Decolonizing the mind

Jan 4th, 2012 | By | Category: Latest, Pakistan, Social

Faiz Ahmed Faiz was once attending a ceremony in his honour in Delhi, while residing at the home of the Pakistani high commissioner.  Faiz tells us that the son of the commissioner came to him for an autograph. In return, Faiz inscribed his signature along with one of his verses. The boy looked at it and asked Faiz, “Uncle, you know such good English. Dad told me you were also the editor of a daily but you have given me your autograph in Khansama’s language?”

There should be nothing surprising in this narrative. Our brown sahibs, or Angraiz wannabes, are the product of a deeper phenomenon. They are one group of many affectees of a collective inferiority complex; an inferiority complex that is a legacy of colonization. Colonization is not only physical; it can be very much mental as well.  The imperial mission of the British in India has always inculcated a scheme of spreading “civilization”.

We must come to realize that no colonization is possible until both the bodies and mind of the colonized subjects are subjugated.

Our former British masters had this in mind when they made guards and other lower staffs wear the traditional dress of the aristocracy of their predecessors, the Mughals. The elite staff was to wear western outfits. This legacy lives on to this day in elite circles.

Similarly, the people who we cherish as heroes today for resisting imperial occupation were equally met with such cheap colonial tactics. For example, even today many on the streets use the word “tipu” to call dogs. However, few know that the origin of the word lies in British attempts to humiliate their arch rival, Tipu Sultan.

The History of our education speaks volumes in this regard.

When, in the early 19th century, the British took it upon them to educate the people of India, the belief followed that knowledge and wisdom was something they exclusively possessed, and hence declared that all traditional and indigenous forms of gaining knowledge, were not only insignificant, but also irrelevant.

So in 1833, an imperial committee sat down to determine an education policy for the native subjects. Lord Macaulay, who was head of this committee dismissed all oriental knowledge as “absurd history, absurd metaphysics, absurd physics, absurd theology; for raising up a breed of scholars who find their scholarship an encumbrance and a blemish, who live on the public while they are receiving their education, and whose education is so utterly useless to them that when they have received it they must either starve or live on the public all the rest of their lives.”

He went on to say that he has “never found one among them (Indians) who could deny that a single shelf of a good European library was worth the whole native literature of India and Arabia. The intrinsic superiority of the Western literature is, indeed, fully admitted by those members of the Committee who support the Oriental plan of education.”

So what Lord Macaulay was setting for was “a class of persons, Indian in blood and colour, but English in taste, in opinions, in morals, and in intellect”; this class of people still roams about in our country running our bureaucracy, our media, our academia, our military, and our politics. Never to realize that the British are gone, and they can emerge anew with their true identities and lead their own destinies consistent with their own culture, history and experience. But they remain adamant to forward the colonial heritage as a legacy to our future generations.

I believe much of this has to do with power. Man has always wandered this earth with an inherent desire to impose his will on others. He wants to have power so he can prove himself better than others in some way. The Quran has addressed this dilemma on many occasions. In fact, this seems to be a major theme. From the Pharoah to Namrood, and to the story of the owner of two gardens, the Quran has commented on how man is corrupted by power to the extent that he will go at lengths to impose a false belief of his intrinsic superiority over another’s intrinsic inferiority.

Another mentionable phenomenon haunts slave nations; a collective inferiority complex and lack of self-esteem. When Moses (PBUH) led Bani Israel out of the clutches of the Pharaoh, it did not take long for Bani Israel to resort to idol worship and Coptic paganism in the short absence of Moses (PBUH). The Quran tells us that during the whole episode, these companions of Moses (PBUH) witnessed many miracles and blessing of the Almighty. Despite this being, it does make you wander as to why such a nation would go astray in such a short period of time.

Maulana Maududi (RA) has commented on the episode by telling us that it was the glamour of the Mighty Egyptian Civilization of the time that had dazzled the minds of the Jews, who were still trying to come to terms with decolonization. Dr Israr Ahmed has further related, for good reasons, the whole story with that of the Muslims who struggled for a separate homeland in the sub-continent.

History is witness to the fact that these superiority-inferiority tensions have been recurring. “Survival of the fittest” ideas, as developed by western nations, have had their own shapes and forms in other dominant civilizations. Muslims have been equally vulnerable to this menace.

When Muslims were at their peak, they were equally tempted to fall to the belief of others being inherently inferior to them. So are the views of Ibn-Khuldoon explained on the people of Europe being unable to perform thinking tasks properly because the cold weather has deterred their brains; in others words, these people were naturally unfit for intellectual pursuits?

More interestingly, Europeans were considered ugly on account of their “pale” skin by Muslim historians and travelers. Which goes on to show that even conceptions of beauty are social constructs that have more to do with power than we would otherwise think.

Muslims still stand out for their exceptionality of incorporating all races and ethnicities in their fold. It has been Europe that developed social-political-scientific movements on racist ideologies. Finding refuge in “science” and it’s “objectivity” was the only way to provide a moral framework for the pursuit following the “white man’s burden”. But that’s a whole different story.

When Muslims were ruling Spain, the rest of Europe was in tyranny, disorder, anarchy, and famine. They were living on a very low standard of life. No wonder the new emerging elite would go to study in Islamic Spain and adopt Arabic lifestyles. They would wear Arabic dresses, adopt their culture and cuisine and even talk like them.

The Bishop of Cardoba, Bishop Alvaro, who lived during these times writes “My countrymen have forsaken the study of the sacred characters of Rome for the Chaldeans (referring to Arabs/Muslims). That out a thousand Christians, scarcely one was to be found capable of repeating the Latin forms of prayer, while many of them could express themselves with ease and elegance in Arabic. Learned men were now resorting from every part of Europe to the colleges found by Abdul Rehman and his successors.”

