It is a maxim of ours that lack of education leads to ignorance and ignorance leads to cultural supremacism, a dangerous form of religious prejudice and racism. We find this in many comments from America’s writers on Afghanistan and its largest ethnic group, the Pashtuns. These writers can only acknowledge the history of the region from the invasion of Alexander.
But cultural supremacism can itself be a central tendency in some people and their practiced ignorance can be the result of their deeply held supremacist attitudes. To paraphrase the famous judicial statement about pornography, we know cultural supremacism when we see it or feel it.
We felt and saw an example of such cultural supremacism in an article in Time Magazine. Let us describe below why we feel so.
On December 25, 2009, Time Online published an article by a Christopher Allbritton from Islamabad titled Pakistan’s Turmoil Endangers Its Archaeological Treasures. In this article, Mr. Allbritton describes his views of the historical kingdom of Gandhar and how the ruins of Gandhar are being destroyed in the Taleban violence. This is an important topic and it was good of Mr. Allbritton to write about it.
Gandhar is a favorite topic of ours and we looked forward to reading this article.
Gandhar is an extremely important part of Indian history. Indian Culture was developed on the banks of the Saraswati & Sindhu (or Indus) rivers. So the Gandhar-Kashmir region is a deeply central part of Indian culture.
The history of Gandhar is deeply woven into the Great Indian epics of Ramayan & Maha-Bharat. Gandhari, the princess of Gandhar, was the queen of the Kuru Dynasty in Hastinapur (near today’s Delhi). Her brother Shakuni was the mastermind of the plot that eventually led to the great Maha-Bharat War. Shallya, the King of Gandhar, became the charioteer of Karna in the great final battle between Karna & Arjun. Kaikeyi. the step-mother of Shri Ram, the most venerated figure in Indian Civilization and considered to be a flawless Avatar of God on earth, was a princess of Kaikeya, a sovereign of Gandhar.
- The city of Taskha-Shila is considered to have been named after Taksha, the son of Bharat – the brother of Shri Ram and an eternal symbol of a brother’s dharma.
But what did we find as we read the Allbritton article? The 3rd paragraph begins with the sentence:
- “The Gandhara kingdom and its art are important because it shows the impact of Hellenistic influence brought by Alexander the Great and his Macedonians (emphasis ours).”
Here it is in plain English. The importance of Gandhar derives from and only from the influence of Alexander and the Greek influence he brought with him. This is the definition of cultural supremacism, in our opinion. The deep roots of Gandhar in Indian history and its rich contribution to culture and education in pre-Alexander period seem to be completely irrelevant to Mr. Allbritton.
Mr. Allbritton then proceeds to ignore history after Alexander by jumping to the Bamiyan statues of 1500 years ago (so around 500 CE), about 700 years after Alexander. He describes the Buddhist history of Gandhar without any picture of how Buddhism came to Gandhar. So let us fill in the blanks left by Mr. Allbritton:
- It was young Chandra-Gupt (or Sandro-Cotus in Greek literature) who established the Maurya Empire and defeated Selecus I, the great general and ruler after Alexander. Selecus ceded all Indian (including today’s Afghanistan) lands invaded by Alexander to Chandra-Gupt. The Mauryan empire reached its zenith under the great Ashok, one of the greatest emperors in the history of the world (see map below left).
- Ashok embraced the nascent Buddhist tenets and spread them far and wide from Persia to the west, to China & beyond in the north and to Far East Asia in the east (see map below right). This is why, in the eyes of many, Emperor Ashok is ranked next only to Buddha in the history of Buddhism. The Ashok-Chakra, the symbol of Ashok, adorns the center of India’s flag.
- The most celebrated king of Gandhar was Kanishka I, a couple of hundred years after Emperor Ashok. Kanishka was a Kushan king and his reign extended all the way to Tibet. This was the golden era of Gandhar Buddhism. In this entire period, Gandhar and the Indo-Gangetic plain were under one sovereign and the culture of Gandhar was intricately woven into Indian culture.
