White Man’s Burden: The Never-ending Sagadr. Habib Siddiqui (October 26, 2004)

White Man’s Burden: The Never-ending Saga

Dr Habib Siddiqui

Take up the White Man's burden--
Send forth the best ye breed--
Go, bind your sons to exile
To serve your captives' need;
To wait, in heavy harness,
On fluttered folk and wild--
Your new-caught sullen peoples,
Half devil and half child.

So wrote Rudyard Kipling, the great champion of colonialism, nearly a century ago (The White Man's Burden by Rudyard Kipling, McClure's Magazine 12, Feb. 1899).

For the last few centuries the West has been undertaking the missionary task of  “educating” the natives of the once-colonial territories.  She has pursued this objective rather brutishly without any sense of guilt or qualm.  She is so sure of her particular role in history that she is ready to use whatever means that are necessary to meet her objectives.  Remember what Jumo Kenyatta, the founding father of Kenya, had to say of the African experience vis-à-vis colonization of their land: “When the missionaries came to Africa we had land; they had the Bible. They asked us to pray with our eyes closed. When we opened them they had our land; we had the Bible.”  Yes, that is precisely what the Europeans did in Africa.  Europe needed mineral resources for the dawning of its industrial age.  Africa was recognized as a virgin continent with huge mineral resources, which could only be plundered if she was colonized.  Belgian King Leopold put it bluntly: “We must obtain a slice of this magnificent African cake.”

Along the sea-coast, from Misr (Egypt) in the north-east corner to Morocco in the west along the Mediterranean coast, to the Hausaland (in today’s Nigeria) in the south – along the Atlantic coast, and from the Somaliland in the north-east corner to all the way down to the Mozambique (distorted form of  Musa-bin-Baik), the people had been mostly Islamic, thanks to the Arab traders who had settled since the early days of Islam.  Islam, much like it did in any other territories, had always allowed the indigenous people to retain their culture as long as it did not interfere with the very basic tenets of Islam.

To the European would-be invaders, the presence of Muslims among the African populace was an eyesore.  In the European psychic, Islam has always been, especially since the early Crusades, looked down as an anti-thesis to Christianity.  It was recognized as an obstacle towards the fulfillment of their dream to plunder and loot Asia and Africa, and to enslave her people.  It reminded them of the Moorish or Arabized Muslims in Andalusia (Spain), which had been cleansed [by then] of any Islamic influence.  To prepare the ground for invasion and subsequent colonization, first came the propaganda about ridding the black Africans of “slavery” from the Arabs, and then came the muscle – the weapons.  It was a “White man’s burden” to “civilize” the so-called “uncivilized”, “savage”, “Negroes!”  Within a few years, the entire Africa was colonized by the Europeans, and her mineral resources looted out to Europe and her people put into chains to work in the white-men’s plantations in the new colonies in the Americas.  Joseph Conrad, commenting a century ago on King Leopold’s conduct in Congo, called it “the vilest scramble for loot that ever disfigured the history of human conscience.” {Ref: Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness}  [Much credit for developing the infrastructure for the highly industrialized and technologically advanced society in the West is due to the looting of Africa (and other non-European territories) and labor of these slaves and their descendants.  The Western society is indebted to them.  {Ref: Prof. Ali Mazrui, The Africans, a PBS Documentary, USA}]

While slavery as an institution had always existed in some form or other, it was only during this African Diaspora that the world saw how terrible, cruel, ugly and brutal slavery could be.[1]  The enslaved Africans lost more than their land, property and personal freedom.  Their entire institution of family was uprooted: husbands separated from wives, parents from children, and siblings from each other.  Foods considered foul and forbidden were forced on the slaves.  Worst still, the black people, enslaved or not, were considered to be devoid of  “souls.”   They needed to be Christianized to save their “souls.”   This task was left to the Christian missionaries who sealed the fate of Africa, esp. in the sub-Sahara region, by providing the extra logistics, which the European colonizers required. {Ref: Barbara Kingsolver, The Poisonwood Bible}  One of the colonizers, Cecil Rhodes, the founding father of Rhodesia, even devised a cunning scheme that included taxing the natives to live and work in their native lands.  [It is no wonder that the father of modern Zionism, Theodor Herzl, would seek the approval of his plan for a Jewish homeland from none other than Cecil Rhodes, the master planner and implementer of African colonization! {Ref: Diary of Theodor Herzl}]  In the Muslim majority areas, mostly to the north, while Christian missionary tactics did not succeed, harsh colonization was able to destroy most of the centuries-old Islamic institutions.  The transformation was so complete that in the post-colonial era it has become impossible for these nations to find an alternative solution to any problem outside the sphere of influence of these former colonizers.

