this?" I asked.

"Yes," replied one of the boys. "They do not mind."

"Even though you are learning Buddhist prayers?"

"My father says that all Gods are the same; it is just that people call them by different names. I call my father Papa and my cousin calls him uncle: two different names but my father is only one man."

"It is true," said the first boy, nodding vigorously. "It is silly to fight about these things."

The British Colonial Legacy - Myths and Popular Beliefs

archaeology online

While few educated South Asians would deny that British Colonial rule was detrimental to the interests of the common people of the sub-continent - several harbor an illusion that the British weren't all bad. Didn't they, perhaps, educate us - build us modern cities, build us irrigation canals - protect our ancient monuments - etc. etc. And then, there are some who might even say that their record was actually superior to that of independent India's! Perhaps, it is time that the colonial record be retrieved from the archives and re-examined - so that those of us who weren't alive during the freedom movement can learn to distinguish between the myths and the reality.

Literacy and Education

Several Indians are deeply concerned about why literacy rates in India are still so low. So in the last year, I have been making a point of asking English-speaking Indians to guess what India's literacy rate in the colonial period might have been. These were Indians who went to school in the sixties and seventies (only two decades after independence) - and I was amazed to hear their fairly confident guesses. Most guessed the number to be between 30% and 40%. When I suggested that their guess was on the high side - they offered 25% to 35%. No one was prepared to believe that literacy in British India in 1911 was only 6%, in 1931 it was 8%, and by 1947 it had crawled to 11%! That fifty years of freedom had allowed the nation to quintuple it's literacy rate was something that almost seemed unfathomable to them. Perhaps - the British had concentrated on higher education ....? But in 1935, only 4 in 10,000 were enrolled in universities or higher educational institutes. In a nation of then over 350 million people only 16,000 books (no circulation figures) were published in that year (i.e. 1 per 20,000).

Urban Development

It is undoubtedly true that the British built modern cities with modern conveniences for their administrative officers. But it should be noted that these were exclusive zones not intended for the "natives" to enjoy. Consider that in 1911, 69 per cent of Bombay's population lived in one-room tenements (as against 6 per cent in London in the same year). The 1931 census revealed that the figure had increased to 74 per cent - with one-third living more than 5 to a room. The same was true of Karachi and Ahmedabad. After the Second World War, 13 per cent of Bombay's population slept on the streets. As for sanitation, 10-15 tenements typically shared one water tap!
Yet, in 1757 (the year of the Plassey defeat), Clive of the East India Company had observed of Murshidabad in Bengal: "This city is as extensive, populous and rich as the city of London..." (so quoted in the Indian Industrial Commission Report of 1916-18). Dacca was even more famous as a manufacturing town, it's muslin a source of many legends and it's weavers had an international reputation that was unmatched in the medieval world. But in 1840 it was reported by Sir Charles Trevelyan to a parliamentary enquiry that Dacca's population had fallen from 150,000 to 20,000. Montgomery Martin - an early historian of the British Empire observed that Surat and Murshidabad had suffered a similiar fate. (This phenomenon was to be replicated all over India - particularly in Awadh (modern U.P) and other areas that had offered the most heroic resistance to the British during the revolt of 1857.)

The percentage of population dependant on agriculture and pastoral pursuits actually rose to 73% in 1921 from 61% in 1891. (Reliable figures for earlier periods are not available.)

In 1854, Sir Arthur Cotton writing in "Public Works in India" noted: "Public works have been almost entirely neglected throughout India... The motto hitherto has been: 'Do nothing, have nothing done, let nobody do anything....." Adding that the Company was unconcerned if people died of famine, or if they lacked roads and water.

Nothing can be more revealing than the remark by John Bright in the House of Commons on June 24, 1858, "The single city of Manchester, in the supply of its inhabitants with the single article of water, has spent a larger sum of money than the East India Company has spent in the fourteen years from 1834 to 1848 in public works of every kind throughout the whole of its vast dominions."

Irrigation and Agricultural Development

There is another popular belief about British rule: 'The British modernized Indian agriculture by building canals'. But the actual record reveals a somewhat different story. " The roads and tanks and canals," noted an observer in 1838 (G. Thompson, "India and the Colonies," 1838), ''which Hindu or Mussulman Governments constructed for the service of the nations and the good of the country have been suffered to fall into dilapidation; and now the want of the means of irrigation causes famines." Montgomery Martin, in his standard work "The Indian Empire", in 1858, noted that the old East India Company "omitted not only to initiate improvements, but even to keep in repair the old works upon which the revenue depended."

The Report of the Bengal Irrigation Department Committee in 1930 reads: "In every district the Khals (canals) which carry the internal boat traffic become from time to time blocked up with silt. Its Khals and rivers are the roads end highways of Eastern Bengal, and it is impossible to overestimate the importance to the economic life of this part of the province of maintaining these in proper navigable order... " "As regards the revival or maintenance of minor routes, ... practically nothing has been done, with the result that, in some parts of the Province at least, channels have been silted up, navigation has become limited to a few months in the year, and crops can only be marketed when the Khals rise high enough in the monsoon to make transport possible."

Sir William Willcock, a distinguished hydraulic engineer, whose name was associated with irrigation enterprises in Egypt and Mesopotamia had made an investigation of conditions in Bengal. He had discovered that innumerable small destructive rivers of the delta region, constantly changing their course, were originally canals which under the English regime were allowed to escape from their channels and run wild. Formerly these canals distributed the flood waters of the Ganges and provided for proper drainage of the land, undoubtedly accounting for that prosperity of Bengal which lured the rapacious East India merchants there in the early days of the eighteenth century.. He wrote" Not only was nothing done to utilize and improve the original canal system, but railway embankments were subsequently thrown up, entirely destroying it. Some areas, cut off from the supply of loam-bearing Ganges water, have gradually become sterile and unproductive, others improperly drained, show an advanced degree of water-logging, with the inevitable accompaniment of malaria. Nor has any attempt been made to construct proper embankments for the Gauges in its low course, to prevent the enormous erosion by which villages and groves and cultivated fields are swallowed up each year."
"Sir William Willcock severely criticizes the modern administrators and officials, who, with every opportunity to call in expert technical assistance, have hitherto done nothing to remedy this disastrous situation, from decade to decade." Thus wrote G. Emerson in "Voiceless Millions," in 1931 quoting the views of Sir William Willcock in his "Lectures on the Ancient System of Irrigation in Bengal and its Application to Modern Problems" (Calcutta University Readership Lectures, University of Calcutta, 1930)

Modern Medicine and Life Expectancy

Even some serious critics of colonial rule grudgingly grant that the British brought modern medicine to India. Yet - all the statistical indicators show that access to modern medicine was severely restricted. A 1938 report by the ILO (International Labor Office) on "Industrial Labor in India" revealed that life expectancy in India was barely 25 years in 1921 (compared to 55 for England) and had actually fallen to 23 in 1931! In his recently published "Late Victorian Holocausts" Mike Davis reports that life expectancy fell by 20% between 1872 and 1921.

