The Alawite analogy

By Razib Khan | September 4, 2012 11:59 pm

Analogies exist to convey information. But too often all they do is add rhetorical flourish. For an analogy to have power there needs to be a genuine mapping of the structure of the source and target. And perhaps more crucially your target audience needs to understand the structure of the source well enough to map it onto the target. You can’t get insight from a foundation of nothing.

A story in The New York Times suggested to me one avenue by which to communicate the particular nature of the relations in Syria between ethno-linguistic groups. Syrian Children Offer Glimpse of a Future of Reprisals:

The roots of the animosity toward the Alawites from members of Syria’s Sunni Muslim majority, who make up about 75 percent of the population, run deep into history. During the 19th-century Ottoman Empire, the two groups lived in separate communities, and the Sunni majority so thoroughly marginalized Alawites that they were not even allowed to testify in court until after World War I.

As has been noted elsewhere the Alawite identity as Shia Muslims is to some extent an artifact of modern circumstances (i.e., the alliance with Iran which dates back to the 1970s). But, it does shield them against the most extreme accusations of heresy and infidelity to Islam. The fact that Alawites had no legal standing in customary Syrian society indicates how much the Other they once were. And, it goes to the root of the fact that the brutal behavior of the Alawites is not simply a function of the pernicious influence of the Assad family, but due to genuine fear of a resurgent Sunni ascendancy.

How to communicate the depth of the chasm, and the high stakes? It may shock Americans because of our perception of who the “good guys” and “bad guys” are, but I think one might conceptualize the Syrian rebels as the Reconstruction era Ku Klux Klan. The Alawite ascendancy is viewed through tradition, as well as democratic legitimacy, an as aberration to many Syrians. Not only that, but unlike the Christians or Syrian Jews, Alawites were not a “middle-man minority” with an exceptional record of professional or business success. Rather, they were marginal Mediterranean peasants, who delegated the running of the economy to the Sunni merchant princes.

By offering up the analogy to the American Reconstruction I indicate that here you have a group which was not given the due rights of full humans (i.e., Muslims) during the Ottoman era, which now finds itself in a position of supremacy. This is not a stable position because of the force of numbers on the side of the Sunnis. But, the example of Reconstruction should indicate to us that democracy is not a means of government which always engenders maximum liberty and coexistence.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: History
  • Toreador

    “democracy is not a means of government which always engenders maximum liberty and coexistence”

    Infidel! Lapidate him!

    (Just kidding, of course, but you should be careful when you talk about some dogmas)

  • Boris Borcic

    To what do the 42 years of autocratic reign of the Assad map back according to your analogy? Or are you saying that the latter is not at issue? Or that analogies should serve only in one direction?

  • Karl Zimmerman

    One of the “heresies” I’ve found myself more embracing as I get older is population exchange is not the absolute evil it’s been made out to be in the Post WW2 world. India-Pakistan was probably a horrible mistake. But I’m unsure that the Greek-Turkish exchanges, despite the huge loss of cultural diversity and loss of life, were actually worse than than further ethnic cleansing in a less orderly fashion. And I think you can argue the German expulsions from Eastern Europe were remarkably civilized, considering they expunged a culture with roots hundreds of years deep, and generated amazingly little long-term interest in irredentism.

    I raise this because watching Syria spin out of control, and the conflict spreading to Lebanon, I’ve begun to think the only real solution may be some organized population exchange, with the Alawite heartland joining Lebanon, and an exchange where the Sunni move to Syria and the Alawites, other Shiites, and Christians move to Lebanon. Not sure with the Druze – Syria might be better, as Jabal Al Druze is a better nexus for a state than the scattered settlements in southern Lebanon.

    This isn’t, of course, because I like the prospect of legally-sanctioned ethnic cleansing. It’s merely because I worry sectarianism is now an inevitable part of the Syrian revolution and the development of “modernity,” and the alternative is a much slower fuse, and bloodier, form of ethno-relgious cleansing.

