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Much Deeper Meanings of Afghanistan

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“Happy are those who know that behind all speeches are still the unspeakable lies….”-Rainer Maria Rilke, Possibility of Being

Rilke, the Dionysian poet, is generally associated with dense philosophical matters of “being” (in German, “Existenzphilosophie”), but he also acknowledged “the unspeakable lies” of politics. From one historical epoch to the next, the grievous particulars of such lies vary from moment to moment and place to place. Nonetheless, the generality of their core meanings is overriding, and remains conspicuously and unshakably constant.

 Generality, as we may learn from refined analytic philosophy, is important. In science, inter alia, it represents an essential trait of all serious meaning

There is more. Were he alive today, Rilke would likely observe, among other things, that war and peace are merely transient reflections of assorted untruths.[1] What we see mirrored in the daily news reports on Afghanistan, therefore, are “just” the latest human struggles for primacy (individual and collective), belonging and life-everlasting. In essence, it is these timeless struggles for power, membership and immortality[2] that best define the deeper and more consequential meanings of Afghanistan.

For the moment, public attention is being focused elsewhere. As usual, the key questions being asked are superficial. These questions concern narrowly partisan disagreements on presidential decision-making or policy-making error. Though it is reasonable in any democracy that the citizenry be offered an informed opportunity to allocate legal competences and responsibilities, it is also necessary that this body politic look for and elucidate variously deeper meanings.

 In Afghanistan, the “political” matter at hand, it is noteworthy that although “we have been to this movie before,” there still exist certain core commonalities. These commonalities are meaningfully relevant to wider truths, Now, they warrant disciplined theoretical study.

“Theories,” observed another German poet, Novalis, “are nets. Only he who casts, will catch.”[3]

 More than anything else, Afghanistan demands more coherent and comprehensive theorizing. To begin, the ongoing crisis in that beleaguered country has deeper import than what is currently being suggested by “experts.” Afghanistan represents much more than “just” another current catastrophe. It offers an opportunity to discover what “really” ails this imperiled planet; that is, to identify those still-remediable factors[4] that are most patently and durably causal.

Afghanistan has many “sides.” It is both microcosm (war;[5] religious conflict; crimes of war;[6] irrational prejudices; bitter rancor) and macrocosm (the individual human being: non-rational; death-fearing; anti-intellectual;[7] superstitious; self-destructive).  Taken together, these bewilderingly intersecting elements can easily become synergistic. Here, by definition, the “whole” of combining elements will be greater than the sum of all separate “parts.” Further, this entirety will become substantially greater if scholars and policy-makers can quickly learn to approach this current Afghanistan crisis as metaphor.

 Big questions will have to be answered. “Why do entire nation-states put themselves in harm’s way again and again, sometimes (increasingly) in the path of existential harms”?  “Why do countries that may finally access the tangible benefits of science and education insistently fall back upon myth, ignorance and civilizational regression?” “Why do peoples continue to prefer certain exterminatory paths in national and international affairs to the always available mechanisms of international law[8] and humane peacemaking?”

These questions ought not be disregarded as “collateral damage” of day-to-day US foreign policy. In The Law of Nations (1758), classical Swiss jurist Emmerich de Vattel observes: “The first general law, which is to be found in the very end of the society of Nations, is that each Nation should contribute as far as it can to the happiness and advancement of other Nations.”[9] Though a “general law,” this imperative is routinely swept under the rug. Why?

Though tangible and current policy issues are most urgent, Afghanistan is best approached as metaphor for the longer term. It should be studied accordingly.

Afghanistan can provide scholars and policy-makers with a real-world and real-time “laboratory.” What this laboratory can reveal to us is a visceral and plausibly overriding human death fear. Wherever we might choose to look on this earth, such primal terror splits all human civilizations into “us” and “them,” into adversarial camps of individuals who can wittingly discover in the systematic slaughter of certain “others”[10] the key to their own personal immortality.

From time immemorial, this has been an incomparably tragic discovery. To recall a clarifying lyric by Bob Dylan, what matters most to individual human beings and nation-states is to have “God on our side.” [11]

               There is more. Unless we finally take concrete steps to implement an organic planetary civilization – one based on the immutably central truth of human “oneness” –  there will be no civilizations at all. The time-urgent imperative of this portent is magnified by our species’ steady “advances” in the creation of mega-weapons and infrastructures.[12] Augmenting this “progress,” some major states are now committing themselves to nuclear deterrent strategies based not “only” on threats of “assured destruction,”[13] but upon recognizable capacities for nuclear war fighting.[14]

                Let us be candid; in such matters, planet earth is still at the beginning. Until now, in such primal matters, we humans have consistently managed to miss what is most important. Nonetheless, the central truth here is simple: There exists a latent but determinative “oneness” to all world politics.[15]  

               There is more. Human beings often fear solitude or “aloneness” more than anything else on earth, sometimes even more than death. Amid the palpably impending chaos that is stampeding across Afghanistan, already-suffering individuals will still offer unswerving loyalties to the corrosive claims of “tribe.” Always, everywhere, people desperate “to belong” subordinate themselves to various predatory expectations of nation, class and (above all) faith.

