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A surprising, gripping narrative depicting the thinkers whose ideas shaped contemporary China, India, and the Muslim world     A little more than a century ago, as the Japanese navy annihilated the giant Russian one at the Battle of Tsushima, original thinkers across Asia, working independently, sought to frame a distinctly Asian intellectual tradition that would informA surprising, gripping narrative depicting the thinkers whose ideas shaped contemporary China, India, and the Muslim world     A little more than a century ago, as the Japanese navy annihilated the giant Russian one at the Battle of Tsushima, original thinkers across Asia, working independently, sought to frame a distinctly Asian intellectual tradition that would inform and inspire the continent’s anticipated rise to dominance.      Asian dominance did not come to pass, and those thinkers—Tagore, Gandhi, and later Nehru in India; Liang Qichao and Sun Yatsen in China; Jamal al-Din al-Afghani and Abdurreshi al Ibrahim in the ruins of the Ottoman Empire—are seen as outriders from the main anticolonial tradition. But Pankaj Mishra shows that it was otherwise in this stereotype-shattering book. His enthralling group portrait of like minds scattered across a vast continent makes clear that modern Asia’s revolt against the West is not the one led by faith-fired terrorists and thwarted peasants but one with deep roots in the work of thinkers who devised a view of life that was neither modern nor antimodern, neither colonialist nor anticolonialist. In broad, deep, dramatic chapters, Mishra tells the stories of these figures, unpacks their philosophies, and reveals their shared goal of a greater Asia.      Right now, when the emergence of a greater Asia seems possible as at no previous time in history, From The Ruins Of Empire is as necessary as it is timely—a book essential to our understanding of the world and our place in it....

Title : From the Ruins of Empire: The Revolt Against the West and the Remaking of Asia
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ISBN : 9780385676106
Format Type : Hardcover
Number of Pages : 368 Pages
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From the Ruins of Empire: The Revolt Against the West and the Remaking of Asia Reviews

  • Zanna
    2019-06-01 10:22

    Mishra's approach here can't be faulted; it would be preposterous to offer the sweeping statements and crisp conclusions of the sixth chaper 'Asia Remade' without carefully laying the foundations in the previous five, painstakingly excavating the neglected work and histories of thinkers like Jamal al-din al-Afghani and Liang Qichao, whose shadows lie tall across the decades in myriad shapes: from Mao Tse-Dong to the Confucian resurgence, from Ayatollah Khomeini to Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. For me it was a bit of an uphill slog, but all worth it for the exhilarating freewheeling down from the topCommonplace critique of colonisation tends to assume a passive Asia in subdued thrall, an orientalist picture in itself. Mishra energetically corrects that misconception here, showing how colonial powers were seen by Asian intellectuals and how various strands and flavours of resistence were built up. For most of the book I felt that everyone, Mishra included, was giving too much quarter to coloniser epistemology, which only begin to partially unravel at the hands of Gandhi and Tagore and in the later chapters. It is interesting in itself though that ideas like social Darwinism and scientific materialism caught on and wrought significant changes to Asian state structures and societies. 'Western' ideas were not merely assimilated but furiously and critically debated, adapted, edited, and in the case of the nation state concept, eventually used to overthrow the imperial powers and to remake Asia. The thinkers Mishra follows change their minds in the course of their intellectual careers; first imagining how the key tenets of Western success might work for Islam or the Chinese, and later, on some level recognising the West as a disaster to its own populations as well as others.Mishra has been astonishingly effective at synthesising and condensing whole libraries of background reading into this focussed, highly structured work. Of thousands of possible strands, he has selected a handful, and woven them into coherence, into something that can be digested and absorbed usefully for reflection and discussion. I was struck by what I felt to be its dispassionate tone; until the concluding chapters, the atrocities of empire were treated almost casually, and strands of opposition are discussed quite matter-of-factly, creating an impression of even-handedness and objectivity. But of course, I have been sheltered from these shameful histories.What is outside the scope of this history is the ground-level perspective. I suppose many readers will be much more familiar with this view, which is the domain of literature, but the thinkers Mishra follows addressed themselves mainly to elites, at times academic, but mainly political, and only late in their careers realised that cultural change comes from the roots of the grass. Thus, the hinges of Mishra's story are unoiled by vernacular voices, and women make almost no appearance at all. While I found it an edifying read, there was more duty than pleasure in the text for me!

  • William1
    2019-06-06 05:18

    An interesting history of anti-colonial intellectual life in the East during the greatest days of Imperialism. Mishra's new book is one much needed by Western readers. It's a necessary corrective. It's loaded with information about intellectuals in the Muslim world, China and India most of whom I have never heard of before. Each of these men--Jamal al din al-Afghani, Liang Qichao, Rabindranath Tagore and others--possessed insights into the true nature of Western nations' motivations in Asia. They saw the dependence by Eastern states on the West and knew nothing good would come of it. They saw that their own states were weak and predisposed to this manipulation because of aspects in their own cultures, say, favoring authoritarianism or the blandishments of religion. Theirs were not democracies. The populace did not take a personal interest in government, which was opaque and insular. The Enlightenment had caused western states to swing away from despotism toward participative democracy. There was no such parallel movement in the East. There doesn't appear to have been much scrabbling about in dusty archives by Mishra. He does not appear to have a working knowledge of either Arabic or Chinese, and, it seems, has relied exclusively on English-language sources.

