From the History of Multicultural Traditions in Azerbaijan

From the History of Multicultural Traditions in Azerbaijan

Maryam Seyidbayli 

Prof.Dr. Azerbaijan National Academy of Sciences,Director of Institute of the History of Science


Introduction

At the end of last century, Professor Samuel P. Huntington posited conflicts of migration as the highest rank of global conflicts while speaking about the clash of civilizations and existence of civilizational conflicts for the 21st century. In his opinion, the clash of civilizations must be marked as the conflict of culture, religion, language and appropriate units.

However, today developing theory of tetrasociology affirms that civilizations can ensure the movement of humanity towards social harmony by the means of permanent dialogue.

In view of tetrasociology, eliminating and identifying clash of civilizations, these generalities and structures is a dialogue as the mechanism of self-consciousness and cognition. But the subject is about specific dialogue. This kind of situation can happen between different civilizations, cultures, religions, outlooks, theories and thereby it becomes multicultural dialogue. With regard to tetrasociology, each conflict, no matter how global or local is the sign of absence of multicultural dialogue. Tetrasociology deals with theories of basics of civilizations which seek social harmony and eternal peace. Therefore, multicultural dialogue is related to Huntington’s thesis of "Civilizational clash”.

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India at War: The Subcontinent and the Second World War

Book Review

 

Yasmin Khan. India at War: The Subcontinent and the Second World War. New York: Oxford University Press, 2015. Pp xvi + 416. Photographs, Bibliography, and Index. $29.95 (cloth).

 

     Among the more notable consequences of the decentering of the nation state (both practically and academically) in the post-cold war era has been a move toward transnationalizing history writing. It must therefore be regarded as surprising that the same constellation of forces has also lead to a tendency to re-ground some of our narratives in more clearly delimited national perspectives. If counterintuitive at first glance, the air of paradox is quickly dispelled once we pay closer attention to which events are at issue. As a rule of thumb, the less well-known, or, 'event-like,' the event is, the more is its framing in transnational terms likely to stake a claim to being revelatory on grounds of being more than simply a narrative device. Recent works such as Vanessa Ogle's striking The Global Transformation of Time: 1870–19501 prove exemplary in this regard, moving the reader to points near and far across the globe—from the Germany to Britain to India to the Arab world, among others places. Contrary to what we might think we know about the rise of temporal awareness due to capitalist rationality and the discipline of factory work, the book instead argues that time was a phenomenon that emerged across more sites of action than is commonly understood. Conversely, according to the same rule of thumb, the better known the event is, or the more 'event-like' it is as a feature of world history, the more likely is its examination to stake an implicit claim to being revelatory on grounds of the very choice to narrate it from the standpoint of a national territory (or region) not typically imagined to have been central to its making.

     Yasmin Khan's India at War: The Subcontinent and the Second World War is a work of transnationalization that is decidedly in the second of these two veins. As such, it both puts an unexpected national society at the narrative center of the well-known story of the Second World War and it demonstrates how the war—and thus, the world—was far more important to "reshap[ing]" the domestic history of the Indian subcontinent than has heretofore been understood (xiii). Like Srinath Raghavan's similar 2016 study entitled India's War: The Making of South Asia, 1939–19452 , Khan's could be called an effort to "provincialize" World War Two if that term had not become as overused as it has since first being coined by Dipesh Chakrabarty in 2009. Like Raghavan's study, Khan's traces a lineage going back at least ten years to Sir Christopher Bayly's and Tim Harper's acclaimed 2005 book Forgotten Armies: The Fall of British Asia, 1941–1945.3