               In Afghanistan and other places, such subordination may carry with it belligerent celebrations of “martyrdom.” The veneer of all human civilization remains razor thin. As will likely be revealed again in Afghanistan, swaths of loyal “members” are prepared to support ancient practices of “sacrifice.” Significantly, such atavistic dedication lies at the heart of both war and terrorism.

                To survive on this human-imperiled planet, we may learn from Afghanistan.  Most fundamentally, all must sincerely seek to survive together, and to rediscover individual lives that are detached from patterned obligations “to belong.” It is only after such an indispensable rediscovery has become widespread that humanity could plausibly hope to reconstruct world politics on a sound basis. In the end, we must give birth to a witting foundation of global interdependence and human “oneness.”

               Unrealistic? Of course. But “in the end,” as we may learn from Italian film director Federico Fellini, “The visionary is the only realist.”

                In The Decline of the West, a modern classic first published during World War I, Oswald Spengler commented: “`I believe'” is the great word against metaphysical fear, and at the same time it is an avowal of love.'” The correct visionary would finally accept that suffocating conflicts of life on earth can never be undone by improving global economies, building larger and larger missiles, fashioning or abrogating international treaties, replacing one sordid regime with another or “spreading democracy.”

               These traditional “remedies” would be insufficient for good reason: The planet as a whole will still remain on its unswervingly lethal trajectory of belligerent nationalism and tribal conflict.[16] To wit, reminds French Jesuit thinker Pierre Teilhard de Chardin in The Phenomenon of Man: “The egocentric ideal of a future reserved for those who have managed to attain egoistically the extremity of `everyone for himself’ is false and against nature.”  Still, throughout history, what is perfectly obvious to calculations of human Reason has been undermined by more insistent claims of anti-Reason.[17]

               Before the tortuous drama is all over, humankind will need to take much more seriously that global survival requires escape from the eternally contentious spirit of competitive tribes. The likelihood of meeting such a daunting requirement of human “oneness” is portentously low, but foreign policies (e.g. America in Afghanistan) can no longer be constructed according to outdated assumptions of power politics. Finally, aware that the entire system of world politics displays the same fragility as an individual life –  that is, the irremediable fragility of not being immortal – an extraordinary shudder should run through “powerful” states. Even if the Afghanistan crisis should end more quickly and successfully than was first expected, it will inevitably be revealed as just another lethal milestone on the open road to species self-destruction,

               A concluding thought dawns. A shared theology will be indispensable to human survival, but this belief-system cannot be just another chanted affirmation of superior divinity. Whether we presently believe that a transcendental supreme being created a cosmos or a chaos,[18] ultimate survival responsibilities will be humankind’s alone. “In the end,” warns Goethe succinctly in Faust, “we must depend upon creatures of our own making.”[19]

               For the moment, it is less important that we agree on the preferred nature of such “creatures” than that we share a sincere commitment to the “world order” process.[20] Whatever else we might find generally agreeable or disagreeable, one fact will remain incontestable: Everything depends upon the individual human being, the “microcosm.” No nation or society can ever be better than the sum total of its constituent “souls.” Expressed differently, but not wholly without optimism, Carl G Jung has summed it all up with enviable candor and simplicity: “Every civilization is the sum total of  individual souls in need of redemption.”[21]

               As a long-delayed beginning, nothing more needs to be said. After Afghanistan, we may also learn from the poet Rilke that those who can lead in variously needed directions will be “those who know that behind all speeches are still the unspeakable lies.” Though not easy to make as a practical political argument in the United States (at the 2016 Republican national convention, “Duck Dynasty” was the presidential candidate’s “keynote speaker”), this basic knowledge could represent an indispensable sort of understanding.

               “Unspeakable lies” can never be a proper foundation of human governance.


[1] Plato’s theory, offered in the fourth century B.C.E, explains politics as an unstable realm formed by lies, half-truths and distorted reflections.  In contrast to the stable realm of immaterial Forms, a realm from which all knowledge must be derived, the political realm is dominated by always-multiplying uncertainties of the sensible world.  At the basis of Plato’s political theory is a physical-mental analogy that establishes correlations between head, heart and abdomen, and the human virtues of intelligence, courage and moderation. 