  • Hadrian
    2019-06-01 07:56

    This is a history, through biography, of the first origins of nationalism and post-colonial resurgence. The author chooses the figures of Jamal ad-Din al-Afghani, a pan-Islamic reform, Liang Qichao, a Chinese 'Strengthen the Nation' intellectual, and Rabindranath Tagore, a Bengali poet. From these biographies, he aims to sort out the ideas which later became rooted into more modern and powerful figures and thoughts in the modern world today, and how a reaction against Western thought continues there.The big idea is that nationalist movements today arose as a reaction to imperialism and colonial exploitation in the 19th century. "Why do they hate us?" asked Mr. Bush. Not solely because of our freedoms, but because of our power, and how it was built through exploitation and betrayal. The Versailles Treaty at 1919 was a particular failure due to Wilson's inability to express the principles of national self-determination, and instead permitting the preservation of a colonial system.There is one further omission. Self-contained empires to colonies and then into modern states without an intermediate stage of democratic nation-building. Let the people themselves express themselves, and not another tyrant who claims to liberate, and then destroys instead. See the Imperial Japanese, once a light for Pan-Asian liberation, and then becoming tyrants and exploiters just like the rest before their fiery defeat.A solid look at a part of history which has been ignored for too long by too many.

  • Muhammad Ahmad
    2019-06-07 12:03

    [My review of Pankaj's book was first published in Guernica magazine]As tsar Alexander III sat down for an evening's entertainment at the St. Petersburg opera house in late 1887, he little knew that the performance would soon be upstaged by one much more dramatic. Shortly after the curtains rose, a slender, goateed man with azure eyes, dressed in a robe and turban, got up from a box nearby and proclaimed loudly: “I intend to say the evening prayer—Allah-u-Akbar!” The audience sat bemused and soldiers waited impatiently as the man proceeded, unperturbed, with his evening prayers. His sole companion, the Russian-born intellectual Abdurreshid Ibrahim, squirmed in fear of his life.Jamal ud-Din al-Afghani was determined to recruit Russian support in his campaign against the British. Having failed to secure an audience with the tsar, he had decided to use his daring as a calling card. The tsar’s curiosity was finally piqued and Afghani had his hearing.This could be a scene out of Tolstoy or Lermontov; but so extraordinary a figure was Jamal ud-Din al-Afghani (1838-97), the peripatetic Muslim thinker and revolutionary, that inserting him into fiction would strain credulity. So, renowned essayist and novelist Pankaj Mishra has opted for historical essay and intellectual biography to profile the lives of Afghani and other equally remarkable figures in his new book From the Ruins of Empire: The intellectuals who remade Asia.The book is a refreshing break from lachrymose histories of the East’s victimhood and laments about its past glories. It concerns a group of intellectuals who responded to the threat of western dominance with vigour and imagination. Together they engendered the intellectual currents that have shaped the last century of the region’s history.Wild Man of GeniusThe Iranian-born Jamal ud-Din al-Afghani’s long sojourn across Asia, Europe, and North Africa was animated by a search for dignity, self-strengthening, and self-determination. He was responding to the challenge of western modernity and European colonial domination. As Afghani saw it, an ossified Islam with a literalist interpretation of scripture was hindering Muslim progress. He was determined to reconcile Islam with rationality, and to develop a strategy that would leverage popular discontent to dislodge Western colons from Asia. The political vehicles he experimented with included Islamic reformism, ethnic nationalism, pan-Islamism, and, later, political violence (an idea he quickly abandoned after a disciple assassinated the Shah of Iran in 1896).Described by English poet Wilfrid Blunt as a “wild man of genius,” Afghani’s strategies were in fact more visionary than wild. He preached syncretic nationalism in India, drawing on both Islamic and Hindu traditions. He advised the Afghan amir into confronting the Raj. He fomented Egypt’s first anti-British uprising. He inaugurated Iran’s consequential alliance between the clergy, intellectuals, and merchants. And he attempted to use the Ottoman Sultanate as the focus of a pan-Islamic challenge to Western imperialism. He was fêted by—and simultaneously antagonised—kings, khedives, amirs, sultans, shahs, and tsars. In the meantime, he conducted debates with Ernest Renan, confronted British colonial officials, participated in the Great Game, romanced a German lover, established journals and secret societies, and mentored revolutionaries across the region. His disciples ranged from the nationalist Saad Zaghlul to the Islamist Muhammad Abduh and Rashid Rida. During his stay in Paris in the early 1880s, he also wrote for a French Communist paper, anticipating the anti-imperialist Red-Green alliances of the coming centuries. (Rashid Rida would later emulate him in penning articles for Ho Chi Minh’s journal in Vietnam.)Afghani’s influence has lived on through figures as diverse as Muhammad Iqbal, Ali Shariati, Abul Ala Maududi, and even Pakistan’s Imran Khan, who uses an Islamic idiom in the service of a reformist agenda. Egypt’s three dominant political trajectories of the past century—reformist nationalism, Islamist populism, and revolutionary violence—can all be traced to Afghani’s influence. His disciples played central roles in establishing both the Wafd Party and the Muslim Brotherhood. His ideas were later adopted and stripped of their rationalist content by Sayyid Qutb to turn them into a pretext for political