     Like its predecessor and more current counterpart, India at War is a tale told in relatively short and narratively thick chapters, some twenty-three in all, that rarely extend past twenty pages (hewing more often to the ten- to fifteen-page mark). Khan's is thus a book that is structured largely as a serial account of the years from 1939 to 1945. The survey is bound together through an underlying mission of "go[oing] one step beyond" recent writings in imperial history that have sought to demonstrate "the sheer scale of the contribution of the British Empire to the war" and the array of efforts that "Asian, African and Caribbean servicemen" made to its prosecution (xii). As suggested above, Khan seeks to do so by showing how the "gearing up for total war, and the rapid re-purposing of the Indian state into a garrison, barrack and training camp for a vast army, affect[ed] and shape[d] South Asian society" (xiixiii). In this respect, there is an important point of difference between her and Raghavan's efforts. For the story of the home front and the impacts of the war on South Asian society advert to being only two among some four other themes that Raghavan purports to braid together in his own narrative. India at War, on the other hand, gives itself an ostensibly greater freedom to inhabit its more streamlined list of preferred areas of thematic focus. (Of course, exactly to what extent this turns out to be an actual source of difference between the two books at the level of execution will be in the eye of the beholder.)

     Khan begins her book by calling our attention to the some 50,000-plus enlistees who entered the ranks of Britain's Indian Army on behalf of the empire in the first eight months of the war. (As per the title of the second chapter, this she dubs a process of turning "Peasants into Soldiers.") Tracing their movements out of the subcontinent and into the Middle East and Britain, the book paints a vivid picture of the lived experience of mobility and cultural encounter that warfare on such scale entailed. Much the same spirit is extended to the ongoing discussion of the retooling of life within the subcontinent for the purposes of supplying provisions and funding to the Allied war machine. Here Khan takes care to detail both the reactions and criticism of Indian protagonists to such new realities. She also provides a rich portrait of the influx of those from across the globe who were destined to touch down in the subcontinent as a result; importantly, in Khan's narrative, this included not just war-related personnel but also, perhaps most notably, as per Chapter Ten, the "[t]housands…who arrived in 1942 from war-torn Europe and the Middle East" (123). Among the latter, for example, were some 600 Maltese who "travelled through Turkey, escaping their besieged island" as well as "thousands of refugees from Greece and Malta" (123). Surely, the way a distant colony of the British Empire was able to take such individuals in during their time of need should still hold lessons, especially as Khan affectingly describes how refugees set down in places so distant and alien as the clearings that were made for them in the forest of Coimbatore. Of course, India at War also devotes considerable space to the influx of British and American troops into the subcontinent, particularly via the cities of Calcutta, Bombay, and Karachi.

     As the book progresses, Khan narratively touches on an array of other topics, including the Japanese war and its specific effects on those Indians whom it took eastwards as well as those parts of the subcontinent they left behind. At other times, the book brings the reader to unexpected destinations along its chronological path. Perhaps most notable in this connection is Khan's treatment of the little-known experience of the some 22,000 African American soldiers (out of a total of some 150,000 American troops) who came to India during the 1940s. Khan discusses both the climate of exoticization created by British officialdom's racialized fear about how "Aryan" Indians would react to these newcomers and also the forms of solidarity that emerged between African American GI's and the ordinary Indian men and women they encountered. The book closes, in its final chapter, by coming back to the experience of Indian sepoys, some 89,000 of whom were casualties of the war. Here, as elsewhere throughout the book, Khan weaves together her discussion of their experience with a consideration of the societies and communities that either lost them or to which they returned transformed at war's end. Here she also maintains the book's running focus on those soldiers and their families whose experience of the war as a military operation involved not fighting on behalf of the Empire as part of its forces but against it as part of Subhas Chandra Bose's vehicle of anti-colonial resistance, the Indian National Army.