[2] Prima facie, there can never be any greater power in world politics than power over death. See, by this author, Louis René Beres, at Horasis (Zurich):  https://horasis.org/realpolitik-and-power-over-death-unceasing-delusions-of-world-politics/

[3] This citation is used by philosopher of science Karl R. Popper as the epigraph to his classic text, The Logic of Scientific Discovery (1959). At the same time, we cannot be allowed to forget that theoretical fruitfulness must always be achieved at some more-or-less tangible costs of “dehumanization.” Goethe reminds in Urfaust, the original Faust fragment: “All theory, dear friend, is grey, And the golden tree of life is green.” Translated here by the author, from the German: “Grau, theurer Freund, ist alle Theorie, Und grun des Lebens goldner Baum.”

[4] In fairness, of course, all determinations of what is “remediable” must be inherently subjective and problematic.

[5] Under international law, the question of whether or not a condition of war actually exists between states is often left unclear.  Traditionally, a “formal” war was said to exist only after a state had issued a formal declaration of war.  The Hague Convention III codified this position in 1907.  This Convention provided that hostilities must not commence without “previous and explicit warning” in the form of a declaration of war or an ultimatum.  See Hague Convention III on the Opening of Hostilities, Oct. 18, 1907, art. 1, 36 Stat. 2277, 205 Consol. T.S. 263.  Presently, a declaration of war could be tantamount to a declaration of criminality because international law prohibits “aggression.” See Treaty Providing for the Renunciation of War as an Instrument of National Policy, Aug. 27, 1948, art. 1, 46 Stat.  2343, 94 L.N.T.S.  57 (also called Pact of Paris or Kellogg-Briand Pact); Nuremberg Judgment, 1 I.M.T.  Trial of the Major War Criminals 171 (1947), portions reprinted in Burns H. Weston, et. al., INTERNATIONAL LAW AND WORLD ORDER  148, 159 (1980); U.N. Charter, art. 2(4).  A state may compromise its own legal position by announcing formal declarations of war.  It follows that a state of belligerency may exist without formal declarations, but only if there exists an armed conflict between two or more states and/or at least one of these states considers itself “at war.”

[6] The law of war, the rules of jus in bello, comprise: (1) laws on weapons; (2) laws on warfare; and (3) humanitarian rules. Codified primarily at The Hague and Geneva Conventions, these rules attempt to bring discrimination, proportionality and military necessity into all belligerent calculations. Evidence for the rule of proportionality can also be found in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (1966) at Art. 4. Similarly, the American Convention on Human Rights allows at Art. 27(1) such derogations “in time of war, public danger or other emergency which threaten the independence or security of a party” on “condition of proportionality.” In essence, the military principle of proportionality requires that the amount of destruction permitted must be proportionate to the importance of the objective. In contrast, the political principle of proportionality states “a war cannot be just unless the evil that can reasonably be expected to ensure from the war is less than the evil that can reasonably be expected to ensue if the war is not fought.” See Douglas P. Lackey, THE ETHICS OF WAR AND PEACE, 40 (1989). modified only by a subsequent norm of general international law having the same character.” See: Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties, Done at Vienna, May 23, 1969. Entered into force, Jan. 27, 1980. U.N. Doc. A/CONF. 39/27 at 289 (1969), 1155 U.N.T.S. 331, reprinted in 8 I.L.M.  679 (1969).

[7] Notes French poet Guillaume Apollinaire, “It must not be forgotten that it is perhaps more dangerous for a nation to allow itself to be conquered intellectually than by arms.” See his The New Spirit and the Poets (1917).

[8] The obligations of international law are also generally binding obligations of US law. In the words of Mr. Justice Gray, delivering judgment of the US Supreme Court in Paquete Habana (1900): “International law is part of our law, and must be ascertained and administered by the courts of justice of appropriate jurisdiction….” (175 U.S. 677(1900)) See also: Opinion in Tel-Oren vs. Libyan Arab Republic (726 F. 2d 774 (1984)).The specific incorporation of treaty law into US municipal law is expressly codified at Art. 6 of the US Constitution, the so-called “Supremacy Clause.”

[9] The same point is made in William Blackstone’s Commentaries on the Laws of England – a work of incomparable importance to the creation of US law.  The first volume of Blackstone’s Commentaries appeared in 1765, the fourth in 1769. An American edition of the full work was printed in Philadelphia in 1771-72

[10] One form such slaughter can take is genocide. Still, neither international law nor US law specifically advises any particular penalties or sanctions for states that choose not to prevent or punish genocide committed by others. All states, most notably the “major powers” belonging to the UN Security Council, are bound, among other things, by the peremptory obligation (defined at Article 26 of the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties) known as pacta sunt servanda, to act in continuous “good faith.” This pacta sunt servanda obligation is itself derived from an even more basic norm of world law commonly known as “mutual assistance.” This civilizing norm was famously identified within the classical interstices of international jurisprudence, most notably by eighteenth-century Swiss legal scholar, Emmerich de Vattel, in The Law of Nations (1758).

