Fayes T Kantawala thinks about the stories that our states tell us

It’s a cliche to say that history repeats itself. I never cared for the phrase – one of a handful of portentous pronouncements that teachers all over the world dole out to wake sleepy students from daydreams of funner things. So much of what I learned in history at secondary school in Lahore was banal, biased and, much worse, boring. From my distance I can now see how textbook writers sculpted fact like a hunk of clay – whittling away a massacre here, adding a sense of outrage there – until the whole thing resembled an image of which the government would approve.

Government textbooks spend so much time justifying the inevitability of the creation of Pakistan that much else (like world wars or modern history) is often left out. It is not a coincidence that for most school kids in our country, the subjects of history and geography are lumped together under one vague term like Pakistan Studies. Don’t we want to learn about other places too? Once I began interacting with students from other countries, I realized we weren’t the only ones. Practically everyone is given their state’s version of the truth. The British curriculum delves far deeper into the minutiae of Henry the Eighth’s sex life than it does the lasting implications of colonialism. The Americans present the arrival of the Pilgrims (even the word itself is misleading) as a happy meeting of equal souls, rather than a mass genocide of Native peoples. And so it goes: Australia, Portugal, Brazil, Mexico, Ghana, South Africa, India (more on you in a bit), the Koreas, France, Italy, Turkey, Greece, all educating their populations in their own flattering versions of histories. Germany and Japan skew the opposite way, leaning into their wartime atrocities with masochistic zeal. The Russians and the Chinese, from what I’ve been able to read, have a fiction all to themselves, only marginally worse than the Saudi belief that all Time began with oil.

Published on 16 September 1935 - Nazi Germany proclaims the Nuremberg laws

One assumes this is not always a bad thing; teachers have justified not going into the details of historical atrocities as a way to protect young minds (they’ve clearly never been in a room full of 14-year-old mean girls). And even if you were to teach a unified history, whose version would it be? That’s another trusim, that the victors write history. And to a degree that’s true. But not telling generations the truth about how and why nations were created is not the same as pretending Santa Claus is real so that their childhoods are full of magic. Kids eventually find out that Santa Claus isn’t real. Students don’t always know their government’s BS is not. That’s why the governments of Rwanda and Germany make their school children learn about the ways that those countries’ systems of oppression and eventual genocide came to be.

I am watching with horror these days at the new citizenship laws that the Modi government has passed – the most blatant admission to date that their vision of India doesn’t include Muslims. Not all minorities, just Muslims. It’s so close to a Nazi-era law that revoked Jewish citizenships that I’ve been waiting for news organizations to pick it up. Surely this has to be world news? Surely someone must say something? You can’t just try to make 200 million people stateless by glaring omission and still claim to be a secular democracy. But the news is filled with anti-immigrant sentiment in the UK, and the fact that Modi is building actual camps to house stateless Assam Muslims doesn’t get traction over reports of how Trump’s government is building bigger camps for South American migrants, or how the Chinese are building their own bigger, meaner, larger camps for interred Muslims.

Seen in the context of the Gujarat riots and his party’s constant, exhausting push for the fiction of Hindu victimhood in a country that is 80% Hindu, Modi’s latest move makes perfect sense. Early drafts of the RSS manifesto were adopted by the Nazi party in Germany which recognized in it a rhetoric they could use to push for “purity” in their citizenships, a code then, as now, for ethnic cleansing. And while the Indian economy has stopped growing for the sixth year in a row, it also makes sense that those who have governed it for that exact time want a distraction from their failures, an enemy onto which they can project their venom before the population turns on them.

I’m going to be radically honest with you. I have often debated with myself whether Pakistan really needed to be created. Would things have been that bad had we just stayed one country? Wouldn’t we have been stronger together, as a people and culture, had we remained together? Did we really have to leave? It don’t think it unpatriotic to have questions. If anything, a intellectual interrogation of ones premise is the only way t make sure you’re on the right path.

And I also don’t like bashing Indian politics because we have enough of our troubles.

But this is different.

The Indian Citizenship Bill is a harsh wake-up call from my daydream that the world - and our neighbourhood in particular - is moving towards a better place. I know that there are hundreds of millions of people in India who are kind, tolerant, thinking people who want everyone to have enough. But I’ve also read enough history to know that there were kind, tolerant, and thoughtful people in most places. There have been such people in the US all through its wars and invasions, much like they were in Germany in the 1930s, Poland in the 1940s, Korea in the 1950s, Rwanda in the 1990s, in Afghanistan during the Taliban rule, in South African during Apartheid and in China for most of its modern history. It doesn’t help unless they mobilize. History has told us that what happened in Nazi Germany was perfectly legal. Legal is not the same as Right. Laws can be changed. Kind and thoughtful people follow the rules. Evil does not.

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