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Indigenous Responses to Imperialism

Posted March 29th, 2018 at 01:30 PM by Futurist

Indigenous Responses to Imperialism

Imperialism and colonialism represent two powerful processes that simultaneously brought the world together and apart. In the 18th, 19th, and early 20th centuries, the territorial expansion of nation-states in the world produced a range of indigenous responses to foreign rule—its justification, its methods, and its consequences. In this essay, I will discuss the responses of Abd al-Rahman al-Jabarti, Mahatma Gandhi, Bahadur Shah, and Jomo Kenyatta to foreign—specifically European—rule and the similarities and differences between these responses.

All of the people mentioned above strongly criticized European colonialism in certain ways. In 1798, in An Egyptian Reaction to French Occupation, Egyptian scholar and chronicler Abd al-Rahman al-Jabarti “portrayed the French occupiers of Egypt as godless invaders” who are “inspired by false ideals” (Pollard 565). To elaborate on this, al-Jabarti criticized the French for their belief that all people are created equal, for not being consistent in their application of this belief of theirs, for allowing women to go unveiled and to exhibit no modesty, for their lack of manners and sanitary practices (specifically in regards to bathroom habits), for not believing in any religion, and for being “materialists who deny all [of] God's attributes” (Pollard 565). Like al-Jabarti's criticism of the French occupiers of Egypt over a century earlier, in his 1909 book Hind Swaraj, Indian nationalist leader and independence activist Mahatma Gandhi criticizes the British for having a different and worse culture in comparison to Indians (Pollard 714-715). To elaborate on this, similar to al-Jabarti in regards to the French in Egypt, Gandhi criticizes the British for causing “India [to] becom[e] irreligious[,]” amd for being materialists rather than “elevat[ing] the moral being” (Pollard 715). In addition to this, Gandhi also criticizes the British for impoverishing India, for keeping the Indian people “in a state of slavery[,]” for “behav[ing] insolently towards [Indians,] and [for] disregard[ing Indians'] feelings” (Pollard 714-715). Indeed, both al-Jabarti and Gandhi criticize Europeans for bringing a foreign, worse, and inferior culture to their countries and call on the people of their countries to oppose and resist the Europeans occupation of their countries as well as to reject European culture, values, morals, and technology.

In contrast to both al-Jabarti and Gandhi, both Jomo Kenyatta and Bahadur Shah focus more on European exploitation of their countries as opposed to on European culture, values, and morals. In his 1937 book Facing Mount Kenya, Kenyan independence activist and future Kenyan President Jomo Kenyatta provides a damning critique of the Europeans' exploitation of Kenya and mistreatment of the Kenyan people while also embracing certain aspects of European culture and technology (Pollard 715-716). To elaborate on this, in this book, Kenyatta criticizes the Europeans for robbing his Gikuyu (Kikuyu) people of their land, which in turn robs the Gikuyu people not only of their livelihood but also of “the material symbol that holds family and tribe together” (Pollad 715). If that wasn't bad enough, Kenyatta points out that the Europeans are “adding insult to injury[]” when they claim that their destruction of Gikuyu social, moral, and economic life is done “for the sake of the [Gikuyu people]” so that they can become “civilized” and adopt “European progressive ideas” (Pollard 715). While Kenyatta points out that “[t]here certainly are some progressive ideas among the Europeans[,]” such as “material prosperity, … medicine, … hygiene, and literacy[,]” he also points out that “the Europeans who visit Africa have not been conspicuously zealous in imparting these parts of their inheritance to the Africans[] and seem to think that the only way to do it is by police discipline and armed force” (Pollard 715). In addition to this, Kenyatta criticizes the Europeans for robbing the Kikuyu people of their land, forcing the Kikuyu people to work for the Europeans rather than for themselves, “rob[bing the Kikuyu] of [their] government, condemn[ing the Kikuyu people's] religious ideas, and ignor[ing the Kikuyu people's] fundamental conception of justice and morals, all in the name of civilization and progress” (Pollard 715). Indeed, Kenyatta points out that “[i]f Africans[—including the Gikuyu people—]were left in peace on their own lands, Europeans would have to offer them the benefits of white civilization in real earnest before they could obtain the African labout which they want so much” (Pollard 715). To elaborate on this, Kenyatta argues that the Europeans “would have to offer the African a way of life which was really superior to the one his fathers lived before him, and a share in the prosperity given them by their command of science” (Pollard 715). Indeed, unlike both al-Jabarti and Gandhi, Kenyatta certainly doesn't reject all aspects of European civilization but rather supports allowing Africans (including his Gikuyu people) to “choose what parts of European culture would be beneficially transplated[] and [to determine] how they could be adapted” (Pollard 715). In turn, this appears to show that Kenyatta had a more (perhaps much more) flexible, pragmatic, and tolerant mentality than both al-Jabarti and Gandhi had.