In 1934, there was one hospital bed for 3800 people in British India and this figure included hospital beds reserved for the British rulers. (In that same year, in the Soviet Union, there were ten times as many.) Infant mortality in Bombay was 255 per thousand in 1928. (In the same year, it was less than half that in Moscow.)

Poverty and Population Growth

Several Indians when confronted with such data from the colonial period argue that the British should not be specially targeted because India's problems of poverty pre-date colonial rule, and in any case, were exacerbated by rapid population growth. Of course, no one who makes the first point is able to offer any substantive proof that such conditions prevailed long before the British arrived, and to counter such an argument would be difficult in the absence of reliable and comparable statistical data from earlier centuries. But some readers may find the anecdotal evidence intriguing. In any case, the population growth data is available and is quite remarkable in what it reveals.
Between 1870 and 1910, India's population grew at an average rate of 19%. England and Wales' population grew three times as fast - by 58%! Average population growth in Europe was 45%. Between 1921-40, the population in India grew faster at 21% but was still less than the 24% growth of population in the US!

In 1941, the density of population in India was roughly 250 per square mile almost a third of England's 700 per square mile. Although Bengal was much more densely inhabited at almost 780 per square mile - that was only about 10% more than England. Yet, there was much more poverty in British India than in England and an unprecedented number of famines were recorded during the period of British rule.

In the first half of the 19th century, there were seven famines leading to a million and a half deaths. In the second half, there were 24 famines (18 between 1876 and 1900) causing over 20 million deaths (as per official records). W. Digby, noted in "Prosperous British India" in 1901 that "stated roughly, famines and scarcities have been four times as numerous, during the last thirty years of the 19th century as they were one hundred years ago, and four times as widespread." In Late Victorian Holocausts, Mike Davis points out that here were 31(thirty one) serious famines in 120 years of British rule compared to 17(seventeen) in the 2000 years before British rule.

Not surprising, since the export of food grains had increased by a factor of four just prior to that period. And export of other agricultural raw materials had also increased in similar proportions. Land that once produced grain for local consumption was now taken over by by former slave-owners from N. America who were permitted to set up plantations for the cultivation of lucrative cash crops exclusively for export. Particularly galling is how the British colonial rulers continued to export foodgrains from India to Britain even during famine years.

Annual British Government reports repeatedly published data that showed 70-80% of Indians were living on the margin of subsistence. That two-thirds were undernourished, and in Bengal, nearly four-fifths were undernourished.

Contrast this data with the following accounts of Indian life prior to colonization:-
" ...even in the smallest villages rice, flour, butter, milk, beans and other vegetables, sugar and sweetmeats can be procured in abundance... Tavernier writing in the 17th century in his "Travels in India".

Manouchi - the Venetian who became chief physician to Aurangzeb (also in the 17th century) wrote: "Bengal is of all the kingdoms of the Moghul, best known in France..... We may venture to say it is not inferior in anything to Egypt - and that it even exceeds that kingdom in its products of silks, cottons, sugar, and indigo. All things are in great plenty here, fruits, pulse, grain, muslins, cloths of gold and silk..."

The French traveller, Bernier also described 17th century Bengal in a similiar vein: "The knowledge I have acquired of Bengal in two visits inclines me to believe that it is richer than Egypt. It exports in abundance cottons and silks, rice, sugar and butter. It produces amply for it's own consumption of wheat, vegetables, grains, fowls, ducks and geese. It has immense herds of pigs and flocks of sheep and goats. Fish of every kind it has in profusion. From Rajmahal to the sea is an endless number of canals, cut in bygone ages from the Ganges by immense labour for navigation and irrigation."
The poverty of British India stood in stark contrast to these eye witness reports and has to be ascribed to the pitiful wages that working people in India received in that period. A 1927-28 report noted that "all but the most highly skilled workmen in India receive wages which are barely sufficient to feed and clothe them. Everywhere will be seen overcrowding, dirt and squalid misery..."

This in spite of the fact that in 1922 - an 11 hour day was the norm (as opposed to an 8 hour day in the Soviet Union.) In 1934, it had been reduced to 10 hours (whereas in the Soviet Union, the 7 hour day had been legislated as early as in 1927) What was worse, there were no enforced restrictions on the use of child labour and the Whitley Report found children as young as five - working a 12 hour day.

Ancient Monuments

Perhaps the least known aspect of the colonial legacy is the early British attitude towards India's historic monuments and the extend of vandalism that took place. Instead, there is this pervasive myth of the Britisher as an unbiased "protector of the nation's historic legacy".

R.Nath in his 'History of Decorative Art in Mughal Architecture' records that scores of gardens, tombs and palaces that once adorned the suburbs of Sikandra at Agra were sold out or auctioned. "Relics of the glorious age of the Mughals were either destroyed or converted beyond recognition.." "Out of 270 beautiful monuments which existed at Agra alone, before its capture by Lake in 1803, hardly 40 have survived."

In the same vein, David Carroll (in 'Taj Mahal') observes: " The forts in Agra and Delhi were commandeered at the beginning of the nineteenth century and turned into military garrisons. Marble reliefs were torn down, gardens were trampled, and lines of ugly barracks, still standing today, were installed in their stead. In the Delhi fort, the Hall of Public Audience was made into an arsenal and the arches of the outer colonnades were bricked over or replaced with rectangular wooden windows."

The Mughal fort at Allahabad (one of Akbar's favorite) experienced a fate far worse. Virtually nothing of architectural significance is to be seen in the barracks that now make up the fort. The Deccan fort at Ahmednagar was also converted into barracks. Now, only its outer walls can hint at its former magnificence.

