By Md Sohel Mondal
Almost all historical narratives, with an interconnected sequence that have palpable impacts on global affairs, originally emanated from the World Centre described, according to the Eurocentric world order, as the Middle East. With this distinctive projection, the new accord of world history shortly titled ‘Destiny Disrupted’ by Afghan author Tamim Ansary calls upon readers with an ‘eagle-eye’ to look into the past pages and consequential present to future events.
The book, published in 2009 by Perseus Books Group, is a highly researched work with all historical credentials, though the author has made it a comfort reading. As the author himself academically struggled to give the history of Islam a central place in an American textbook, this masterpiece is also a vital contribution ‘to give more coverage to Islam in world history’. It’s an outstanding act of history, preserving when the call of only ‘our own civilization’ from the West is growing louder.
A General Criticism
The book starts with a criticism of historiography, which, like other disciplines, has been gripped by Eurocentric narratives though the historical milieu of distant geography becomes hardly ever befitting. Arguably, the method of measuring history might be more flexible and specific. Many historians have raised this concern but it’s practically exemplified by Tamim Ansary in this very work.
Therefore, the author of West of Kabul, East of New York assiduously introduced a suitably adaptable tunnel between the two directions, a new ‘Middle World’ where Ansary counts ten corresponding stages starting with ‘Birth’, going through ups-downs and culminating in ‘Reaction’. It’s similar to the history of western democratic society that begins with the ‘birth of civilization’ and currently stands at ‘the triumph of democratic capitalism’. Unlike the Marxist sociological speculation of the future world stage, the author has not bothered about it and negated the historical mistake of Fukuyama’s ‘end of history’ with beginning anew. Even while reading, the current state is viewed as the consequential outcome of the long recent past. The history portrayal of the author has successfully trekked against the way of western monopoly and presented a history with its soul and body.
Different empirical arguments have consistently been used to disprove any belief that conflicts with reality. The author has stressed the intellectually developed thesis like Huntington’s Clash of Civilizations and entrenched the cultural edifice of the middle world. However, it’s still debatable that really Western functionaries acting in Arab palaces had no intention other than economic professionalism as the author has stated. It is also a questionable assertion to say the West ever had a civilization.
The book, alongside, gives insightful analysis based on specific events enumerating their diverse causes and consequences in a comprehensive description, not interwoven with the confusing burden of information like jingling dates and names. For instance, the idea of nationalism, sparked by Johann Herder in late eighteenth century stateless Europe and later fanned by Italian Joseph Mazzini, left shocking gravity across the globe, even segmenting the continent into countries, tearing apart the vast Ottoman Empire into ruins and engrossed in ceaseless conflicts. A reader of mere Islamic history will be forced to think of its appalling role in shaping the new world. What a surprise that two tragic world wars, Jews migration, Palestinian catastrophe, civil wars and modern days’ inter-border disputes in some way can be attached to the inception of that idea!
History as a Story
Another important attraction of history-telling innovatively applied by the author is that he has tried to give a succinct portrayal of events, simultaneously happening in different parts of the world. For example, here is a seventeenth century world view: Ottoman in Middle East, Northern Africa and Eastern Europe, Safavid in Central Asia and Mughal in South Asia were three major powers of the world. Meanwhile in Europe,the desperate situations after crusades led them to explore new opportunities for survival or trade purposes which Muslims had already ‘discovered’. Sometimes, the author has given mind-blowing comparisons between figures/events/places of both world parts like Johann Huss of Europe and Mansur al-Hallaj of Persia who were accused of sacrilege, Ottoman’s adoption of Constitutional Monarchy with the French Revolution etc. By this, the author has crafted a new way of simplifying historical events for the readers from both perspectives.
Centrality and Neutrality
Unlike the author of The Story of the Moors in Spain, Stanley Lane Pole, the book is attuned with poetic prose and ambiguously engaging while maintaining the authenticity of the information. While remembering Spain, the author has not provided special attention to the drastic but evanescent history of al-Andalusia. Rather he has expressed his resentment for not having Rome instead of Baghdad for the far-reaching effect of Islam to the end of Europe. This may be due to the stated centrality of the author in prioritizing the events emanating from the land he has termed the Middle World. However, he has given sufficiently enough details of the Mughal Empire with an attentive description of Akbar and Aurangzeb which was established by fleeing Babur from Fergana Valley of Central Asia present Uzbekistan and centered in the Indian Subcontinent. Similarly, the author’s centrality is evident in descriptions of two prominent promoters of Islamic reformation in the nineteenth century, Sir Syed Ahmed and Sayyid Jamaluddin Afghani.
However, in all these instances of solace, the diligent author maintained his neutrality in order to free the historical interpretation from malice and prejudice. Even this scholarly attribute of objectivity and impartiality has been wisely kept in different ideological and organizational fractional developments throughout history to modern times. It’s also seen that the Author has sometimes dragged debates between the stability of Islam and Christianity and so made their outcomes differentially crystal clear. To take an example: Christianity saw people as ‘born guilty of original sin’ that’s why it ‘focused essentially on personal salvation’. In contrast, Islam saw they are born ‘innocent and capable of ascent to the highest nobility but also of descent to lowest depravity’. The religion viewed them as ‘servants enjoined to obedience’ and emphasized not only personal salvation but also ‘construction of the perfect community’. In addition, spirituality in Christianity is a ‘remedy for sexuality’ while in Islam it is ‘to attain a higher state’. Catchy points like these make the book authentically acceptable to all readers from any inter and intra-fraction. What does the author appeal is clear that the current Muslims have failed to regain the prime prospect of Islam i.e. universal community which is an indispensable prelude to their lost but destined glory.
The book recounts a history of the world through Islamic eyes with lucid narration and precise evaluation, perfectly balancing East and West and deftly incorporating their concurrence. . In addition, a reader with crude pre-knowledge of past events would perceive a subtle savour of it. Finally, it turns readers into general historians of all developments by telling stories with historical connections.
- Views expressed in the article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the editorial stance of Kashmir Observer. The author is a Scholar at Department of Civilizational Studies, Darul Huda Islamic University, Kerala
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