Does History ACTUALLY Repeat Itself?

This essay was inspired by my beautiful and supportive fiancé, Emily.

A couple days ago, my lady was in town and she told me she heard this quote on NPR and was curious what my response on it would be. In all honesty, I tried looking for the quote albeit not very vigorously so you’ll have to bear with the paraphrased quote. Suffice it to say, it led to a lovely discussion between us. This quote remained in my conscious for some time now, clearly, and in combination with my Theories & Methods class I’m taking, I just had to write about it in the style I most enjoy: Informally.

“History doesn’t repeat itself, human nature doesn’t change.” – Unknown

Indeed, both are most black and white statements. However, if one were to closely examine each allegation, interesting and informative scholarship would be found. Most significantly, perhaps is Michel-Rolph Trouillot’s Silencing the Past: Power and Production of History. In the book, readers will take a glance at what historians actually do in their research; that is, to examine traces of history and change things if necessary due to contextual vigor.  To add on to an entry a friend of mine wrote in his blog, History is a science almost. It’s not simply remembering dates; in fact, it’s not really that important. What is important however, is what happened around those times but moreover, to examine why and how things happened. That’s why if you ever ask a Historian about why the Civil War happened, they will give you this long ass answer because it is a complex issue that can’t be resolved in one answer. Of course, you could most definitely say it was Slavery. It was. Ultimately, everything that caused the bloodiest war in United States history, was because of Slavery and whether it should be abolished.

The thing is, a lot of people seem to have this understanding that History is black and white. That we all share the same attitudes on history, but in reality, interpretation is what separates and even divides us as historians. Take for example the case of Palestine and Israel. For many years, the debate surrounding the question of Palestine was if Palestinians were kicked out of Israel to make way for Zionist (not Jewish) settlers. Some scholars argued that the Palestinians left on their own accord, or there weren’t any at all i.e., the land was vacant. The latter half contend that Palestinians were forced to leave and had 48 hours to vacate their homes. That was the debate back in the 1980’s.  Currently it is generally, or at least arguably, agreed that Palestinians were coerced into evacuating but the reasons debated are because Palestinians were victims of ethnic cleansing or because they were a threat to Israeli settlers. The point of this story is not to spark controversy, but to examine that the production of history changes with time.

 For one to contend that human nature remains the same, it then opens another can of worms because it begs the question: what is human nature? And this is a total stream of conscious essay so forgive me if I’m leaving out a bunch of details, but the two arguments of how human nature are for one, savage by nature. And the other, that humans are born without sin but may develop bad habits. It isn’t easy to pick out of those two, especially because contemporary scholarship argues that there are some people that have neurological impairments that cause their inability to recognize bad habits. In other words, there are assholes and there are psychopaths. Assholes will lie, cheat, and steal from you because they just don’t care. Whereas a psychopath will destroy a person’s phone if they’re speaking too loudly on it and because they aren’t able to psychologically “ignore” the negative thoughts in their heads, feel absolutely no remorse. Thereby proving once again, that these sort of scholarly thoughts on human nature will change with time as well. 

Indeed, these various interpretations to come about will present a great disconnect with previous thought, therefore one could argue that history doesn’t necessarily repeat itself. History just repeatedly plays a role in how our thoughts on particular epochs shift. It’s an idea, and History as an idea, is produced by people with power and those with a greater voice like let’s say: films, can influence more people because they tend to be more popular than an actual book written by a historian whose work has been accepted by a committee of other historians. The good news is though that, people with power can lose it and people who don’t have power can gain it. You can watch a film about The Alamo and believe Davy Crockett and the others were heroic martyrs of their time, but then along comes a historian who shatters the glass case, like the iconoclasts we are, by telling you, “actually, these guys were just pirates who sought land because of manifest destiny and to expand their slave territory.” Therefore, History is never static; or as my professor so eloquently said it: “the history of history has a history.”

-Mr. Writer

Written on the 19th of September, 2017 at 9:25 P.M. 

Advertisements

Extending A Helpful Hand: Remembering Hurricane Harvey and the Monsoon Storm in South Asia

The following entry is a summary of an article from The Guardian, whose link is included below. I do not reserve the right to ownership of said article, just the words summarizing the article here. I share this with my readers in remembrance of the victims of the devastation caused by Hurricane Harvey and the victims in Pakistan, Nepal, India, and Bangladesh. May the departed have their sins forgiven and access into paradise. And may the survivors be able to rebuild and granted patience for the things we cannot change. 