Shockingly, even the Taj Mahal was not spared. David Carroll reports: "..By the nineteenth century, its grounds were a favorite trysting place for young Englishmen and their ladies. Open-air balls were held on the marble terrace in front of the main door, and there, beneath Shah Jahan"s lotus dome, brass bands um-pah-pahed and lords and ladies danced the quadrille. The minarets became a popular site for suicide leaps, and the mosques on either side of the Taj were rented out as bungalows to honeymooners. The gardens of the Taj were especially popular for open-air frolics..."
"At an earlier date, when picnic parties were held in the garden of the Taj, related Lord Curzon, a governor general in the early twentieth century, "it was not an uncommon thing for the revellers to arm themselves with hammer and chisel, with which they wiled away the afternoon by chipping out fragments of agate and carnelian from the cenotaphs of the Emperor and his lamented Queen." The Taj became a place where one could drink in private, and its parks were often strewn with the figures of inebriated British soldiers..."

Lord William Bentinck, (governor general of Bengal 1828-33, and later first governor general of all India), went so far as to announce plans to demolish the best Mogul monuments in Agra and Delhi and remove their marble facades. These were to be shipped to London, where they would be broken up and sold to members of the British aristocracy. Several of Shahjahan's pavilions in the Red Fort at Delhi were indeed stripped to the brick, and the marble was shipped off to England (part of this shipment included pieces for King George IV himself). Plans to dismantle the Taj Mahal were in place, and wrecking machinery was moved into the garden grounds. Just as the demolition work was to begin, news from London indicated that the first auction had not been a success, and that all further sales were cancelled -- it would not be worth the money to tear down the Taj Mahal.
Thus the Taj Mahal was spared, and so too, was the reputation of the British as "Protectors of India's Historic Legacy" ! That innumerable other monuments were destroyed, or left to rack and ruin is a story that has yet to get beyond the specialists in the field.

India and the Industrial Revolution

Perhaps the most important aspect of colonial rule was the transfer of wealth from India to Britain. In his pioneering book, India Today, Rajni Palme Dutt conclusively demonstrates how vital this was to the Industrial Revolution in Britain. Several patents that had remained unfunded suddenly found industrial sponsors once the taxes from India started rolling in. Without capital from India, British banks would have found it impossible to fund the modernization of Britain that took place in the 18th and 19th centuries.

In addition, the scientific basis of the industrial revolution was not a uniquely European contribution. Several civilizations had been adding to the world's scientific database - especially the civilizations of Asia, (including those of the Indian sub-continent). Without that aggregate of scientific knowledge the scientists of Britain and Europe would have found it impossible to make the rapid strides they made during the period of the Industrial revolution. Moreover, several of these patents, particularly those concerned with the textile industry relied on pre-industrial techniques perfected in the sub-continent. (In fact, many of the earliest textile machines in Britain were unable to match the complexity and finesse of the spinning and weaving machines of Dacca.)

Some euro-centric authors have attempted to deny any such linkage. They have tried to assert that not only was the Industrial Revolution a uniquely British/European event - that colonization and the the phenomenal transfer of wealth that took place was merely incidental to it's fruition. But the words of Lord Curzon still ring loud and clear. The Viceroy of British India in 1894 was quite unequivocal, "India is the pivot of our Empire .... If the Empire loses any other part of its Dominion we can survive, but if we lose India the sun of our Empire will have set."

Lord Curzon knew fully well, the value and importance of the Indian colony. It was the transfer of wealth through unprecedented levels of taxation on Indians of virtually all classes that funded the great "Industrial Revolution" and laid the ground for "modernization" in Britain. As early as 1812, an East India Company Report had stated "The importance of that immense empire to this country is rather to be estimated by the great annual addition it makes to the wealth and capital of the Kingdom..."

Unfair Trade

Few would doubt that Indo-British trade may have been unfair - but it may be noteworthy to see how unfair. In the early 1800s imports of Indian cotton and silk goods faced duties of 70-80%. British imports faced duties of 2-4%! As a result, British imports of cotton manufactures into India increased by a factor of 50, and Indian exports dropped to one-fourth! A similiar trend was noted in silk goods, woollens, iron, pottery, glassware and paper. As a result, millions of ruined artisans and craftsmen, spinners, weavers, potters, smelters and smiths were rendered jobless and had to become landless agricultural workers.

Colonial Beneficiaries

Another aspect of colonial rule that has remained hidden from popular perception is that Britain was not the only beneficiary of colonial rule. British trade regulations even as they discriminated against Indian business interests created a favorable trading environment for other imperial powers. By 1939, only 25% of Indian imports came from Britain. 25% came from Japan, the US and Germany. In 1942-3, Canada and Australia contributed another 8%. In the period immediately before independence, Britain ruled as much on behalf of it's imperial allies as it did in it's own interest. The process of "globalization" was already taking shape. But none of this growth trickled down to India. In the last half of 19th century, India's income fell by 50%. In the 190 years prior to independence, the Indian economy was literally stagnant - it experienced zero growth. (Mike Davis: Late Victorian Holocausts)

Those who wish India well might do well to re-read this history so the nation isn't brought to the abyss once again, (and so soon after being liberated from the yoke of colonial rule). While some Indians may wax nostalgic for the return of their former overlords, and some may be ambivalent about colonial rule, most of us relish our freedom and wish to perfect it - not gift it away again.
References: Statistics and data for the colonial period taken from Rajni-Palme Dutt's India Today (Indian Edition published in 1947); also see N.K. Sinha's Economic History of Bengal (Published in Calcutta, 1956); and "Late Victorian Holocausts" by Mike Davis

Bibliography: (For further research into this area)
* M. M. Ahluwalia, Freedom Struggle in India,
* Shah, Khambata: The Wealth and Taxable Capacity of India
* G. Emerson, Voiceless India
* W. Cunningham, Growth of English Industry and Commerce in Modern Times
* Brooks Adams, The Law of Civilization and Decline
* J. R. Seeley, Expansion of England
* H. H. Wilson, History of British India
* D. H Buchanan, Development of Capitalist Enterprise in India
* L. C. A Knowles: Economic Development of the Overseas Empire
* L. H. Jenks: The Migration of British Capital