  • https://plus.google.com/109962494182694679780/posts Razib Khan

    Or that analogies should serve only in one direction?

    doesn’t hold in that situation. in any case, i think people understand pretty well while sunnis may be smarting about an ethnic minority dictator(s) who ruled them for that long. people have less specific clarity about the fears of alawites, and the deep (as opposed to proximate) roots of their viciousness.

    I raise this because watching Syria spin out of control, and the conflict spreading to Lebanon, I’ve begun to think the only real solution may be some organized population exchange, with the Alawite heartland joining Lebanon, and an exchange where the Sunni move to Syria and the Alawites, other Shiites, and Christians move to Lebanon. Not sure with the Druze – Syria might be better, as Jabal Al Druze is a better nexus for a state than the scattered settlements in southern Lebanon.

    there aren’t many sunnis in the rural areas of the two coastal provinces. mostly they’re urbanites. so it wouldn’t be too hard (easier to transplant city-folk than farmers).

  • Hermenauta

    “But, the example of Reconstruction should indicate to us that democracy is not a means of government which always engenders maximum liberty and coexistence.”

    You´re right, but only to the extent that we conflate “democracy” with “purely majoritarian democracy”. It took some time to the wise men of the earth to develop the idea of “checks and balances democracy”, where the rights of minorities are protected by design.

    BTW, what worries me these days is that democratic rule seems to be highly dependent on some ideal of equality of men. This belief is being threatened by the HBD crowd right under our beards. Who knows? It´s extreme, but under the received wisdom of rapid human evolution, sunnis could think they should start making bell curves of ansari performances right now…

    Curiously the Wikipedia entry for “alawi” has this very apt analogy:

    “Robert D. Kaplan has compared Hafez al-Assad’s coming to power to “an untouchable becoming maharajah in India or a Jew becoming tsar in Russia—an unprecedented development shocking to the Sunni majority population which had monopolized power for so many centuries.”

  • ackbark

    @3. If Alawite region were joined to Lebanon Syria would lose it’s entire Mediterranean seacoast, so I can’t picture it happening.

    And from the other point of view, does Lebanon really want more Shiites, and Shiites in a conflict with their largest neighbor at that?

  • omar

    #3 regarding the expulsion/transfer of the Eastern German populations, it was not as benign a process as you seem to imply (seem to..you may not have meant it). That it has not led to massive irredentism is mostly a function of how universally everyone else decided that the Germans fucking deserved it and how completely the Germans themselves realized they had fucked up. That may fade, but by now its a done deal. Still, who knows, done deals can come back to life…
    Population exchange CAN be a better solution than mutual genocide but is never as good a solution as becoming slightly more civilized would be. Sometimes, thats not really an option (neither Greeks nor Turks seem to have been close enough, so that exchange was probably better than the alternatives) but its case by case.
    And some cases are really bad. India-Pakistan, for example, was sort of senseless because after killing tens of thousands and uprooting millions, the problems are still there and may end up in nuclear war. More to the point, they were not that insoluble in 1940 as now projected by interested parties (that is, of course, a matter of opinion)..

  • Onur

    Sometimes, thats not really an option (neither Greeks nor Turks seem to have been close enough, so that exchange was probably better than the alternatives) but its case by case.

    Actually, Greeks and Turks were (and are still) close enough. Greeks and Turks are not homogeneous populations and both of them still exhibit significant regional variation in culture despite the nationalism, modernization and significant move towards homogenization following the establishment of their nation states during the last one or two centuries. During the Ottoman times, a Greek from the interior parts of Anatolia had much more in common with a Turk from the interior parts of Anatolia than with an Aegean Greek. The Greek from the interior parts of Anatolia would not even understand the language of the Aegean Greek, due to the fact that the only language the Greek from the interior parts of Anatolia knew and spoke was Turkish.

    The main reason behind the Greek-Turkish strife of the 1910s and early 1920s is to be sought not in deep history but in the nationalist agendas and policies of the governments of Greece and the Ottoman Empire/Turkey during the 1910s and 1920s and the general situation of that area and Europe in general at the time (e.g., the Balkan Wars, WWI).