[11]See, Louis René Beres,, at Horasis (Zurich): https://horasis.org/an-ironic-juxtaposition-global-security-and-human-mortality/

[12] The Devil in George Bernard Shaw’s Man and Superman observes: “Man’s heart is in his weapons….in the arts of death he outdoes Nature herself…. when he goes out to slay, he carries a marvel of mechanism’s that lets loose at the touch of his finger all the hidden molecular energies.” Interestingly, Shaw warned of these “hidden molecular energies” before the start of the Nuclear Age.

[13] Pakistan is an example familiar to this author. See Pakistan Ministry of Defense, review of nuclear strategy works by Professor Louis René Beres: https://defence.pk/pdf/threads/surviving-amid-chaos-israels-nuclear-strategy.452097/

[14] On probable consequences of nuclear war fighting by this author, see: Louis René Beres, Surviving Amid Chaos: Israel’s Nuclear Strategy (Rowman & Littlefield, 2016; 2nd. ed., 2018); Louis René Beres, Apocalypse: Nuclear Catastrophe in World Politics (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1980); Louis René Beres, Mimicking Sisyphus: America’s Countervailing Nuclear Strategy (Lexington MA:  Lexington Books, 1983); Louis René Beres, Reason and Realpolitik: US Foreign Policy and World Order (Lexington MA; Lexington Books, 1984); and Louis René Beres, ed., Security or Armageddon: Israel’s Nuclear Strategy (Lexington MA:  Lexington Books, 1986).

[15]We may learn from Epictetus, the ancient Greek Stoic philosopher: “You are a citizen of the universe.” A still-broader idea of human “oneness” followed the death of Alexander in 322 BCE; with it came a coinciding doctrine of “universality” or interconnectedness. By the Middle Ages, this political and social doctrine had fused with the notion of a respublica Christiana, a worldwide Christian commonwealth, and Thomas, John of Salisbury and Dante were looking upon Europe as a single and unified Christian community. Below the level of God and his heavenly host, all the realm of humanity was to be considered as one. This is because all the world had been created for the same single and incontestable purpose; that is, to provide secular background for the necessary drama of human salvation. Here, only in its relationship to the universe itself, was the world considered as a part rather than a whole. Says Dante in De Monarchia: “The whole human race is a whole with reference to certain parts, and, with reference to another whole, it is a part. For it is a whole with reference to particular kingdoms and nations, as we have shown; and it is a part with reference to the whole universe, which is evident without argument.” Today, the idea of human “oneness” can and should be fully justified/explained in more purely historical/philosophic terms.

[16] Regarding this trajectory, we will require certain antecedent modifications of Realpolitik or power politics. In his posthumously published Lecture on Politics (1896), German historian Heinrich von Treitschke observed: “Individual man sees in his own country the realization of his earthly immortality.” Earlier, German philosopher Georg Friedrich Hegel opined, in his Philosophy of Right (1820), that the state represents “the march of God in the world.” The “deification” of Realpolitik, a transformation from mere principle of action to a sacred end in itself, drew its originating strength from the doctrine of sovereignty advanced in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Initially conceived as a principle of internal order, this doctrine underwent a specific metamorphosis, whence it became the formal or justifying rationale for international anarchy –  that is, for the still present global “state of nature.” First established by Jean Bodin as a juristic concept in De Republica (1576), sovereignty came to be regarded as a power absolute and above the law. Understood in terms of modern international relations, this doctrine encouraged the notion that states lie above and beyond any form of legal regulation in their interactions with each other.

[17] See especially Karl Jaspers, Reason and Anti-Reason in our Time (1952). Jaspers also probed these core issues more specifically in his modern classic, The Question of German Guilt (1947).

[18]Thomas Hobbes’ seventeenth century Leviathan may still offer us an elucidating vision of chaos in world politics. During such chaos, which is a “time of War,” says the English philosopher in Chapter XIII (“Of the Natural Condition of Mankind, as concerning their Felicity, and Misery.”):  “… every man is Enemy to every man… and where the life of man is solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.” At the actual time of writing Leviathan, Hobbes believed that the condition of “nature” in world politics was less chaotic than that same condition extant among individual human beings. This was because of what he had called the “dreadful equality” of individual humans in nature concerning the ability to kill others. But this once-relevant differentiation has effectively disappeared with the continuing manufacture and spread of nuclear weapons, a spread that could soon be exacerbated even further by the ongoing dissolution of Afghanistan.