The Genocide of Turkey's Greeks

Greek Genocide 1914-23
Fact Sheet: Greek Genocide
  • The Greek Genocide was perpetrated between 1914 and 1923 by the Ottoman Empire, the Republic of Turkey's predecessor.  Approximately one million Ottoman Greeks, from a minority population of two and a half million, were exterminated during this period.
  • The Genocide was perpetrated by two consecutive governments of the Ottoman Empire; the Committee for Union and Progress (Ittihad ve Terakki Jemiyeti), also known as the Young Turks, and the Kemalists led by Mustafa Kemal "Ataturk".
  • Massacres, internal deportations involving death marches and conscription into labor battalions were the principal methods employed to secure an end to the collective existence of the Greek minority in Ottoman Turkey.
  • An American relief committee, namely the “Relief Committee for Greeks of Asia Minor”, was formed in response to the Greek Genocide. Other relief organizations also provided aid to Ottoman Greeks.
  • The Greek Genocide was systematically and methodically carried out throughout the entire territory of Ottoman Turkey which indicates that the genocidal campaign was centrally conceived and administered by Ottoman authorities.
  • The Greek Genocide was carried out alongside the Armenian and Aramaean/Assyrian genocides, in which more than a million Armenians and several hundred thousand Assyrians died. The plight of these three Ottoman Christian minorities, Armenians, Aramaeans/Assyrians and Greeks, are often considered as a distinct genocidal campaign where the target group was the Christian element of the Empire.
  • The genocide in the late Ottoman Empire was the precursor of the Jewish Holocaust and prototype of twentieth-century genocide. Prof. Israel Charny, one of the world's leading authorities on the Holocaust and genocide, has affirmed this. "Christian Holocaust is viewed as the precursor to the Jewish Holocaust in WWII.” 
  • The word “holocaust” was widely used at the time to describe the plight of the Ottoman Greeks and other Christian minorities of the Empire.
  • The International Association of Genocide Scholars (IAGS), an organization of the world’s foremost experts on genocide, passed a resolution affirming the 1914-1923 massacres and death marches of Ottoman Greeks were "genocide". The IAGS resolution noted that the Greek Genocide was "qualitatively similar" to the Armenian Genocide.
  • The Turkish government today denies the Greek Genocide. Denial is widely recognized as the final stage of genocide.
  • The Greek Genocide is commemorated annually on 14 September by the Greek Diaspora.

Adam Smith on the East India Company

Thursday, April 28, 2011
Business Economist

Adam Smith was a critic of the 18th century corporations that circumvented the operation of the market by obtaining monopoly power from the State. The way he analyzed the role of government in business affairs and the framework that explained the free market still holds true.

From 15th to 18th century, the European economies were endured by the theory of mercantilism. In those days, the primary source of wealth was gold and silver, and the State could acquire wealth by encouraging trade, or rather export, by private companies. Their success would contribute to the State revenue and in return, the State would guarantee their mercantile success. In the process, the world’s first commercial corporation – the British East India Company (EIC) came into existence, which, established to trade with the East Indies, became a monopoly of British overseas trade everywhere, and governed India from the 1770s to 1858. During this period, it expanded into a vast enterprise, conquering the regional powers in India and exercising a total monopoly on trade. The magnitude of the company was that, it ruled over a fifth of the world’s population with a quarter million of private army.

India’s Encouraging Conditions
India’s foreign trade during the 1770s included textiles and spices in exchange for gold and silver. Indian goods enjoyed a tremendous reputation in the European markets and in the Middle East. India came to be known as the ‘land of precious metals’. On the other hand, most of the European goods like woollen garments, lead, tin, coral, Iron etc., brought to India were either exchanged with certain commodities or remained unsold for quite sometime. Import of foreign goods did not prevent India from absorbing a large portion of the gold and silver of the world, gained through a variety of channels.

The EIC made huge profits by trading with India. The export of bullion by the company to the East were estimated to be anywhere around £800,000 per annum. The company exported no fewer than a million pounds of goods annually during the year 1698-1700. The growth of trade during this period was the most important factor in the development of the company, which flooded Europe with the Indian goods, especially cloth.

Adam Smith (1723-90)
The 18th century Scottish political economist and philosopher, and the founding father of free trade who became famous for his influential book “An Inquiry Into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations” (1776), laid the intellectual framework that explained the free market which still holds true. He is often remembered for the expression “the invisible hand,” which he used to explain how self-interest guides the most efficient use of resources in a nation’s economy, with public welfare coming as a by-product. 

Adam Smith argued that investment at home generates more “revenue and employment” than investment in foreign trade. Self-interest motivates the entrepreneur to invest at home than in foreign trade. He saw the interests of big capitalists conflicting with those of the public: capitalists seek high profits, which corrupt and impoverish society. He criticized the way British mercantilism divided the world into parcels, granted the merchants’ business monopolies, and the corruption of the EIC. Adam Smith emphasized the importance of free market and free trade. To him, there was a convergence of individual and social interests through a free market economy. His premises of free trade are as follows:

• National wealth comes from agricultural produce.
• The farmer and the state shared the same pool of money.
• High tariffs on imported goods meant higher prices for the farmers, and less money for the state.
• Higher tariffs would lead to less investment on the farm hence farmer could not raise crop yield the following year, and this would decrease the tax base for the state.
• Higher tariffs will also lead to: 1) trade monopoly in England that would raise prices, and 2) depletion of farmers’ resources.

Adam Smith expounded the scientific rules for the study of economics and government intervention in economic activities. He championed the cause of the small and medium sized merchants and traders, and in that sense was “progressive” by today’s standards. Smith’s portrayal of the free market economy remains the centerpiece of economic theory. Smith developed much of the theory about markets that are regarded as standard theory even today. 

In 1772, Adam Smith’s friend William Pulteney recommended him to the directors of the EIC, as a member of a commission of inquiry in their administration to be sent to India. Adam Smith, in a letter, dated September 5, 1772, accepted the appointment. Adam Smith highlighted the government-granted monopoly of the EIC and its abuses and inefficiencies. He argued that the Bengal drought was turned into a famine due to the EIC’s incompetence. 

Adam Smith suggested that the workers must be made stakeholders to achieve the greatest possible productivity from them. He quantified the benefits of mechanization but also graphically illustrated the alienation caused by monotonous factory work. He described the divergence of interest that resulted from the separation of management from ownership in large corporations; he recognized that top management would not be motivated to create personal wealth unless they too are corporate stakeholders.

Greedy Mercantilist System

Most European nations, between 16th and 18th century adopted mercantilist policies, which resulted in the colonial expansion. The goal of these policies was, supposedly, to achieve a favorable balance of trade that would bring gold and silver into the European region. The mercantilist theorists like David Hume (Smith’s mentor) and Adam Smith believed that a country should have an excess of exports over imports i.e., favorable balance of trade, to bring in money (wealth) into the country. They recommended legislation to restrict the use of foreign goods, encourage exports, and forbid the export of bullion.

However, the British merchants tried to accomplish this by promoting the imports of cheap raw materials and exports of finished, manufactured goods. The colonies were forced to purchase these goods from the British and had no alternatives i.e., the British had established trade monopolies. Nonetheless, Adam Smith and David Hume were two important opponents of these policies and considered them unfair and inefficient. Adam Smith promoted a laissez-faire approach for governments to operate. He stated that a government should not create monopolies because they could be “dangerous to prosperity.”