violence. His acolytes also included the Egyptian Jewish playwright and journalist James Sanua, and the fin de siècle women’s rights activist Qasim Amin.Waking GiantsChina’s ascent to super-power status was anything but smooth; perhaps no one figure was more more significant in jumpstarting the somnolent empire’s progress than Liang Qichao (1873-1929), the second major intellectual profiled by Mishra. Like his mentor Kang Youwei, he was a monarchist steeped in Confucian tradition before embarking on an independent trajectory after being banished from a Manchu court in thrall to Western powers. His initial response to the West’s challenge was to use Occidental ideas to invigorate traditional thinking. He went so far as to embrace Social Darwinist views about the hierarchy of races.But Liang’s admiration for the West proved ephemeral, dissipating after a fundraising tour of the United States. Where Alexis de Tocqueville had been impressed by the vibrancy of American democracy, Liang was horrified by its gross inequalities, oligarchic rule, and severe mistreatment of minorities. He consequently took a jaundiced view of democracy itself, despite having himself pioneered mass-politics in China. With his mentor Kang, he had organized examinees for imperial posts to petition the emperor to annul a humiliating treaty with Japan. Kang had also established publishing houses, libraries, and schools in order to create a Chinese “people.”But creating a people had consequences. By early 20th century, Chinese nationalism had acquired a racialist Han character with an explicitly anti-Manchu orientation. Sun Yat-sen’s nationalist revolution in 1911 made Liang leery of disruptive change. Liang was dismayed to see the modernism that he had helped foster degrade into slavish aping of the West. The excesses of nationalists and Communists impressed upon him the enduring merits of Confucianism, with its universal precepts of spiritual freedom and social harmony.In 1917, after arguing for China’s entry into the First World War as a means to garner international clout, Liang, like his countrymen, was shocked by its treatment at the Paris Peace Conference. The Great Powers conceded nothing. Like European Modernists, Liang was also shaken by the wasteland left by the war. If the disabused realism of his post-war writing seemed at times an echo of Thucydides, at other times it anticipated structural realists like John Mearsheimer. “In the world there is only power,” he wrote. “That the strong always rule the weak is in truth the first great universal rule of nature. Hence, if we wish to attain liberty, there is no other road: we can only seek first to be strong.”China endured a nationalist revolution, a civil war, a Communist revolution, and much else before assuming its present status. In this most stable and prosperous phase, however, it seems remarkably like the strong, autocratic, modernizing state that Liang envisioned, and that unreconstructed imperialists had always feared. At a Hong Kong reception in 1889, Rudyard Kipling had wondered, “What will happen when China really wakes up?” What for Kipling was a nightmare was for his contemporary Liang an abiding dream. Modern China is a realization of both.Thus Spake TagoreLiang Qichao’s hard-nosed realism was no barrier to the strong bond he formed with the uncompromisingly idealistic Rabindranath Tagore. Welcoming him on a lecture tour of China in 1924, Liang greeted the Bengali sage by saying, “our old brother [India], ‘affectionate and missing’ for more than a thousand years, is now coming to call on his little brother [China].” But by that time opinion had shifted sharply in China. A newer generation of modernists wanted to sever all connection with the past. Tagore’s warnings against uncritical emulation of the West met with a sceptical audience.There was nothing inevitable about Tagore’s disillusionment with the West. He was the scion of a liberal Anglophile family whose patriarchs had participated in the British opium trade. British Orientalists introduced him to the indigenous literary traditions that forged his philosophy. Unlike his friend Gandhi, Tagore admired the West. But the betrayal of the Paris Peace Conference and the grand imperial carve-up of Asia exhausted Tagore’s sympathies. In 1919 he wrote Romain Rolland: “there is hardly a corner in the vast continent of Asia where men have come to feel any real love for Europe.”But Tagore’s disenchantment did not mean a retreat into defensive nativism. He was as likely to countenance imperialist cant issued from Japanese pan-Asianism as Western mission civilisatrice. He was never a hostage to his audience. At a 1930 dinner party in New York he accused his audience including Franklin Roosevelt, Sinclair Lewis, and Hans Morgenthau, of “exploit[ing] those who are helpless and humiliate[ing] those who are unfortunate with this gift.” He was equally disobliging when hosted by the Japanese Prime Minister in Tokyo: “The New Japan,” he told the gathered dignitaries, “is only an imitation of the West.”Though anti-imperialist, Tagore was leery of radical nationalism. Once Japanese nationalists set it on an expansionist trajectory he vowed never to return, though he had earlier considered Japan as a model of indigenous modernization. Radical forces superseded him in India too which was finally fractured by the national egoism he had warned against. Tagore’s voice survived only in the national anthems of truncated India and Bangladesh. (His influence has also lived on through the experimental school he established in 1901; alumni include Amartya Sen and Satyajit Ray.)Return of the NativesThe scope and ambition of From the Ruins of Empire would have overwhelmed a lesser writer. Mishra delivers with panache. He tackles the complex histories and politics of the formerly colonized realms with rigour and sensitivity. His sharply drawn characters are woven into a narrative that is riveting and insightful. But it is Mishra’s