Tuesday, September 03, 2002

REFLECTION: Why Irf is a Turk - Struggling To Grow Cultural & Religious Toenails Without Burning My Feet in the Melting Pot!

I arrived in Sydney when I was around 5 weeks old. My parents hail from Delhi, the capital of ancient and modern India. Delhi was made the capital of the Turkish sultanates and kingdoms whose various incarnations ruled India for hundreds of years.

The last Turkish kingdom was the enlightened Mughal kingdom. The Mughals were descendants of the crazy Mongols who swept across Europe, raping and pillaging and robbing and burning and generally having a rather marvellous time … that is, until one of their rulers decided to spoil the party by adopting the faith of the people he had totally humiliated – Islam.

The Mongols virtually en masse adopted Islam and intermarried with Arabs, Turks and other ethnic groups who were already Muslims. Those who married Anatolian Turks moved south-east to Afghanistan. One of their number, Babur, decided the time had come to take over India. And that’s exactly what he did. His armies took over most of northern India, and so the Mughal Empire was born.

But not all the Mughals went with Babur. A large number chose to stay behind. When the Safavids took over the Mughal lands of western Afghanistan, these Mughals were forced to adopt the Shia sect. They still live in Afghanistan and are known as the ‘Hazara’.

Thankfully, my ancestors joined Babur. Otherwise, I would probably be on some leaky boat desperately trying to reach Australia. Or I might be sitting in a detention centre and/or on some Pacific location. Given my close ethnic affinity to the Hazaras, it is little wonder I (and so many other Australians of Indian Mughal origin and many other origins) find Mr Howard’s policies in relation to asylum seekers to be ugly and inhumane and completely illiberal. But even if the refugees were not my Hazara relatives but white farmers escaping discrimination in Zimbabwe or black Ethiopian Jews escaping discrimination of European Israel, I would still find detention of these asylum seekers abhorrent.

Why does Mr Howard do it? Doesn’t he see the inhumanity of the situation he has created? Perhaps he has realised that the least liked people in Australia are those labelled as Muslims (or ‘Moslems’). That phenomenon sometimes labelled as Islamophobia is the most popular and accepted form of racism, and some conservative politicians are jumping on the bandwagon and reaping the electoral rewards.

The Hazaras are Muslims. The Turks are Muslims. The Indian Mughals are Muslims. Virtually every Turkic tribe became Muslim (apart from the Khazars, who en masses adopted Judaism, whose descendants make up the majority of Europe’s Jewish community and some of whose descendants discriminate against black Jews in Israel).

In Turkey, being a Turk is synonymous with being Muslim. And in many places where Turks settled, their descendants are still known as Turks. In fact, even the indigenous people who adopted Islam are still known as Turks. When Serb fanatics under the leadership of Radovan Karazic slaughtered and raped Bosnian Muslims, they claimed to be ethnically cleansing their country of ‘Turks’. And Hindu fanatics who make up the majority of India's ruling party (the BJP), and who routinely attack Muslims in villages and towns across India, will usually refer to their victims as ‘Turks’.

So because I am of Turkish ancestry, I will always be labelled a Muslim. And because of my apparently being a Muslim, I am always labelled a Turk. Like it or not, I am a Turk.

And yet when I look into history, should I be ashamed of being a Turk? Definitely not. The Turks’ devotion to their faith and their self-respect was enough to win over their conquerors. Turks were known for their bravery, their tolerance and their civility. Their kingdoms were the cream of European civilisation as well as being the light of Asia and the Middle East. The Seljuks and then the Ottomans were among the most accomplished rulers of their time.

In terms of military genius, who can match the comquest of Constantinople by Mehmet the Conqueror and his army? And who can match his civility as he welcomed back the Greek communities who had fled? And not only Greeks. The Ottomans opened the doors of their empire to non-Khazar Arab-Spanish Jews who were fleeing the persecution of the Pope’s Catholic Inquisition. And any honest historian of Serbia will have to admit that the Ottomans restored the Serbian Orthodox Church (even though the Patriarch appointed happened to be the brother of the Wazir-i-Azam or Prime Minister).

There were also features of the Turkish rule in various parts of the world that one cannot be proud of. The wholesale slaughter of the spiritual movement of Guru Nanak in Punjab by the Mughal Aurangzeb was a stain on the empire and represented the beginning of its downfall. It also sowed the seeds of mistrust and resentment between Muslims and Sikhs in Punjab which would otherwise seem totally unnecessary given the enormous affinity between their spiritual traditions.

Some of the Ottomans were less interested in proper administration and more interested in increasing the numbers and varieties and females (and, in some cases, young males) to their seraglio. In doing so, they were merely living upto the unfortunate Western European stereotype of the Sultan’s ‘harem’.

Every nation has some fantastic and some bloody-awful periods in its history. You take the good with the bad. History is often used as the basis of judging a nation, a religion or a culture. Those who choose to blame Muslims for their history should look around and notice the glass that makes up their Judeo-Christian houses. Or as Christ said: “He who is without sin, let him cast the first stone”.
A lot of you may be reading this and going black-and-blue in the face. You may know me personally. Or you may not know me, and are left thinking which terrorist-training-camp I graduated from. Or you may be Muslim and thinking to yourself ‘Irf, cool it, willya!’.

My writing style can often become quite emotive and passionate. I believe there is no point compromising one’s passion for the sake of politeness. There is also no point sacrificing good friendships because of misplaced passion. And so I apologise if I offended anyone in the above paragraphs.

I guess there are a number of lessons to be gained from my misplaced passion. Firstly, more and more Aussie Turks like me are discovering their history and their heritage. Secondly, with the onset of a vicious anti-Islam crusade going on in certain pseudo-conservative arenas, their apparent goal of having the majority of weak and non-observant Muslims leaving Islam is simply not working. If anything, it is having the opposite effect. When you bash Islam, even the most nominal Muslim gets offended. And when you ask for proof, the nominal Muslim is shamed into learning about his/her faith.

I remember when the Pakistani-English novelist Salman Rushdie released his novel ‘The Satanic Verses’, a whole bunch of UK Muslims who have probably never read any book (let along his) started jumping up and down and calling for his execution. The late Ayatullah Khumayni of Iran joined in the circus. What was the result? Sales of the book went through the roof, Mr Rushdie ended up a martyr of free speech and was laughing all the way to the bank.

Pseudo-conservatives like Miranda Devine and Alan Jones and others have to realise that by attacking Islam, they are providing it with free publicity. And for that, Muslim missionaries (who are always starved of funds and resources compared to the financial juggernauts backing Christian missionary efforts) are most grateful.