Also, government should not keep wages low for its workers and force people into jobs. Adam Smith also did not like the idea of subgroups controlling the economy. He also felt that trade should not be a zero-sum game, but rather a positive-sum game. The comparative advantages of nations should be utilized, but in mercantilist policies, these advantages remain unexploited. Adam Smith saw that monopoly ruined the market system, and the fact that the government created monopolies was one reason that led him to advocate a minimal economic role for government.

The EIC criticized from time to time by the British Parliament for its pursuance of ‘mercantilist policy’ as it was considered not in the interest of the country. In defense of the company, Sir Dudley Digges published his famous pamphlet in 1615 entitled, “A Defense of Commerce”, which stated that re-export of Indian exported from England to India. He proved that the English Nation had from the time of establishment of the EIC saved 70,000 pounds a year, in price of pepper and spices and had further benefited from commerce with India by the increase in customs revenue and the building of great ships and the employment of a large number of Englishmen in the Company’s business. 

                                                                        Henry Martyn

However, Henry Martyn, Merchant in the East India trade, was right from today’s perspective. He recognized that wealth might point in one direction while welfare in another. Henry Martyn’s book “Considerations upon the East India Trade”, written to oppose the EIC’s monopoly, had already anticipated most of what is right and wrong about the theory of free trade: “Things may be imported from India by fewer hands than as good would be made in England, so that to permit the consumption of Indian manufactures is to permit the loss of few men’s labor...A law to restrain us to use only English manufactures, is to oblige us to make them first, is to oblige us to provide for our consumption by the labor of many, what might as well be done by the labor of few, is to oblige us to consume the labor of many when that of few might be sufficient.”

Whatsoever, many economists opine that Adam Smith had prophetic insights on the dominant form of corporate business in his days: the so-called “joint stock company.” During Adam Smith’s lifetime, this risk-sharing system had evolved into a dynamic driver of an expanding global economy. It brought into being the famed East India Companies backed by the Dutch, French, and British governments. They further say, just as Adam Smith was a harsh critic of the 18th century corporations that circumvented the operation of the market by obtaining monopoly power from the State, he would likely to have been equally critical of the powerful oligarchic companies of the 19th through 21st centuries.

Selected Quotes from “The Wealth of Nations on Multinationals”

“The government of an exclusive company of merchants is, perhaps, the worst of all governments for any country whatever.”

“...The rate of profit does not, like rent and wages, rise with the prosperity and fall with the declension of the society. On the contrary, it is always low in rich and high in poor countries, and it is always highest in the countries, which are going fastest to ruin.”

“The interest of the dealers . . . in any particular branch of trade or manufactures, is always in some respects different from, and even opposite to, that of the public... (They) have generally an interest to deceive and even to oppress the public, and accordingly have upon many occasions, both deceived and oppressed it.”

“Our merchants frequently complain of the high wages of British labor as the cause of their manufactures being undersold in foreign markets; but they are silent about the high profits of stock. They complain about the extravagant gain of other people; but they say nothing of their own.”

“Perpetual monopolies were harmful to the long-term trading interests of any nation. They raised prices artificially, encouraged waste, fraud and abuse and, in India, had interfered with the sovereign interests of the British government.”

“While the East India Company had been a trading endeavor, it had provided great service to the state and its people, justifying the monopoly privileges and helping its stockholders' dividends to growth. After territorial expansion occurred, this role and its privileges required revision, for Company interests were at cross purposes with those of the state.”

N Janardhan Rao, Lead Economist

Seeing Real Life Sharia in Action, Calling it something else.

