Back to Contents
REFLECTIONS ON THE EUROCENTRIC VIEW OF HISTORY
Being a physician, it appears that I have been chosen to do the postmortem of the historians from the West. A Eurocentric is defined as a narrow-minded historian of Europe of the past and the present who pays insufficient attention to the scholarship and achievements of the Afro-Asian worlds. It is someone who has a myopic view of history. Such a person does not show sufficient interest in the history of Oriental people. When Malcolm X started studying the Webster dictionary in prison., he noted the word "white" was affiliated with everything good and pure and the word "black" meant everything bad and evil. So he concluded the dictionary must have been written by a white man! The fact is the European textbooks of world history were also written by white men.
Let me begin by giving you some examples from personal experiences. When I told my professor at Indiana University eighteen years ago, that I was from Pakistan, he did not. know where Pakistan was. After I showed him Pakistan on the map. I humbly asked why we in Pakistan know so much about the USA, but even the educated people in this country don't know much about Third World countries. His reply was honest. He said, "Superior nations do not need to know much about the inferior nations except for their trade needs." Twenty years ago, when a professor at the University of Chicago asked me, "How can I tell the difference between an Indian and a Pakistani because they look alike to me" I said, "You should ask him because I myself cannot tell the difference between a German and an Englishman." I have been in this country for twenty-five years and have been a US citizen for twenty years, but it does not matter. People still ask me where I come from and when I will go back to that place. More recently, a lady in the elevator at the hospital looked at me with curiosity and asked me, "What brought you to this country?" It was Thanksgiving Day and I looked at her with a smile and said, "The same juicy turkey which brought your ancestors to the country."
Before the introduction of civilization in Europe in the Il th to the 16th century. the tribes of Europe lived a primitive life in their dress and manner of eating. and the way they fought wars. It was the educational and cultural exchange that took place during the glorious period of Muslim Spain and subsequent crusades that brought Europe out of the dark agree.
However, Europe never acknowledged the benefits it derived from Islamic culture nor give anything in return. To the contrary, Pope Leo XIII in 1885 "congratulated Christians for having tamed the barbarian nation, bringing them to civility from savagery and for being the leader and teacher of the people." Before that, English poet, Tennyson in 1842, wrote the poem, "Better Fifty Years of Europe than a Cycle of Cathay." Cathay stood for China and he meant that the history of Europe was so important where so many things were happening quickly than the boring. long history of China.
While Europeans looked down on other nations and called them barbarians, backwards, uncivilized, they always had an eye on their fertilized land and products. The expansion of the West was motivated by the hope and profit gained from the trade in spices, rubber, cotton, opium, gold, silver and not the oil. To find "the golden bird" (India) was the desires of every European sailor which finally led Columbus to discover America. Just like the oil wars of these days, those wars were to control the spice. wood, diamonds, and opium trade and other products. After having colonized those countries, they stole everything possible and took whatever they could carry back to their native country, from the Kuh-i Nur diamond to artifacts. The pattern of this imperialistic expansion had camouflaged designs. They would send explorers followed by merchants who would seek businesses. just like the East India Company, in exchange for treating a princess or other concessions. Then they would send missionaries followed by the armies.
For example out of one chapter in the famous history book, "History Generate" by Alfred Ramfield published in 1892,. there is only one chapter on the Arabs. three chapters on the Ottoman empire, two chapters on India, six chapters on the Far East, and one chapter for the rest of Asia including Iran and other countries. There is one chapter for North Africa and one for the rest of Africa. Now that leaves close to 250 chapters on. Europe itself. Another famous English "universal history" book. has four volumes on Biblical history, eleven on Greek and Roman history. twenty-seven on European history and only fifteen for the whole rest of the world.
Then, the worst thing they did of 100 years of colonial rule was to take away the language and cultural heritage of those countries. They imposed their language on them, that is, the English language on India, the French language on Algeria, and Spanish in South America and through the languages, they controlled the education. William Hunter in 1871 sent a report from India to the British government insisting that English education (without Mohammadan law) be taught to the Muslim youth in India. in order to break Muslim resistance. so that that would be more tolerant. of English rule and eventually accept foreign subjugation. Knowledge is power, the power to dominate. They developed the science of orientalism. Orientalism, as I define it, is the science of knowing the oriental people and their culture in order to subjugate. dominate and enslave them. It is an extension of Western imperialism.
Imperialism by itself is a dominating attitude over a distant society while colonization is the actual settlement and enslaving. It was their desire to create a white empire in far distant places. For example, the creation of Australia from unwanted white people, criminals from England, was a long term desire to create a country of people of their own. White man's desire to rule the rest of the world was met with cultural resistance and sometimes armed resistance. This resistance is still going on and since white people assigned the word "west" to themselves,. it can be best described as the "west and the rest" in the clash of civilizations.