[19] In the language of world politics, such creatures must, at minimum, be rational. Today, in pertinent analytic studies, rationality and irrationality have taken on very precise meanings. A state is presumed to be rational to the extent that its leadership always values national survival more highly than any other conceivable preference or combination of preferences. An irrational state is one that does not always display such a markedly specific preference ordering. On pragmatic or operational grounds, however, ascertaining whether a particular state adversary is actually rational or irrational would be a sorely difficult task.

[20] The term “world order” has its contemporary origins in a scholarly movement begun at the Yale Law School in the mid- and late 1960s, and later “adopted” by the Politics Department at Princeton University in 1967-68. The present author was an early member of the Princeton-based World Order Models Project, and wrote several of the early books and articles in this once still-emergent academic genre.

[21] See Carl G. Jung, The Undiscovered Self (1957).

LOUIS RENÉ BERES (Ph.D., Princeton, 1971) is Emeritus Professor of International Law at Purdue. His twelfth and most recent book is Surviving Amid Chaos: Israel's Nuclear Strategy (2016) (2nd ed., 2018) https://paw.princeton.edu/new-books/surviving-amid-chaos-israel%E2%80%99s-nuclear-strategy Some of his principal strategic writings have appeared in Harvard National Security Journal (Harvard Law School); International Security (Harvard University); Yale Global Online (Yale University); Oxford University Press (Oxford University); Oxford Yearbook of International Law (Oxford University Press); Parameters: Journal of the US Army War College (Pentagon); Special Warfare (Pentagon); Modern War Institute (Pentagon); The War Room (Pentagon); World Politics (Princeton); INSS (The Institute for National Security Studies)(Tel Aviv); Israel Defense (Tel Aviv); BESA Perspectives (Israel); International Journal of Intelligence and Counterintelligence; The Atlantic; The New York Times and the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.

South Asia

Indian Republic Day: A Black Day for Kashmiris

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India celebrates ‘Republic Day’ on January 26th every year to commemorate the day when the Constitution of India came into effect, replacing the Government of India Act 1935, and making India a republic. However, it is observed as a ‘black day’ in Indian Illegally Occupied Jammu & Kashmir (IIOJK) because it marks the day when the Indian government stripped the region of its autonomous status and imposed direct rule from New Delhi. Kashmir has been a contentious issue between India and Pakistan since the two countries gained independence in 1947. The people of Jammu and Kashmir were promised a high degree of autonomy under Article 370 of the Indian Constitution, which was in effect until August 2019, when the Indian government revoked it. This autonomy included the right to a separate constitution, a separate flag, and laws that were distinct from the rest of India. However, in practice, the Indian government has been involved in suppressing the political and basic rights of the people of Jammu & Kashmir and denying them their right to self-determination.

The special status granted to Jammu and Kashmir under Article 370 of the Indian Constitution, which was revoked by the Indian government in 2019, had given the region a high degree of autonomy and protected its distinct identity. The revocation of this special status has led to widespread protests and resentment among the people of the region, who see it as an infringement on their rights and an attempt by the Indian government to suppress their political and cultural identity and right of self-determination.

The Indian government’s handling of the situation in Jammu and Kashmir has also been criticized by international human rights organizations, who in their recent reports have highlighted how the Indian government has been involved in human rights violations of the people of Kashmir, through the use of excessive force, arbitrary arrests, and censorship of the media. International Human Rights Law forbids the unjustified deprivation of life. The right to life is embodied in Article 3 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which is being flagrantly violated in Kashmiri. India has signed the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights as well (ICCPR). Which hasn’t prevented it from abusing the law, though.

When the Indian government removed Indian Occupied Kashmir’s special status and sent thousands more troops to the area, the situation for the locals of Kashmir became much tougher. Additionally, India reverted to age-old slavery techniques by enforcing a curfew on the helpless population, cutting off the internet and telecommunications, and detaining political figures, leaving 1.47 billion people cut off from the outside world, devoid of fundamental human rights, and living in dread. Since the repeal of Article 370 and the ensuing curfew, there have been reports of nighttime raids in which youngsters have been kidnapped and tortured, as well as of women being harassed. Intentionally violating both international humanitarian law and human rights law, the Indian military has intentionally dismembered, injured, and several times murdered people during this forceful conquest. The Kashmiri diaspora in the UK and Europe observe “Black Day” on January 26th each year to protest the Indian government’s illegal actions in Jammu& Kashmir. This day marks the anniversary of the Indian Constitution coming into effect in 1950, which provides a pretext for the formalization of Indian control over Kashmir, a region that has been the subject of ongoing conflict and human rights abuses. The diaspora uses this day to raise awareness about human rights abuses and the ongoing conflict in the region, and to call for self-determination for the people of Kashmir. They also call on the international community to break the status quo imposed by the fascist Indian government. For instance, the president of Tehreek-e-Kashmir UK president claimed that “the people of Kashmir have challenged India to take out the forces (one million) from the valley and then celebrate the republic day”. Jammu & Kashmir salvation movement president Altaf Ahmed also call the UN for intervention to protect the rights of Kashmiris.