From Family Security Matters
November 4, 2011
By: Paul Marshall and Nina Shea
Publisher: Oxford University Press, 480 pp.
ISBN: 0199812284
“Apostasy is, in principle, subject to sharia hudud rules, which means that the punishment---death---is believed to be fixed by divine order and not subject to judicial discretion...,” write Paul Marshall and Nina Shea in chapter two of Silenced: How Apostasy and Blasphemy Laws are Choking Freedom Worldwide (p. 23), without further explanation.
Silenced falls far short of the landmark study it might have been, had the authors honestly addressed foundational Islamic principles, history and texts that support offending modern codes, and stated the stupefyingly consistent and pervasive use of sharia laws throughout Muslim history. Specifically, hudud refer to Islamic behavioral limits thought divine since Mohammed established the creed. Sharia's heavenly status and its stubborn exercise rest squarely on Koran (considered sacred and immutable) and sunnah, or “traditions.” The latter includes hadith and sira, Mohammed's recorded speech and deeds; and his life (usually, the Ibn Ishaq biography). Apostasy---rejecting Islam---is but one offense to divinity. Adultery similarly requires capital punishment, and theft demands amputation.
To assert that hudud are rarely enforced, or fearing them is “lunacy,” as do Sadiq Reza and other Islamic law professors, is sheer absurdity. But readers of Silenced will not learn here that the horrors the book describes represent unadulterated use of classical hudud and sharia laws, as always practiced.
Three Muslim essayists
Abdurahman Wahid (Gus Dur).
In order “to show that such temporal punishments are not required by Islam,” the authors deliberately avoid discussing the history of apostasy and blasphemy laws and “systematic treatment in Islamic jurisprudence and theology” (p. 287). They leave that topic to “three noted Muslim scholars” whose essays they include. The Nahdlatul Ulama (NU) party provided the forward by the late Indonesian president, reputed Muslim reformer Abdurahman Wahid (1940-2009). Wahid misleadingly casts the “original” meaning of apostasy (as named in the index), and its required punishment---death---as only
“the legacy of historical circumstances and political calculations stretching back to...early ...Islam, when apostasy generally coincided with desertion from the caliph's army and/or rejection of his authority and thus constituted treason.... [E]mbedding (i.e. codification) of [its] harsh punishments...into Islamic law [is] a...byproduct of these circumstances, framed [by] human calculations and expediency, [not] the eternal dictate of Islam sharia on the issue....
“The...development and use of the term sharia to refer to Islamic law often lead those unfamiliar with [it] to conflate man-made law with its revelatory inspiration, elevate to Divine [status] products of human understanding, ... necessarily conditioned by space and time.
Wahid further attempts to distinguish sharia and its purported embodiment of “perennial values” from Islamic law. He says the latter resulted from “itjihad (interpretation),” depends on circumstance (al hukm yadur ma'a al'illah wujudan wa 'adaman) and must be “continuously reviewed” to adapt and prevent Islamic law from obsolescence, rigidity and failing to connect with contemporary Muslim lives and sharia's own “perennial values.” He thus claims that Islam's greatest fiqh (jurisprudence) scholars, were “deeply grounded in tassawuf,” Islamic mysticism, and balanced “the letter of the law with the spirit” of accommodation to differing culture and practice across the Maghreb, Sahara, sub-Saharan Sahel region, southern Africa, Persia, Asia, the East Indies and the former Roman empire.
Reformer or not, Wahid headed an Islamic party, co-founded in 1926 Java by his grandfathers, both members of its sharia council, which purveyed strict Islamic law, according to Dr. Andrew Bostom. It required that members follow one of four Sunni schools of (Islamic) law---of “Muhammad bin Idris As-Shafi, Imam Malik bin Anas, Imam Abu Hanifa or Imam Ahmad bin Hanbal---and to do everything beneficial to Islam.” Al-Shafi'i (d. 820) himself interpreted Koran 2:217 “to mean that the death penalty should be prescribed for apostates,” the scholar Ibn Warraq explains in Leaving Islam. [1]
Moreover, all Sunni sharia schools had closed the “gates of itjihad,” freedom to interpret, 500 years ago. Lately, a few conservative Sunnis favor its reinstatement. Yet the Shi'a kept “benefits of ijtihad” alive, and witnessed no modern reforms, notes analyst and retired U.S. Army officer W. Patrick Lang. Iran maintains draconian sharia-based laws. Its current-day effects are detailed in chapter three.
Unsuccessful reformists
Ultimately, Wahid failed to improve Indonesia's political landscape. Educated at Islamic schools, he joined NU at his grandfathers' behest and took over in 1984, planning a secular “religious movement” to give social progress to all. He opposed Islamic supremacism. Muslims reacted violently. In 1998, as Suharto stoked anti-Chinese riots, Wahid sought calm to no avail. Hardline Muslims burned Chinese homes and shops, raped hundreds and killed at least 1,000---just as they had 100,000 ethnic Chinese in the mid-1960s. Wahid opposed East Timor's secession, although before its 2002 independence, he apologized for Indonesia's 1978 occupation and atrocities. Yet jihadis continued to attack Javanese and Maluku Christians (often with military aid), raided dozens of villages, forced thousands to convert and killed at least 5,000. Genocide has raised Indonesia's Muslim population to nearly 90% of its total.
The late Muslim reformer Nasr Hamid Abu-Zayd (1943-2010) wrote “Renewing Quranic Studies in the Contemporary World.” Although director of the International Institute of Quranic Studies (IIQS), he was declared an apostate by Egypt's Court of Cassation (its highest). He fled. His marriage was forcibly dissolved. He viewed Koran from an “objective historical perspective,” asked how it “was transmitted, propagated, codified, and ultimately canonized,” and sought “interpretive diversity.” He condemned blasphemy and apostasy laws projecting Koran as “eternal and uncreated,” and opposing modern concepts and life principles of freedom, justice, “human rights and dignity of man....”
Indeed, apostasy and blasphemy laws embedded in 1400 years of Islamic jurisprudence prohibit such thoughts. In Sept. 1978, the fatwa council at Cairo's al-Azhar University, the closest Muslim equivalent to the Vatican, issued an official ruling on the case of an Egyptian emigre and convert to Christianity:
...This man has committed apostasy; he must be given a chance to repent and if he does not then he must be killed according to Shariah.
“As far as his children are concerned, as long as they are children they are considered Muslim, but after they reach the age of puberty, then if they remain with Islam they are Muslim, but if they leave Islam and they do not repent they must be killed and Allah knows best.”[2]
Finally, a chapter on reform of classical Muslim apostasy and blasphemy laws came from Maldives-native Abdullah Saeed, the Sultan of Oman Arab and Islamic studies professor at Australia's University of Melbourne. He includes an internet fatwa by Muhammad Salah al-Munajjid on punishment of a murtadd, referencing the classical Bukhari hadith, “if someone changes his religion, kill him.” Like Wahid, Saeed insists on the socio-political genesis of apostasy's prescribed punishment that specified those “in a state of war against Muslims.” It was more “akin to treason” than a simple matter of changing one's belief. He also argues that “clear textual proofs that guarantee certainty of knowledge ('ilm qat'i) were lacking in this debate.” If any, his second thought would most likely gain limited acceptance by Muslim jurists in 2011. Ordinary Muslims and non-Muslims in Islamic regions increasingly oppose classical apostasy laws and other religious restrictions, he writes, increasingly pressuring them to comply with human rights standards like the U.N.'s Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948. Yet Saeed's own homeland banned the 2004 book on apostasy, co-authored with his brother and former Maldives attorney general Hasaan Saeed, on which he based this chapter.
