The Process of National Mythmaking and Canada’s Colonial Legacy

The Process of National Mythmaking and Canada’s Colonial Legacy

The significant impact of beliefs and ideas on the very underpinnings of human society is undeniable. The origins, identity, and purposes of a nation are often found in narratives creating a national-myth, which operates as the bedrock of its ideological and spiritual foundation. “What gives nationalism its power are myths, memories, traditions, and symbols of ethnic heritage and the way in which a popular living past has been, and can be, rediscovered and reinterpreted by modern nationalist intelligentsia”. One could even argue that our sense of self is directly linked to the selective, communal structure of significant events that form a unifying mythology—”unifying for those who are included; alienating for those who are excluded”.

In such a context, recollections of the past are no longer simply chronicles of previous events but rather part of a broader strategy that allows us to understand and interpret the present. Although appeals to the past are usually animated by a desire to resolve disagreements on what really took place and the accuracy of “conventional versions”, they also reflect a need to address uncertainties about whether the past is over and resolved or “whether it continues, albeit in different forms, perhaps”.  History for its part plays a crucial role in giving form and meaning to the passage of time by establishing a hierarchy of events through which some are deemed more memorable than others. This classification shapes thereafter the collective consciousness of a nation and its relation to its past. It provides a mechanism through which the collective identity is secured, the existing social order legitimized, and the national-myth becomes truth.

National myths are often crafted by political elites in order to meet practical political needs, such as enhancing regime legitimacy, mobilizing public support for government policies, or resolving sectarian divides. These myths can be used to bestow upon a nation a sense of moral superiority by legitimizing national goals and objectives. Every aspect of the past and the present are to be used in order to create a grandiose “cult of national pride” in which every achievement and every painful experience becomes part of this narrative of self-glorification. Whether the myth finds its roots in reality or whether it is primarily based on false claims of national righteousness and exploits remains a moot point. However, national myths can also become maligning myths in which history is whitewashed and past transgressions either denied or rationalized. Offenses committed in the name of the realm are justified by accusing the injured party of malicious intentions toward the nascent nation. Thus, the victims become in essence responsible for their own trauma since they are after all the architects of the own demise. Vicious narratives that denigrate others through accusations of cultural inferiority usually accompany these claims of belligerence. Once these myths are widely spread, institutionalized and propagated through media and academia, they effectively dominate the national collective memory and mold the fundamental ideas of a nation’s identity.

In Canada, “conventional” history (history which underpins our social and political conventions) has distorted the collective consciousness, overstating certain contributions while omitting others. The real history of Canada is said to begin in 1867 with the advent of the contemporary state of Canada ushered in by the establishment of European populations on this land. In this Grand Narrative, the existence of Aboriginal nations prior to that moment in history is deemed insignificant and their history irrelevant. “This mythical rendering of Aboriginal nations is one way in which Canada has avoided recognizing less savory portions of its genesis” while justifying conquest through this “historico-mythology” portrayal of Canadian history.

The reality of Canada as a settler state engaging in “colonial land theft and physical and legislative brutality” as necessary evils for the greater colonial project is glossed over in favor of the “dominant narrative of Canadian beginnings, from heroic pioneers taming uncharted wilderness (…)”. The Canadian national myth is not only steeped in self-glorification but it also provides a clever narrative through which colonial crimes are justified and their legacy ignored. In fact, racism becomes part of the basic structure of the state, seeping through the cultural life of the dominant society “both by its exclusive narrative of dominant experience and mythology, and by its stereotypical rendering of the “Other” as peripheral and unidimensional”. Aboriginal societies are depicted in this narrative as homogeneous entities lacking both the diversity of European societies and the refined complexity of European cultures. In this paradigm, the perceived political and cultural deficiency of Aboriginal societies, which rendered them “incapable of holding sovereignty or land or resisting the civilizing, modernizing impulse of colonial domination”, justifies the colonial land theft leading to the creation of Canada. While recognizing that some “blunders” might have occurred in this process of nation building, we are rapidly reminded that they pale in comparison to the greater good achieved by the birth of this nation. The continuous denial of “Canada’s origins in colonial enterprises” prevents the broader Canadian society from addressing and tackling the consequences of that initial relationship.

“The obscured reality of Canada’s colonial foundations contributes to a contemporary Canadian psychosis as we struggle to account for and deal with the consequences of that same colonialism while generally denying its reality”. This dilemma between reiterating the existing national myth and uncovering the reality behind the birth of Canada is one that is evident in the reiteration of “historical accounts that are partial and exclusionary (…)”. The history of indigenous nations, their ongoing resistance to assimilation, and their fight to exercise self-determination are treated as if adjacent or distinct from the broader Canadian history. The legacy of Canada’s colonial past is one that is seldom known by most Canadians. While today Canada prides itself on being a Multicultural society where diversity is deemed essential in strengthening the fabric of Canadian society, the same cannot be said about its founding principles as a settler state. In fact, George-Etienne Cartier a leading French-Canadian statesman and father of confederation stated the following while talking about Canadian identity:

“In our federation we should have Catholic and protestant, English, French, Irish, and Scots, and each by his efforts and his success would increase the prosperity and glory of the new confederacy.”

In this speech there is no mention of Aboriginal peoples, they are in essence excluded from what is to become the new Canadian federation. In fact, one could argue that to this day the “state continues to develop policies grounded in the foundational myths of the legitimacy of colonial and contemporary appropriation of land and resources”. In order to overcome this Canadian psychosis it is imperative to abandon the current historico-mythology in which Canadian history is grounded, and instead face the past to collectively create equitable and restitutionary bases for a common future all Canadians can enjoy.

 

 

REFERENCE:

Smith, Anthony D. (1999). Myths and Memories of the Nation. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Green, Joyce A. (1995). Toward a détente with history: Confronting Canada’s colonial Legacy. International Journal of Canadian Studies 12, Fall.

Said W. Edward. (1993). Culture and Imperialism. New York: Vintage Books.

Ajzenstat, Janet. (2003). Canada’s Founding Debates. Toronto, University of Toronto Press.

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Chechnya: A History Of Resistance And Revival

Chechnya: A History Of Resistance And Revival

In the fall of 2018, a confrontation in the sport of Mix Martial Arts between a young man from Dagestan and his Irish rival thrusted the Caucasus into the limelight of world stage. However, the ensuing discussions and debates revealed very quickly the persistence of often erroneous and facile narratives pertaining to that region of the world and its inhabitants. For most Westerners, to whom Islam is primarily an Eastern religion practiced by hordes of brown and black people, the very idea of white Muslims who are not recent converts was a perplexing one. Everything about Caucasians, from their cultures, to their religion, to their history became a topic of conversation. In the midst of the slurs, braggadocios claims, and accusations of collaboration and betrayal, the Chechen war came up as a topic; a discussion that unfortunately led to the all too familiar territory of thinly veiled Islamophobia.