India has long claimed to be the world’s largest democracy and a champion of human rights. However, it has a long history of human rights abuses and political suppression in the region of Kashmir. Despite India’s claims of being the world’s largest democratic state, it has been involved use of excessive force against peaceful protesters, the imposition of strict curfews and internet shutdowns, and the detention of political leaders and activists in the Kashmir region. The Indian government has also been criticized for its heavy-handed tactics in dealing with the insurgency in the region, which has resulted in widespread human rights abuses, including extrajudicial killings, torture, and enforced disappearances. The Indian government has also failed to provide the people of Kashmir with basic democratic rights, such as freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and the right to self-determination.

It is certainly true that the Indian government’s actions in the region of Kashmir have been widely criticized for human rights abuses and the suppression of political dissent. The deployment of a large number of security forces in the region, along with heavy-handed tactics, have resulted in widespread human rights abuses and a lack of protection for the people of Kashmir. This is in contrast to the protection of basic human and democratic rights, which are supposed to be guaranteed to all citizens of India by the Constitution. How a democratic state can be the largest human rights violator? A self-proclaimed secular state which does not give the rights of minorities cannot be a democratic republic state.

The situation in Kashmir raises questions about the Indian government’s commitment to protecting the rights of all of its citizens, regardless of ethnicity or religion. A democratic state should ensure that all citizens are protected and treated fairly under the law, but the actions of the Indian government in Kashmir suggest that this is not always the case. Similarly, a self-proclaimed secular state like India should ensure that all religious groups are treated fairly, but the Indian government has been criticized for its treatment of minority groups in the country, particularly the Muslim population of Kashmir.

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South Asia

A Brief History of British Imperialism in India

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Map, "The Indian Empire and surrounding countries" (1909), Imperial Gazetteer of India. Via Wikipedia

The British Empire

The British Empire or Kingdom was an imperial entity that changed the global order in every way imaginable. The Kingdom of Great Britain was conceived in 1707 when Scotland and Wales joined England under the sovereignty of the Crown. Having ruled for three centuries, its imperialist tendencies had started to show quite early in the 17th century when Britain lay claim to its very first colony in Jamestown, Virginia. Imperial tendencies refer to the aggressive and expansionist ideology that had been donned by the Empire. British imperialism refers to the attempts and following successes of Britain in expanding its power territorially. It did this by infiltrating various regions of the world and forming colonies; though the colonies were self-managed for the most part, they were answerable to the monarchy and were exploited thoroughly without any compensation. Their foreign policy was to self-portray as traders and travelers and then obtain regional control over time. It was a global phenomenon, and it was majorly aided by England’s foray into maritime expansion. Shipping routes were new and undiscovered which led to new lands ripe for exploration and exploitation. There was also a certain rush within the Empire to expand due to the competitive nature of the international system at that time. It was a challenging race for control between England, Spain, France, and Holland.

The colonized regions of the world include North America, Australia, West Indies, New Zealand, Asia (Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Hong Kong), Africa (Ghana, Nigeria, Kenya), and more. Around sixty-five current nation-states gained independence from the Empire. However, Britain left behind deep scars within the system that are detrimental to progress to this day.

Geopolitical

The British monarchy played a dominant role in one of the world’s greatest tragedies – The Transatlantic Slave Trade which lasted from about the 16th century to the 19th century. It altered the geopolitical dimensions of the world through massive population displacements. Even though later on it called for the Abolition (1833) and Emancipation of slavery and slaves – it had been a decisive enough move to alter world history.

Economic

The formation of colonies was for both political and economic power. They were sources of power with a combined manpower of over 450 million people. The colonies presented as pure profit as the natives and slates weren’t given adequate fiscal compensation. Working for pennies on the dollar, the indigenous populations were forced to work in less than favorable working conditions for long taxing hours. The major trade from colonies consisted of sugar, spices, silk, cotton, salt, silver, gold, ivory, tobacco, tea, and more. Many of these such as mining metals and extracting sugar are incredibly labor-intensive works.