How ready are Muslim jurists to change? The evidence suggests, not very.
Harsh reality
The hopes of Muslim reformers put them sharply at odds both with present-day reality and age-old Islamic conventions. Usefully, the book does catalog myriad effects of current legal codes for eight Muslim nations and regions, mostly penalties for allegedly criticizing or rejecting Islam. In Part II, chapters note dozens of cases that ended in execution, murder, or exile. Readers little aware of legal doctrines ruling Muslim nations, regions and groups likely will find their dire results quite shocking.
Saudi Arabia, “perhaps the most repressively controlled Muslim country in the Sunni world,” often victimizes citizens and foreigners, alike. Not for over 300 years have North American courts routinely tried people for witchcraft. But sorcery charges often precede Saudi death sentences, as for Lebanese Shi'a TV psychic Ali Hussain Sibat after his May 2008 Medina pilgrimage. In prison for 30 months, he won (with foreign help), a new trial and alternative, deportation.
But few escape. In Sept. 2011, Sudanese Abdul Hamid al-Fakki was beheaded for alleged “witchcraft and sorcery.” A sharia court in 2008 condemned an illiterate and ill Fawza Falih for allegedly causing a man's impotence. In 2011 officials admitted she had choked on food and died in prison last year.
Under the Saudi takfir principle (p. 30-31), Muslims may likewise accuse others of leaving Islam---and often do. Those letting men and women to mix at school or work are infidels. “Either he retracts or he must be killed,” said sheikh Abd al-Rahman al-Barrak in Feb. 2010. “He who casts doubt about their infidelity leaves no doubt about his own infidelity,” wrote Grand Mufti Bin Baz in a 2005 Saudi government brochure at its U.S. embassy, of an unnamed European cleric who had said “declaring Jews and Christians infidels is not allowed,” instantly making the cleric a murder target. Similar Saudi tracts denounce “innovative imams” as “heretics [whose] prayers are invalid.”
Egypt also commonly alleges apostasy, despite contrary claims by sharia law professor Reza. “Islamic jurisprudence is the principle source of legislation,” Anwar el-Sadat added to constitution Article 2 in 1971 (p. 62). Thus Muslims often use the hisba doctrine to legally prosecute those considered “harmful to Islam,” chiefly against traditionally repressed religious minorities like Coptic Christians. In fact, penal code article 98 (f) criminalizes “ridiculing or insulting heavenly religions,” facilitating frequent charges of blasphemy and apostasy from Islam---the only faith to which Egypt applies the statute.
In Jun. 1992, days after al-Azhar University clerics listed free thinker Farag Foda first among “helpers of evil,” two al-Jama'at al-Islamiyya members shot him dead. Foda sought to separate mosque and state. He exposed Islamic atrocities from first caliph Abu Bakr to the end of Abbasid Arab caliphate. And at Cairo's Jan. 1992 book fair, he debated orthodox clerics whose fatwas he had mocked (including that against Salman Rushdie). At their trial, Muslim Brotherhood cleric Mohammed al-Ghazali defended Foda's killers, noting that any Muslim could kill an apostate (p. 74).
Pakistan's blasphemy laws, instituted in 1980 under Zia al Haq, have also abetted minority persecution. State sharia courts value male non-Muslim testimonies at half that of Muslims, and of non-Muslim women, one fourth (p. 86). Hundreds of Christians have been prosecuted, far more proportionately than their two percent of the population. Believing Christians natural blasphemers, Muslims easily act on cues to attack, murder, and burn homes and churches. They target Hindus, Sufis and even Muslims, stoning men for alleged blasphemy, or for simply stating what a Westerner considers common sense.
Conditions vary only slightly elsewhere in the Muslims world, and the authors supply a long list of atrocities committed against victims of blasphemy or apostasy accusations. Such charges and attacks occur almost as regularly as clockwork---precisely because they track classic sharia, a key point the authors omit.
Apostasy goes global
Part III reviews parallel efforts at the United Nations to globally bar “defamation of religion,” a thinly veiled attempt to shield Islam alone from criticism. The chief culprit is the 57-nation Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), a Saudi-based and funded organization founded in 1969 (as the Organization of the Islamic Conference). Here again, the book focuses on modern, Western hate-speech statutes and the real-world effects of limits that resulted from worldwide OIC pressure---not the foundational sharia law upon which the OIC built its frighteningly successful campaign.
The names and events that fill this 113-page section have also filled the pages of savvy online news magazines and channels for well over a decade now, and will be familiar to most who have paid more than glancing attention to the innumerable attacks on genuinely open-minded, free-thinking individuals of all persuasions. If nothing else, it is useful to have brief but well-documented studies of dozens of cases all in one place. Readers are reintroduced to Satanic Verses author Salman Rushdie, whose Norwegian publisher William Nygaard was in 1993 shot three times but survived. Also reported: the unusual genesis of 12 cartoons of Mohammed published in late 2005 by Denmark's Jyllands Posten and the global repercussions. After illustrators refused to sign their own work for Kare Bluitgen's biography of Mohammed for children, editor Flemming Rose commissioned the cartoons in protest of self-censorship in a Western democracy. Within weeks, the newspaper required security protection.
As I reported in Feb. 2006, Muslim Brotherhood and Hizb Ut Tahrir cleric Issam Amayra had the previous spring had incited Muslims in Denmark---from Jerusalem's al Aqsa Mosque---to launch jihad there. [3] A jihad plot began months before Flemming Rose dreamed of commissioning Mohammed cartoons. Jyllands Posten merely supplied the excuse to trigger global riots. In Jan. 2006, trigger it the OIC did. Violent “reaction” to the cartoons went viral after the paper refused to back down and Denmark's prime minister refused to meet with Muslim ambassadors. A call by Muslim Brotherhood “spiritual leader” Yusuf Qaradawi for a U.N. Resolution against “affronts to prophets” set off thousands of Mideast “demonstrations,” Pakistani attacks on Christians and on and on. As recently as Jan. 2010, a Somali man attacked the home of cartoonist Kurt Westergaard, then 74.
Victims in the West
In addition to additional Muslim reformers, the book covers several other cases of apostates, Christian converts and former Muslim critics, including the especially heroic Ibn Warraq and former Syrian physician Wafa Sultan (280-286), most of them fairly. It cannot go without comment, however, that the authors seriously insult Dr. Sultan: “She maintains that many verses in the Koran say that you must kill those who do not believe in Allah,” they write (p. 283). Or, Koran may not say it, she just thinks so.
To set the record straight, Koran 2:217 states:
“They ask thee concerning fighting in the Prohibited Month. Say: "Fighting therein is a grave (offense); but graver is it in the sight of God to prevent access to the path of God, to deny Him, to prevent access to the Sacred Mosque, and drive out its members." Tumult and oppression are worse than slaughter. Nor will they cease fighting you until they turn you back from your faith if they can. And if any of you Turn back from their faith and die in unbelief, their works will bear no fruit in this life and in the Hereafter; they will be companions of the Fire and will abide therein.”
If commentary by the founder of Sunni Islam's Shafi school (cited above) insufficiently explains its classical meaning, consider the exegesis on 2:217 by 13th century Maliki jurist Qurtubi (d. 1273):