Another character, an Englishman, Daniel of Morley, writes in his autobiography “I stopped a while in Paris. There I saw asses rather than men occupying the Chairs and pretending to be very important. They had desks in front of them heaving under the weight of two or three immovable tomes… But because they did not know anything, they were no better than marble statues: by their silence alone they wished to seem wise, and as soon as they tried to say anything, I found them completely unable to express a word…I did not want to get infected by a similar petrifaction… But when I heard that the doctrine of the Arabs was in fashion in Toledo in those days, I hurried there as quickly as I could, so that I could hear the wisest philosophers of the world”

It’s a bit entertaining to see it the other way around, but we must also realize that the west only revived its glory by strongly reestablishing itself with its own identity, history and traditions, without which Europe could never have the self-esteem and self-confidence to pursue its journey of development.

You would never tell your child to start copying another child for him to succeed as you know that each individual has his unique abilities and talents.  Blind imitation will never get you anywhere. It robs you from the chance of producing original work, fully expressing yourself, and the confidence that comes with doing stuff your own way. As this applies to individuals so does it apply to whole nations. In the words of Malcolm X,

“A race of people is like an individual man; until it uses its own talent, takes pride in its own history, expresses its own culture, affirms its own selfhood, it can never fulfill itself.”

As far as we are concerned, Iqbal’s words seem relevant,

The secrets of the self is not in the lute and the guitar

Nor in the promiscuous dancing of her daughters,

Nor in the charms of her bright faced beauties

Nor in the bare skins, nor in bobbed hair.

Her strength is not in irreligiousness

Nor is her rise due to Latin Script.

The strength of the west is due to knowledge and science,

Her lamp is alight from this fire only

Knowledge does not depend on the style of your garments,

And a turban is no obstacle to the acquisition of knowledge


Saad Lakhani

About the author

Saad Lakhani is a student of Social Sciences based in Karachi. He tweets @Saadlakhani12

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  1. After reading this article I recall a lesson titled as “The Last Lesson” by Alphonse Daudet of my B.Sc English book!
    Some golden lines from the paragraph of “The Last lesson”
    “We must guard our language among us and never forget it, because when a people are enslaved, as long as they hold fast to their language it is as if they had the key to their prison” Alphonse Daudet

  2. The Muslims have lost their sense of pride in their religion, their history and in their rich heritage. It is the reason that the caliphate fell and why despite having much potential Muslim countries continue to sink deeper in their subjugation to the Imperialists.

  3. yet u blog in english! as i comment in english

  4. I understand your skepticism, and the irony. But my goal is to reach a English-reading audience. It may be true that if I had written in Urdu it would be useful, but who to address first? As I said the English speaking elite is the greatest sufferer of colonization of the mind. These are the people who need to be addressed first. I appreciate your criticism though 🙂

  5. Hi Saad,

    I like the way you’ve expressed the importance of retaining our identity through its many facets. Having lived in the West, the Middle East and in Pakistan I noticed some interesting differences when it came to the points you’ve raised. In North America I came across many people I did business with who took particular interest in how we immigrants adopted their values and secularized. They were quite aggressive about it and I was usually embarrassed by the defensive posture of many Muslims I’d come across. In the Middle East it was in complete reverse; the locals are so proud of their language, dress and their customs that the westerners living there and even the rest of expatriates actually looked up to them and tried to emulate them. Success and money made the culture more attractive to everyone from the racist brit to the colonized paki. An official policy to maintain arabic and arab culture as supreme has prevailed across the gulf countries and as a result has made their culture stand one of the largest bursts of economic migrants of pretty much any place on the planet in the last 50 years. In Pakistan the situation is quite pathetic. People in english speaking circles (and even aspiring urdu medium circles) try to keep as much of a distance from a muslim identity as possible. “Salaam” is not said, the use of urdu is limited to speech only and that too for limited purposes. Here we have a liberal fascist brigade that is on a mission to explore the depths of self hate. The problem is that they are in positions of power, in the media and they are opinion makers. They are famous lawyers and activists…they get international awards and plenty of attention. It is a war between those who get the importance of maintaining who we are and those who insist that we should succumb to the mass inferiority complex. Keep up the good work!

  6. Assalamu alikum!

    Dear Saad and admins, kindly consider to produce these articles both in Urdu and English. jazakumULLAHU khair.


  7. […] problem with the liberal fascists is their confused ideology. They are westernized products in desi packaging. They can’t get rid of their packaging and […]

  8. Just yesterday I was talking about this with my Dad and he told me that the word ‘Babu’ was the British addition to the Urdu dictionary and their (Britishers) defintion of the word was a brown man who can wear ‘patloon’ and conversate in Engish. This was the criteria was respect and place in society and many SOuth Asians attempted test like CSR to be called a ‘babu’ and earn from the britsih rule with both hands.

    I personally feel the problem lies with the lack of ownership and pride in our native selves thus we fall prone to any new civilzation act brought to us.

  9. “…..Man has always wandered this earth with an inherent desire to impose his will on others. He wants to have power so he can prove himself better than others in some way. The Quran has addressed this dilemma on many occasions. In fact, this seems to be a major theme…. ”
    Would you be kind enough to give the references, please!

  10. […] followers. Those in chains of slavery (or followership) imitate all easy acts of the leaders. In a bid to feel superior, they’d imitate leader’s dress, learn his language, adopt his manners, and take a dog for an […]

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