The empire used various tactics to carve out strongholds in their regions of choice. The establishment of trading companies – Hudson Bay Company and East India Company, and Strait Settlements.

Socio-cultural

The Britishers have been responsible for most of the socio-cultural divide in the Subcontinent. Before their arrival in 1600s, the region was flourishing under the Mughal Rule with various castes and religions coexisting peacefully. Once the Empire came into control, they sowed seeds of discord amongst the masses along racial and religious lines. The promotion of white supremacy and the English language enveloped the people in a sense of inferiority that still rears its head to this day. The Muslim-Hindu divide became more pronounced after the War of Independence in 1857.

Indian Subcontinent

Formation of the East India Company

In the last months of the year 1600, a group of London-based traders asked for a royal charter – a document that essentially brings legal recognition to organizations and declarations and is granted by the monarch of the time, in order to expand their trade to the East Indies via new naval routes. They wanted to set up a new organization called The East India Company in the Indian subcontinent due to its massive potential. The request was granted by Queen Elizabeth I and the merchants set out, headed by James Lancaster. Once they reached it, they had to first request permission to establish their company. Sir Thomas Roe was sent forward to conduct negotiations with Mughal Emperor Jahangir who was eventually won over by the British charm. Finally, the company set up shop in Surat in the first decade of the 17th century.

Entrance into Politics

The initial interest of the Britishers was indeed purely economic and the company was working independently of the Kingdom. However, soon it became a full-blown empire of sorts with its own armed forces and land. They became responsible for almost half the goods being exported out of India. Their trade included spices, silk, cotton, dye, ammunition, glass, clay-made goods, opium, and tea. Their control over the remaining pillars of the state – Military and Politics, was initiated by General Robert Clive. Clive was a member of the EIC who joined the company army and led it to victory against Siraj-ud-Daulah – The Nawab of Bengal, in the Battle of Plassey in 1757. As he replaced the Nawab as the new governor of Bengal, it marked the start of British incursion into Indian politics. As another century passed and as India became more valuable to England, the Crown took over ruling in 1857 after the War of Independence, eventually dissolving East India Company in 1874.

British Raj

The British rule, as known in India – British Raj, was significantly more parasitic than the East India Company was with its ventures. It managed to destroy systems that had been thriving for centuries.

Disregarding Traditional Ways

British economy brought with it a complete disregard for cultural sentimentality and practices. They were in a global race for capital and territory, something which was not compatible with the traditional practices of the Indian people. They were made to abandon their ancestral teachings and ways of craftsmanship to fall in line with the mechanized ways of the British economy. Cheaper machine-made products replaced handmade goods. Those who could not work for hours in factories or toil away on the fields were suddenly out of jobs. There was a massive decline in employment in the vulnerable sectors of society – women, the elderly, and disabled communities.

Economic Policies

Forced labor and poor pay weren’t the only means through which British imperialism was ripping Indian society into shreds. There was a hefty price to pay because of their economic policies introduced in 1813, the repercussions of which can still be felt in modern times. The infamous policy of ‘One Way Free Trade’ which was introduced in 1813 set forth a precedent for British trade. According to it, British exports into India were not taxed, nor were they met with any tariffs, while Indian exports were taxed heavily. India was drained. It meant that Britain was working with a pure profit off of Indian resources and labor while actively suppressing any nationalized economy of the subcontinent.

Class Divide

England was front and center in creating and cementing a class divide within India. White supremacy was prevalent and with it came a heavy dose of linguistic racism. English was the primary mode of trade and communication in the upper echelons. The English Education Act was passed in 1835 which got funds reallocated for restructuring educational institutions for the sole purpose of making English the language of instruction and discussion.

Famines

Once World War II was initiated in 1939, Britain was up against Axis Powers – Germany, Italy, and Japan. Although it had the support of other Allied powers, still the cost was too high for Britain to bear due to its resources being spread out amongst the colonies all over the world. It directed the cash flows to the war efforts leading to massive famines in India. Overall, during its imperial rule, the Crown contributed to no less than 12 famines in India spanning from the years 1769-1944. The most atrocious one was The Bengal Famine. Lasting for little over a year, this famine set India back decades as it slaughtered millions and led to an internal economic collapse as well, sending many tumbling below the poverty line. The money that could have preserved the masses was instead used to fund arms and ammunition.

The Disintegration of Hindu-Muslim Relations

The British and their colonial legacy are responsible for the religious disharmony that is seen in modern-day India. The Britishers borrowed the divide-and-rule philosophy from Julius Caesar and used it to segregate the communities of India. The Sepoy Mutiny saw a religious fracture in the social fabric of the subcontinent which isolated both Hindus and Muslims – a previously co-habiting community into separate metaphorical corners. It eventually led to the Muslims forming an in-group mentality due to the common suffering. This ‘Us vs Them’ approach led to the 1947 partition and is still visible in modern-day India keeping the socio-religious conflict alive.

