The Last Hundred years of Racism, Nationalism, Tribalism, and the Caste System
Despite the "progress" in culture, science and technology, racism, tribalism, nationalism, colonialism and the caste system have been mainly responsible for the death of over 62 million human beings in the last 100 years. These numbers, however, do not tell the full story since no numbers are available for the colonial period. And one really cannot imagine the misery of so many millions who suffered through it although they were not killed. Today there are about 22 million refugees in our world who were forced to abandon their homes essentially because of nationalistic wars.
Here are some frightening statistics that should leave no doubt in anyone's mind about the destructive nature of all of these diseased ideologies:
The Colonialism-1500s-late 20th century
Colonialism was such a powerful force that by 1900, for instance, 90.4 percent of Africa was under European colonial control. This was a political-economic phenomenon that began in the 1500s whereby various European nations "discovered", conquered, and exploited large areas of the world.
The last century began with almost all countries of the world enslaved under Europian colonial control whose effects are still felt in the shape of neo colonialism and the exploitative power of the few nations of the world. Slavery became a science in the colonial era in which tens of millions of people were killed or enslaved because of their race and color.
National and Racial Wars:
1. The nationalism based wars of Europe resulted in World War I (1914-1918). Over 8 million were killed and over 21 million wounded.
2. World War II (1939-1945) killed 52 million worldwide.
This was marked by the rise of Germany's fascist dictator Hitler and his Nazi party. Over 20 countries took part in World War II and suffered not only death, but also destruction of homes and infrastructures. The Nazi genocide against a number of groups: Jews, Gypsies and non-whites to name just a few were a clear example of racism.
Racism of the last century:
Racism is defined as the belief that one race of people are superior to another because of the race they are born into. The virus of racism may exist in the hearts and minds of millions around the world but when racism is acted upon, especially by a group of people, things don't just become dangerous, they become deadly.
Here are two specific instances, which come to mind in relation to racism-related conflicts and casualties:
1. South Africa's apartheid era (1948-1994)
With the enactment of apartheid laws in South Africa in 1948, racial discrimination was institutionalized in the country.
Race laws touched every aspect of social life, including a prohibition of marriage between non-whites and whites, and allowing for "white-only' jobs.
In 1950, the Population Registration Act required that all South Africans be racially classified into one of three categories: white, black, or colored (of mixed decent and Asians).
Initially, the aim of apartheid was to maintain white domination while extending racial separation. Starting in the 1960's, a plan of "Grand Apartheid' was executed. This put emphasis on territorial separation of the three groups and police repression.
All blacks had to carry "pass books' with their fingerprints, photo and information on access to non-black areas.
All political rights, including the right to vote, held by an African were restricted to the designated homeland. They would be citizens of their homeland, but lose citizenship to their country: South Africa and any right to be involved with the South African Parliament. This body was in complete control of all of the homelands.
In 1993 a new constitution gave blacks and other racial groups the right to vote, and all-race national elections in 1994 produced a coalition government with a black majority.
While this indicated the end of legislated apartheid, it did not eradicate apartheid's social and economic effects.
2. The treatment and tragedies of African-Americans
African-Americans, even today, over 30 years after the civil rights movement, are oppressed in many ways.
-African-Americans numbered about 34.2 million in 1997, making up 12.8 Percent of the total U.S. population, according to tabulations released by the Commerce Department's Census Bureau (Feb. 7, 2000)
-The income of 2.1 million African-American families (26 percent) was below the poverty level.
-Incidents of racial hate crime reported to the police, by bias motivation in 1998 was 4,468. The highest number was reported by African-Americans: 2,901.
-Between 1975 and 1997, African-Americans had the highest unemployment rate.
-African-Americans aged 12 and up are the most victimized group in America. 41.7 over 1,000 of them are victims of violent crimes, compared with whites (36.3 over 1,000). This does not include murder.
Nationalism continued to play the killing role throughout the last century
Countries, which fought colonialism, fought it on the basis of nationalism learned from the colonial masters. The result is the perpetuation of tragedies based on this idealogy. Muslim countries also suffered through this phase of delayed nationalism.
Here there are several examples:
1. The destruction of the Ottoman Khilafa because of Arab and Turkish nationalism-1924
This fervent Turkish nationalism under the leadership of Mustafa Kemal came into power in Ankara (Turkey's capital today). The Ottoman empire's last Sultan, Mohammed VI, fled in 1922 after the Sultanate had been abolished. Every member of the Ottoman empire was expelled from the country two years later. Turkey was proclaimed a republic, with Ataturk as its first president.
Arab nationalism affected the fall of the Caliphate with the view that Arabs, not Turks should be rulers. This nationalism conveniently exploited by the Lawrence of Arabia, led to a push to wrest control from the Turks of the Ummah's leadership hence expediting the end of Khilafa for the first time in the 1300-year history of Islam.
