In school, our teachers always taught us that the victors write history and the vanquished follow history. At an impressionable age, when history merely meant cramming our memory with dates of ‘important events,’ we despised the victors and vanquished alike. We learnt history through events, events that were supposed to be culminations of historical ebb and flow. My teacher’s pedagogical metaphor reminded me of a poor woman’s pearl necklace, the pearls of events being held apart by the banality of a thread. Even though the history we learnt was heavy on events, our teacher never forgot to connect them with the thread of temporality.
Coming from the subcontinent, one lives amidst history! The memory of partition (1947) is never forgotten what with periodic wars with our neighbors. To the immediate history of partition is added the supposed injustices of past history. The Babri Masjid demolition (1992) as an event revived a whole chain of history, the accumulation of ordinary lives of people through time. It was impossible to frame Babri demolition as a one off event happening out of nowhere. The event in itself made sense because of its reference to the immediate event of partition as well as to the supposed historical injustices under Muslim rulers. Even in this almost perfect example of history as an ebb and flow of interlinked events, one narrative is often forgotten – the British colonialism.
This Christmas, while reading Rahna Reiko Rizzuto’s Hiroshima in the Morning (2010), I found her making an important point about historical amnesia. She asserts that the present emphasis on peace activity in Japan has made the Japanese completely oblivious of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The ‘event’ of peace-building has unhinged it from the temporality of history.
9/11 started a new temporal framing of Islam in the west, especially in America much like it did once Islamic Revolution succeeded in Iran. 9/11 is starker as it brought the extreme destructive ideology of a particular Islamic imaginary in the US after years of engagement with it abroad. For the Americans, 9/11 stands out in history as ‘the’ event. It’s presented as a one off event without any precedence. As if nothing came before. The ‘enemy’ makes its mark on the blank slate of history. Now that Osama is killed, we watch the celebrators connecting this momentous event with 9/11. These two events feed off each other. They are without history. They are initiators of a new history, if you like. The current propaganda machine has succeeded in wrenching 9/11 and Osama’s killing off the ebb and flow of interdependence of historical events. The noted American writer, Henry James, knew this tendency in people as he wrote, in his controversial book, “History is never, in any rich sense, the immediate crudity of what ‘happens,’ but the finer complexity of what we read into it and think of in connection with it” (The American Scene, 1907, 182).
Osama is dead. Once again, the casualty is history!