Conquerors and Invaders

-- Mubarak Ali --

Ardeshire Cowasjee’s article “Sultans and Sycophants” created a controversy and greatly disturbed those who have confirmed and established views about history. The reason is that the discipline of history is used by the ruling classes to  promote and fulfil their needs, to build their image, and to conceal the truth which is not in their favour and threatens their status and position. Therefore, when  somebody challenges these views and presents an alternative, he is criticized , condemned, abused, accused and rejected passionately. In this brief essay, I shall try to clarify some of the misconceptions which are prevailing in our society and regarded by the majority as absolute truth.

 First,  I  will discuss the creation of heroes: Muhammad bin Qasim, Mahmud of Ghazna, and Shabuddudin of Ghor  projected as  heroes in the 1930s when communalism swept the Indian politics and strengthened  the religious identity of the Hindu-Muslim communities. During this period both the Hindus and Muslims  resurrected from the history the  forgotten and neglected heroes. How the past is used in such a crisis is written vividly by  Marx  in  “The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte”.  “The traditions of all the dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brain of the living. And just when they seem engaged in revolutionising themselves and things, in creating something that has never yet existed , precisely in such periods of revolutionary crisis they anxiously conjure up the spirits of the past to their service and borrow from them names, battle cries and costumes in order to present the new scene of world history in this time-honoured disguise and this borrowed language.”

 Following this process, the Hindus and Muslims   selected those  individuals from their communities who valiantly fought  against the enemy . So, Rana Partab, Shivaji, and Gru  Gobind became the heroes of the Hindus  and the Sikhs on the basis of their resistance  to the Mughals. On other hand, the Muslim selected  Muhammad bin Qasim, Mahmud of Ghazna, and Shahabuddin of Ghor who defeated the Hindus in a number of battles. The question is why these three individuals were selected and the rest of the Muslim  conquerors were neglected? The reason is that these three conquerors invaded India when there was no Muslim settlement and therefore , they fought only against the Hindu rulers and defeated them. The later Muslim invaders not only fought against the Hindus but also against the Muslims such as Babur, who established the Mughal rule after defeating the Muslim king in the battle of Panipat. Even before Babur, Timur invaded India and brought havoc to the Indian sub-continent. His conquests are also not admired because most of his victims were Muslims. So,  he is excluded from the pantheon of Muslim heroes.

The attitude towards the invaders was completely changed when during the later Mughals Nadir Shah and Ahmad Shah Abdali invaded India. They looted, plundered and killed people without any religious discrimination. These invasion were regarded divine wrath by the Muslim historians who lamented on the cruelty and mercilessness of the aggressors who did not spare their co-religionists. Therefore, they are also did not fit for the status of heroes.On the contrary, they are called scourges and barbarians.

 This interpretation of history raises the question: when we suffer by the hand of an invader  we condemn him; if the other suffers, we condone it. Therefore, it is important to determine measures to understand history. If any country was invaded and the aggressor disturbed peaceful life of people, he should be condemned irrespective of his faith. He should not be allowed to go unpunished by history. It is a tragedy that we people living in the Indian subcontinent before the partition of 1947,  admired and glorified those who invaded their country and brought disaster to its people .

 Out of these three heroes, the most admired and idealised is Mahmud of Ghazna , who invaded India 17 times and was never defeated.The problem is that we study the life of Mahmud  of Ghazna partly concerning only to his Indian conquests and  not his wars against the Muslim rulers of Central Asia.Prof. Habib of Aligarh wrote a book on Mahmud of Ghazni in which he analyses the motives behind the campaigns of Mahmud in India and Central Asia. According to him, the main interest of Mahmud was to built a great empire in Central Asia and not India.To accomplish this project, he needed money, so the Indian campaigns were only for the purpose to plunder Indian wealth and use it for his Central Asian wars.As a shrewd ruler he politicised religion in case of India where  his war became Jihad against the infidels while his Central Asian wars remained political and not religious.He had a good time table for his campaigns: winter suited  to fight in India, while summer was reserved for Central Asia.

 If we assess the  consequences  of these wars, we find that India had suffered as a result of these invaders who took away her accumulated wealth to foreign countries and left her desolate and wounded. If we declare these individuals heroes on the basis of their plunder, loot and killing, we will encourage present and coming  rulers to emulate them. This is what is going on in Pakistan: those who are plundering and looting the country are not punished because they are not exception, they are simply following the footsteps of their predecessors with a difference : now the looted money, instead of going to Ghazna and Kabul, is  deposited safely in the Swiss banks. Related to it Marx’s remark is interesting: “Hegel remarks somewhere that all facts and personages of great importance in world history occur, as it were, twice. He forgot to add: the first time as tragedy, the second as farce.”