 

A brief history of the Chechen-Russian Conflict

Located in the North Caucasus, Chechnya (also called Ichkeria) is a “quadrilateral located in the north-eastern part of the Caucasus, demarcated by the Terek and Sunja rivers in the west and the north, the Andi range in the east which separates it from Dagestan, and the snow-covered twin range of the Caucasus in the south which separates it from Georgia” (Gammer, 2006:2). Rich in oil, natural gas, and minerals, this land is inhabited by the Nokhchi (meaning our people), better known under their Russian ethnonym (Chechen), and are closely related to the Ingush. Together, these two groups form the Vainakh who are the most ancient indigenous people of the region (Gammer, 2006:2).

Islam made its first inroads into the Caucasus in the 8th century. Two centuries later, it became the dominant religion in the southern coastal plain south of Derbent; an important economic centre located in present-day Dagestan. In the 11th and 12th century, most of the Darghin and Lakh people of central Dagestan converted massively to Islam. The arrival of the Nogai Horde, a Turkic tribe, in the region during the 14th century contributed greatly to the spread of Islam amongst the Cherkess, the Kabardins, and the Chechens. A century later, the Lakh of central Dagestan abandoned any remainder of their previous belief systems in order to practice Islam exclusively. As fervent Muslims, they dedicated themselves to the spread of their religion in Dagestan and the lands beyond; bringing Islam to the Chechens and the Kumiks. Over the coming centuries several ethnic groups such as the Avar, Chechen, Ingush, Adyghe, Cherkess, and Kabardins converted massively to Islam; making the Northern Caucasus a solid Muslim Bastion. Today, Islam is an important component of Vainakh culture as both the Chechen and the Ingush belong to the Hanafi School of Sunni Islam jurisprudence.

“In 1556, when Tsar Ivan the Terrible succeeded in conquering the khanates of Kazan and Astrakhan and thus entering into the Caspian orbit, the North Caucasus region (…) became the object of a competition involving Muscovy, the Ottoman Empire, Iran, the Crimean Khanate, and other lesser powers” (Dunlop, 1998:4). Confronted to a stiff resistance from the native populations of the Caucasus, Tsarist Russia did not hesitate to unleash its might in successive military campaigns resulting in horrific acts of violence. In the 19th century, General Aleksey Petrovich Yermolov began a military campaign to secure Russia’s hold over the Caucasus. In order to subdue the Chechens, who were fiercely opposed to the Russian invasion, Yermolov adopted a strategy of collective punishment in which Chechen villages where systematically targeted and destroyed. The campaign was of such cruelty and violence that many believe it contributed directly to the protracted and bloody Murid War (1829-1859). His campaign of expulsions, massacres, and widespread torture not only  “fuelled the Chechens’ hatred of Russians” but also inspired a profound desire “for freedom and their willingness to fight and die for it.” (Hertog, 2001: 29).

In more ways than one, the Russian invasion became the source of social and political turmoil in the Caucasus. Not only did the Chechens lose their sovereignty, they also found their cultural and religious identity endangered. Tsarist Russia’s anti-Islamic policies, its promotion of Russian culture at the detriment of their native traditions, and the spread of behaviours and attitudes anathema to their cultural and religious ethos created a “fertile ground for the ideas of the Naqshbandiya” (Hertog, 2001:29). It is from this Sufi order that key figures such as the famed Imam Shamil emerged during the Caucasian wars that lasted until 1856. He successfully united warring Caucasian tribes under a common Pan-Caucasian and Islamic banner; creating a united front against the Russian expansion into Chechnya and Dagestan. In 1864, after 142 years of a bitter struggle for freedom the Chechens finally surrendered to Tsarist Russia; but this was by no means the end of Chechen resistance (Dunlop, 1998:12). In 1877, they rose up in arms again defying Russian rule and rejecting their inclusion into the Tsarist Empire. This new rebellion ended with the slaughter of more than 60% of the Chechen population (Dunlop, 1998:32).

The February Revolution of 1917 was, at first, welcomed by the Chechens who saw in it a chance to break away from Tsarist rule and regain the control of their land. The Bolshevik slogans promoting freedom, equality, and the right for self-determination resonated with them. But soon after, they realised that the real politics of the Bolsheviks were far from what their slogans promised. Instead of the awaited freedom and independence, they were once again under the yoke of a regime alien to their traditions and values (Dunlop, 1998:16). This new Bolshevik rule promoted atheism and ignored completely the traditions, religion, and customs of the Chechen people. All of this contributed to the uprising against the Bolshevik rule in the 1920’s which lead to renewed hostilities between Moscow and the Chechens. Later on, as the totalitarian regime of Stalin gained in strength, the need to subdue and disarm the autonomous region of Chechnya became a priority.

In 1925, a campaign aimed at “political banditry” was launched in Chechnya, implementing a policy of mass arrests and repression. However, the darkest chapter in the tumultuous history of Chechnya remains without a doubt the deportation of the Chechen people and their kin the Ingush to central Asia in 1944 (Dunlop, 1998:17). Almost 500,000 Vainakh were forcefully put into cattle trucks and deported to Central Asia. The Stalinist regime tried to legitimize this treatment by levelling accusations of Nazis collaboration during World War II against the Chechens, although the Germans  never reached Chechnya during their incursion into Soviet territory. For Stalin, this was an opportunity to get rid of a rebellious nation permanently. “Their name was effaced, their cultural symbols were destroyed and history was rewritten as if the Chechens had never existed.” (Hertog, 2005:243). During the long and perilous journey to Central Asia, close to 78,000 died succumbing to the lack of food, sanitary facilities, and the cramped conditions on the trains (Lieven 1998: 319). The surviving population was further decimated when they arrived in Kazakhstan due to the harsh living conditions. According to official Soviet statistics, an estimated 25% of the exiled died within the first five years of their arrival (Evangelista 2002: 14). Between 30% to 50% of Chechens and Ingush are estimated to have perished during those years of exile, many dying due to the cold and the lack of food. 

In 1957, Krushchev who came to power after Stalin’s death ordered the return of the Vainakh from exile, thus restoring the Chechen republic and its people. However, this return was by no means the end of their suffering. They became once more the focus of Soviet propaganda since their resistance to atheism was perceived as a possible risk for renewed insurgency against the Soviet State. “A special ‘army of atheistic experts’ flooded the inhabitants of Grozny with antireligious lectures.” (Hertog, 2005:244). Many religious figures were hunted down and arrested while Soviet press and media routinely reiterated anti-Islamic narratives and attitudes; all in an effort to discourage the Chechen population from practicing Islam. However, this renewed hostility toward their religion only deepened the Chechens’ desire to maintain their distinctive religious and cultural ethos.

While these anti-Islamic campaigns succeeded in destroying “the material and structural basis” of Islamic leadership in Chechnya, they failed at eradicating Islamic beliefs and practice. “On the contrary, the deformalised but still vibrant faith of the Chechen people was absorbed into the informal networks of the brotherhoods.” (Hertog, 2005:244). The Sufi brotherhoods played an important role in preserving a common Chechen identity during the long years of exile. “As cultural and educational activity came to a halt, and as there were no newspapers or books in the native language, ‘what after all, could the people turn to, if not religion?’ (Henze, 1995: 24). The brotherhoods soon built extensive networks incorporated into the social structure of the Chechen people where now “each individual had not only family and clan loyalties, but also a Sufi brotherhood loyalty.” (Zelkina, 1993: 120). Faced with the openly hostile attitude of the Soviet regime toward Islam upon their returned from exile, the brotherhoods reprised their role as guardians of the Chechen identity by ensuring “the survival of Islamic belief and practice amidst constant atheistic militancy.” (Hertog, 2005: 244).

Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, secession emerged as a major political issue in the Post-Cold War era. Many states from East Europe, Central Asia, and the Caucasus  either broke up into a multitude of states or became sovereign nations in their own right. Secessionist endeavours usually provoke mixed feelings and reactions. On the one hand, there is a natural inclination to support minority communities struggling for national liberation. On the other hand, there is a fear of the possible consequences of secession because too often conflict and war are a more typical outcome. In the Balkans, the collapse of Communism led to a genocidal war which effectively split Yugoslavia into 7 countries: Serbia, Kosovo, Bosnia, Croatia, Macedonia, Slovenia and Montenegro. For Russia, secession in the strategically important region of the Caucasus posed a particular challenge. In the aftermath of the Soviet collapse, there was civil war in Georgia, conflicts between Armenia and Azerbaijan, and the republic of Chechnya was actively working on obtaining its independence. Moscow’s resolve to maintain its control over the region led to two terrible and bloody wars with the small  Chechen republic. 

Both, the first (1994-1996) and second Chechen War (1999-2009) can be described as the latest chapters in the Chechens’ ongoing conflict with Russia that started in the 16th century. The first war started in 1991 when Chechnya under the leadership of Djokhar Dudayev declared its sovereignty vis-a-vis Russia. Attempts by the Yeltsin regime to maintain the republic within the Federation were unsuccessful as Chechens rejected the proposed autonomy for complete sovereignty. Finally on December 1994, “the Russian Ministry of Defense and Ministry of Interior units entered Chechnya” and full-fledge war began (Dunlop, 1998:209). Referred to as the First Chechen war, this conflict lasted for three years and killed 100,000 Chechens out of a population of 1,000,000. It eventually ended with the withdrawal of Russian forces from Chechen territory in 1996. However Chechen sovereignty was short lived. In 1999 President Putin declared the Chechen parliament illegal and ordered the invasion of the country by Russian troops. Chechens under the leadership of president Aslan Maskhadov took up arms to defend their country against this new Russian invasion. Although large scale military incursions ended officially in 2000, the conflict soon entered its insurgency phase opposing Russian forces and Chechen paramilitary to Chechen separatists.

Learning from their previous disastrous and costly incursions into Chechnya, the Russian authorities opted for a policy of “Chechenization” as a counterinsurgency strategy during the second war (Lyall; 2010: 3). By granting political power to ambitious Chechen officials susceptible of supporting the Kremlin’s desire to maintain Chechnya within Russia, they effectively created a split in the Chechen front. Akhmed Kadyrov, a mufti once loyal to the Chechen opposition, was nominated in 2003 as the head of the Chechen Republic by the Kremlin; only to be assassinated by the rebels seven months later. In 2007, Putin signed a decree nominating Ramzan Kadyrov, son of the late Akhmed Kadyrov, as the president of Chechnya. One of the main pillars of the Chechenization policy was the formation of combat units consisting of Chechens-only to conduct sweep operations.

Until early 2003, the counterinsurgency campaign was primarily ran by Russian units. However, this soon changed with the creation of joint patrols with Chechen police units. In an effort to further put a Chechen face to the counterinsurgency effort, Chechen-only Ministry of Defense units (Special Battalions Vostok and Zapad) were trained and equipped to assume sweep operations (Lyall; 2010: 3). The Kadyrovs also took advantage of this policy by creating their own paramilitary forces, known as the Kadyrovtsy, to participate in sweep operations targeting the rebels and their supporters. “In total, about 20,000 Chechens had joined Vostok, Zapad, or a Kadyrov affiliated organization by the end of 2005, when large-scale sweep operations were phased out as Ramzan Kadyrov consolidated power.” (Lyall; 2010: 3). Since his nomination as president, Kadyrov has maintained a climate of fear through selective disappearances, targeted assassination of regime critics, and the nighttime burning of suspected insurgents’ homes in a bid to pacify Chechnya.  

In October 31, 2007, “the then leader of the Chechen separatists, Dokku Umarov, announced the creation of the Caucasus Emirate—an Islamic theocracy based on Sharia rule, which spread across the territory of the autonomous North Caucasus territories of the Russian Federation” (Souleimanov, 2011:161). The insurgency which was previously confined to Chechnya eventually spread to five other republics (Dagestan, Ingushetia, the Nogay Steppe, North Ossetia and Kabardino-Balkaria-Karachay) with members loyal to the Caucasus Emirate becoming active throughout the region. While today the insurgency has entered its dormant phase, the Chechen desire for independence is far from extinguished. Both Chechens in the diaspora and at home still dream of one day seeing a free and sovereign Ichkeria.

Figure A: Map of the Caucasus

Picture1

 

Clash of Civilizations or colliding hegemonic projects

Both Samuel Huntington and S.N Eisenstadt propose mechanisms of conflict embedded within civilizational entities and triggered by precise dynamics. Each one suggests specific scenarios that are crucial to the understanding of conflict from a civilizational dimension. Huntington in his clash of civilization theory highlights colliding religious and cultural values as another trigger of his civilizational conflict mechanism. According to him, the general tendency throughout history has been to think in terms of two worlds. “People are always tempted to divide people into us and them, the in-group and the other, our civilization and those barbarians” (Huntington, 1996:32). Even scholars are constantly trying to categorize the world into two distinctive groups in their analysis, whether they phrase it as the Orient and the Occident, the North and the South, or the centre and the periphery (Huntington, 1996:32).

In the 14thcentury already, Muslim scholars divided the world into Dar al-Islam (the abode of peace) and Dar al-Harb (the abode of war). “Depending upon how the parts are defined, a two-part world picture may in some measure correspond with reality” (Huntington, 1996:32). Identities are drawn along the lines of these distinctions and specific groupings coalesce around a shared sense of cultural and religious values stemming from a sense of belonging. The cultural bifurcation at the heart of this great divide tends to create a polarization into two opposing camps “where the emphasis is less on differences in economic well-being and more on differences in underlying philosophy, values and ways of life” (Huntington, 1996:32).  Huntington reiterates that the world is far too complex to be simply “divided economically between North and South or culturally between East and West” (Huntington, 1996:33). He promotes instead a vision of a multicivilizational and multipolar world where contacts between different civilizations lead to conflicts.

The secession of the Chechen republic from the Russian federation and the ensuing war could be interpreted, from a Huntingtonian perspective, as the result of a confrontation between two sets of distinctive cultural and religious values. For the Chechens, promoting the rebirth of Chechen-Muslim values necessitated a free and sovereign territory where this project could blossom. However, for the proponents of a unified Russia this was seen as a rejection of the Slav and Orthodox values which constitute the core of Russian identity. As the conflict intensified so did the confrontation between these opposing values. The resurgence of a Chechen culture and an increasingly vibrant Islamic revival led to the rebirth of a Chechen national identity. Breaking away from Russia was not only politically motivated but was also an attempt to consolidate this nascent sense of nationhood. The turmoil of the post Soviet Union climate provided them with an opportunity to reclaim their territory. By changing the name of their country from the Chechen-Ingush Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic to the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria, they were in fact reiterating their distinctive cultural, historical, and religious identity. The secession of Chechnya from the greater Russian Federation was not merely a political act but rather an attempt to create the necessary climate for a cultural rebirth of the Chechen nation.