Karachi Flood

(Photo: Scenes from the flood in Karachi, Pakistan; Taken from The Guardian)

Around the same time Hurricane Harvey was making its way to Houston, TX we see that people in South Asia including India, Pakistan, Nepal and Bangladesh are experiencing their own natural disaster. This is in no way a takeaway from the historic destruction the hurricane has caused to the great city of Houston, however it is important to acknowledge that this devastating storm has affected neighboring countries, not cities; each suffering just as much, if not more than the other. Bangladesh for example is 1/3 under water, in Mumbai, India, a four-story residential building has collapsed killing 21 people, Pakistan has experienced 3.8in of rain in some areas of Karachi, and 150 people are dead in Nepal.

Like Houston, however, the flood in these respective South Asian countries is being recorded as, in addition to being deadly, historic. According to the article, it is reminiscent of the 2005 flood in Mumbai, which took the lives of over 500 people. That very year, residents of Louisiana felt the wrath of Hurricane Katrina, which lay dwelling in the hearts and memories of the victims and those of Hurricane Harvey. Moreover, residents feel similar sentiments towards government officials, as also echoed in Houston, condemning their lack of preparation for such a disaster. Although the point in sharing this article is not to compare disaster and casualty rates, but rather to extend hands to our brethren across the ocean and rebuild together, as we have already suffered enough together.

-Mr. Writer

Originally written on the 1st of September, 2017 at 9:08 P.M. 

Link to article: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/aug/31/south-asia-floods-fears-death-toll-rise-india-pakistan-mumbai-building-collapses?CMP=share_btn_tw

Will there ever be peace between India & Pakistan?

Pakistan Zindabad! Hindustan Zindabad! Azad Kashmir!
(Pakistan Live Long! India Live Long! Free Kashmir!) 

Today marks the 70th anniversary of Pakistan’s Independence from India. And tomorrow, will be the 70th Anniversary of India’s Independence from Britain. Strangely, we cannot celebrate the two events together. Just ask bollywood playback singer, Mika Singh. Poor guy had the purest intentions to have Pakistanis and Indians come out to his concerts in Chicago and Houston. I wanted to go to the concert in Houston, but I couldn’t because I had an important meeting to attend in San Antonio that day. 

Nevertheless, this isn’t the first time India has become disgruntled by other Indians attempting to work together with Pakistanis. The recently released movie, Raees, with Shahrukh Khan starred a lovely Pakistani woman, Mahira Khan, as his character’s spouse. The movie ended up being banned in Pakistan, due to religious symbols and practices being exploited.Which is sad because Bollywood films tend to be almost objectively enjoyed in Pakistan, especially Shahrukh Khan films! However, Because Bollywood films tend to exclude Pakistani actors,  having Mahira Khan in this film was a big deal. Too bad the film wasn’t all that though.

Anyways, the fact of the matter is there are scarce differences between Pakistanis and Indians; in terms of language, the foods we eat, even the way we look is similar. The main difference is religion and once the British were finally willing to leave India, tensions were transparent between Hindus and Muslims. Combined with poverty, hunger, and violent retaliations on both sides, an Islamic state became appealing for Muslims. And thus, Pakistan (translated as: “land of the pure” ) seceded from Hindustan (translated as: “land of the Hindus” or “India” in Hindi)  But again, this is the only notable difference and to this day, I can’t tell the difference between a Pakistani and an Indian. And I’m Half and Half! I should mention however, there are Muslims that still live in India, despite it being a minority, I would be remiss were I to not mention their existence. India has the upper-hand when it comes to religious diversity in that sense. 

Growing up in the states, and with the mentality that Indo-Pak culture was not cool (because let’s face it, Bollywood movies are cheesy as they come) I distanced myself from it. But then as I got older, I was categorized as Arabs by ignorant racists because I was Muslim and wished people would consider me Indian. Now, I’m in a strange position because I have one of the most common Muslim first names in the world, and one of the most common Hindu surnames. Suffice it to say, I’m back into Bollywood films and attempting to learn more of my roots but the deeper I go, the darker things get.