Political slavery became indistinguishable from cultural slavery. Defeated people in colonies looked up to copy the dress of their masters, the language and the ways of their victor. They wanted to behave as their masters after receiving their form of education. Thus, when this colonial master left these countries, they created a class of aristocrats who would act like their master and continue to oppress the real people of those countries. The West's obsession to humiliate the rest of the world did not include just the Arab world, but extended as far as Japan and the Far East.With traditional British eurocentrism, British foreign minister. Sir Earnest Satow, himself in his diary was in conflict with the British imperialism in the 19th century.
If the British had not pursued a policy of racism against Japan, a lasting Anglo-Japanese alliance could have been formed. Similarly, in Africa, the policy of European nations depended on the country they colonized. They evolved the concept of chieftain and now the warlords to the African ruler. Everyone who was not Christian was considered barbarian.
Now let. us examine some of the eurocentric perceptions or misconceptions in other histories. Take, for example, the history of Medicine It is a well-known fact that between the 9th and the 15th century, Muslim physicians made specific original contributions in Anatomy, Physiology, Pharmacology, Pathology, Microbiology, Surgery and Medicine. They made numerous breakthroughs in the areas of drugs and developed surgical instruments, wrote extensively on diseases, developed vaccines and did operations like tracheotomy. cataract, developed anesthesia and wrote textbook of medicine. The first hospital was. developed in Baghdad in the II th century and Avicenna's textbook of medicine. The Cannon was a textbook in Europe for five centuries. They developed methods to diagnose stomach cancer, measles. smallpox. cholera and the plague. This was all 300 years before bacteriologic discoveries. However. if you read recently published book "history of medicine"; by Lyon and Pettrollis, the extensive achievements of Muslim physicians for eight centuries is described in one paragraph as Arabic medicine and characterized their contributions mainly of "preservation and compilation."
The authors conclude in this book that "certainly the Muslim physicians contributed no original ideas or developed thought, but in the period of unrest (i.e., in the dark ages, they were the preservers of knowledge." There cannot be a worse lie than this because the contributions of Arabic and Muslim physicians is well-preserved to those who do authentic research. Their instruments are well-kept in various European museums. Similarly, Muslim mathematicians developed Mathematics and Algebra which is an Arabic word., Chemistry (which comes from the word alchemy in Arabic), Physics and Astronomy, but if you read modem textbooks of Chemistry, Algebra. and Astronomy. none of the contributions of Muslim scientists are mentioned there. This is a distortion of history.
The second area of distortion of history by eurocentric historians I would like to mention is that of human rights which has been covered extensively in the previous essay.
What needs to be noted here is that not only did eurocentric historians divide the world according to their own needs into the "West" and the "East", "Middle East", "Near-East" and Far-East", the center of the measuring distance being Europe; but they also coined words for other people according to suit their own purpose. So those who sided with them, were called "moderates" or modern. Those who opposed them were called them "fanatics" and "fundamentalists." Sir Winston Churchill called Mr. Gandhi, a leader of 500 million people. "a naked fakir." This is an example of how they perceived the rest of the world. These orientalists like Sir William Muir called Prophet Muhammad an epileptic and a lunatic and the Quran, a forged book. Sir Anthony Eden, the British prime minister, said that "as long as there is the Koran on earth, there can never be peace." How can we forget so much hated and distortion of fact done in the name of scientific, objective research?
Now let me answer some of the myths that the eurocentric historians
have managed to inculcate in the minds of the general population.
Finally, what should be done? It is so painful to read these distortions of history by the writers of the history of the world now that we, the backward people. can read their languages. It is so difficult to re-write the history and undo the past. But historians of today have a role to play irrespective of their religion. The Quran specifically says, "Oh you people of the Book, cover not the truth with falsehood if you know the truth."
Now modern historians who do know the truth should write an honest apologetic review of the history and acknowledge the achievements of the oriental people, their culture and achievements and open their hearts and their books for further examination and exchange dialogue. But more importantly, as they write when the history is taking place, for example, in the last twenty years, they should write the truth about the history. For example, who started the Iran-Iraq war? Who supplied Iraq with all of the weapons? Who invited Iraq to invade Kuwait and how Saddam Hussain was made a scapegoat to punish the Iraqi people? How the ethnic cleansing is taking place in Bosnia by the Serbs and their collaborators, the European nations and the United Nations. These things are happening in front of our eyes and if we cannot correct them now, fifty years from now it will be too late and it will be just a matter of academic interest while the history of the world will be changed again in favor of the imperialist. eurocentrism must change to humanocentrism.