unerring political instincts, unencumbered by ideology, that make this book such a compelling read. Few writers possess the facility with which Mishra moves from acute journalistic observation to confident historical analysis.In the colonized lands Mishra writes of, there were few who suffered illusions about European power. But some did put stock in the promise of America. When, in anticipation of the Paris Peace Conference, Wilson issued high-minded proclamations about national self-determination, everyone from Saad Zaghlul and Liang Qichao to Ho Chi Minh flocked to Paris to petition for the rights of their respective nations. All were disappointed. The humiliation that representatives from Asia and Africa suffered stung everyone. Little had they known Wilson was responding mainly to the Bolshevik threat; his promises of self-determination were aimed at an exclusively European audience. The idealists were disabused and the nationalists emboldened. Independence would not be granted; it would have to be seized.Intuitive in retrospect, this idea was slow to gain wider purchase. The colonizers had easily crushed earlier insurrections, which lacked a unifying idea to lend coherence. But the seminal interventions of Afghani, Liang, and Tagore turned the vague ressentiment of the colonized into clearly articulated national projects. Colonialism finally ran up against mass politics and was defeated. None of this would have happened without the supra-national conversations inaugurated by these remarkable individuals.The West has since built itself a reassuring mythology in which, moved by the moral example of individuals like Gandhi, it graciously bestowed independence upon its former possessions. But the one factor more than any other that precipitated the Empire’s exit from Asia wasn’t Gandhian satyagraha, but Japan’s spectacular early victories over the colonial powers. Beginning on 8 December 1941, it took Japan just ninety days to take British, U.S., Dutch, and French possessions across East Asia, advancing all the way to the borders of British India. “There are few examples in history,” writes Mishra, “of such dramatic humiliation of established powers.” If, according to viceroy of India Lord Curzon, the Japanese victory over Russia at the Battle of Tsushima had been a “thunderclap” which reverberated “through the whispering galleries of the East,” then Pearl Harbor was the storm that raised these voices to a roar. Japan was defeated in the end, but the nationalist fires it had kindled—mostly to advance its own imperial interests—could no longer be extinguished. The war sapped Western will and made decolonization inevitable.Western power is still in decline, but Western perceptions of power remain oddly sanguine. From American presidential candidates’ strident statements against China during the 2012 election campaign to the superfluous French measures to exclude Turkey from the EU, it seems Atlantic powers fail to grasp that America and Europe need China and Turkey just as much as they are needed by them. During Israel’s November 2012 attack on Gaza, Egyptian and Turkish diplomatic initiatives made America all but irrelevant to the peace-making.Straitjacketed by the imperatives of domestic politics, the West has been unable—or unwilling—to change course. Barack Obama had his Wilsonian moment in 2009, when he addressed the Muslim world from Cairo and moved many with his lofty rhetoric. But with his record of capitulations, his abject surrender to the Israeli right, and his international regime of extrajudicial killings, hope proved ephemeral. It disabused Arabs of the expectation that a foreign power could midwife change. Dignity demanded action. Rights had to be seized and agency reclaimed.If an earlier generation had confronted and overthrown the autocratic managers of empire, a new generation is now uprooting the authoritarianism of the postcolonial regimes that had been hitherto justified as a nation-building imperative. The colonial legacy is finally being rolled back. But the sequence of events is not conforming to any known script. It is toppling dictatorships both pro- and anti-Western. The bogeyman of Islamism has served an ecumenical purpose, invoked by left and right alike. But if there is a common thread uniting the myriad forces of the Arab uprisings, it is not the promise of an Islamic resurgence. It is a search for dignity, social justice, and self-determination. The revolutions have been creative and resolute, improvising means but never ceding agency. They have even instrumentalized Western power at times but conceded nothing in return.It is too early to predict how the Arab Spring will fully play out. But one thing is clear: external bogeymen will no longer stifle citizens’ demands for internal reform. The quality of these reforms will inevitably rest on the character of the ideas that inspire them. Here, however, Mishra is pessimistic. He notes that ideas with the capacity to inspire have been few and far between. Asia may be rebounding, he writes, but its success conceals “an immense intellectual failure.” He laments “no convincingly universalist response exists today to Western ideas of politics and economy, even though these seem increasingly febrile and dangerously unsuitable in large parts of the world.” This, however, is both a peril and an opportunity for the activists of the 21st century’s first great insurrection.In the St. Petersburg opera house, Afghani failed to induce the tsar to confront the British. Still, through words and deeds, he continued fomenting uprisings from Egypt to Persia to Afghanistan. His companion, Abdurreshid Ibrahim, later participated in the Libyan uprising against Italian rule. He also joined Egyptian and Indian exiles in Tokyo to forge an alliance with the Japanese in a pan-Asianist front against Western imperialism. Their successes were ephemeral, but the ideas endured. In the end there was the word–and it is resonating still.

