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Monday, February 17, 2014

Cultural carnage

For a vanquished nation, defeat in war is not only politically and financially disastrous but also socially and culturally devastating. War expends all its resources, exhausts its energy and can possibly destroy its very civilisation.

The policy of the conquering power is to crush not only military resistance, but also moral and cultural resistance. In regard to this, there are many examples in history where conquerors burnt and pillaged libraries, as these were the repositories of the knowledge of the civilisation’s past glory and learning. Once the storehouses of knowledge were destroyed, there would no longer be any intellectual inspiration for the occupied people to help them sustain hardships or to continue to produce new ideas to resist the invading powers.
Victors have generally had three different motives to annihilate the accumulated knowledge of a defeated people. One is that once a nation has lost its past knowledge, it became intellectually barren. Having no sense of identity, it becomes easy to abandon its own culture and emulate the culture of the occupying power in the manner of slaves.

Secondly, impelled by religious fanaticism, some victors destroyed literature that contradicted their beliefs. They assumed that by doing so they would be able to convert the defeated to their own faith.

Thirdly, the invading forces destroyed all cultural activities so that the process of learning and creating new knowledge also came to an end.

When the Byzantines invaded Egypt (628 AD), the army and the missionaries burnt the famous library of Alexandria, founded by the Ptolemaic dynasty of Egypt. It had a priceless collection of rare manuscripts and scrolls on a variety of subjects like astronomy, anatomy, mathematics, engineering, physiology, geography and medicine. The fanatics believed that by burning the library, they could eliminate paganism and pave the way for conversions to their own faith.

In another instance, when Genghis Khan (d.1227) invaded Central Asia, the cultural life in the cities was devastated as libraries were burnt, scholars were killed and educational institutions were closed down. Some scholars fled their homeland, taking refuge in other countries. Intellectually, Central Asia lost its vigour and the knowledge that had been accumulated over centuries.

The successors of Genghis Khan continued with the same policy. When Hulagu Khan (d.1265) invaded the Ismaili fortress of Alamut, he gave orders for a library full of rare books to be destroyed.

Juvaini, the historian and author of Tarikh-i-Jahan Kusha, accompanied Hulagu during the attack on Alamut and managed to save a part of library by requesting the conqueror to take away some important books of his interest.
In 1258, Hulagu Khan assassinated the last Abbasid caliph and the glorious city of Baghdad, famous for its intellectual and cultural activities, was reduced to rubble. Libraries were burnt and the books thrown into the River Tigris so that the knowledge created by several generations of scholars was lost.

In the 11th and 14th centuries, the crusades transformed the culturally rich and blooming Muslim states into a wasteland bathed in blood. No scholars, but only warriors remained.

During the 15th century, when the crowns of Aragon and Castile were united under Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain, the Arab states of Al-Andalus, Toledo, Cordoba and finally Granada were invaded, bringing to an end the rich and composite culture of the Muslims, the Jews and the Christians which had enlightened Europe. The new ruler forced the Muslims and the Jews to either convert to Christianity, or leave Spain. As a result, Spain became an intellectually backward country of Europe.

There are many other instances where conquerors caused grave cultural harm to defeated nations. When a general of Mohammad Ghori invaded Bengal in 1193, he destroyed the famous Nalanda University and killed its students and teachers. We find a continuity of this approach in the modern day as well. When Serbia occupied Bosnia and Croatia, it systematically destroyed libraries and the archival material with the objective of depriving them of their history.
BY MUBARAK ALI:http://www.dawn.com/news/1087273/past-present-cultural-carnage
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