The Self-Flagellating Native Intellectual And The Quest For The Pleasures Of Empire

There is a remarkably succinct and clear moment in Gauri Viswanathan’s brilliant work Masks of Conquest: Literary Study And British Rule In India when she points out that colonizer’s self-representation:

…to native Indians through the products of his mental labor removes him from the place of ongoing colonialist activity-of commercial operations, military expansion, and administration of territories-and deactualizes and diffuses his material reality in the process…His material reality as subjugator and alien ruler is dissolved in his mental output; the blurring of the man and his works effectively removes him from history.

The colonized is unable to see the colonizer for his reality, but becomes hypnotized and bamboozled by the self-representation, so much so that the colonized become the vehicle for the perpetuation of the colonizers original self-representation. In the process, the colonized forgets the history, politics, economics and ideology that in fact inform and move the project of empire. Instead, the colonized – the subservient, the intellectually usurped native, looks back into himself and find himself lacking. In himself he sees the lesser actuality and the sordid materiality of his pathetic existence. In the colonizer he sees the ideal, the principled, the inspiring and aspired towards. And in the gap between the colonized self-image of being in a fallen state, and the colonizers exalted state, lies void into which the colonized casts his moral, and intellectual stones in the hope of building a bridge, however rickety, to traverse the distance.

There are some who argue that colonialism has ended. But as Erold Bailey argued in his paper that looked at the education system in Jamaica (see:

It is well established that former colonial societies, largely categorized as the Third World, are still affected by negative retentions of their colonial past. The education system in these states is arguably one of the most impacted in this regard…The colonial enterprise has left former colonies suffering from wounds which appear to deepen rather than heal. In virtually every aspect of their lives, former colonized people contend with the repercussions of their encounter with European colonizers.

I was reminded of all this when I came across this fantastic piece of self-flagellation and self-negation by Pakitani technology wizard Mr. Zeeshan Usmani – a man who has received dozens of awards, grants, and accolades from various institutions and think tanks in the USA, and who is repeatedly found traveling and speaking in the USA. And who, as he himself states, is developing a technology based start-up of some sort of the other.

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I have met Mr. Usmani. He is famous for developing statistical and predictive models for suicide bombings in Pakistan. These models were generously received by various American military and State department divisions because I suspect that the models were in fact are based purely on ‘domestic’ predictive factors. That is, they use past data, including local political situation and religious ideology measures, to predict future attacks but are always quiet and oblivious to politics and history. Their algorithms track Islamic fundamentalist activist and terror statements in a form pure and cleansed of any political meaning or relevance. They relegate terrorism to bio-mechanical behavior, and basically, predictable and internally consistent drive towards violence and destruction. The Americans love this stuff because it not only absolves them completely of any political, military, and economic role in the issue, but confirms that racist belief that Islam and radical Muslims are inherently violent and fanatic and that we can find predictive models to determine when, not if, but when they are going to blow themselves up.

Not only is his work in complete and absolute contradiction of the one of the largest, most extensive studies conducted about the root causes of suicide bombings – published as a book by University of Chicago’s Robert Papp called Cutting The Fuse: The Explosion Of Global Suicide Terrorism & How To Stop It,  in which he basically concluded that:

The data show that the best way to reduce suicide bombings in Afghanistan or Iraq is not to condemn Islamic extremism, but to end foreign occupations as quickly as possible.

His work is also the perfect Defense Department wet dream – it forgives/erases American imperial machinations and shenanigans, and assumes / burdens the colonized and his culture as the cause, and reason for the violence. A perfect storm of American intellectual, military, political and pundit acceptance. And in this articles – written for CNN’s iReport, and hence for mainstream, generic American consumption, we see the world view of a man who has entirely subsumed the cultural superiority, prejudice, bigotry and Orientalist depictions of him, his history and his culture, by colonial and imperial power, and he does so by pleading to be let in to the civilization he so considers to be better and more civilized:

I don’t mind anymore when someone takes me out for “special screening” at the airports as the probability of picking me “Randomly” is 100%. I don’t mind offensive comments or questions, and I forget when was the last time when I felt sorry for being stereotyped. I know, I have a long way to go, I have a long way to prove myself, I have a long way to earn my lost respect, and I have a long way to regain the trust, and show the world how beneficial I can be, and what the world would look like without Muslims.