Overall, by the time the European colonizers left, new maps were redrawn which on one side segregated people who had earlier lived together for centuries and on the other side forcibly joined ethnic groups who had not lived together.  Much of the discords and tensions in Africa (and Asia), now ravaging the continent, are due to the creation of these artificial boundaries by the former colonizers.  The worst victim of such a redrawn map is the Kurdish people, a people that produced the great Islamic hero – Sultan Salahuddin Ayyoubi (R) - who liberated Jerusalem in 1187 from the Christian Crusaders.  [When in 1099 al-Quds, the holy city of Jerusalem, fell to the Crusaders, tens of thousands of innocent Muslim men, women and children were mercilessly massacred, much in common with today’s ethnic cleansing operation against the Balkan Muslims by the Serbian Christians. {Ref: Anthony Nutting, The Arabs}]  The Christian hatred for Salahuddin was so great that the former European colonizers divided the Kurdish people into four segments – in Iran, Iraq, Syria and Turkey - thus, sealing their fate to never ever become a single nation.  The Kurdish problem remains a stumbling block to any real, lasting peace in the region.  During the First World War, when the Ottoman Empire crumbled to the European invaders, the British General Allenby landed near the grave of Salahuddin and said, “Saladin, today the Crusade has ended.”  What is so grotesque about his remark is that to him [and possibly, the Europeans] the Crusade never seemed to have ended in the middle ages when Muslims finally were able to reclaim Jerusalem.  To him it could only have ended with the Christian re-conquest of the territory, which ignores the demographic reality that the vast majority of the people in that territory were Muslims and not Christians.  So much so for crying out for democracy and human rights!

The British colonizers helped in the settlement of European Jews into Palestine soon after the infamous Balfour Declaration.  This Declaration ignored the fact that more than 90% of the population in that territory were Muslims and that Jews owned less than 3% of the territory.  Notwithstanding that half the territory was given to the Jews by the western superpowers (including the USSR), thus dispossessing millions of Palestinians from their ancestral homes and properties, while relocating European Jewry into the occupied territory.  In the 1967 Arab-Israel war, Israel annexed the other half of Palestine.  Thanks to superior arms provided by western nations to Israel.  In reality, since its very inception, Israel has always remained a rampart of the West, much in common with the intention of the founding father of modern Zionism. {Ref: Theodor Herzl, The Jewish State}  The US replaced Britain as Israel’s greatest benefactor.  Then came the Kissinger era with his notorious doctrine that barred any negotiation with the dispossessed Palestinians.  The latter’s crime – terrorism!  Well, if fighting for self-determination is terrorism, then one can argue that the US had shown the way in her struggle for independence from Great Britain.  Since occupying the West Bank, Israel has been guilty of destroying Palestinian properties and constructing one settlement after another, ignoring all the UN Resolutions, which explicitly bars such.  But when she has a powerful friend in the US - with a veto power in the UN Security Council - there is no fear of ever being punished by the world body!  Instead, the US grant for the Jewish state has been steadily increasing!

On January 31, 1970, Bertrand Russell said, “Traditionally, the imperial power wishes to consolidate its authority with the least difficulty by appealing to ‘reason’ and ‘negotiations’ what it has taken already by violence.  Every new conquest becomes the new basis of the proposed negotiation from strength, which ignores the injustice of the previous aggression.  Every experience is an experiment to discover how much more aggression the world will tolerate.” Israel obviously has perfected the art of negotiating from a position of strength. The West, through her support of this rogue state, has epitomized the art of double standard!