(Mauryan Empire) (Greek-Aramiac inscription of Ashok in Kandahar) (Spread of Buddhism by Ashok)
But Mr. Allbritton’s article is about Archaeological Treasures and not about history. This was our own initial opinion until we read the article again.
It seems to us that Mr. Allbritton goes out of his way to describe the relationship of Gandhar with the rest of Asia and Persia while completely ignoring its deep relationship with Indian Religion or Indian History:
- “Likewise Gandharan Buddhist art reached as far as China, Korea, and Japan. After it became part of the pre-Islamic Persian Empire, Gandhara’s culture went on to influence artistic developments in the Middle East.”
- “Taxila should be a showcase of that civilization. Today a town about 20 miles northwest of Islamabad, it was a center of Buddhist learning, a must-visit for travelers like Xuanzang seeking Buddhist scripture and wisdom.”
- “Formerly part of the Persian Empire, Taxila was one of Alexander’s conquests and is today a World Heritage Site.”
Taxila is the Anglicized version of Taksha-Shila, considered to be the oldest university in the world. It was a great seat of Vedic learning, long before Emperor Ashok introduced Buddhism to the area. Chanakya, the great economist, strategist and teacher of
Chandra-Gupt, taught at Taksha-Shila before Alexander’s invasion. Chanakya went to Patli-Putra, the then capital of India (in today’s Bihar) to persuade the Nand dynasty emperor to march west to fight Alexander. He failed. Then Chanakya teamed up with a young man in his teens called Chandra-Gupt who was in Taksha-Shila at that time. This duo raised an army, overthrew the Nand dynasty and formed the Maurya empire. The rest is history even if Allbritton chooses to ignore it.
To describe Taxila as a former part of the Persian Empire is to reduce Europe’s history to a one-liner as a former part of the Hun Empire. It would be a mere fraction of the whole truth and an attempt to defame history. This is just one example of Allbritton’s perversion of history.
In our opinion, the article by Mr. Allbritton exhibits a deep-seated cultural supremacism and includes a deliberate attempt to rewrite history according to his own biases. Based on our analysis above, we also opine that his ignorance of the Gandhar history is not accidental but deliberate. It reminds us of the perversion of Indian history practiced by many British Historians of the 19th & 20th century.
The Behavior of Time’s Editorial Board
At this Blog, we take great pains to be fair to people we criticize. So we took the time and effort to reach out to Time’s editors. Our request was to speak to one of the editors or to the managing editor of Time about our concerns. We also requested the opportunity to speak with Christopher Allbritton, the writer of the article. Our requests went unheeded.
After our persistent attempts, we received an email from an assistant of the managing editor of Time informing us that he “is not available to discuss this at this time. If you’d like to write a letter or e-mail with your point of view, we would be happy to consider it for publication.“
So, we wrote this article to describe our point of view.
We also approached the Corporate Communication Officers of both Time Magazine and of Time Warner, the corporate parent. We were told by an assistant of the Senior Vice President for Corporate Communications that “if she is interested, then she will respond“. Since she has not responded to us, we can only conclude that the Senior Vice President is not interested in our concerns about a supremacist bias at Time Magazine.
The Need for an Anti-Defamation League for Indian Culture & Indian History?
The article by Mr. Allbritton and the contemptuous dismissal of our concerns by Time Warner raises issues about cultural supremacism, perversion of history and potentially about defamation of an entire culture and civilization. Unfortunately, this behavior is all too common in European-American media.
We are doing what we can to bring what we see to the attention of our readers. But, the frequency of such behavior and the acceptance by the corporate offices of the offending media leads us to wonder whether the time has come for an Anti-Defamation League type organization in America for Indian Culture, Indian History & Indian Religion.
As far as this article is concerned, let us know if you disagree with us. If you concur with any part of our article, send your comments to Time Magazine (at firstname.lastname@example.org), to Time Warner Corporate Communications and to the Board of Directors of Time Warner.
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