  • http://dispatchesfromturtleisland.blogspot.com ohwilleke

    The Alawite example is one of many in the former Ottoman Empire. Iraq was ruled by a minority Sunni population. The Shah was more moderate than his Revolutionary successor in Iran which originally came about by popular uprising even if it became authoritarian itself. Egypt’s ruling class had secular-socialist leanings not necessarily shared by the population at large.

    Giving power to a minority that was more closely aligned to colonial attitudes than the majority was a standard part of the post-Ottoman transition playbook for colonial powers. The concept is at least as old as Plato who saw the philosopher-king (basically, the wiser autocratic ruler) as preferrable to a democratic regime.

  • https://plus.google.com/109962494182694679780/posts Razib Khan

    The main reason behind the Greek-Turkish strife of the 1910s and early 1920s is to be sought not in deep history but in the nationalist agendas and policies of the governments of Greece and the Ottoman Empire/Turkey during the 1910s and 1920s and the general situation of that area and Europe in general at the time (e.g., the Balkan Wars, WWI).

    the key is general. there have been repeated ‘experiments’ where fluid and relatively amicable inter-ethnic relationships have crystallized into nationalist conflicts very rapidly over the past 200 years. in the specific instance of the greek-turkish (or bosnian-serbian, or muslim-hindu, or armenian-azeri) case the reasons are shallow in time. but the general tendency toward nationalist reification with the spread of literacy and mass society over the past few centuries probably indicates a deep reason for the eruption of nationalisms (and the homogenization of national identities; e.g., turkish speaking orthodox christians becoming ‘greek’, hindu-muslim liminal communities becoming muslim and hindu).

  • https://plus.google.com/109962494182694679780/posts Razib Khan

    #9, just to be clear, sunni hegemony of iraq dates back to the ottomans. rather than a post-colonial feature. also, i don’t know the history that well, but the secular nationalist modernizers of upper class 20th century egypt seem to have their precursors in the quasi-ottoman ruling classes of the 19th century (who were themselves often caucasian, turk, or albanian).

  • Onur

    #10, I agree with you on the general worldwide tendency toward the formation and homogenization of national identities over the past 200 years. I wrote my above post to explain that there was not much of a difference between the Greek-Turkish and Hindu-Muslim cases; that is why I did not focus on the reasons behind the worldwide spread of nationalism in such a short time.

  • https://plus.google.com/109962494182694679780/posts Razib Khan

    #12, i don’t see much difference either. unlike omar i’m skeptical of the feasibility of an india that is 35 percent muslim, as it would be….

  • Karl Zimmerman

    6 –

    This isn’t the 19th century – a country can be not only viable, but linked to the global economy, despite being landlocked. Hell, Jordan almost is, save for Aqabah.

    As for changing the confessional mix of Lebanon, my thought is that an Alawite state would not be viable as an independent entity, but it would be as a component within Lebanon. Regardless, if we’re talking about a wholesale reorganization of Syria/Lebanon, there is the problem that almost all Lebanese Shiites are Twelvers, not Alwites, and wouldn’t fit well into an Alawite-dominated state. They are also suffer the same problems as the Alwites in terms of going it alone, except they are far more geographically dispersed.

    7 –

    Even if you discount the Germans, Poles were also expelled by the Soviets following World War 2 from territories east of the Curzon Line. It didn’t really solve any problem, but modern Poland doesn’t seem to want to take back lost territory from Belarus, Ukraine, or Lithuania. Actually, barring the World War 2 interregnum many Balkan populations put their differences largely behind them after population exchanges as well (Bulgaria versus Greece for example, or Romania versus Bulgaria).

    9 –

    The Iraqi situation is also unique because much of Southern Iraq only converted to Shia Islam in the late 19th century. So essentially there was a folk movement towards being Shiite, but the ruling class did not follow.

  • rec1man

    If India had not been partitioned, there would be widespread civil war

    Kashmir valley is muslim majority and hanging onto it takes 75000 soldiers permanently.