For example, the fact that I am half Pakistani, may hinder me from going into India. I may be able to enter due to my last name being of the Brahmin caste, as well as my natural citizenship as an American. However, I am strongly passionate that Kashmir, the occupied area in India, which is predominantly Muslim, be granted its own Independence so that may cause a problem for me. Arguably, it’s that, Kashmir, which is the main reason why India and Pakistan have been at war for all these decades.

India had a number of small princely ruled states, including Jammu and Kashmir, which though the population was majority Muslim, their ruler was Hindu and despite the citizens’ protests to be part of Pakistan in 1947, remained part of India. The United Nations failed in attempting to resolve these incendiary feelings between the two neighboring states, and the separation of East Pakistan as Bangladesh in 1971 is further exacerbation of India interfering with Pakistan.

But there are some that don’t care about all that, they just are desperate for unity or to reconnect with old friends they lost during partition. There was one story on Al Jazeera about an elderly Pakistani man who was lucky enough to return to India albeit with some difficulty.

By no means however, is this to indicate that Pakistan is free from condemnation but neither is India. First off, Pakistan failed to envelop itself as an Islamic state for a number of reasons including falling into bureaucratic traps and having multiple coups in their leadership. India on the other hand, seems to have forgotten where they came from. Their first prime minister, Jawaharlal Neru, was a secularist and abhorred organized religion; while he is admired in Indian history, it is perplexing why India would treat Muslims with such malice.

There is hope however, in 2014, there were peaceful attempts made on both sides but nothing lasted. It’s safe to say that there is still, and perhaps always be slight sentiments of distrust between the two countries. And this could be because the countries are still having to fix themselves, respectively. Moreover, there are little things that still happen that can blossom into something beautiful. Be that something little, like an Indian playback singer welcoming Pakistanis to his concerts, an Indian Band honoring Pakistan on their day of Independence. We can learn from the past mistakes and strive for a better future. We can start by having ordinary Pakistanis making friends with other Indians and casting aside their differences. Pakistanis won’t eat Pork and Indians won’t eat beef. We can still enjoy Chicken and Lamb together over a nice cup of chai! 🙂

-Mr. Writer (and Ahmed H. Sharma)

Written on August 14, 2017 at 7:30 PM 

 

Loyalty and Slavery, Is there a Difference?

This is such a broad question to ask, of whether or not loyalty to something signifies that one is subservient in the ideological sense. If I am going to swear my allegiance to my country, does this mean I am forbidden from criticizing it? If I were to do so, does that mean my status as a “loyal citizen” is tarnished?

I am strangely reminded of what it means to be a “good child”. If your parents have taught you never to speak rudely to others, but then someone disrespects them, do you not have the right to raise your voice at the offender? Or does that make you an ill-mannered child. I’m going to quit asking questions now and try to provide some answers. 

If the reader may recall, I wrote an essay on what it means to be a “true” (whatever it is you believe in) and scoffed at the incredulousness of how one must adhere to certain stereotypes that another may have impressed upon them. For example, am I an American if I am born and raised in this country? I sure am! Now, am I a “real” American if I am a different skin color? I better be. However, that’s not the case at least from the outsider’s perspective.

Like any non-anglo individual, I get asked where I am from. And my first answer, Houston, TX, is not sufficient enough, despite it being the correct answer. Before, the follow-up question would be: “Where are you really from?” or “What is your nationality?” Finally (and thankfully) it became, “where are your PARENTS from?” when the latter was asked, I’d gladly oblige: Father is from Guyana and Mother is from Pakistan.

It’s not unusual for me anymore to be asked where I get my “exotic” skin color from. When you’ve been asked by numerous people as much as I have, even by people who coincidentally are the same race as I am, you become immune to it. I will admit, I’ll meet another brown or black person and I’ll wonder where they’re from originally as well. The ones who share my experience of being born in America tend to laugh with me when we can’t help but ask the stupid question of where we’re “really from”.

My issue is not with that however, instead, my argument is that despite me being the son of two immigrants (who are now U.S. Citizens) does it mean that I am not granted the same rights as individuals who don’t appear to be immigrants? Even my fiancé’s parents were born in this country, but one would have just assumed they were born and raised in Mexico. To which I argue, is there any problem with that?

