- The solution for the Muslim peoples
The traditional Afghan society with a “healthy” produce of “Zealots” rebelled against Amanullah’s “Herodianism” particularly in the fields of education and religion
Though “Herodianism” seems a better response than “Zealotism” but the British historian Toynbee warned that it was a dangerous game of “swapping horses while crossing a stream, and the rider who fails to find his seat in the new saddle is swept off by the current to a death as certain as that which awaits the ‘Zealot’,” who tries to fight the West with outmoded ways
After being humbled by the rising West, the defeated Muslims, according to the notable British historian Arnold J Toynbee, responded either as “Zealots” or “Herods.” The “Zealot” being discussed in this column last week, clings to traditional ways of survival because those ways had kept him ascendant for many centuries in the past whereas the “Herod” went through a reality check that informed him that the traditional ways had become inferior so acting by reason and intellect, he consciously decided to dump the traditional and adopt the Western ways simply because the latter proved superior than his ways of survival.
The Muslim statesman, who first tried to experiment with “Herodianism” i.e., the adoption of Western ways was the Ottoman Sultan Selim III, however, the one who pursued it with impunity was the Egyptian ruler Muhammad Ali. The second “Herodian” Muslim ruler turned out to be King Amanullah of Afghanistan. He undertook a seven-month tour of Europe in which he visited Italy, Germany, France, England and Russia. He initiated the modernisation of his country by the promulgation of the Fundamental Law in 1923 which followed with the hiring of foreign teachers, military instructors, technicians, artisans, bank employees, nurses, doctors and scientists. As a result of his efforts, Russia promised thirteen airplanes along with munitions; the German airline Lufthansa set an air service between Kabul and Berlin; and factories were set to produce paper, textiles and electrical goods.
The traditional Afghan society with a “healthy” produce of “Zealots” rebelled against Amanullah’s “Herodianism” particularly in the fields of education and religion. The first “Zealot” that sapped Amanullah’s energies and resources in a ten-month revolt in Khost in 1924 was the “Lame Mullah.” This was followed by a wider rebellion of mullahs and conservative tribesmen led by a highway robber nicknamed “Bacha-i-Sakao” (water-carrier’s son) that overthrew Amanullah and cancelled his modern reforms in January 1929.
The Muslim ruler that turned out to be the “arch-Herodian” was the Turkish revolutionary Mustafa Kamal, who embraced Westernisation with gusto. He adopted nationalism as the professed creed for the Turks and rejected both Pan-Islamism and Pan-Turanism as nefarious movements that not only retarded the modern secular development of his people but also entangled them unnecessarily in adventures and responsibilities which weren’t their concern and thus caused uncalled for friction with foreign powers. As an “arch-Herodian,” the Ataturk realised that if he wanted to transform his people into a Westernised modern nation then he would have to make a clean break with the ancient Asiatic-Arabic ways that represented the “Old Order.” So, he abolished the institutions of caliphate and sharia courts; disbanded dervish orders and monasteries; banned secret sects as well as the fez and the veil. Without picking a fight with the religious class, he amended the constitution under which Islam was no more the state religion and to secularise the society, he replaced the Islamic laws with the Swiss civil code, the Italian penal code and the German commercial code as the laws of his land. Without compromising national independence, he made good use of the expertise of the Westerners from Russia, Germany, America, Britain and other European countries. This secularisation was bound to cause some kind of severe reaction from “zealots” and there was one from the conservative Kurdish tribes led by Sheikh Said, who took control of several areas in south-eastern Turkey with the battle cry of restoring Islam to its old status but they were sternly suppressed first in 1925 and later on in 1929 and ‘30.
What Amanullah did in Afghanistan was undone by his people in five years and what Ataturk achieved is being undone in Turkey, now. It seems as if both “Zealotism” and “Herodianism” have some serious inherent flaws. “Zealotism” is a romance with a heroic age gone by. The past can be recalled or relived only in nostalgic memories but cannot be brought back into a living reality simply because its time has passed.
Though “Herodianism” seems a better response than “Zealotism” but the British historian Toynbee warned that it was a dangerous game of “swapping horses while crossing a stream, and the rider who fails to find his seat in the new saddle is swept off by the current to a death as certain as that which awaits the ‘Zealot’,” who tries to fight the West with outmoded ways.
Deep down, “Herodianism” is nothing more than mimicking or replicating the West so at best Ataturk, Muhammad Ali, Amanullah and other “Herodian” Muslim leaders just produced what the Italian autocrat Benito Mussolini once acutely observed were “proletarian nations” which were nominally free and whose citizens could not be recognised as equal members of the world society. Probably the solution for the Muslim peoples lie neither in traditional “Zealotism” nor mimicking “Herodianism” but in finding original solutions that suit the genius of their peoples and are well beyond the trappings of an Ataturk or Saladin.
(The writer is an academic and journalist. He can be reached at [email protected])