Remember the American Indians how they were virtually wiped out of the Americas - their ancestral homes - by the European newcomers!  The simple-minded American Indians’ only crime was to honor their guests into their homeland.  A short story is sufficient to tell the sad saga of this unfortunate people.  A white American of European descent once taunted an American Indian by saying, “O Indian, what do you have to say, how we wiped you out?”  The Indian did not reply.  The white man taunted him again saying: “You must feel awful, how we took your land, killed your men, raped your women, brought pox, syphilis and gonorrhea to your people, burned your villages, took your cattle and crops.”  Still, the Indian remained unperturbed.  This calmness of the Indian further infuriated the white man, who went on to saying, “How come you don’t say anything?  We must have done something that should make you feel angry?”  This time the Indian opened his mouth, saying, “White man, you know: none of what you said really makes me feel bad, sad or angry.  Yes, you are right.  You have wiped us out, you stole our lands, you destroyed our homes, and you raped our women and brought deadly diseases to our people.  You have done all the unthinkable crimes anyone can imagine.  It does not hurt me any more.  What truly hurts my people and me is that despite all these crimes you have committed against my people, we are considered savages and you the “civilized” people.  That truly hurts me the most!”

Remember the [English] East Indian Company, how the Muslim rulers of India gave them duty-free land for trade and commerce, how the Company dishonored that trust by bringing in weapons to colonize our people?  Bengal succumbed to these English pirates in 1757 in the Battle of Plassey.  Outside the Americas, this single event is recognized as the greatest event in the annals of English colonization.  East Bengal was famous for her ultra-fine, delicately woven cotton fabric - Muslin.  England could ill-afford to have any competition for her mediocre and struggling textile market.  The colonizers, to ensure that this technology is never transferred to later generations of Bengalis, thus, chopped off hands of the skilled weavers [of Bengal].  What a cunning and savage ploy!  Former nobles were made beggars and the ruled made barons.  Peasants were forced into planting indigo, instead of rice and jute, to support the British textile industry.  Many died as a result of famine.  Those who rebelled were killed, their houses and crops burned.

 With the failure of the so-called Sepoy Mutiny (Indian First War of Independence) in 1857, led by Muslims, Britain effectively colonized the entire India.  Muslims were most severely treated in a Draconian measure.  The British wrath did not neglect independence-seeking members from other religious communities. Even peaceful meetings and gatherings for independence were most brutally dealt with.  The cold-blooded murder of 400 Indians on the 13th April, 1919 who had gathered at Jalianwala Bagh is an example showing how savage the English colonizers were in their treatment of the native Indians.[2] All the precious jewelry in the treasure of the Mughal emperor was stolen to England, including the Kohinoor, now dazzling the crown of the English Monarch.

As if these measures were not enough, a new history of India was written by pseudo-historians, some English and others - Hindu puppeteers, whose sole aim was to implement the colonial master’s policy of “divide and rule” by planting the seed of permanent hatred and animosity between the majority - Hindus and the minority – Muslims.  Hindus were told that they were better off under the new rulers. {Ref: M.H. Elliott, Bibliographical Index to the Historians of Mohammedan India , Calcutta (1849)}  A new breed of Hindu fanatics was bred whose hatred for anything Islamic was insurmountable.  To this date, much of the problems challenging India’s pluralism are due to these Hindu fanatics.  In recent years, the case of destruction of the Ayodhya Mosque is a glaring example of how the ludicrous, unsupported writings of a pseudo-historian like M.H. Elliott would be used later by the Hindu fanatics to destroy this historical mosque. {Ref: Dr. Ram S. Sharma, Communal History and Ram’s Ayodhya  (1992)}

It would not be an exaggeration if I were to state that, of all the various European [Christian] colonizers, the English were the worst in their treatment of Muslims.  Their hatred and animosity toward Muslims simply do not have a parallel.  Even when they had to leave India, they made sure that Muslims only got a moth-eaten Pakistan, minus Kashmir, minus Calcutta, with borders that could not be protected. It is, therefore, no wonder that while the glory days of the British Empire are a distant memory, we are still haunted both by their ghosts and living descendants.  The British reluctance to take actions against the marauding and savage Serbian Christians, and collusion with the US to punish Iraq are two of the latest examples in this regard.