  • Jeff
    2019-06-21 07:26

    Pankaj Mishra is a journalist and novelist with an articulate prose style. His work has progressed from stories about travel in his native india to a novel (The Romantics), but his new book about key figures in Asia's transition from colonial conquests to modern nations is one of the most informative books i've encountered in a long time. i read it out of an interest in Asian history, but frankly, i think i learned more about the dynamics of contemporary global politics from the process. Why is today's Middle East so viciously hostile to "the West" (that is, Europe and the USA)? Why do China and india lead the world in certain areas, yet struggle with poverty? So many aspects of our current political reality have their origins in the European (i.e. British and French) colonialism and imperialism of the 19th century. Mishra himself admits at the end of the book that when he started out he was surprised by "how much he didn't know." That is how i felt by the time i was 20 pages into this book. A really informative, carefully constructed study - if i could, i'd make it required reading for all the members of Congress and the Pentagon: maybe it would give them a clue about why, when we took over iraq, we were not welcomed as "liberators," and why our struggle in Afghanistan will always be in vain.

  • Marks54
    2019-06-08 12:24

    This book presents an intellectual history of global decolonization. The book is structured around a series of intellectual biographies of early Asian critical writers on how to best respond to the forcible intrusion and disruption brought about by the entry of European nations into Asian politics and culture. The temporal focus is on the 19th and 20th centuries. The biographies that are the focus of the book are generally ordered around the religious context of the three areas: the Middle East, South Asia, and China/Japan/Korea. The author is very thoughtful and appears to have read everything ever written on colonialism and post-colonialism. The stories in the biographies are well done and show how each author started out with some positions and then had to adjust his positions on the basis of relations with other writers. All of the writers start with one of a few positions, including learning from European colonializers. Then they watch as their ideas get put into practice among the crowds and then further adjust their thinking based on experience.The time frame in the book is important. Nearly all of the profiled intellectual rebels started with positions that were either sympathetic or unsympathetic. These then evolved, usually towards more strident positions more. That nearly all of these individuals grew up in the last quarter of the 19th century suggested that their rationale for responding to imperialism followed on revolutionary activity in Europe in the late 18th and early 19th. This suggests that the individuals profiled in the book were intermediaries between European revolutions against conventional marvels. As Asian people encountered imperialism in the 20th century between two world wars, especially given the disappointments from the Versailles Peace Conference after WWI, the encounters with the West became more violent and the supposed values of attempting to adapt to the imperial western nations became less clear to observers. Many of the authors reviewed moved to more radical positions as their experience with Western powers became less beneficial and as western ideals seemed increasingly hypocritical, such that there is a brand of liberalism and capitalism for the powers and another brand altogether for the interactions of these nations with Asian states.None of the western powers come out of this analysis with much to their credit but much more that calls into question the benefits of capitalism and the legitimacy of western ethics and values.The structure of the book and its major arguments are complex. Lots of authors are mentioned and a credible effort is made at drawing the biographical streams together to craft and argument. How ideas of markets, values, authority, power, and religion develop in different cultural settings over time is a story very well told but one that takes much patience to digest.For a book that focuses as it does on principles and values, the line of argument is surprisingly pragmatic and functional. All of the individuals profiled in the book are asking the question of how to respond most effectively to the intrusions of imperialist powers. Initially, the older empires tolerated the intruders and for a while it was a mutually advantageous relationship.Once the Europeans wanted more, however, the old empires were unable to resist effectively. This is because they were working on the traditional metropole-countryside arrangements that some have called "Asiatic Despotism" in which most of the population were living their own lives in small villages and were left on their own by the metropolis as long as they paid their taxes. Once the Europeans wanted to extract more from these primitive states, they found they lacked the means to resist, due to low levels of organization, inadequate resources, lack of a modern army, etc. Some empires tried to reform and reorganize in order to resist. Ottoman Turkey tried it and ultimately failed while Japan had much more success in mimicking the modern nation-state. This is where nationalism comes in to the argument and provides a basis for reform and reorganization.The nationalist and modernizing response ultimately had problems, since individual Asian with only a few exceptions, were not strong enough to oppose Europe individually. This led to various transnational movements, especially the growth of a reborn Islam that had the potential to unify Muslim across a wide range of circumstances. Islam also provides means for dividing peoples as well.The exceptions are illuminating too. The British Raj split into multiple parts due to conflicts with Britain especially over Islam. The builders of the new Indian state built on the idea of the nation that grew out of British rule. China was a mix of all of these trends, but Mishra argues that the hardships under Mao forged a Chinese identity that allowed for a successful adaptation fo modernity and the rapid expansion of the Chinese economy after Deng's reforms in 1978There are lots of interesting takeaways from the book. Among them are:1) Many Asian intellectuals never really liked the intrusion of the West. That was clear in the 19th century and earlier. Antagonism towards the US and Europe from Asians is not a recent development but a long term trend.2) The colonial powers worked hard to generate antagonism and conflicts. The colonial peoples were poorly treated. The poor reputation of the West was well earned.3) Dealing with modernity in a global economy is hard, just considering the difficulties of crafting a workable economic development. Add ideology and politics to the technical difficulties of modernization and it is understandable the decolonialism has gone hand in hand the growth of militant anti-western positions.4) Tracing the influence of ideas (including the ideas of the individuals profiled in the book) is hard. Not only do events change and provide new stimuli, but individuals can change their minds and think about matters differently - people change their minds and even grow sometimes. This makes the story more of a challenge to follow but the book provides a good sense of how the critical issues are being considered.5) This story is filled with tensions and intellectual conflicts. Even with so many balls in the air, the author succeeds in communicating that decisions about economic development and adaptation are sometimes best viewed more broadly and historically than before.6) The book is especially valuable for linking contemporary politicians to their intellectual ancestors. This result by itself makes the work worth reading.