Conflicts appearing in regions where contacts between civilizational entities occur are called fault line wars by Huntington. These conflicts can occur between states, between non-governmental groups, or between states and non-governmental groups. However, whether these conflicts involve clans, tribes, ethnic groups, religious communities, or nations their rational “is always rooted in the identities of people” (Huntington, 1996:252). Fault lines wars can manifest themselves as a struggle for the control of people or the control of territory. “The goal of at least one of the participants is to conquer territory and free it of other people by expelling them, killing them, or doing both, that is, by ethnic cleansing” (Huntington, 1996:252). This explains the extremely violent nature of such confrontations leading often to the usage of indiscriminate massacres, rape, terrorism, and torture. “The territory at stake often is for one or both sides a highly charged symbol of their history and identity, sacred land to which they have an inviolable right: the West Bank, Kashmir, Nagorno-Karabakh, the Drina Valley or Kosovo” (Huntington, 1996:252). Fault line wars can be notoriously instable and can “flame up into massive violence and then sputter down into low intensity warfare or sullen hostility only to fame up once again” (Huntington, 1996:253).

The Chechen struggle for sovereignty resonated with many other ethnic groups living in the Caucasus and facing the same Russian hegemony. From a Huntingtonian perspective, one could say that the expansion of the conflict outside of Chechnya’s borders is due to  the rise of a civilization consciousness built around the concept of Caucasian and Muslim identity. The struggle is no longer just one for Chechen freedom but rather one for a broader Caucasian rebirth. The implication in the insurgency of Kin countries such as Ingushetia, Dagestan, and Kabardino-Balkaria-Karachay as well as a very active Chechen Diaspora has not only created a broader Caucasian and Muslim solidarity, but has also intensified the conflict. In that context, one can no longer simply speak of a Chechen war but rather a conflict opposing a core Slavic/Orthodox state (Russia) to weaker peripheral Muslim republics located in the Caucasus (Chechnya, Dagestan, Ingushetia, Kabardino-Balkaria, etc…)

A rather different perspective of civilizations and their influence in world politics was elaborated by S.N Eisenstadt. Instead of  the concept of civilizational clash promoted by Huntington, he elaborated on the concept of axial civilizations. These civilizational entities not only attempt to reconstruct the world in accordance to their ontological and cosmological vision but they also express a certain proclivity toward expansion. They mobilize pre-existing political ideologies, religious impulses, and to some extent economic structures in order to nourish this endeavour. They adopt a “distinctive ideological and reflexive mode of expansion with potentially strong semi-missionary orientations” (Eisenstadt 2003:41). This pattern of expansion creates a better awareness of civilizational frameworks encompassing different societies made up of a multitude of political and ethnic groups. According to Eisenstadt’s theory it is not so much civilizations that are at odds but rather hegemonic projects embedded in civilizational frameworks.

 

Civilizational conflict mechanism according to Eisenstadt:

Components of civilizational conflict              Triggers in the Chechen conflict
Ontological/cosmological vision

 

·      Basic ideological premises (the Dominion of Mother Russia vs. Ichkeria/free Chechnya)

 

·      Core Symbols (The Russian Bear vs. The Chechen  Lone Wolf)

 

·      Construction of collective identities

 

Distinctive ideological and reflexive modes of expansion            (3 key periods)

 

1)Tsarist Russia vs. Ottoman Empire

 

2) USSR vs. Chechnya

 

3) Russian Federation vs. the Caucasus Emirate

 

Internal civilizational dynamics ·      Religious, ideological, political and economic impulses

 

·      Center vs. Periphery (Russian Federation vs. Peripheral republics)

 

The development and institutionalization of specific ontological and cosmological visions and new modes of consciousness within Axial civilizations is connected very closely to the emergence of a “new social element, of a new type of elite, of carriers of models of cultural and social order” (Eisenstadt, 2003:38). The tendency to reconstruct the world according to specific symbolic, ideological and institutional precepts, and to partake in continual expansion has been a common feature of Axial civilizations. The multitude of existent civilizations and their diversity is the work of different patterns through which these elements are being implemented. All these civilizations try to “reconstruct the world in their own mode, according to basic premises, and either to absorb the others or consciously to segregate itself from them” (Eisenstadt, 2003:42). Two elements are crucial in the shaping of the different modes of institutionalization and civilizational expansion. “One such set consists of variations of differences in the basic cultural orientations. The other is the concrete structure of the social arenas in which these institutional tendencies can be played out” (Eisenstadt, 2003:43).

In the case of the Chechen conflict, there are two distinctive ontological and cosmological visions at odds. A vision of a unified Russia is colliding with that of a free and sovereign Ichkeria (Chechnya). During this conflict, symbolic, ideological and institutional precepts have been utilized in order to justify the ongoing hostilities. For the proponents of the Federation, the dominion of Mother Russia already weakened by the crumbling of the Soviet Union needs to be protected from further balkanization. The integrity of the territory must be preserved in order to safeguard the status and the weight of Russia in the international arena. The military incursions in the Chechen territory were framed as a legitimate attempt to protect the nation from peril, and the victory of the Russian army as the proof of the strength of “the Russian bear” representing the Russian strength of character.

On the other hand, the proponents of secession in Chechnya framed their struggle around the question of national freedom. Chechnya, they claimed was never a willing member of the Federation but rather an occupied territory demanding to be released. For them, the conflict was not so much one of self-determination as much as an attempt to put an end to Russian colonialism. Ichkeria was a sovereign nation before the Russian penetration into the Caucasus and will be once again free from oppression. Largely surpassed by the Russian military in terms of resources, the Chechen victory during the first war against a vastly superior military machine was framed as the victory of the “lone wolf against the Russian bear”. This image evokes a struggle similar to that of David vs. Goliath, and in doing so reiterates the perseverance and the courage of Chechens against an enemy far superior to them in numbers and in resources. The continuation of the conflict has in fact institutionalized the ontological and cosmological visions supporting the political agendas of both sides while impacting on the construction of collective identities.

In order to reconstruct a social order according to any given ontological and cosmological vision, it is crucial to develop a strong “tendency to define certain collectivities and institutional arenas as most appropriate for the implementation of their respective transcendental visions” (Eisenstadt, 2003:38). This tendency creates new types of collectivities and groups harboring a special meaning derived from those distinctive transcendental visions. These groups help to institutionalize a “new type of intersocietal and intercivilizational world history” which justifies the proclivity of civilizations for expansion (Eisenstadt, 2003:41). Ideological, religious, as well as political and economic impulses are then mobilized in order to trigger distinctive ideological and reflexive modes of expansion. These expansions could be geographical in nature, religious or cultural; however, it is important to reiterate that these processes are not necessarily linked. Depending on the realities at hand, the civilizational frameworks of these expansions can change as different internal civilizational dynamics come into play.