     Given its overall focus, India at War is a book that is well suited for classroom instruction, whether for an introductory survey or higher level undergraduate seminar. The book provides a readily digestible narrative from what, to many, will no doubt prove a fresh perspective. In terms of sources, Khan makes use of both familiar materials as well as previously untapped evidence. In its use, for example, of letters by Indian soldiers to their families detailing their experience of the war, the book proves reminiscent of Sugata Bose's evocative and more sustained effort at doing the same to bring to life the Indian experience of the First World War. (See his A Hundred Horizons: The Indian Ocean in the Age of Empire4). At other times, Khan uncovers strikingly new dimensions of the war experience through the hard work of archival exploration. Of particular note to this reviewer was her discussion in Chapter Three of the effect of long absences and poor communications on the families of those Indians who had made their way to the Middle Eastern theaters of the war. In bringing events to life, the author spends several paragraphs on the little-known local district welfare boards that the British had set up already after World War One to facilitate support for families with loved ones stationed abroad. Originating in the Punjab, given the heavy concentration of personnel from that province, the Boards, as Khan discusses, became important institutions for decommissioned soldiers returning to the subcontinent after the twentieth century's first great global military conflagration. Subsequently, by 1940, the Raj had gone on to institutionalize similar Boards in other parts of the subcontinent, including in the North West Frontier Provinces, the United Provinces, Poona, Madras, and Rajasthan. Manned by retired British officers the Boards tended to an array of tasks. With its longer standing and more reputable history, the Punjab Board, for example, set up tehsil-level sub-boards that served as "one stop shops" for families affected by the fighting to lodge grievances and obtain news about the progress of the war, for ex-soldiers to get help with finding employment, for widows and the elderly to obtain payments and other kinds of grant aid, and for the wounded to seek out treatment in government hospitals. As the author additionally reveals, "[t]he boards were also the chief channels for remittances, an important function as men often handed over more than three-quarters of their wage to their families." At the same time, Khan makes clear that throughout the Boards retained their underlying political role. In the case of Punjab Board, for example, regardless of what else it did, its "main preoccupation" was with "helping to enlist men and 'counteracting anti-recruitment propaganda.'" Likewise, in the case of the welfare board in Assam, Khan notes that it was "used to 'deny false rumours spread by enemy agents'" (3738).

     Such key moments aside, throughout, India at War remains a book sustained by the propulsive momentum of the war itself, whether for better or for worse. In this respect, it moves briskly along, rarely having time—or, perhaps, the intent—to find a plane of analysis that reaches beyond the narrative's basic embedded argument about the war being not just a 'world' event but an Indian one or, conversely, about India not just being a colony or Asian periphery but an integral part of the world. The author does, at various points, also fleetingly come back to observations about the "differing vantage points of Britons and Indians" and the way these could not be made to "converge in the face of wartime changes" (196). This line of analysis, however, tends to be made manifest largely through such express moments of declaration rather than in a way that structures the organization or ongoing priorities of the book. While India's centrality to the war effort and the centrality of its impact on Indian society is hardly an unimportant insight—and, clearly, one that is unimpeachable from the standpoint of what is generally seen as cutting edge in history writing—to some readers it may still prove somewhat weightless. Yet even for those readers for whom such is likely to be the case, much can still be gained from Khan's well-researched, briskly-paced, and detail-rich narrative. In particular, there are the reflections that India at War can be made to inspire about the multiple incarnations that transnationality now takes within history writing and about more specific possibilities or limitations that each may offer.

Faisal Chaudhry is a historian of South Asia and legal scholar who focuses on the global history of legal and economic ideas as well as contemporary issues concerning law and economic development. He is currently Visiting Assistant Professor at the University of Arizona, James E. Rogers College of law. He can be reached at fchaudhry@email.arizona.edu.

 

Notes

1 Vanessa Ogle, The Global Transformation of Time: 1870–1950 (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2015).

2 Srinath Raghavan, India's War: World War II and the Making of Modern South Asia (New York: Basic Books, 2016).

3 Christopher A. Bayly and Tim Harper, Forgotten Armies: The Fall of British Asia, 1941–1945 (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2005).

4 Sugata Bose, A Hundred Horizons: The Indian Ocean in the Age of Global Empire (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2006).