    Assam , in India, which is 30% muslim has gone into civil war, in the last 2 months, with 400k muslims and 100k Hindus ethnic cleansed. Assam is the next Kashmir. and will suck up another 75000 soldiers.

    In 1971, Indira Gandhi very wisely refused to annex Bangladesh and withdrew within a few weeks, because it would have doubled the number of muslims within India.

    If India had not been partitioned, the examples would be Cyprus, Bosnia, Nigeria and Lebanon.

    Many anti-muslim Hindus such as Lala Lajpat Rai, Rajaji and Sardar Patel supported partition as a means to reduce the muslim population within the borders and remove the likelihood of civil war.

    Partition removed 65% of muslims from India and only 5% of non-muslims were left in Pakistan and Bangladesh, from where they have been evacuated mostly

  • ackbark

    @14. “This isn’t the 19th century – a country can be not only viable, but linked to the global economy, despite being landlocked. Hell, Jordan almost is, save for Aqabah. ”

    True, but will the Syrian Sunnis see it that way, rather than ‘the Alawites are stealing our seacoast’?

    And this does bring up the incredible upending for Lebanon the Syrian situation represents. A Sunni government is unlikely to have the best relations with Iran and unlikely to have any relations with Hezbollah, and really very likely to have just the opposite relations with nearly every party in Lebanon than Syria has had before. And with that in mind I can’t picture them letting the Alawites transfer a large part of their territory into Lebanon and turning it into an antagonist.

    The best solution may be a kind of forced emigration, something short of an ethnic cleansing that concentrates masses of disaffected refugees in neighboring countries, though that may be unavoidable.

  • https://plus.google.com/109962494182694679780/posts Razib Khan

    #15, why do you have to make shit up? 5%? did you mean ARE. it wasn’t 5% in 1950.

    So essentially there was a folk movement towards being Shiite, but the ruling class did not follow.

    well, could they? would the ottomans have allowed it? i doubt it. conversion would probably mean that you’re not part of the institutional ruling class anymore.

    #16, syria could always export via turkey or jordan.

  • ryan

    There may well be horses that will carry the burdens you would put on them. For the point you’re making about democracy, the white-sheeted horse of the Reconstruction era Klan is not a good fit.

    Historiography has been slow to change in the years since white rule ended. One of the toughest weeds to eradicate has been the idea that the confederacy and its ramifications in the various movements of post-war southern white violence were broadly democratic expressions of the will of the Southern people.

    The problem with this idea is that two of the 11 states had black majorities, and not coincidentally, these were the two most hard-line Confederate – South Carolina and Mississippi. Louisiana came in with a scant white majority of 50.5%. The popularity of the Confederacy among whites declined in direct proportion to a state’s slave population, in Virginia enough to break the state in two; in Tennessee, enough that Lincoln long had hopes of establishing a Unionist government even without enfranchising blacks, on the basis of eastern white votes; and of course, the border states with their lesser slave populations actually stayed in the union.

    In case it’s not clear, my point here is that during the Secession crisis, many and I believe most of these states, possibly every one of them, would have returned Unionist majorities if all adults or all males could vote – a Unionist majority would have relied on larger percentages of the white vote in any state where it had a smaller black population to depend on.

    The same was proved true after the war. Republicans won in most southern states not because of disenfranchisement of a small number of confederates, but because the party was extremely popular among blacks and had enough white voters to win fair elections. That really only changed through violence as a means of preventing blacks from voting. That violence had already begun by 1867. The process was known as Redemption, because once Democrats took control, they established a monopoly on violence and new electoral laws the ensured Republicans could not win, despite continuing to have the sympathies of a majority of the adults of the state. A state was “redeemed” when Republican majorities were excluded from power once and for all.

    The heartland of the first Klan and it’s related movements of white violent reprisal against black voters was the black belt. The reconstruction era KKK was not the expression of a white majority attempting to overthrow oppressive northern rule. It was the expression of a white minority, attempting to overthrow a democracy that allowed blacks to vote.