The Caucasus, as the crossroad between different ethnic, religious, and political entities has been the theatre of many expansionist endeavours. There are key moments in the history of the region which reflect distinctive ideological and reflexive modes of expansion. In the eighteenth century, the Caucasus became the frontline of a war opposing Tsarist Russia to the Ottoman Empire. Since neither of these empires are indigenous to the region, they both mobilized different impulses in order to justify their expansion, while trying to render their rival’s position illegitimate. While the Ottoman Empire utilized religion in order to establish alliances with local ethnic groups sharing the same religious beliefs, Tsarist Russia utilized instead cultural arguments pertaining to the superiority of Russians to the barbarians and savages of the Caucasus. During the twentieth century, the USSR utilized political and ideological arguments to justify their presence in the region. The Chechens on the other hand framed their struggle around the question of cultural identity and national autonomy.

 

BIBLIOGRAPHY

  1. Gammer, Moshe. (2006). The Lone Wolf and the Bear. Three Centuries of Chechen Defiance of Russian Rule. London: Hurst and Company.
  2. Huntington, Samuel.P (1996). The Clash of Civilizations. New York: Simon and Schuster.
  3. Huntington, S.P. 1993b. ‘If Not Civilizations, What? Paradigms of the Post-Cold War.’ Foreign Affairs 72(5): 186–94.
  4. Eisenstadt, S.N. (2003). Comparative civilizations and multiple modernities (volume 1). Boston: Library of Congress.
  5. Souleimanov, Emil. (2011). The Caucasus Emirate: Genealogy of an Islamist Insurgency. Middle East Policy 18 (4).155-168.
  6. Lyall, Jason. (2010). Are Coethnics More Effective Counterinsurgents? Evidence from the Second Chechen War, American Political Science Review, 104(1), 1-20.
  7. Henze, P. B. (1995) Islam in the North Caucasus: The Example of Chechnya (Santa Monica, RAND).

  8. Evangelista, M. (2002). The Chechen wars: Will Russia go the way of the Soviet Union? Washington, D.C.: Brookings Institution Press.

  9. Hertog, K. (2005). A Self-fulfilling Prophecy: The Seeds of Islamic Radicalisation in Chechnya, Religion, State and Society, 33(3), 239-252.

  10. Lieven, Anatol. 1998. Chechnya: Tombstone of Russian power. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

  11. Dunlop, John B. 1998. Russia confronts Chechnya: Roots of a separatist conflict. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

  12. Hertog, K. (2001) The Role of Religion in the Conflict in Chechnya and Daghestan: Part of the Problem—Part of the Solution? (unpublished MA thesis, Bradford University).

     

     

     

 

Star Crossed: Part Four

Star Crossed: Part Four

Muslim Futurism

The Master of the Xinfiniin accompanied by the host, the overseer, and his conscripts approached the rendezvous point. He was increasingly uneasy about this meeting but dared not share his trepidations with anyone. He kept his face as impassive as possible and used his biofeedback abilities to regulate his vital signs and skin temperature in order to project an air of calm. His confident walk betrayed nothing of his desire to launch into a full sprint in the opposite direction, and put as much distance as possible between his ship and this place. The ten conscripts chosen by the overseer to ensure their safety kept a watchful eye as they marched in a tight triangle formation, surrounding the Master and the host, confining them both to the centre. These men’s lives were declared forfeit the moment they enlisted as conscripts to purge their sentences. In the Xininit consortium, serving as…

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Should A Muslim Perspective Matter In Science Fiction?

Should A Muslim Perspective Matter In Science Fiction?

Muslim Futurism

Article originally published by Islamscifi.com

Storytelling has always been an integral part of human traditions. Every story serves as a medium to convey ideas, pass on values and norms, or invite audiences to ponder and reflect. Some of the greatest stories ever told were intended to be a reflection on the world we live in. Both Huxley’s Brave New World, and Hugo’s Les Miserables—although belonging to wildly different genres—are perfect examples of stories examining the human condition with perspicacity and creativity. Science Fiction particularly has produced over the decades stories that allow an incredible level of range and variety, while taking place in an ever shifting and evolving context. This fluidity in storytelling is what makes this genre an interesting vehicle for tackling complex and challenging ideas.

While Muslims are often consumers of science fiction, their impact as producers of new sci-fi material is unfortunately negligible. However, one…

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From Troublesome Thirties To Frenetic Forties

From Troublesome Thirties To Frenetic Forties

I initially planned on writing a long-winded post about this topic, with scholarly references to drive my point home. But, after careful consideration I decided to approach this more as a personal reflection than a sociological analysis; which believe me is not easy for me. I tend to go on long tangents and find myself knee-deep in sociological jargon quite often. When I started my blog, I was in my thirties and trying to navigate the turbulent waters one enters when we officially leave behind the last remnants of our youth, also  known as the twenties. But, life has a way of constantly keeping us on our toes, and just when I thought I was getting the hang of these troublesome thirties, here comes the next chapter of my life. If life is akin to a novel, then I think it is safe to say each decade is pretty much a whole new chapter, with recurrent themes and characters from previous chapters, but also a whole new set of challenges and shifting priorities.

There is a certain optimism often seen as the hallmark of youth which corresponds to a certain stage of one’s life. The twenties are seen as the age of possibilities; a time for self-discovery and boldness where you essentially feel the better part of your life is ahead of you. Every aspect of society by and large caters to the needs and interests of the young: every TV show, movies, social media, the fashion industry, most apps, etc…This reinforces the idea that youth holds a social currency that dwindles with aging. When one enters the thirties, you are expected to have your career well in hand, and be on your way to creating your family (if you haven’t already). If you have the misfortune of not making headways in your career, buying a home, and endeavouring to have a healthy 401k, you are basically seen as someone who is failing at being an adult (or just really failing at life in general). Unfortunately, even Muslims fall prey to this narrative.

Some of the greatest trepidations women experience in their thirties are related to the subject of motherhood. Society repeatedly tells you it is now or never if you wish to have kids. Of course anxiety and existential crisis ensue when you see the forties looming in the distance and you still haven’t found a husband. Every passing stroller and lively baby shower reminds you that you are essentially wasting your peak fertility years. If the thirties make you keenly aware of the passage of time and the increasingly deafening ticking of your biological clock, the forties bring one’s mortality to the forefront.

By the time you are in your late thirties to early forties, you’re bound to have experienced loss. Whether it is losing a parent, other family members, your friends, or your acquaintances, death becomes a lot more palpable. There is also the fact that you are statistically more at risk for just about any disease. Where your doctor used to tell you not to fret when you rushed to his/her office after making the mistake of googling some innocuous symptoms you were experiencing, in your forties they are more likely to send you for a test. Age is a risk factor for just about anything: from Cancer to neurological illnesses. This, of course, makes you think of your mortality a lot more. Every mole, spot, lump, and twitch suddenly becomes a potential source of concern. While having a good diet and exercising daily help tremendously in one’s overall well-being, it is nonetheless a sad reality that you start noticing a stark difference in your body from when you were younger. The wear and tear start taking their toll; acid reflux, joint pain, thyroid issues are all benign, but they nonetheless remind you of your aging. Just looking at tomato sauce gives me heartburn these days, and I’m pretty sure my knees are fomenting some sort of rebellion against me. You can’t help but worry for those who find themselves in your care. Wondering what will become of your aging parents or your small children in the event of your demise will keep you awake at night, anxiously thinking of an alternative that won’t leave them destitute and desperate.