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Iran in World History

   

Book Review

 

Richard Foltz, Iran in World History. New York: Oxford University Press, 2016. Pp. ix + 151. Index. $19.95 (paper).

     This text is a new addition to Oxford University Press series: New Oxford World History.  The series has three divisions: Chronological Volumes (such as The World from Beginnings to 4000 BCE and The World in the Twentieth Century), Thematic and Topical Volumes (for example, The City: A World History to Democracy: A World History) and Geographical Volumes (including The Atlantic in World History and Russia in World History).  Richard Foltz's text is of course the newest addition to the last group, Geographical Volumes.

     Foltz is a scholar of Iranian history with a particular focus on religion. He is Professor of Religion and founding director of the Center for Iranian Studies at Concordia University in Montreal, Canada.   In fact, several of his previous books address religion in Iran and on the Silk Road.  Two other important areas of interest for >Professor Foltz are animal rights and the environment, and these interests are reflected in several of his other works.

     While the chapters are arranged chronologically, they generally connect the time period to a particular group or civilization that was important to Iranian history at the time.  For example, Chapter Two covers the time period 550 – 247 BCE during which Iran and the Greeks were in contact.  As Foltz notes, "For centuries to come, large numbers of Greeks and other ethnic groups would spend long periods as Persian subjects, especially in Anatolia and Mesopotamia, fostering considerable interaction and mutual influence between the two civilizations" (21).  Chapter Seven explores the rise of Reza Khan1 and the Western impact on the modernization of Iran from 1925 to 1979.  As Foltz explains, Reza Khan was able to accomplish modernization by using fierce power to crush the tribal influence, suppressing the Shi'ite clergy and installing Western institutions like "schools, hospitals, law courts, banks, factories, and communications systems" (97).  All these innovations led to profound changes, especially for Iranian women.  

     Foltz begins his discussion of Iran with a chapter on the land and the language of the Iranian people from 3500550 BCE.  Iranians are the blend of East Asian Aryans (similar peoples moved into Greece and India), a nomadic – warrior people.  The indigenous people of Persia at the time of encounter were an agricultural people.  The two developed an uneasy relationship.  An important development during this formative period in Iranian history was the rise of Zoroastrianism – an early religion of the Persian people.  It is believed to be the first monotheistic religion and was influential in shaping some aspects of Judaism, Christianity and Islam.  

     Chapter Three explores the Roman encounter with several of the Central Asian steppes peoples, exceptional and innovative warriors who used the horse, the chariot and the bow in new ways.  Foltz again makes note of another important religio-cultural exchange in the spread of the Persian cult of Mithras (a deity associated with warriors) from the Parthians to the Roman army.  The cult became wide-spread throughout the Roman Empire.  During this period from 247 BCE to 651 CE a millennium-long era of geopolitical balance between the Greco-Roman world and that of various Iranian civilizations was established. 

     As its title suggests and Foltz clearly demonstrates, Chapter Four, "The Iranization of Islam," is packed with examples of Iranian cultural and religious influence upon the conquering Arab Muslims.  One is the Book of Righteous Viraz, which is believed to have inspired the story of Muhammad's "Night Journey" (Mi'raj) and is not found in the Qur'an.  Another example is Sharia, Islamic law that was actually developed by scholars of the Iranian world.  The growth of Sufism, Islamic mysticism, was nurtured in eastern Iran by Iranian spiritual masters.  Finally, Iranian literary works were translated into Arabic, not because Arabic was thought to be superior, but to ensure the spread of Iranian literature throughout the caliphate. 

     Occupation and foreign rule of the Persian Empire are the foci of Chapters Five and Six.  Chapter Five recounts the story of Turkic slave soldiers under the leadership of Mahmud of Ghazna who were the first to dominate Persia.  Many of these Turks, whose origins were in Central Asia, were in fact half-Persian, their fathers having married Persian women.  Thus they were likewise at least marginally Muslim.  Foltz compares the Turk-Persian coalition to that of the earlier Romans and Greeks, Turks being the militarily skilled and the Persians possessing the superior culture.  Ultimately each had a need of the other. 