  • Karl Zimmerman

    15 –

    The partition was inevitable by 1947. But I spent some time studying the history of British India as an undergraduate. While my sources are quite rusty at this point, I think the argument can be made that a series of bad choices by the British worsened Hindu-Muslim relations, and more importantly, created a sense of Pan-Islamic Indian identity which allowed Pakistan to come into being.

    16 –

    Of course the Syrians wouldn’t want to lose their coast. But I’m having a hard time seeing, if things go on much longer, how the Alawites will even be allowed to return to their former history of isolated rural bumpkins in their home provinces. What’s more important – Syria’s desire for a coastline, or the ultimate expulsion/murder of 2 million people?

    As for emigration, there’s nowhere for the Alawites to go. Ironically, Turkey has around 450,000, and Lebanon another 100,000, but neither state is apt to want many more without political changes. I don’t think Iraq or Iran would really want them either – even other Shiites have largely seen them as non-heterodox for reasons of realpolitik, and as a powerless, quasi-pagan minority their appeal would be somewhat limited, past the former ruling class who could buy their way in.

  • rec1man

    @#17

    Per the 1941 census, there were 5 million Sikhs and Hindus in West Pakistan
    and 10 million Hindus in East Pakistan

    Total = 15 million

    Overall in India = 300 million Hindus in 1941

    15 mil / 300 mil = 5% left outside India

    Out of 90 million muslims, 30 mil were in East Pakistan and 25 mil in West Pakistan and 35 mil in residual India

    The partition salvaged most non-muslims and removed most muslims.

    The ethnic cleansing in West Pakistan was 90% of Hindus and Sikhs in 1947

    In East Pakistan, the ethnic cleansing, was more gradual
    There is still 10 – 15 million Hindus left in Bangladesh

    At this time, there are 2 mil Hindus in Pakistan and 15 mil in Bangladesh, so about 2% of Indian Hindus are trapped in islamic country

  • Karl Zimmerman

    Razib –

    Of course the ruling class in Iraq couldn’t convert to Shia Islam under the Ottomans. But I’ve always found it ironic that people in the case of Iraq assume centuries-old animosity between the sects, when prior to 1870 or so, there were virtually no Shiites in modern Iraq. It just goes to show how salient identities can have very shallow roots, yet have their origin be largely forgotten by everyone.

  • https://plus.google.com/109962494182694679780/posts Razib Khan

    #21, yes. when i point out that fact re: iraq people are shocked and demand verification/citation.

    #20, ok, i think misunderstood the proportion of WHAT you were talking about. i assumed you meant that pakistan was 5% non-muslim, not that 5% of non-muslims were in pakistan. my bad.

  • ackbark

    19 –“What’s more important – Syria’s desire for a coastline, or the ultimate expulsion/murder of 2 million people?”

    For Syria? I think probably the coastline. It’s where the container ships come in. Do you want Turkey rifling through your containers? This may not be the 19th century but there’s a limit to how much an airplane can carry.

    If the rest of Syria doesn’t agree to it I don’t see how the Alawite region could become either a viable country or add itself to Lebanon. They simply will not give up the seacoast without a war.

    A general diaspora for the Alawites seems an easier solution. If Damascus establishes a policy of making that relatively easy while also making life generally lousy for them I think they could make a success of it without it seeming like expulsion or ethnic cleansing.

  • Riordan

    Razib,

    To be blunt, where were the anti-Alawite slogans or sentiments prior c. fall 2011? How about threats of sectarian cleansing? Or words about making Syria the exclusive abode of Sunnis?