You realize that the days of your youth are now really behind you. From now on what you have to look forward to are the indignities of aging. Where you once saw your future brimming with infinite possibilities, eccentric dreams, and time seemed everlasting; your future is now one that you contemplate with apprehension. You know that your end is closer than it’s ever been before. Looking back at your life is fraught with the regrets of past decisions, the what ifs of the roads never travelled, and the sadness of having to let go of unfulfilled aspirations. From the moment of our birth to our death, our lives are essentially the byproduct of a series of decisions we make; from the most inconsequential to the most crucial. Aging is not for the faint of heart folks, but in many ways it is also the only antidote to the hubris of youth. Which might explain why societies obsessed with youthfulness tend to fear it, and constantly try to battle and delay it.

So, what does all of this mean for me? Is Geeky Muslimah on her way to a retirement home? Not quite. But, I’d be lying if I didn’t acknowledge my trepidations about aging. What do you do when your actual life in no way resembles what you dreamed of? Do you embrace the new possibilities that present themselves, no matter how far from your previous ambitions? Do you let go of the past or do you redouble your efforts to achieve those dreams the younger version of you held so dear? I honestly wish there was some sort of pause button that you could just hit to stop time and give yourself the opportunity to think. But time waits for no one, and we are all caught in its web. The very universe we live in will one day come to an end. Despite all of its marvels that so often defy human comprehension and it’s perpetual expansion, it will fail to elude the deadly grasp of time.

It is difficult to put into words the bittersweet reality of human existence. We are all lucky to have been given the chance to experience it first hand: the good, the bad, and everything else in between. Every moment of joy, every laughter shared with friends, every instance where love prevailed in our lives, every melody that lingers in our hearts, every kindness ever bestowed upon us, every look of unconditional love that shines in our parents’ eyes, every miracles big or small we get to witness, all of it remind us that we are indeed blessed to be alive. Maybe that is what makes our mortality so daunting. Our very existence is nothing short of a miracle. Of the 200 billion planets that exist in our galaxy alone, life thrived on our little blue dot against all odds. When we look at the heavens, are we not reminded of our solitude in this vast universe, and yet humbled by the  closeness we feel toward our creator?

Bismillaahir Rahmaanir Raheem

  1. Most Gracious!
  2. It is He Who has taught the Qur’an.
  3. He has created man:
  4. He has taught him speech (and intelligence).
  5. The sun and the moon follow courses (exactly) computed;
  6. And the herbs (or stars) and the trees – both (alike) bow in adoration.
  7. And the Firmament has He raised high, and He has set up the Balance (of Justice),
  8. In order that ye may not transgress (due) balance.
  9. So establish weight with justice and fall not short in the balance.
  10. It is He Who has spread out the earth for (His) creatures:
  11. Therein is fruit and date-palms, producing spathes (enclosing dates);
  12. Also corn, with (its) leaves and stalk for fodder, and sweet-smelling plants.
  13. Then which of the favors of your Lord will ye deny?

(Surah Ar-Rahman/ The Beneficent)

Remembering that this life is but one leg of our greater journey is the only way of combatting the fears conjured up by thoughts of the inescapable finality that awaits us all. In Islam, death is but a transition. We are after all souls living in exile and waiting to return home.  But this world of ours is so very human and in its own way wondrous, even when it fails to live up to our expectations, that the idea of leaving behind the only existence we know imbues us with dread. Several lifetimes would probably not suffice for us to get our fill of the human experience. We want to live long and happy lives. We want to fall in love and be loved. We want to see our progeny rise higher and achieve so much more than we ever dreamed of. We want it all even when it is not written for us; and that is very human indeed.

So, I’ll end this reflection by saying that the very human woman I am will try to find solace in remembering that there is wisdom in accepting the destiny Allah ‘aza wajal prescribed for me; even when it doesn’t always jive with all the dreams and hopes I once had. I shall endeavour to remind myself that what a believer should strive for is to be reunited in the hereafter with not only loved ones, but also all the best of our Ummah: from the Sahabas to our beloved Prophet (saw). I shall endeavour to remember that what awaits us beyond the veil of death is, God willing, everlasting contentment; and aging is part of the journey that leads us there.

 

“We shall certainly test you by afflicting you with fear, hunger, loss of properties and lives and fruits. Give glad tidings, then, to those who remain patient; those who when any affliction smites them, they say: “Verily, we belong to Allah, and it is to Him that we are destined to return.Upon them will be the blessings and mercy of their Lord, and it is they who are rightly guided.”

(Surah Al-Baqarah, Verse 155-157)

 

 

 

Star Crossed: Part Three

Star Crossed: Part Three

Muslim Futurism

The hubris of the Children of Quailth, Bolthaar, and Durnah—who in their vanity sought power in the darkest realms of existence—plunged the land into an everlasting cataclysm. From the atramentous towers that housed the custodians of arcane knowledge oozed an evil so profound and primeval that even the land cried out in agony. Soon, their gilded cities were torn asunder. The laments of the old sages of Tsabong did nothing to assuage the impending destruction. Their sorrowful litany resonated in their hollowed sanctuaries as turmoil swallowed what was once the abode of the living.

—The chronicles of the traveler Tuba Saab—

The Xinfiniin flew over the Southern sea, cutting through the tumultuous weather with ease and precision. The builders of Kharnak carved its hull from the highly sought out metals of Tuul, anticipating the perils of its inauspicious voyage. Tefra Koss was a dead world caught in the gravity of…

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Ibn Khaldun: A Sociology Beyond Eurocentrism

Ibn Khaldun: A Sociology Beyond Eurocentrism

While the critique pertaining to the various aspects of the impact of Orientalism on the social sciences has been growing since the early part of the twentieth century, very little has been said about the persistent disregard of non-Western thinkers as a source of “theoretical authority” (Alatas, 2014: 1). The theories and concepts found in their extensive body of work are very rarely applied to produce key historical and empirical information. This is particularly the case in the fields of Islamic and Middle Eastern studies, where the prevailing theoretical expertise is still firmly grounded in Western Academia. Studying the work of influential non-Western thinkers as substitutes to Orientalist constructions remains for the most part a rare endeavour.

 The prevailing Eurocentrism in the social sciences often manifests itself in the study of all human civilizations from a European perspective. Western thinkers become in this dynamic the sole architects of ideas, the originators of theories and concepts through which the world is assessed and interpreted, while non-Westerners are relegated to mere subjects of study and purveyors of data. The modern social sciences are heavily influenced by European philosophical traditions in their approaches and discourses. “The empirical field of investigation is selected according to European (for European read also American) criteria of relevance” (Alatas, 2007: 271). All aspects of reality, whether historical or social, are therefore organized and understood from a Western perspective.