  • Martha
    2019-06-02 10:09

    Outstanding. I've recently discovered this author, Pankaj Mishra. Maybe I spend too much time under my rock, but I think he should be much more widely known for his broad knowledge of history and deep understanding of the interaction between western and eastern philosophy and religion and the perspective he brings to it of someone who grew up struggling with both worlds.If George W. Bush wants to know, as I believe he said, why "they hate us," he need only read this book. The relentless greed and vicious racism, the wars and exploitation, the broken promises and double dealing that the western colonizers practiced throughout Asia from the beginning of their dealings there were observed and absorbed by the boys and young men who grew up to be Gandhi, Nehru, Chiang Kai-shek, Mao Zedong, Ho Chi Minh, and through the generations to Ayatollah Khomeini and Osama bin Laden."The western world is scarcely aware of this overwhelming feeling of humiliation that is experienced by most of the world's population." If you want to know how we got where we are now, it's a direct line.Mishra ranges through Japan, China, Korea, Viet Nam, India, Afghanistan, Persia, Egypt, and the Ottoman Empire from the late 1800s to the present discussing the lives and writings of the men who began to grapple with how Asia was to become "modern" and still somehow remain Asia."The fundamental challenge for the first generation of modern Asian intellectuals: how to reconcile themselves and others to the dwindling of their civilization through internal decay and Westernization while regaining parity and dignity in the eyes of the white rulers of the world."Mishra knows so much history and can make so many cogent connections among time, space, and people; the writer he reminds me most of is the late Tony Judt, great explicator of modern European history. They would have made wonderful collaborators.Mishra's latest book, just out, is Age of Anger, which brings this up to the present day. My husband's reading it now, and I'm fixing to as well as soon as he lets loose of it.

  • Vuk Trifkovic
    2019-06-09 06:02

    Complex book to review, but when it all comes down - disappointing. Technically, the prose is not really as good as you might expect from an accomplished novellist and based on Mishra's excellent polemic essays - for example his exchange with Niall Ferguson.The argument itself is not without merit but utterly, utterly blinkered. In his anti-colonialism, Mishra is very quick to analyse very selectively and ends up in contradiction. So on the one hand, we hear on the merits of Ottoman empire being an empire, to the extent where he almost blames 'those pesky Christians' in the Ottoman periphery for wanting to secede. If that is just a bit selective, then his qualification of the Armenian Genocide as being caused by "Armenians harassing Ottomans" is offensive. Equally, his treatment of Communism is baffling - is it the anti-colonial power of Lenin, or is it just another aspect of the Western modernity? Finally, some of the statement are just out of touch - for instance the accusation that the war in Chechnia was conducted by the West, via its agent the Russian. Curiously, he left Bosnia out of that passage entirely - probably as it does not fit his narrative that the USA-led forces intervened directly on behalf of the Bosnian Muslims.But even that is not really the issue. The core of my disappointment is the apparent intellectual poverty of the thinkers he puts on a piedestal. They reek of provincialism and utter lack of originality. They may be interesting because of the influences they had. But the content itself is uninventive and unilluminating, if not downright trite.Mishra is far too intelligent not to realize the consequence of the thinking he outlines in his book. Indeed, in last two pages he outlines a very likely scenario that will play out. I fear that he is right. I just wish that someone of Mishra's intellect would not glorify the path to disaster merely on the basis that it will be disaster in which white colonialist will suffer too.