“Scholars disagree about whether or not apostates are asked to repent. One group say they are asked to repent and, if they do, they are not killed. Some say they are given an hour and others a month. Others say they are asked to repent three times, and that is the view of Malik [founder of the Maliki school of Islamic Law]..It is also said they are killed without being asked to repent.”[5]
Additionally, Islamic jurists routinely cite Koran 4:89, which states:
“They but wish that ye should reject Faith, as they do, and thus be on the same footing (as they): But take not friends from their ranks until they flee in the way of God (From what is forbidden). But if they turn renegades, seize them and slay them wherever ye find them; and (in any case) take no friends or helpers from their ranks;” 
Baydawi (d. 1316) writes on 4:89: “Whosoever turns his back from his belief [irtada], openly or secretly, take him and kill him wheresoever ye find him, like any other infidel.” [6]
The OIC role
One hopes Silenced will spur readers to question the founding purpose of the OIC, which the authors do not detail. The Saudis established the it in 1969 to follow classical sharia and Muslim Brotherhood principles, and in 1973 created the Islamic Development Bank to advance the “Islamic way of life.” Its biggest project: the 1990 Cairo Declaration of Human Rights in Islam, which 57 members signed.
Significantly, the preamble opens with the ummah's keen awareness of “the place of mankind in Islam as viceregent of Allah on Earth,” a clear reference to Koran 3:110 and expected Islamic supremacy:
Ye are the best of peoples, evolved for mankind, enjoining what is right, forbidding what is wrong, and believing in Allah. If only the People of the Book had faith, it were best for them: among them are some who have faith, but most of them are perverted transgressors.[4]
Not coincidentally, the OIC convened for the so-called Cairo declaration shortly after the Feb. 1989 fatwa of Iran's Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, calling upon Muslims worldwide to track down U.K. citizen Salman Rushdie and execute him. Members agreed, the declaration would serve as their guide on “human rights.” These rights, its preamble specified, reaffirm the “civilizing and historical role of the Islamic ummah [nation]” divinely made “as the best community” to give “humanity a universal and well-balanced civilization” and to establish “harmony between” temporal and the afterlife and fulfill Muslim “ guide all humanity,” confused by conflicting beliefs and ideologies.
The OIC Cairo declaration proposed to contribute to global assertion of “human rights, to protect man from exploitation and persecution, and to affirm his freedom and right to a dignified life,” but only in accordance with sharia. Briefly, it supports the opposite of “human rights” in the West: unequal rights.
The OIC, then, functions chiefly as a rising barricade---dangerously invisible to Western leaders, journalists and educators---to cow and herd free-thinking Western democracies on every continent into ever-tightening iron-clad boundaries to guard Islam against free speech, which the authors understand, despite their seemingly wishful thinking.
The book paints a global landscape, exposing a decades-long campaign to silence Islam's internal and external critics via modern legal principles that clearly offend basic human rights. Example after example shows Muslims, through acts, expressing the belief that their creed, alone, is beyond criticism. Their actions suggest that many Muslims feel specially licensed to demand “cultural respect,” plus suppress infidels in their homelands, and everywhere else. Particularly those wanting equal human rights for all, even freedoms of faith and speech---free enough to criticize Muslim theology and Islam.
Further examples continue to accumulate daily. In Iran, Christian pastor Yousef Nadarkhami, now 32, has lived precariously under a sword of Damocles since his 2009 arrest for apostasy---and converting from Islam at age 19. In 2010, he was convicted of apostasy and sentenced to death, though Iran now claims he was sentenced for rape. The mainstream press has remained largely silent over this outrage, albeit among many in Iran. Meanwhile in Paris, Islamic thugs bombed the office of satire magazine Charlie Hebdo (a Gallic version of Britain's Private Eye) after its latest cover changed its name to Charia Hebdo and listed Mohammed as a “guest editor” to mock Tunisian and Libyan Islamic law. Yet Daily Beast (in the U.S.) headlined the satirical cover---not the bombing---as “shocking.” I'm choking.
Sadly, however, Silenced does not address the most important fact: Egregious violations of basic human rights, heretofore, have stemmed directly from Islamic texts---the Koran, hadith and sira---not only “human interpretation” thereof. In the Koran itself (3:110) originated the claim that Muslims are the best of peoples, notes Australian writer Geoff Dickson. [4] Muslim jurist Ibn Kathir (1301–1373) in his tafsir (exegesis) explains the verse to mean:
“You are the best of peoples ever raised up for mankind; you enjoin Al-Ma`ruf (all that Islam has ordained) and forbid Al-Munkar (all that Islam has forbidden), and you believe in Allah. And had the People of the Scripture (Jews and Christians) believed, it would have been better for them; among them are some who have faith, but most of them are Fasiqun (rebellious).”
Theoretically anything is possible. So, theoretically, is Islamic reform. But the rest of humanity meanwhile deserves and needs the truth about Islamic expansionism and irredentism, including where and how those beliefs and practices originated.
[1] “...But whoever of you recants and dies an unbeliever, his works shall come to nothing in this world and the next, and they are the companions of the fire forever.” As cited from Samuel Zwemmer, The Law of Apostasy in Islam, pp. 33-35, (see also—Law of Apostasy.pdf), in Ibn Warraq, ed., Leaving Islam: Apostates Speak Out, (Amherst: Prometheus, 2003), pp. 17, 35. Verse 2:217:
“They ask thee concerning fighting in the Prohibited Month. Say: "Fighting therein is a grave (offense); but graver is it in the sight of God to prevent access to the path of God, to deny Him, to prevent access to the Sacred Mosque, and drive out its members." Tumult and oppression are worse than slaughter. Nor will they cease fighting you until they turn you back from your faith if they can. And if any of you Turn back from their faith and die in unbelief, their works will bear no fruit in this life and in the Hereafter; they will be companions of the Fire and will abide therein.”
[2] Pamela Geller, “Exhibit A, the document: fatwa (death penalty) for apostasy,” Atlas Shrugs, Sept. 21, 2009, (first viewed 9/21/2009).
[3] Jonathan Dahoah Halevi, director of Orient research Group in Toronto, Canada, translated Issam Amayra'a April 2005 sermon from the Arabic.
[5] From Tafsir Al Qurtubi: Classical Commentary of the Holy Qur'an (Volume 1), translated by Aisha Bewley, p. 549, as cited by Dr. Andrew G. Bostom in his Sharia versus Freedom: The Legacy of Islamic Totalitarianism. (Amherst: Prometheus, forthcoming).
[6] From Samuel Zwemer, The Law of Apostasy in Islam, London, 1924/1925, p. 33, as cited by Bostom, in the forthcoming Sharia versus Freedom, id. Contributing Editor Alyssa A. Lappen is a U.S.-based investigative journalist, with a focus on the Middle East and Islam. A former Senior Fellow of the American Center for Democracy (2005-2008), she previously covered the economy, business and finance, as a Senior Editor at Institutional Investor (1993-1999), Working Woman (1991-1993) and Corporate Finance (1991); and an Associate Editor at Forbes (1978-1990).
She contributes regularly to Family Security Matters, the Terror Finance Blog and International Analyst Network and her work appears frequently in Pajamas Media, Front Page Magazine, American Thinker, Right Side News, the Washington Times and many other Internet and print journals.

Ms. Lappen is also an accomplished poet, whose work has won several awards and honorable mentions, and appeared in dozens of books and (print and online) literary journals, including the 2007, second edition of Blood to Remember: American Poets on the Holocaust and issues of Wales' notable Seventh Quarry: Swansea Poetry Magazine.