As a Historian (in-the-making) I’ve noticed in my studies that immigrants tend to be a huge problem for individuals in most countries during their developments. Everyone seems to hate foreigners coming into their land, but no one seemed to have an issue with colonists evangelizing and/or taking away traditional values from the lands they go to. For example, not many people are aware of what Guyana is or where it’s located. To put it simply, a majority of the population are of East-Indian descent but are unable to speak Hindi, (save a few words) due to British threats of speaking any other language aside from English. But people in the United States, are afraid of people speaking any other country aside from English because they feel threatened that their language will no longer be the majority spoken?

I know I just jumped from one country to the next, but the United States inherited a lot of their behavior from the British despite the United States wanting to do things their own way.

I’ve digressed more than I’d have liked to so I will go back to my original point: If I am loyal to my country, does that mean I must abandon my roots? Personally, I’ve felt a great desire to learn more about my roots and the history of that country regardless of never having visited once. I enjoy living in the country I do and have a great deal of respect for the law in this land. That being said, I do not feel the need to express that by getting annoyed every time someone wonders where I am from. Let’s face it, at some point in the conversation, I’ll have to explain where I get my dark, brown-ness from.

But that opens another can of worms for me. On my father’s side, my grandparents are originally Indian. And Pakistan was once a part of India. Therefore, could I just save face and say I’m Indian? I refuse to for political reasons. I won’t elaborate on that either. Do I say, I’m Caribbean? I do. And the reaction from people who find out Guyanese people speak with a Jamaican-esque accent is MARVELOUS! As for Pakistani, the roots for that gets more complex because Pakistan saw a plethora of foreigners in their country.

More to the point, by having these roots and choosing to immerse myself in the cultures of those countries, I can see how one would perceive that I was not proud to be American. But to that I ask, what is cultural to America? America has always been a melting pot of different cultures. In fact, when I think of how one might imagine how a Texan looks, they would probably picture a cowboy. Cowboys are not native to America at all though, they are Mexican. Which is why it’s surprising how Mexicans in those old western movies were portrayed as lazy or inept. Even the hamburger is German. America gets credit for creating the Cheeseburger but, is that really something worth celebrating? Don’t get me wrong. I absolutely love Cheese. But sooner or later, someone was gonna try to put cheese on a burger. Do Indians get credit for putting Cheese in Spinach? If not, they should. Palak paneer is AMAZING! 

At the end of the day, if you check my Birth Certificate, it says I’m born in Houston, Texas. Therefore, I classify myself as Houstonian. I’m currently living in San Antonio, and it’s okay here so far. It’s not “my” city. But, that’s just it. My city isn’t perfect either. No city is perfect. It’s insane for one to say which city or even country, is better than the other. And by me saying that, it doesn’t mean I’m not a loyal Houstonian. Moreover, I don’t need to prove how Houstonian I am. Such a sentiment should be echoed by others who feel afraid to say how they truly feel. I know how I am as a person, i.e., I know my flaws, it doesn’t mean I hate who I am.

Therefore, I feel like Loyalty towards an ideology or a belief, is almost interconnected with slavery. Even as a Muslim, I’m inclined to adhere to the principles of my religion. This doesn’t mean that Islam is not open to interpretation in how I read or follow those principles. Islam means Submission; to which, I take to mean Submission to a higher power because we need guidance, therefore, I believe in the basic tenants of Islam, without having to feel pressure of being a “good Muslim”.

This is not to say that I condemn those who are loyal to their ideologies, I actually applaud them. I do however, condemn those who blindly show loyalty to their ideologies and reject criticism. In a “perfect world”, if we weren’t meant to accept criticism, why would we strive for better things? More importantly, if we were indeed perfect, why would we have rebellions?

-Mr. Writer

Written on the 8th of August, 2017 at 12:05 A.M. 