Like Jomo Kenyatta in his 1937 book Facing Mount Kenya, Indian Mughal Emperor Bahadur Shah focuses on condemning and criticizing the European (specifically English) exploitation of his country in the 1857 Azamgarh Proclamation (which was created during the 1857-1858 Indian Rebellion against Britain). However, unlike Kenyatta, Bahadur Shah does not offers any praise for any aspects of European civilization and instead only focuses on criticizing Britain and its exploitation of India (Pollard 603). To elaborate on this, Bahadur Shah criticizes the British for bringing “tyranny and oppression” to India, for its extortion of the Indian people, for “monopoliz[ing] the trade of all the fine and valuable merchandise[ (]such as indigo, cloth, and other articles of shipping[),]” for imposing “customs and stamp fees,” for “throw[ing Indian] wavers, … cotton dressers, … carpenters, … blacksmiths, and … shoemakers[]” out of business, and for their hostility towards both Hinduism and Islam (Pollard 603). As one can tell, Bahadur Shah's list of criticisms and condemnations against Britain certainly doesn't exhibit any praise for Britain or for British values, culture, and technology. Indeed, in this regard, Bahadur Shah is very similar to both al-Jabarti and Gandhi—both of whom likewise did not exhibit any praise for European culture and values.

In their responses to foreign—specifically European—rule (its justification, its methods, and its consequences), Egyptian scholar and chronicler Abd al-Rahman al-Jabarti, Indian nationalist and independence activist Mahatma Gandhi, Indian Mughal Emperor Bahadur Shah, and Kenyan independence activist and future Kenyan President Jomo Kenyatta all advocate in favor of independence, self-determination, an end to European exploitation of their countries, and having their countries be able to determine their own futures. In this regard, all of these independence activists either implicitly or explicitly rejected European and Western concepts such as European supremacism, White supremacism, and the “White Man's Burden.” In addition to this, all of these independence activists argued that their countries and people are capable of governing themselves and should be able to determine their own future and destiny. In this regard, these independence activists (especially al-Jabarti, Bahadur Shah, and Mahatma Gandhi—all of whom made these arguments before the start of World War I) were ahead of their time in the sense that they embraced the concept of national self-determination before many, if not most, Europeans and White people embraced this concept. Thus, one can certainly argue that al-Jabarti, Bahadur Shah, Mahatma Gandhi, and even Jomo Kenyatta (who made this arguments relatively late—in 1937) were trailblazers who helped pave the way for the massive decolonization which occurred throughout the world in the years and decades after the end of World War II (in 1945).

In addition to this, one can argue that all of these independence activists can be compared in a way to modern anti-corruption and pro-democracy activists, including in the West. After all, just like modern anti-corruption and pro-democracy activists advocate against abuses of power by the government (and also by the elites) and against corruption and exploitation of the common people, these independence activists argued against the European exploitation of their countries and against the corruption and excesses of the Europeans who conquered and colonized their countries. Indeed, unlike these other three independence activists, Indian Mughal Emperor Bahadur Shah was even involved in armed resistance against the European power (in this case, Britain) who conquered and colonized his country (in this case, India) due to his desire to quickly eliminate British rule in India by whatever means necessary.

In addition to the information above, it is worth noting that both al-Jabarti and Gandhi placed a very large focus on the Europeans' indecent morals, values, and cultures whereas both Kenyatta and Bahadur Shah placed much more value on the Europeans' abuses and exploitation of their countries. Indeed, unlike both al-Jabarti and Gandhi, both Kenyatta and Bahadur Shah don't talk that much about Europeans' morals and cultures. In addition to this, unlike the rest of these independence activists, Jomo Kenyatta actually exhibited some praise for Europeans and for European ideas and technology. Indeed, unlike these other three independence activists, Jomo Kenyatta actually recognizes and acknowledges that not all European things and ideas are bad but that rather some of these European things and ideas, such as material prosperity, modern medicine, hygiene, and literacy, are actually very good things that Africans (and other non-White peoples) should be entitled to. In this regard, Kenyatta's argument is certainly unique. After all, unlike these three other independence activists (who appear to reject all aspects of European culture), Jomo Kenyatta argues that the Europeans are able to bring benefits to Africa but instead bring harm to Africa due to the fact that the Europeans' values, morals, goals, and priorities are very misguided. In this regard, Kenyatta is certainly extremely spot-on. After all, as data over the last century has shown, the introduction of European ideas such as material prosperity, modern medicine, literacy, sanitation, and hygiene certainly resulted in both an extremely significant increase in life expectancy in non-White counties and in rapid and large-scale economic growth and development in many non-White countries. Thus, while al-Jabarti, Bahadur Shah, Mahatma Gandhi, and Jomo Kenyatta all certainly want to do what was best for their countries, Jomo Kenyatta's vision for his country appears to have been the best and the most progressive out of all of these visions. Indeed, in this regard, Jomo Kenyatta certainly deserves an extremely large amount of praise.
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