     The Turkic people expanded into South Asia before being replaced by a new group of Central Asians: the Seljuks.  The Seljuks continued the expansion of the Persian Empire westward into Christian territories in Anatolia and beyond.  The Seljuks were eventually replaced by Genghis Khan's Mongol tribes.  Although the overall result of the Mongol invasions was a so-called "Pax Mongolica," bringing "free" trade to the region and the Silk Road, the Mongols showed little respect for Persian cultural artifacts, bringing destruction to many Persian cultural centers.  Ultimately Persian culture and civilization was restored by the invasion of the Central Asian Uzbeks.  Even today Turkic speaking peoples play important roles in Iran.  

     Chapter Six shifts the focus of foreign intervention in Persian affairs to the West.  European nations were somewhat late in coming to the Middle-East, but with the advent of the modern era two European powers focused on Iran: Russia and Great Britain.  These two used military power, money (loans to the Iranian rulers), and Christian missionaries to "conquer" Iran.  Military force was the least necessary of the three tools used by Europeans.  With the rise of Naser od-din to power in the late nineteenth century (his rule lasted forty-nine years) Europeans found they were welcome in the region at least by the power elites.  With carrot and stick (financial loans and threats of military force) both Russia and Great Britain soon divided up the pie that was Iran.  European Christian missionaries made inroads by constructing medical facilities and schools.  Following the assassination of Nasar internal movements to modernize Iran gained support as a means to reject European efforts.  The early years of the twentieth century witnessed the formation of a parliament and the writing of a constitution.  However all of these changes merely set the stage for the rise of Reza Kahn and a return to dictatorship.  

     Foltz closes his history of Iran appropriately with the rise of the Islamic Republic of Iran following the fall of the Shah in 1979.  It is a detailed retelling of recent and important history that profoundly affects the world we all live in today. 

     For all its many good points the book is lacking in at least one particularly irritating (for the academic at least) short-coming: the absence of ample notes.  Foltz and or the editors leave the reader wanting more information in support of various claims made.  For instance, in Chapter Three, Foltz evinces that within the Parthian Empire religious tolerance abounded.  Foltz gives as an example "the idea of an impending apocalypse, which first appeared as a Judeo-Greek text claiming to be an ancient Persian prophecy" (31): the Oracles of Hystaspes.  Although, Foltz notes that the vision presented in Hystaspes was known to John of Patmos, the Christian author of the Christian Book of Revelation, and used it as the basis of his apocalyptic vision2 he does not give us the sources of his very interesting information.

     This wonderful, slim volume is clear, detailed, and well-written. Foltz argues persuasively throughout the text that Iran's importance, not only today, but for over twenty-five centuries makes it an important region for study.  The text is a brief yet highly comprehensive history of Iran and its environs.  Because of this, it is well situated within the discipline of world history and more particularly the history of the Middle East.  The book also explores the diverse influences on Iran, culturally, politically, and economically. However, I do not believe it fits well in a World History survey course due to its narrow scope – covering only one region.  For a specific course on Iran it seems too general to serve.  That said it would fit best in a history of the Middle East.  Moreover, sections of the text could serve well in a history of ancient and/or modern empires course. 

Terry D. Goddard is recently retired from Northwest Vista College, San Antonio, Texas, where he taught World History and World Religions.  He can be reached at terrydgoddard@gmail.com.

 

Notes

1 Foltz's introduces the first Shah as noted above as Reza Khan.  Once Reza Khan becomes head of state he takes the "dynastic name Pahlavi" (96).  Thereafter Foltz uses the more common title of Reza Shah. 

2 I was able to access information about the Oracles and its use by John of Patmos at the following website.   http://orion.mscc.huji.ac.il/symposiums/9th/papers/WermanAbstract.html

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