The massive failure to provide education, particularly to girls, has compounded the instability and economic backwardness throughout the Muslim world, said Dr. Burak Akçapar during an ICHR Memorial Lecture
By Manzar Imam
The author is a Ph. D. student at the Academy of International Studies, Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi.
Jihadist forces are not new. However, what is different today is that they were not able to hold the entire Muslim world hostage to their extremist views, said Dr. Burak Akçapar, Ambassador of the Republic of Turkey to India. He was delivering a Memorial Lecture on “Connected Histories of Humanitarianisms: A Rejoinder” on “National Education Day” commemorating birth anniversary of India’s first education minister, Maulana Abul Kalam Azad. The lecture was organized by the Indian Council of Historical Research (ICHR) at Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts on Monday, 30th November, 2015.
Tracing Indo-Turkish historical linkages, the Ambassador said that the Republic of India’s first cultural cooperation agreement with any country was signed in Turkey on June 29, 1951. It was signed by a towering freedom fighter, political leader, intellectual, educator and humanitarian Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, who was also a longtime friend of Turkey. Turks remembered him from the July 13, 1912 edition of the Al-Hilal journal in which he had opposed the Italian soldiers’ action in (Tripoli) Libya. The Ambassador then referred to a press conference on February 18, 1947 where Azad had articulated about a truly liberal and humanitarian education which he hoped would transform people and set them on the path to progress and prosperity.
The lecture underscored the significance of the Indian Medical Mission to the Ottoman Empire during the Balkan Wars of 1912-13 highlighting its “political and humanitarian efforts”. Drawing a parallel between humanitarianism and pan-Islamism, Akcapar said that both were subjects of “history with challenges” with “current connotations” because “we can view the past and understand it through the eyes of the present”.
He mentioned two of Maulana Azad’s very many passions and intellectual and political pursuits: namely humanitarianism and pan-Islamism. Both these concepts, he said, carry completely different connotations today from what they meant to Azad during his time. It is daunting to invoke these terms and not be caught up with their negative implications, he said indicating towards the complexities and challenges such topics posed before the historians in the process because, a “historian is not immune to the refractions caused by ideological biases”. He urged to develop a body of “connected history” that shows history of places, things and images.
While paying tributes to Dr. Mukhtar Ahmed Ansari who headed the Medical Mission, the Ambassador said that the mission which had begun after the onslaught of the Balkan Wars was “grossly underestimated” glossing over many things including the crucial period in which it took place. The results of the war were inconclusive and not less than an “utter disaster” for the Ottomans.
Ansari was chosen by the Ali brothers [Mohammad Ali and Shaukat Ali] to lead the medical team which was supported both by Hindus and Muslims. The mission not only established two field hospitals, but also did other humanitarian and political work. He said this to point out that India’s and Turkey’s relations are deep rooted in history and the two countries still have several common concerns that call for strengthening the existing ties.
While explaining the problems associated with Western historiography about such concepts as political Islam, pan-Islamism and humanitarianism, the Ambassador noted that pan-Islamism and humanitarianism were different from what was commonly understood. Among other objectives that pan-Islamism meant as also understood and practiced by leaders like Dr. Mukhtar Ansari, was also that it aimed at the “revival of the fortunes of the Muslim world through education” just like a similar effort that was underway in India by people trying to make Aligarh Muslim University an independent university. Another idea that Dr. Ansari pursued was the establishment of an international Muslim cooperative league. He therefore called to look at the contemporary challenge to from a “holistic or cross-culturally integrated understanding of humanitarianism.”
A reputed author and scholar, Dr. Akcapar explicated that pan-Islamism’s efforts were not only proto-nationalistic but also humanitarian, their aim was not to consolidate a global Muslim empire, nor was it to forcefully transfer a Dar-ul-Harb into a Dar-ul-Islam. It was not a response to a jihadist call with a global message as is the case before the fighters of the ISIS. It was a humanitarian undertaking. What is different today is not that violent streaks were not present then. Rather, it is that “they were not able to hold the entire Muslim world hostage to their extremist views and make believe that they represented the Muslim faith and the Muslim public opinion”, he said adding that the ISIS was a small minority, a “motley band of fanatics, ignorants, criminals, misfits, demagogues, sectarians, dictators, adventurers” who are “forcing their way on to the global public stage falsely claiming to represent the Muslim world”.
About where the Muslim world had gone wrong, the academician-diplomat said, “Instability and economic backwardness throughout the Muslim world has been compounded and perpetuated by the massive failure in providing modern education, inculcating secular systems, not inimical to religion but, rather reflecting the particular interpretations, particularly education to girls” which continue to pose problems.
While the world today looks very different from 1913 in almost every way, the problems of the Muslim world and, to a degree, the developing world, have in a sense remained not only dire but overall disappointing or similar in many respects. He made an exception by quoting the example of Turkish modernity that has followed a different path. He termed Turkey a modern economy able to undertake the presidency of the G20 countries where faith flourishes under secular governance.
The rise of humanitarianism as an idea, as a concept and, as an institution may provide an opportunity to address the root causes that make it easy for extremists of all religions to dominate international public space. “Turkey is a case in point. So are India and China.” Unlike China and India as well, a distinguished characteristic of Turkey has been how she posits herself as a connect between the east and the west and, north and south.
While urging India to look at history from a different context of being colonized and freed, he asked to look at its cultural roots asserting that a non-Western approach is an opportunity and the Indian Medical Mission is an “example of humanitarianism” whose integrated study may reveal a different story. Stating that the world is beset by humanitarian needs on a massive scale, he sought a broader working agenda beyond religious considerations. This he called “a globally-driven agenda requiring the participation to engage with every actor”.
Prof. R. S. Agarwal, a senior member of ICHR, chaired the lecture attended by members of the Embassy of the Republic of Turkey, diplomats, academicians, media persons and activists.