Sociology is yet another example of a field in the social sciences where the important role of non-Western social thinkers in the development of the discipline got little to no attention. The works of seminal Western sociologists such as Durkheim, Weber, and Marx not only played a central role in the evolution and growth of sociology in Europe, but their theories and models were also applied to non-Western societies sometimes sharing very little in common with their European counterparts. Non-Western social theorists, on the other hand, were vastly excluded from the elaboration of social theory. A compelling example of this phenomenon is the treatment of Ibn Khaldun in the modern social sciences. The majority of the work on Ibn Khaldun comprises mainly of biographical studies pertaining to his life, discussions about his theory of state formation, and examinations of the methodological foundations of his work. However, the application of his theory in the analysis of existing historical situations remains sparse. For the most part, Ibn Khaldun’s work is often relegated to the margins of modern sociology either as an example of proto-sociology or the subject of investigation. His theories and concepts are described and analysed without ever being used as tools to interpret and understand history. Very few sociologists in Western academia have went beyond simply citing him as a pioneer or a founder of their discipline.

“There has always been little interest in developing his ideas, combining them with concepts derived from modern sociology and applying theoretical frameworks derived from his though to historical and empirical realities. While there are certainly exceptions that is, attempts to apply a Khaldunian theory or model to social reality, these are few and marginal to mainstream social science teaching and research” (Alatas, 2007: 271).

Modern social theory rests vastly on the ongoing overlooking of “alternative perceptions of reality” grounded in traditions other than the prevailing Western epistemology (Sunar and Yasliçimen, 2008: 412). The political, economic, social and cultural hegemony of the Western world enables the current dominance of Western though. According to Aijaz Ahmed the supremacy enjoyed by Western epistemology “represents a politically disabling contentious shift of attention from the facts of current neo-colonialism” toward less controversial areas of research (Moore-Gilbert, 1997:19). While the criticism of Orientalism and Eurocentrism in academia is well-known, the calls for the elaboration of alternative discourses remain essentially unanswered. Much like in mainstream Western academia “the prescription for autonomous social sciences are rarely put into practice even in the South” (Alatas, 2014: 9).

Very few attempts have been made to incorporate Ibn Khaldun’s theory of state formation within the framework of modern sociology. His study pertaining to the rise and fall of states, the nature of dynastic succession, as well as the role of religion as an “extra-historical unifying cohering force” (Mirawdeli, 2015:97) while often mentioned and analysed is seldom applied. His extensive work on the history of Muslim societies in North Africa and the Middle East, considered by many to be the genesis of sociological analysis, “has rarely been seriously considered as a basis for a modern Khaldunian sociology” (Alatas, 2014: 2). The persistent marginalization of Ibn Khaldun in the discipline of sociology is due to the lack of a neo-Khaldunian iteration of his theory. The primary aim of this thesis is to move beyond descriptive accounts of his work in order to demonstrate how Khaldunian theory can be applied to historical and empirical realities. The current underdevelopment of his theory finds its source in the lack of work applying his “theoretical framework to historical and contemporary data” (Alatas, 2014: 53). In order to remedy to this oversight and reiterate the place of Khaldunian theory in modern sociology, our study will revolve around the practical application of Khaldunian framework in the analysis of a critical period in Muslim history; that of the fall of the Ottoman empire and the subsequent emergence of modern states in the Muslim world.

Wali al-Din ‘Abd al-Rahman Ibn Muhammad Ibn Khaldun al-Tunisi al-Hadrami, known as Ibn Khaldun, was born in Tunis in 1332. His family, like many of their co-religionaries, fled Spain in the aftermath of the Reconquista and settled in Tunis in the 13thcentury.  As a young man ‘Abd al-Rahman received an education encompassing both religious instruction and worldly knowledgein the form of traditional sciences. Ibn Khaldun lived in a time of great tumult where the Arab Muslim world entered a period of political disintegration and cultural decay. Greatly influenced by the ongoing upheaval around him, he sought to understand and explain the “patterns of human action in history” capable of altering the world so fundamentally (Çaksu, 2017: 41). Inspired by the works of previous Muslim historians like Ma’sudi, he wanted to chronicle the transformations taking place in his own period by detailing the “newly emerging conditions” (Dale, 2015: 1).

While remaining firmly grounded in the traditional approach to historical writing of his predecessors, he nonetheless sought to transcend what he saw as shortcomings in their method. He exhorted historians to abandon the writing of narratives focusing solely on “transient political and military events” (Dale, 2015: 2). He advocated instead for a transformation of history into an integral part of the staple Aristotelian sciences such as physics, mathematics, and astronomy. History according to him should become both a subject and a method entailing a radical new approach to historical research.

“A beneficiary of the same Greek intellectual bequest that subsequently influenced the social and political thought of Montesquieu, Hume, Smith, and Durkheim, he argued that history ought to be practiced as a science, a philosophical discipline.” (Dale, 2015: 2). 

In 1378, he completed his Kitab al-‘Ibar, a historical study on the Arabs and Berbers. This book contained his famous Muqaddimah, a prolegomena in which he introduced what he believed to be a new science. He called it ‘ilm al-‘umran al-bashari(science of human social organization) or ‘ilm al-ijtima al-insani(science of human society). “The basis of Ibn Khaldun’s new science of society was his critique of the state of historiography among the historians of the Arab East and West up to his time” (Alatas, 2014: 13). According to him, in the study of history ascertaining the probability and possibility of events is the only way to distinguish the true from the false, and this can only be achieved through the investigation of human society. Relying solely on the authenticity of chains of transmissions, as was the method of choice in historical investigation amongst Muslim scholars, was a process Ibn Khaldun found to be inadequate when bereft of an investigative approach.

“While there were outstanding historians among the Muslims of the past, later historians introduced untruths and even gossip which were passed on to succeeding generations of historians. The false and the nonsensical in history were not rejected as historians tended not to look into the causes and origins of events and conditions” (Alatas, 2014: 14).   

Ibn Khaldun’s main concern was what he perceived as a lack of critical perspective in the study of history. He worried that this oversight would allow mistakes and weak suppositions to permeate historical records and taint the veracity of the recorded information. He posited that history became over time a discipline where the surface occurrences of history were hardly distinguished from “its inner meaning” (Alatas, 2014: 14). Historians simply relied on the work of earlier scholars without investigating the origins of the events in question and trying to discern the truth from false reports. They were instead preoccupied primarily with the preservation of historical information as it had been recorded by prior generations. For Ibn Khaldun however, “the discipline of history requires not only a sound command of numerous sources but also a good speculative mind”, since historical information cannot simply be trusted without proper scrutiny (Alatas, 2014: 14). Relying solely on the reported information, no matter how reliable the source, was in his opinion insufficient as a method. He proposed instead an autonomous science with “human social organization and society” as its main object and tasked with establishing the veracity of historical events and ascertaining their probability (Alatas, 2014: 21). This new science was to become a prerequisite for the study of history. He saw them as complementary since his science of human society endeavored to uncover the inner meaning of history. Ibn Khaldun distinguished the outer forms of history that he called zahirfrom its inner meaning which he referred to as batin. The outer forms referred to facts and reports while the inner meaning alluded instead to accounts of cause and effect. He was very much aware that his science of human society was in fact unique in both its scope and objective. While it bore a passing resemblance to rhetoric, politics, and other existing fields it nonetheless brought forth a singular contribution and a unique approach to history.