  • Breakingviews
    2019-06-25 09:14

    By Edward Hadas“What is the cause of the poverty, indigence, helplessness and distress of the Muslims, and is there a cure for this important phenomenon and great misfortune?”The question was asked in 1880 by the Persian intellectual and activist Jamal al-Din al-Afghani. Around that time, thinkers from India, China and other lands which had been literally or metaphorically colonised by the industrial nation-states of Europe were asking similar questions about their own degraded peoples. In “From the Ruins of Empire”, Indian-British writer Pankaj Mishra provides a lively narrative of the discussion about how to respond to “the West”. As he points out, the debate continues today.The theme is impossibly large, since each colonised culture and colonial power has its own story. The quite different 20th and 21st century histories of, say, Japan and Egypt show the danger of making generalisations about conditions in the 19th century. Still, in every losing land, the colonialists inspired a mixture of fear, admiration, fascination and fury. Each intellectual from what would later be called the developing world had to struggle with the tempting new ideas, oppressive politics, intellectual hypocrisy and the crude power of history’s apparent winners.Mishra provides a readable and often illuminating introduction. As he admits, he is not a great scholar – he rarely refers to primary sources and frequently relies on other secondary works. He is more of a clever journalist, but his use of a journalistic technique, to focus on a few key men, including al-Afghani and the Chinese politician and thinker Liang Qichao, works well.Al-Afghani’s trajectory exemplifies the challenges of clashing civilisations. He consistently disliked the colonial powers, especially the British with their self-serving rhetoric. But his ideas about how best to respond changed as he moved around the world, including stays in Afghanistan, Persia, Egypt and Europe.At first, he was tempted by those who wished to discard most of the old ways - the secularising and modernising approach which was to prevail in Turkey after the First World War and in China after the Second. Later, he became more sceptical of Western ways, sympathising with the complaint of the Ottoman intellectual Namik Kemal, who said that blind modernisation left ordinary people “stranded, materially and spiritually”, while the elite became only superficially modern: “frequenting ballrooms, being liberal about the infidelities of one’s wife and using European toilets”.As he grew older, Al-Afghani lost faith in the ability of colonised people to create Western-style modern states which were strong enough to stand up to Western military and economic pressure. Although personally something of a religious sceptic - he had read European philosophers - he decided that Islam could become a liberating political force. The Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and the leaders of the 1979 Iranian revolution were influenced by his argument that politics and religion needed to be closely integrated to resist the corrosive influence of the West.In the world that Mishra describes, the temptations of the West were great indeed. It offered not only potent technology but the ideal of human equality, the clarity of rational thinking and the practicality of strong governments ruling well organised societies. In contrast, the traditional Asian wisdom often looked like ignorance and traditional authorities looked oppressive and ineffective.In that world, though, the West was also repulsive. Racism was standard, the colonial powers were cruel and even such enlightened leaders as U.S. President Woodrow Wilson did not think the principle of national self-determination extended to the colonies and near-colonies which accounted for most of the world’s population. The West’s material and military success was also widely judged to by spiritually empty and doomed to end in violent self-destruction. Chinese thinker Yan Fu said, “Western progress…has led only to selfishness, slaughter, corruption and shamelessness.”The chaos of World War Two seemed to confirm that judgment. When the colonial powers withdrew after that conflagration, the leaders of newly independent countries had no good examples to follow. They and their successors have struggled to reconcile old and new - forms of government, economic arrangement and ways of thinking.Mishra ends with a brief discussion of the latest developments in the continuing struggle to be both modern and Asian or Moslem. His conclusion is a good starting point for a longer discussion. On one side, “The rise of Asia…consummates the revolt against the West that began more than a century ago.” On the other, there has been “an immense intellectual failure… Much of the ’emerging’ world now stands to repeat, on an ominously larger scale, the West’s own tortured and often tragic experience of modern ’development’.”