 

 

Silent History: A Review/Explanation of An Inspiring & Impacting Book

The following essay was written for a scholarship that I applied to. The prompt was to write on a book that inspired and/or has impacted my interest in studying History. This was not a difficult question because, though there have been many books, essays, and lectures from professors that have been positively influential to me, the foundation of what inspired me to be the Historian-In-The-Making that I declare myself to be, began with this book. Anyone who knows me well, is well aware that all my books are plagued with sticky notes and this book arguably has the most (next to Russell Brand’s autobiography: My Booky Wook) Currently, this book is with a very good friend of mine and I hope he is enjoying it as much as I am. I share this essay with my readers to encourage critical thinking as well as showcase once again my passion, that some will say resembles obsession more than fascination, for History. And is written in bold style to illustrate that it is being written from my actual self and not from my persona. Also, the essay was meant to be 300 words or less and I am proud to say I successfully met that mark so, yeah. I rock! I hope you all enjoy. Please like and subscribe to the blog. And don’t forget to follow me on Instagram and Like Us on Facebook!

As I’ve gotten older, it’s gotten more and more difficult to remember certain things. Even the most trivial such as, what I had for lunch yesterday, become a challenge when I look back into my mind. However, the book that inspired my passion for history, I will never forget. I can recall it so vividly; where I was, why I was reading it and how much I enjoyed it. The book was entitled: Silent Night: The Story of the World War I Christmas Truce by Stanley Weintraub. The title essentially already gives the plot away already, but I will reiterate nonetheless, that the book is about the ceasefire during World War I on the Western front and in honor of a special holiday, enemy soldiers exchanged gifts instead of bullets.

              I was not an avid reader my first semester of College and to be quite honest, I would skim through books more than actually reading them but there was something about the writing Weintraub utilized that made what some critics would describe as the words just “leaping off the page.” And here it began, my first semester as an Undergraduate Student, assigned to read this book for my Western Civilization class. Before I knew it, I had reached halfway through the book and was in joyful tears by reading how for one brief shining moment, during a time of war and carnage, “there was general handshaking: the dead were buried; cigars, cigarettes, and newspapers were exchanged and a general celebration ensued.” (Weintraub, 68). Though there were some who denounced the Christmas truce such as one familiar name, Adolf Hitler, criticized the Germans for fraternizing with the British enemy by saying, “such a thing should not happen in wartime…Have you no German sense of honor left at all?” (Weintraub, 71)

              Honor and or patriotism was the last thing on the minds of these soldiers however, as one British soldier, Corporal John Ferguson, quoted by Weintraub, about the ceasefire with the Germans, “Here we were laughing and chatting to men whom only a few hours before we were trying to kill.” (Weintraub, 79-80) Eventually the Christmas celebrations as well as “all fraternization with the enemy [was] to cease immediately.” Reading the words of these soldiers, post the ceasefire, gaining these epiphanies of their groundless bloodshed and carrying on with the charade (because they have no other choice) in their own way by feigning the discharges towards their targets or even purposefully “shoot [in]to the air’” (Weintraub, 140) was in a word, thought-provoking. The idea that these soldiers were sent to fight against “the enemy” and were now re-defining who exactly the enemy was. “Both sides were misled by half-truths…Beneath the artificial hatred, each respected the other. Victory, if it came at all, would be long delayed, costly and worthless.” (Weintraub, 119) Reading this made me realize that these soldiers demanded answers to questions they finally began to ask themselves, “why am I really here?” It made me think of what other lies we have been fed in our youth that remain truths that we would potentially “die for” in our adult life.

Avi Shlaim has said that “History is the propaganda of the victors” and his statement is agreeable because when we are children and we learn about history, we are told things in a positive light only to find out later that they are actually horrific. And only when we get older do we learn the actual truth that is the awful side of history. We learn about World War I beginning with a series of mishaps that all could be responsible for the start of the war and the countless casualties that resulted as well as the incendiary feelings that remain, resulting in World War II. All the while, wondering how and why things in our own history, got so bad; and if there was a chance for reconciliation even. And it is here, in this story, that we have a pocket of positivity that not everyone is aware although should be. Here these soldiers are learning that the differences amongst them are scarce; therefore, they have no reason to fight one another. Why are they fighting? When instead, “perhaps a football match, after which both sides went home, might be a better solution.” (Weintraub, 119)

-Ahmed H. Sharma (Mr. Writer)

Originally written on the 15th of February, 2017 at 1:19 P.M.

Book Cited:

Weintraub, Stanley. Silent Night: The Story of the World War I Christmas Truce. New York: Plume, 2002. Print.