“Such is the purpose of this first book of our work. (The subject) is in a way an independent science. (This science) has its own peculiar object—that is, human civilization and social organization. It also has its own peculiar problems, that is, explaining the conditions that attach themselves to the essence of civilization, one after the other, Thus, the situation is the same with the science as it is with any other science, whether it be a conventional or an intellectual one, It should be known that the discussion of this topic is something new, extraordinary, and highly useful. Penetrating research has shown the way to it.” (Ibn Khaldun, Rosenthal, Dawood, Lawrence, 2005: 38).

He was particularly concerned with the rise and decline of states and societies and was trying to offer an explanation to this phenomenon. He quickly realized that he needed to first understand the nature of certain key elements such as the connection between the state and society, the nature of human organization, and the role of group solidarity and feeling in the evolution of human society. To comprehend the nature of human organization, he looked closely at factors that he believed triggered social change like urban institutions, the economic life, the organizational ability of the state, and existing solidarity/group feelings (Mahdi, 1957:235).

“Ibn Khaldun conceived of this new science of human society as consisting a number of sub-areas as follows: (1) society (‘umran) in general and its divisions; (2) Bedouin society (al-‘umran al-badawi), tribal societies (qaba’il), and primitive peoples (al-wahshiyyah); (3) the state (al-dawlah), royal (mulk) and caliphate (khilafah) authority; (4) sedentary society (al-‘umran al-hadari), cities; and (5) the crafts, way of making a living occupations. These areas can be seen to cover what in modern terms would encompass human or social ecology, rural sociology, political sociology, urban sociology, and the sociology of work” (Alatas, 2014:21).

Ibn Khaldun’s first mention in European sources can be traced back to the seventeenth century when a biography detailing his life appeared in d’Herbelot’s Bibliotheque Orientale. It was only a century later, at the height of Western colonialism, that prominent Orientalists like Silvestre de Sacy, Joseph von Hammer-Purgstall, and William MacGuckin de Slane provided the first translations of Ibn Khaldun’s work in French and German. These were based on extracts of hisMuqaddimahand only offered a quick and incomplete overview of his overall body of work. A more serious study of Ibn Khaldun was undertaken in the nineteenth century in mainstream sociology with several Western scholars recognizing him as the founder of sociology.

Both Ludwig Gumplowicz (1838-1909) and Franz Oppenheimer (1864-1943) saw themselves as students of Ibn Khaldun. Oppeinhemer was often referred to as the “reviver of Ibn Khaldun”, while Gumplowicz dedicated an entire chapter to the scholar where he spoke highly of his work and called him “an Arab sociologist of the fourteenth century” (Alatas, 2014:44). Ibn Khaldun was recognized as the founder of sociology by many notable Western sociologists in the nineteenth century. Howard S. Becker and Harry Elmer Barnes, in their book Social Thought from Lore to Sciencededicated to the history of sociology, credited him with being the “first to apply modern-like ideas in historical sociology” (Alatas, 2014: 145). They were particularly admirative of his contribution to conflict theory. Unlike many other Western scholars, they recognized the uniqueness of Ibn Khaldun’s historical, political, cultural, and social context. They were conscious of the fact that he lived and wrote in a context quite different from that of nineteenth century Europe. They were able to detect those elements in his work that resonated with their own era, and in doing so restated the ageless and universal features of Khaldunian theory.

“Becker and Barnes themselves, in their chapter titled “Struggle over The Struggle for existence”, recognized him as an early conflict theorist and one emphasized causal principles in history at a time when ‘providential’ viewpoints everywhere held sway” (Alatas, 2014:44).

In his methodology, they saw a direct critique of documentary history, especially his elaboration of laws relating to society and social change. According to them, his greatest contribution as a social thinker was his treatment of historical material. “Much like Durkheim, Weber and others he was a human mind trying to comprehend rather than catalogue the specifically social factors in man’s living and doing” Alatas, 2014:44). Another example of European-led revival of Ibn Khaldun can be found in Jose Ortega y Gasset’s article titled Ibn Khaldun reveals the secrets to us: thoughts on North Africa. He tried to integrate Khaldunian concepts into mainstream social sciences. Ortega however betrayed his Orientalist perspective of Islam and Muslim societies when he described native Africans as “generally not thinkers” and declared Ibn Khaldun to be “an eminent exception, who has a clear and insightful mind in the way of the Greeks” (Alatas, 2014:44).

In Muslim readings of Ibn Khaldun, his work was not reduced to a mere object of study but was rather considered as genuine tool in the analysis of “historical and contemporary development of states” (Alatas, 2007:272). Long before Western scholars became aware of Ibn Khaldun, his contemporaries in the Muslim world were already applying his writing and producing a body of work inspired by Khaldunian theory. Abu ‘Abd Allah Muhammad bin al-Azraq al-Andalusi (1428-1491) was one of his fervent disciples who not only produced a comprehensive synopsis of the Muqaddimahbut also wrote about the connection between ethics and royal authority from a Khaldunian perspective. Another influential historian inspired by Ibn Khaldun was the Egyptian al-Maqrizi who even went to his lectures in Cairo. He dedicated a detailed entry to him in hisDurar al-‘Uquda biographical dictionary in which he showered the scholar with high praises. He described theMuqaddimahas a perfect example of Ibn Khaldun’s unparalleled mastery of historiography. “It reveals the truth of things, events and news; it explains the state of the universe and reveals the origins of all beings in an admirable plain style” (Rabbat, 2000:24).

In the twentieth century a few Muslim and Western scholars attempted to use Ibn Khaldun to study “the contemporary realities of their societies” (Alatas, 2007:272). While in the context of Western academia figures such as Ernst Gellner and Yves Lacoste led the effort to apply Khaldunian theory, their counterparts in the Muslim world were also undertaking “important theoretical appraisals of his work” (Alatas, 2007:273). Ibn Khaldun’s influence could be felt amongst key Muslim reformers of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century including Jamal al-Din al-Afghani, Muhammad ‘Abduh, and Rashid Rida, all of whom pioneered Islamic modernism. Much later, philosophers such as ‘Abid al-Jabir (1971) and Ali Oumlil (1979) continued to strive for the understanding of Khaldunian thought outside of the prevailing Orientalism and Eurocentrism in the modern social sciences. For the most part however, Ibn Khaldun has been reduced to an object of study as the more practical aspects of his work fell into disuse. While Khaldunian theory faded from memory, Orientalist thought gained in prominence amongst many sociologists as the primary framework for the production of knowledge about Islam, the Orient, and Muslims.

Sociological studies pertaining to Muslim societies in Western academia remain mostly beholden to reductionist and essentialist analyses. The Orientalist Grand Narrative’s assumption that Muslim societies are inherently chaotic and violent and are antithetical to good governance persists and is even enjoying somewhat of a rebirth in the current political climate. Yet, the work of ‘Abd al-Rahman Ibn Khaldun offers the possibility of not only elaborating a modern sociology (neo-Khaldunian sociology) but also studying Muslim societies beyond the confines of Orientalism and Eurocentrism.