He begs. He pleads. Be racist. Be bigoted. Be reductive. Inflict upon me the worst of of prejudices and deviant thought. I am not even worthy of this and deserve to be humiliated. I accept your perspective. You are right to think as you do. On his knees he asks for forgiveness for being a ‘bad’ Muslim, but promises that he is working hard to make himself worthy of the tolerance and acceptance of the superior West within which he wishes to start his technology startup. But asks for the master’s forgiveness for his moral and intellectual failings, and begs:

Be patient; give us some time; a second chance; to reflect upon what we have done, who was at fault, how we got manipulated, what we have missed, and how to improve. Once we learn that, we all have a better world for us, for you and for everyone.

We are back in Mill’s waiting room of history where the colonized are relegated because we – something called ‘The Muslims’ are not ready. As Dipesh Chakrabarty argued in his work ‘Provincializing Europe’:

Historicism – and even the modern, European idea of history – one might say, came to the non-European peoples in the nineteenth century as somebody’s way of saying ‘not yet’ to somebody else. Consider the classic liberal but historicist essays by John Stuart Mill, ‘On Liberty’ and ‘On Representative Government’, both of which proclaimed self-rule as the highest form of government and yet argued against giving Indian or African self-rule on grounds that were indeed historicist. According to Mill, Indians or Africans were not yet civilized enough to rule themselves…Mill’s historicist argument thus consigned Indians, Africans and other ‘rude’ nations to an imaginary waiting room of history..”

The colonized needs affirmation and acceptance. He struggles to stand as an equal, and acquires the trinkets that he believes will give him that affirmation and acceptance. Mr. Usmani is proud to tell us about his integration and immersion on the perfection of the American way to live:

US provided me Masters and PhD through Fulbright scholarship, and then raised my expectations from life and to this world through Eisenhower fellowship. I learned English watching SitComs – “Friends” and “Sex and the City” to be specific and grew my beard in US after going through Identity Loss in a melting pot.

I am you. I want to be you Mr. Usmani pleads. You fed me and nurtured me, and now I am at your mercy. He offers his credentials…’Sex and the City’, and his beard a marker of his ‘identity loss in a melting pot’ (Mr. Usmani may not be aware of history or politics, but seems to have picked up on the key themes of a lot of South Asian immigrant literature. He writes not as a Pakistani, and he certainly doesn’t write as a man of his faith. Those he is clear he wants to discard. He writes as a man who wants to escape his sordid past, the one that has tainted him with the stain of backwardness. But perhaps most tragically, he writes as a man desperate to appease power, and the powerful – whether those who finance is ventures and research, or those who welcome him into their corridors and convince him that he words and statements are ‘important’ to the future of our world.

He presents himself as a real Muslim, from Pakistan, a real native, one of ‘them, and speaking as one of ‘them’ who has seen the light. The one who will work with power, the one who understands, the one who should be forgiven, and the one who will work hard to cleanse the wayward ways of his fellow religious and political peers. As Hamid Dabashi pointed out:

In providing her services to the predatory empire, the comprador intellectual does her or his share to normalise the imperial centre and cast its peripheral boundaries as odd, abnormal, and grotesque….To sustain the legitimacy of the predatory empire, the comprador intellectual must also do her or his share in re- accrediting the hitherto discredited ideologues of the imperial project. The comprador intellectual speaks with the voice of authenticity, nativity, Orientalised oddity. He is from “there,” and she “knows what she is talking about,” and thus their voices carry the authority of a native informer.

Mr. Usmani has a great career ahead of him. I believe that not only will he receive many more grants and fellowships, but his suicide bombing research, and his start-up will receive further financing. Much like the financial and commercial success of all interlocutors who have come before him – those who promise us that they will receive our tanks with roses, and that they are too unworthy of our largesse and liberal concern, he too will reap the benefits of an ahistorical and anti-intellectual mind. He too will be garlanded with accolades and awards, and told that he is the truth, and that he is the one. And like all good colonized minds, he will not really know whether to believe it, but he will also not know why he should not.

The mind of the colonized knows no limits to obsequiousness and self-blame. Unable to think independently, it takes for granted the epitemology and frameworks of discourse that he takes from the colonizer. It is Partha Chatterjee’s ‘derivative discourse’ at its worst and Mr. Usmani a colonial creation at its best.

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