    Per Karl’s point, I would say almost all of the causes of this present calamity originate no earlier than 1982, and arguably no earlier than March 2011. The details about the Alawites’ historical minority status , sudden prominence in the 20th century, and resulting resentment in the Sunni community certainly has a role within the background of the current war. But historical background is (long passed) historical background, and its probably not even that much relevant as one (the 1982 Hama massacre has a much better claim but even that is not significant within this conflict). The fundamental causus belli, and the flaming impetus, driving the conflict continues to be the regime’s ruthless and unrelenting targeting and slaughtering of its own citizens in a (batshit) insane way of learning the wrong lesson from the Tunisian/Egyptian protests, not because the Sunnis suddenly remembered the Alawites former status and became pissed about it. Since March of last year the regime has always escalated its killings and never even pondered a stop to this practice. Consider that for around months the Sunnis largely tried to be peaceful and reasonable in their protests, in most cases not too disimilar from Western norms, only to be met by bullets, rockets, if not the interrogator’s scourge. Consider that since then ten of thousands of innocents have been killed, likely meaning many if not most Sunnis know or are related to those dead/injured by the regime. Also considering how likely it is for a substantial number, if not a majority, of the Alawites to be connected if not outright implicated with the regime, its facile to interpret this as a Reconstruction era style sectarian conflict rather than one similar to anti-establishment revolutions such as those in late Seleucid Syria, Haiti, Zimbabwe, etc.

    Its often tempting to ascribe contemporary affairs with certain deep tectonic/historical causes and then trying to make a connection between them, in a way to make them seem almost inevitable and (hopelessly) preordained. But there are those that are not the case at all, and this is one of them.

  • https://plus.google.com/109962494182694679780/posts Razib Khan

    #24, do you know a lot? you write like you do, but i’m not sure. do you know a lot about the history of syria and the strained relationship of the radical shia in this region of the world with the sunnis (syria and eastern turkey). since you refer to my suggestion as facile i assume you do know a lot, so now you’re going to put up and explain yourself in much greater detail. i could say more in response, but i want to know i’m not wasting my time as has happened to me in the past when people who acted like they knew more than me turned out to be fucking idiots. i’ll give you the benefit of the doubt and see if i can learn something here. so teach. i expect to be impressed.

  • https://plus.google.com/109962494182694679780/posts Razib Khan

    insane way of learning the wrong lesson from the Tunisian/Egyptian protests, not because the Sunnis suddenly remembered the Alawites former status and became pissed about it.

    i get really angry when people restate my argument. DON’T DO IT AGAIN OR I’LL BAN YOU. the sunnis never forgot who the alawites were and are, though the assads have tried by making them orthodox. under appropriate conditions it was tolerable and tolerated. i’m not going to defend a proposition that i didn’t even imply above.

    now, impress me with what you know. the above argument was too thin. i need more facts, not rhetorical questions. i could answer your parries, but i need to know i’m dealing with someone who is serious and can explain some issues to me and knows more about middle eastern history than i do.

  • Riordan

    Also, when the protests first started in March/April 2011, where were the signs saying “Alawites GTFO” or “Sunni uber Shiites” or “All Alawites are filthy collaborators”?

  • https://plus.google.com/109962494182694679780/posts Razib Khan

    #27, if you leave one more comment like that again i’ll ban you. don’t argue with a position that i didn’t even outline. i was, as i think was clear above in my response to the above commenter, explaining in part the alawite tenaciousness in their attempt to hold on to power and the roots of their fear. as i said, another hectoring comment and i’ll ban you.

  • Riordan

    Razib,

    My apologies if my response caused brittleness or anger. Regarding restating your argument, I had though based on your analogy of the Syrian Sunnis to the KKK, and statement about being careful regarding good guys and bad guys, to mean to imply that a major reason behind the civil war is the intense historical resentment of the Sunni majority towards to the Alawite minority. It seems I was wrong, and I take blame for misinterpreting your statement.

    Regarding the comparison with the KKK, the reason I found it flawed was because the blacks in the Reconstruction South were only very recently freed from slavery, and whatever meager rights and benefits they received was no where near parity to Southern whites, let alone to be in a state of actual dominance. And in fact, whatever gains they had were almost erased within a generation. While on the other hand, the Alawites, from a backwater community, came to dominate the entire country and managed to install a powerful, ominipresent, and oppressive security state over the Sunni majority (and also Christian, Druze, etc. minorities) that lasted for almost 40 years. The reactions of the KKK towards blacks and reactions of the Sunnis to the Alawite regime may both be based on a loathing of historical aberrations, but the day to day reality and experience by those two groups under those aberrations (thus cause of those reactions) are quite different and not really comparable.