2. India attacks and still controls Kashmir since 1947. One Indian soldier for every seven Kashmiris is used to further India's nationalist claim on Kashmir. More than a million refugees, three wars, and hundreds of thousands have been killed as a result.
3. Israel's Zionism expelled Palestinians from their land (1948). Palestinians still constitute the largest refugee population of the world.
4. Bangladesh (formerly East Pakistan)-1971
Bangladesh was once East Pakistan, following partition from India in 1947. But after seething under a number of grievances against West Pakistan (which is the Pakistan today) war erupted and the fight for separation from West Pakistan began.
As many as 300,000 people were thought to have lost their lives in this civil war.
5. Iran-Iraq war of the 1980's was a nationalistic war which killed 1 million people.
6. 1992-1995-the genocide of Bosnians at the hands of Serb nationalism resulted in 200, 000 killed 2 million refugees.
7. 1997-1999- expulsion of approximately one million Albanian Kosovars from Kosova.
8. Chechnya is suffering right now through the fifth genocide by Russians in last one hundred years along with the Tatars.
9. Over a million Iraqis have been killed as a result of the 1991 Gulf war and the continuing US sanctions against Iraq reaching the genocidal proportions.
The Untouchables of India
The least challenged racism remains that of Indian Caste system. Indo-Aryans started the Caste system in India after they conquered it, to preserve their racial purity in India. Now the Caste system is a part of Hinduism. The Hindu religious name for the Caste system is Verna, which literally means color system. Darker-skinned people, Dravidians, who were defeated by Aryans, became outcaste or Untouchables of the Verna system.
The following list gives a broad idea of what untouchabilty means:
- Denial or restriction of access to public facilities, such as well, schools, roads, post offices, and courts.
- Denial or restriction of access to temples where their presence might pollute the deity as well as the higher caste worshippers, and from resthouses, tanks, and shrines connected to temples. Untouchables... are forbidden to learn the vedas (the earliest and most sacred books of orthodox Hinduism).
- Exclusion from any honorable, and most profitable, employment and relegation to dirty or menial occupations.
- Residential segregation...by requiring them to remain outside the village.
- Denial of access to services such as those provided by barbers, laundrymen, restaurants, shops, and theaters or requiring the use of separate utensils and facilities within such places.
- Restrictions on style of life, especially in the use of goods indicating comfort or luxury. Riding on horseback, use of bicycles, umbrellas, footwear, the wearing of gold and sliver ornaments, the use of palanquins to carry bridegrooms...
- Requirements of deference in forms of address, language, sitting and standing in presence of higher castes.
- Restrictions on movement. Untouchables might not be allowed on roads and streets within prescribed distance of the houses or persons of higher castes.
- Liability to unremunerated labor for the higher castes and to the performance of menial services for them. (Marc Galanter, Competing Equalities: Law and the Backward Classes in India, (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1984), P. 15.
According to the Indian census of 1980, there were 200 million "Untouchables" of the lowest Castes. These 200 to 300 Castes are subjected to very inhuman treatment based on practices advocated in the Hindu religious manual Manu Smriti. The life, property and honor of Untouchables still remains threatened by the higher Castes.
Pollution and purification are key concepts in the Caste system. They are based on Hindu beliefs that each Caste group can maintain its status by restricting contact with the "polluting" effects of the lower Castes and by regulating its contact with objects thought to be inherently impure.
Caste members customarily marry only members of their own Caste. There are about 3,000 Castes and more than 25,000 sub-Castes in India, some with only several hundred members and others with millions.
The tragedy is that with the rise of Hindu religious nationalism nowadays, the Caste system is regaining its power, shaken a bit by modernization. Most wealth and power is by and large in the hands of the top three percent of Castes in India."
Tribalism also remains a source of death and destruction. There are two notable examples from this century
1. Rwanda (Central Africa)-1994
Over a period of 100 days, beginning April 6, 1994, up to 800,000 members of the Tutsi tribe were killed by another tribe, Hutus.
Hutus used clubs and machetes to kill. As many as 10,000 were murdered each day.
2. Afghanistan-1989-present-1.2 million killed due to civil war, 2 million permanently disabled.
When the last of the colonial empires, the former Soviet Union, invaded Afghanistan in 1979, most Afghans were united in their fight against this oppressor.
However, with the withdrawal of the former Soviet Union from Afghanistan in 1989, things have worsened with bitter warfare amongst the country's various tribes.
The Taliban group controls the capital of Kabul and approximately two-thirds of the country including the predominantely ethnic Pashtun areas in southern Afghanistan. Opposing factions have their stronghold in the ethnically diverse north.
May Allah help human beings live in peace with each other. Ameen.
Photo Attribution: "Apartheid Museum Entrance, Johannesburg" by Annette Kurylo - Own work. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Apartheid_Museum_Entrance,_Johannesburg.JPG#mediaviewer/File:Apartheid_Museum_Entrance,_Johannesburg.JPG