“History will be kind to me for I intend to write it,” Winston Churchill once said.
As a modern day South Asian, who has grown up and lived most of his life in the Middle East, I always felt as history was unkind to my region and culture. It was always being presented to me from the perspective of people from another region far away from my geographical and cultural shores.
Since childhood, I have been an avid reader of history books and historical fiction. History was a subject very close to my heart. However, despite my fondness for the subject, I remember the more I consumed history the more my heartache grew.
I always felt at a huge disadvantage as a South Asian and a person with cultural connections to the Middle East and the Orient, in the narrative of history I was consuming well into my teens and adult life.
Any world history book I read would be typically written and published by scholars and publishing houses far away from my region, mostly by Europeans and Americans, who would be commenting on history from their own perspective, catering originally to an audience who perhaps had little interest in the history of regions far from their own shores.
English being the universal language of education and communication in our times made the situation inevitable. Schools and the education sector in our parts of the world over the last century or so found it convenient to pick popular history books from European and American authors instead of making an effort to commission world history books of their own.
A conscious effort to re-balance world history at the school level for children across the planet, moving away from its Euro-centric bias would help resolve issues such as racism, and feelings of cultural superiorityFaraz Waqar
History books by writers from the region with their own perspective, who would stress the contribution of their own culture, region and historic figures to the global narrative, are still extremely rare.
As a result I often found the position and detail of the history altering events, developments or personalities of my region minimized in importance (often completely absent) in comparison to those that had happened in the West.
The above gave me impression as a child that my region had no significance in world history and that anything important that ever happened had happened only in Europe. I grew up with an inferiority complex thinking that Europeans were the major contributors to world civilization throughout history, quite ignorant of what my own region and other parts of the world contributed to the evolution of human civilization.
I believe, in our current period in human history, we are victims of a very Euro-centric view of history that has come to dominate minds with the ascent of the English language over the last 2 centuries worldwide as a result of European colonialism. This is best illustrated with the help of a few examples from current world history books available for children to read.
An event in England in the 17th century, such as the Great Fire of London of 1666, would be given a lot of space with visuals and details in history books I read as a child. On the other hand the fall of the greatest metropolis on earth, Baghdad, the center of global science and art, and the near annihilation of the world’s dominant Islamic civilization in the 13th century, by the world conquering Mongols, would be completely missed out or would appear as an insignificant side note at best, if at all.
Another good example, the beginning of human civilization in Sumer (modern day Iraq), Egypt, and the Indus Valley (modern day Pakistan-India) would be dismissed quickly in a few paragraphs or at best a few hastily written pages with a few superficial details.
But chapter after chapter, beautiful visuals would be devoted to the contribution of the Greeks and Romans to the evolution of human civilization with all details included such as separate sections on their art, religion, philosophy etc.
The journey of the Italian, Marco Polo from Europe to China was highlighted as world history changing event. Yet the travels of Ibn Batuta, a journey far more extensive than that of Marco Polo, found no mention in the same books.
The world’s greatest economic region and most populous empire in the world in the 17th century - The Mughal Empire of India – was given a one-page summary in my world history book. On the other hand, the history of Queen Elizabeth of England and her court including the life details of the author and playwright Shakespeare, were given much more space across several pages.
Younger minds are fragile and can be easily influenced by a distorted view of the world and its story if that is what they are fed withFaraz Waqar
Important contributions by Asians to the evolution of world civilization such as the invention of the Zero in India, the world’s first experiment in human flight in Moorish Spain, the names of scientists, philosophers, scholars & thinkers such as al-Bairuni, Ibn Rushd, and Ibn al-Arabi would be completely missed out in these history books.
Aristotle, Galileo and Einstein were the names and personalities we were of course all familiar with because that is what we were fed with in these books. Marcus Garvey once said; “A people without the knowledge of their past history, origin and culture is like a tree without roots”.
What is desperately needed today is a global standard and balanced account of world history for schools and our young minds not only for the Middle East or South Asia region but a true World History Book that is balanced in its narrative.
Events, developments and personalities throughout human history should be highlighted based on their proportionate contribution and percentage of world population that was impacted by those events and the future significance of those events and developments in later times.
A conscious effort to re-balance world history at the school level for children across the planet, moving away from its Euro-centric bias would help resolve issues such as racism, feelings of cultural superiority or inferiority for our next generation worldwide.
This would in no way minimize the contribution of Europe or Europeans to world history but would actually re-balance the narrative to give us a fair view of world history.
Younger minds are fragile and can be easily influenced by a distorted view of the world and its story if that is what they are fed with. It leaves a psychological scar on the minds of an entire generation.
I can only hope someone in a position to act in favor of this case presented above, will initiate a grand global project that may end up changing how young minds around the world perceive the story of civilization and the human race.
Faraz Waqar is a business management, media & advertising professional of Pakistani origin. A business school graduate from the IBA Karachi and a filmmaker who graduated from the New York Film Academy. Faraz has lived, traveled to & worked in several countries of the GCC & South Asia over the last decade.