    I”ll try and address additional parts tomorrow

  • https://plus.google.com/109962494182694679780/posts Razib Khan

    to mean to imply that a major reason behind the civil war is the intense historical resentment of the Sunni majority towards to the Alawite minority.

    if the alawites were simply sunnis from latakia (e.g., a regional mafia like was installed in libya), i’m pretty sure that the conflict would be more mitigated. less because of the rebels, than the fact that the latakians would be easier to assimilate.

    came to dominate the entire country and managed to install a powerful, ominipresent, and oppressive security state over the Sunni majority (and also Christian, Druze, etc. minorities) that lasted for almost 40 years.

    you dismiss the economic dominance of the sunni merchant class?

  • https://plus.google.com/109962494182694679780/posts Razib Khan

    #29, also, just to be clear. your objections to the analogy are fine. i was irritated by your rhetoric of “if X why not Y?” what i’m curious about are MORE facts, not a clearer recapitulation of your viewpoint. i know a fair amount about the history and ethnography of the middle east. that doesn’t mean i’m right, but i do think it excuses me from facile judgments. the main exception though are those who have greater insight due to greater knowledge. so tell me what you know.

  • omar

    Re partition of India, my point was that it was not a good solution to the problem it was supposedly solving. Remember, the problem that was ostensibly being solved per the statements of almost all the people involved (except a small percentage of Hindu fanatics who really really wanted the “muslim stain” erased from India) was NOT the presence of Muslims in India. It was the “fear of the Muslims about what would happen to them in Hindu-majority India”. This is how it was presented to the world (lets leave aside what unknown clairvoyants may have been able to see down the road) by the Muslim League, which was the party demanding partition (Congress, the largest Indian party and home to most Hindu politicians of the day, NEVER demanded partition, so it was not a symmetrical demand). So here’s the sequence and the problem:
    1. In 1940, Muslim League claims Muslims will be unsafe in Hindu-majority India. Many (but NOT all) prominent Muslim political figures from Hindu-majority areas and one Muslim majority province (Bengal) support this demand. Many (but NOT all) prominent Muslim politicians from Muslim majority areas do NOT support this demand. What the masses thought at that point is not known. But elites decide many things, so why not this one.
    2. Muslim league launches campaign for Pakistan. Neither Congress, nor any prominent Hindu extremist organization supports this demand, so again, its a one-sided demand, not a situation where both communities felt its impossible to live with the other and wanted partition and population exchange (what some Hindu extremists think NOW is not the issue). Importantly, most prominent politicians in Muslim majority areas of the North-West still did not support this demand.
    3. British lock up congress because of quit-india movement and support ML because it is pro-war effort. Many British administrators also find it useful because it makes THEIR case for staying in India (as protectors of otherwise unsafe minorities, as arbiters of affairs in a divided country).
    4. Jinnah also latches on to “Islam in danger” as a useful tool. Promises are made to several Muslim religious groups that pakistan will be an “islamic country”. Millenial excitement grips the North Indian Muslim community (not the first or last time). ML wins partial-frannchise elections in Muslim areas.
    5. Brits agree to partition. Riots and ethnic cleansing follow, especially bad in Punjab and BD. POPULATION EXCHANGE WAS NOT PART OF PLAN and NOT complete or even near complete (though ethnic cleansing in West Pakistan was near-total).
    Problems: 1. Most Muslims in Hindu-majority areas remain there. If the fear was “what will become of Muslims in hindu-majority India”, how did this scheme solve their problem? Remember, it was THEIR leadership that initially asked for Pakistan, not the Hindus, not the Muslims in Muslim majority provinces. What was the plan? that they would all go to Pakistan? That was NEVER proposed and would in any case be completely impractical (too many mouths). Their leaders left for Pakistan to rule. That was the whole point. Keep that in mind.
    2. Millions of Sikhs and Hindus forced to move to India. This was NOT the plan. They wanted to live where they had always lived. It was their country. Why should they have to move? Same for Muslims from East PUnjab. The intent was not population exchange. IF that had been proposed as the plan , it would certainly have been rejected at that time…by BOTH communities.
    3. That many Hindus in India NOW feel it was lucky that Pakistan reduced their “Muslim headache” and saved many of their brethren from having to live “under Islam”, keep in mind that these event and these feelings are more a CONSEQUENCE of partition than a cause of it.
    and so on.