Conclusion

Much of the western world and most of Britain especially is built upon the backs of colonial labor. Their infrastructure, factories, and entire social standing are built because of the free and forced labor of the former colonies. Excess taxation and plunder are the only reasons why Britain survived the industrialization of the world and managed to maintain its position at the top.

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South Asia

Hindutva has overshadowed Indian Republic Ideology

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India observes Republic Day on January 26 each year to honor the 1950 Constitution of India, which succeeded the Government of India Act (1935) as the country’s governing law. Following decolonization, India’s new constitution was secular, emphasizing a reasonable separation of religion and state matters rather than strict demarcation as in many Western democracies. However, the political victory of the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party in the late 1990s and past six years of Moodi’s victory, deduced an obvious Hindu interpretation of democracy that differs from the existential western form of democracy.  Religious content has increased in India’s electoral environment (BJP). The post-colonial era has conveyed an alternative nationalism, one that is founded not on secular ideas but rather on the idea that Hindu culture and Indian culture are inseparable. Moodi is ready to transform India into a contemporary Hindu version of controlled democracy through his widespread advocacy of Hindutva ideology.

The secularism of the Indian Republic has always been opposed by the Hindutva movement. A significant portion of Muslims were persuaded to remain in India instead of migrating to the newly founded Islamic state of Pakistan because, at the time, independent India proclaimed itself a secular state, offering freedom to all minority groups as well as citizens’ fundamental rights. All those who supported secularism were perished tragically due to the brutality of the rising Hindu extremism. Even Mahatma Gandhi, the most influential Hindu leader, was assassinated by the RSS because of his secular vision. Since then, Hindutva has become the core of every right-wing political group in India, including the RSS, Shiv Sena, Hindu Mahasbha, and BJP, led by Narendra Modi.

Since many years, termite fascism—which rejects equality—has been encroaching on India in the form of Hindutva. Apparently, in present day India, the Hindu Rashtra is theoretically opposed to caste discrimination against political Hindus. Modi’s ordinary beginning and ascension to authority offer conclusive proof of a free and fair modernity. However, in practice, Hindutva is ready to accept the daily coercions that characterize contemporary Indian society. Instead of assuring the due rights of minorities residing in India, the parliament validated the communal, majoritarian, and intolerable Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA)  – 2019 (CAA) followed by Indian High Court’s suspicious decision on the Babri Masjid.  By fabricating a “Muslim threat” to support the BJP’s anti-Muslim actions, Hindutva has exacerbated social divisions in India. Undoubtedly, right-wing Hindu nationalism threatens India’s constitutional foundations by establishing a Hindu Rashtra. This includes the 2019 Citizenship (Amendment) Act, the removal of Kashmir’s autonomous status, and the Kerala hijab ban. Fascism is reshaping itself in India. It has infiltrated Hindu nationalism, or Hindutva, and now seriously endangers Indian democracy.

Similarly, the inauguration of a Hindu temple in Ayudha on August 5, 2020 (the same day a year after Article 370 was revoked) in lieu of a Mughal-era mosque razed by a right-wing Hindu mob in 1992. This confirms that the BJP has re-energized Savarkar’s plan of Hindutva as a political religion, although in a decidedly populist tone. Conservatism is now increasingly couched in current class semantics (“rich” and “poor”) rather than ancient caste terminology. Some people are considered more equal than others. Muslims, Christians, Marxists, and anti-caste campaigners are the new targets of prejudice and rejection. Individuals under such categories would be deemed political Hindus if they accepted Hindutva. In the new Hindu government, the lines are porous, and everything is negotiable.

Here, the point of concern is whether secularism would continue to serve India’s central philosophy. Perhaps it would be determined by a confluence of political factors, specifically the BJP’s future electoral success and the tactics the opposition uses to challenge the ruling party. Hindu nationalism is stripping India of one of its greatest strengths at a time when nations all over the world are struggling to deal with religious diversity. Therefore, it may not be incorrect to say that Hindu nationalism has an unquestionable sphere of influence over Indian politics and society, despite its evidently xenophobic emergence under the BJP. In fact, the revival of caste identities, which frequently threaten religious identities, is indirectly detrimental to secularism. The BJP has consistently attempted to adopt discriminatory policies to exploit caste-based individualities. In sum, India’s commitment to secularist republic tradition is now in doubt given the political dominance of the BJP’s trademark of Hindu nationalism.

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