The Orientalists vs. the white supremacists

“My elders used to refer to the British as ‘upstarts’ – in private of course. The British referred to us as Asiatics. The denigration associated with this term was such that, after independence, it was replaced by the term ‘Asians.’ Not all of our rulers were, however, ignorant.

The Orientalists of Europe recognised the artistic and craft skills, as well as the writings and philosophies of the ancient civilisations of Asia. The thoughts underlying the philosophies relating to governance, the nature of the Cosmos, and humanity’s place within it, are probably the most insightful, complex, and durable of anything ever written or spoken of. The civilisations of China, India and Persia come to mind. Pre-colonial India and Persia were very much larger in size during historical times.

Asia produced beautiful art, poetry, fabrics, new technologies, mathematicians, astronomers, and ships which traded seemingly in all the seas long before European seamen took to searching for the route to the spices of the so-called Indies from about the sixteenth century. It is said that Vasco da Gama was shown the route past Cape Good Hope by Indian sailors then in Portugal.

In contrast to the Orientalists, some sectors of academe in Europe during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries supported the spurious claim that European (viz. white) people are innately superior to coloured people everywhere. Their case goes like this. The philosophers of Athens were the cultural ancestors of Europe’s learning; the ancient civilisations of the lands now termed Egypt, Mesopotamia, India and China, and the Arab peoples in more recent times, could not have taught Europe anything because they were black, and thereby inferior!

What puffery! Athens is believed to have been established by ancient Egypt, and Athenians such as Pythagoras are known to have studied in Egypt for years. The contributions of knowledge and of technology to mankind by the ancient ‘black’ civilisations, and the role of the Arabs in introducing these to Europe are now well documented. Immature youth can, of course, pretend to be cleverer than their parents and teachers! Indeed, recently a Western economic historian claimed for that peninsula known as Europe the great contributions to human civilisation by the Mesopotamians. To him, the West is Eurasia. This includes, in particular, Western Asia. How opportunistic! Should he not want to include Persia and India as extensions of Europe?”

( Is this not interesting history? These extracts were included in ‘Empires gone and going’ in ‘Musings at Death’s Door’ to prepare us for the future. Empires do not last, although they may leave some worthwhile benefits for us all.

What is the power-status of the former colonial European nations, with their empires gone for ever? Even acting in concert did not enable them to control Afghanistan. Could they have not learnt from Russia and colonial Britain?)