  • rec1man

    @Omar,
    Dr.Ambedkars book, ‘Pakistan or the Partition of India’ is available on the web. It is written in 1940, as soon as the Pakistan demand was made.

    He welcomed it as a means of getting rid of most muslims and the muslim dominance in the Army. ‘Safe Army is better than safe borders’
    As he writes, from 1919 to 1939 was non-stop low level riots and civil war in most parts of India

    He also foresaw that non-muslims could not live in muslim society and would be ethnic cleansed from West Punjab, Sindh and East Bengal

    Ambedkar foresaw that partition would get rid of most muslims and would allow to get rid of muslim weightages, separate electorates and allow to annex Muslim kingdoms like Hyderabad

    He called for population exchange in his book

    After partition, he repeatedly called on the Untouchables, to leave for India by any means, and not trust the Muslim League

    In 1950, the Untouchable Jogen Mondal who had aligned with Jinnah and was a Pakistan minister, got ethnic cleansed to India

  • Riordan

    #30.

    No Razib, I do not dismiss the dominance of the Sunni merchant class. Their raw numbers and concentrations in the urban areas mostly assures they will consist the bulk of those merchants. But their dominance is only in the economic sphere, not so much in the military/security state apparatus and definitely not politically. In their daily lives they are still required to pay tax (or bribes) to the Assad regime, which also has the monopoly of force to threaten them without much reprecussions ( until recently of course). At this point at least their economic dominance can be seen as primarily a resource to be extracted by the regime and only a benefit for themselves secondarily.

    #31,

    Razib,

    Before venturing further, I was wondering which particulars are you concerned about? My claim that the current civil war is driven by recent events and doings of the Assad regime much more than the past sectarian tensions/resentments, or an elaboration(?) on the complex, intricate history of ethnic/religious interactions in Syria past this generation (which seems to be what your trying get at ?) I could be wrong, and since I misunderstood you and got off on a wrong foot in this thread, I just want to make sure.

  • omar

    rec1man, i thought the ambedkar book was written around 1945. Will have to check.
    My “capsule presentation” was necessarily very simplified (probably over-simplified) but also keep in mind that Ambedkar at that time was NOT a Congress leader. He had been in conflict with much of Congress (though not all) for many years. He had his own (very well justified) complaints about Hindu society and was frequently abrasive and ready to incite in the service of his cause. But tell me something, when he was India’s first law minister and then chaired the constitution drafting committee (I forget his title), did he press for the removal of India’s Muslims to Pakistan? Why not?
    Btw, I am not denying that there were serious conflicts between the declining North Indian Muslim elite and the emerging (and larger) Hindu elite. And it might have ended badly in every case. But my point was that it ended badly in a particular way and that particular bad ending was one of the worst possible, was not inevitable, did not make a lot of sense and has led to further unsolved problems.
    And its led to post-hoc justifications and to discoveries about its inevitability that are actually a consequence of what happened.

  • rec1man

    @Omar, the first edition was in 1940

    The second edition of Ambedkars book was in 1945

    Post WW2, all muslim majority regions worldwide have a secessionist problem.

    They simply cant live under Darul Harb, as seen by performance of muslims in Australia, Europe and UK

    Lebanon, Nigeria, Bosnia were avoided

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Gene Expression

This blog is about evolution, genetics, genomics and their interstices. Please beware that comments are aggressively moderated. Uncivil or churlish comments will likely get you banned immediately, so make any contribution count!

About Razib Khan

I have degrees in biology and biochemistry, a passion for genetics, history, and philosophy, and shrimp is my favorite food. In relation to nationality I'm a American Northwesterner, in politics I'm a reactionary, and as for religion I have none (I'm an atheist). If you want to know more, see the links at http://www.razib.com

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