When the late Mahatma Gandhi was calling for independence of India, he was once invited to plead his case in England.  On one occasion, an English reporter asked him as to how he felt about the European Civilization.  He sarcastically remarked, “What! European Civilization?  I don’t know if they had any.”  What the Mahatma meant was Europe had not, by then (in the early part of the 20th century), evolved into a genuine civilization.  If she had, she would not be committing the kind of brutality and savagery for more than a century in the colonized territories of Asia and Africa.   What was true during Gandhi’s time, obviously, has not changed much, only that colonization has been replaced by neo-colonization!  The western nations still have not taken that quantum leap necessary towards a genuine civilization.

Truly, the West has neither a high moral ground to stand on, nor to accuse Muslims of terrorism.  Through her very actions, past and present, she has proven her blameworthiness.  No matter how she wants to portray her current role in the Muslim world, as one of fairness, actions do speak louder and show her innate enmity against Islam and what it stands for.  She is guilty of religious bigotry, in the least.  Her bloody hands are behind the genocide and massacre of Muslims in the three continents – Asia, Africa and Europe.  The US, in particular, has been the greatest sponsor of  ‘state terrorism’ in the last half of the 20th century.

The trouble with us, the Muslims, is that we never seem willing directly to engage the US and her western partners morally and intellectually in ways that highlight their crimes against us.  There is such a dismal ignorance of them that exists in our part of the globe  – an ignorance painfully disconnected to the system of western exploitation and its organized cruelties against the non-white peoples of this globe – makes us prey to the illusion that America is the only arbiter, the last superpower, the power with the greatest chance of giving us what is genuinely our due.   At the core of our difficulty is the regrettable disunity that divides us, where our rulers, behaving as puppets, robots or circus clowns, think only in terms of the narrowest interest and no concern is given to the ways in which we are used against each other, robbed, traduced, punished and manipulated.

The entire Muslim nation, from Indonesia in the east to Kosovo and Senegal in the west, is bleeding.  Something has obviously gone wrong with Muslims.  Instead of becoming guides to a dying humanity we have become myopic followers.  In the end, we have become our worst nightmares.  We simply cannot agonize over memories of past glory.  We develop our consumer instincts more than we do our scientific and cultural talent, and we manifest so widespread a degree of incompetence and helplessness with our endlessly proclaimed summits that we cannot even take ourselves seriously.  That is a sad reality! We need to reevaluate our purpose in this life and rethink our role in history.

The West needs to be confronted in detail, not with brave or empty slogans and purchase of more new weapons from it.  Its hypocritical, double-standard policies have to be exposed, its irrational positions disallowed and unaccepted.  It should be pointed out that peace without justice is only an illusion.  Peace cannot be attained through uneven-handed policies and goals that further victimize the victims and reward the culprits.g

Dr Habib Siddiqui, an author and anti-war activist, lives in a suburb of Philadelphia, USA. His essays appear on a number of websites and in several newspapers. He has written six books. His book Islamic Wisdom  is now available in the United States and Canada.

 Notes and References

[1] Slavery existed in the African states, and it was used by Europeans to justify their own colonization and slave trade. But the “slaves” of Africa were more like the serfs of Europe – in other words, like most of the population of Europe. But an African slave, e.g., in the Ashanti Kingdom of West Africa, had the right to marry, own property; own slaves, and ultimately become heir to his master. An Ashanti slave, nine cases out of ten, possibly became an adopted member of the family, and in time his descendants so merged and intermarried with the owner’s kinsmen that only a few would know their origin. (Howard Zinn, A people’s history of the United States, HarperCollins, N.Y., p. 27)

[2] General Dyer was responsible for the murder.

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