  • Omar Ali
    2019-06-23 08:26

    Pankaj Mishra's book is an unusually vapid and sophomoric work, carefully packaged to massage the prejudices of his liberal audience, but otherwise completely unoriginal and pedestrian. If you want to see how tendentious fakery is done by a professional, borrow it from a library. Dont buy it, you will only encourage him.My rolling comments while reading the book are at couple of excerpts from that overly long rant: Spoiler Alert. since the “review” is really a very long rolling rant, written as I read the book, some people may just want to know this one fact: this books is NOT about the intellectuals who remade Asia. That book would have to start with people like Aizawa in Japan, the first Asian nation to be “remade”, but that is one nation and one set of thinkers you will not find in this book. Why? because this book is not about Asia, its history or its renaissance, it is about post-liberal virtue signaling. ..On page 18 he says: "the word Islam, describing the range of Muslim beliefs and practices, was not used before the 19th century. "WTF?This is then negated on the very next page by Mishra himself. The only explanation for this little nugget is that Pankaj knows his audience and will miss no opportunity to slide in some politically correct red meat for his audience. There is a vague sense “out there” in liberal academia that Islam is unfairly maligned as monolithic and even that the label itself may be “Islamophobic”. Pankaj wants to let people know that he has no such incorrect beliefs. It is a noble impulse and it recurs. A lot.Pankaj’s summary of colonial history is boilerplate and unimaginative. He really has nothing new to reveal here. But he does seem to think (and, somewhat surprisingly, most of his reviewers seem to agree) that he is revealing new information and (to quote Hamid Dabbashi)”jolting our historical imagination and placing it on the right though deeply repressed axis. ”This is very surprising. Are we to believe that Hamid Dabashi, a professor at Columbia, did not know this very basic outline of colonial history and had “deeply repressed it”? Anyone with any interest in history would know all this in much greater detail already. The only thing “new” here (and even that is not new any more) is a certain background hum of “postcolonial snark” (a certain feeling of superiority based on supposed/implied willingness to defy “colonial stereotypes” and Western imperialism and its promoters). ..I think the key is to realize that Pankaj is crafting a shared (shared with his intended audience) anti-colonial pose/fantasy (mainly anti-British, he seems completely untroubled by the Russian empire in Asia, which is also very telling) and is following Afghani around from one half-baked idea to the next. Meanwhile, the actual 19th century world carried on, little affected by Afghani then and little affected by him now (though he has been adopted as a mascot by diverse Islamist groups, he is not a major source of their ideology or practice). Afghani’s tomb in Kabul meanwhile has been repaired with American “war on terror” funds. Oh the humanity!My point is this: when Pankaj says“It is impossible to imagine, for instance, that the recent protests andrevolutions in the Arab world would have been possible without the intellectual and political foundations laid by Al-Afghani’s assimilation of Western ideas and his rethinking of Muslim tradition” He is relying on his audience being ignorant of the actual intellectual and political foundations of the various Islamist movements fighting in the Arab world today. The “assimilation of Western ideas and rethinking of Muslim tradition” are less a feature of contemporary Arab Islamism and more a thing that Pankaj would like them to have. (that the structure or methods of these movements are in many ways modern, hence to a large extent Western in origin, is not the same thing as consciously assimilating Western ideas and rethinking Muslim tradition).

  • Christopher
    2019-05-31 10:02

    I have a very similar reaction to this book as I did 'Liberalism: A Counter-History' so I am going to do something similar and break it down into the good and the bad. I will also begin by stating something similar to what I did when reviewing that book: no matter the balance of forces in my review, I do heavily recommend everyone read this book.The Good:Well, as I mentioned, everyone should read it. Even if, like me, you have more than a passing acquaintance with many of these thinkers, seeing a bunch of them thrown together for era context is a great thing.The writing is really good and engaging. Goes into detail about the evolution of thought in some individuals themselves, rather than just their final product. A really excellent context-based synthesis of Asian philosophy as it responded to the rise and domination of Europe.The author has a good grasp of what actually made movements like that of Japan, Turkey, and latter day China successful=i.e military power and economic independence. There are no silly ideological talking points here, at least on that issue.The bad/questionable:Still seems to be some internalized Huntingtonism here. The belief of the west vs the rest was silly chauvanism in the past, but the belief that somehow this nebulous nonentity known as 'the east' is fundamentally different or even a cohesive thing is a weak point. China's rise is if anything a victory for the Westphalian system, and the most effective means of achieving independent power blocs by the authors own admission is building a state which can join such an order, rather than rejecting it. 'The East' is really like the non-liberal west akin to Bismarck or Metternich, a rejection of universal order for local concerns and autonomous balancing. This is why development and growing power has been effective in East Asia, where statecraft is old and barely interrupted, but not so much in the Muslim world, where dreams of religious and idealistic orders are just as prevalent as in northern and western Europe. If anything, the Muslim world is the world of unfortunate westerners rather than part of any 'east.'I felt the author really glossed over the Turkish experience because it was 'too western' and restricted to an elite. Most of these movements were elites, and I hardly see Kemalism as more western than say early communism in Asia was.Some minor quibbles should be mentioned too, like how a few dates are slightly off and how the Russo-Japanese War was hardly the first time since 'the middle ages' (a reference to the Golden Horde I imagine) an Asian or African power beat Europeans in a conventional war. Morocco decisively repulsed a renaissance Portuguese invasion, the Ottoman on and off creamed everybody until the 18th century, Sri Lanka gave some sailors a bloody surprise in the age of exploration, and Ming Dynasty loyalists under Coxinga drove the Dutch out of Taiwan entirely. Not to mention that the first Anglo-Asanti War ended in a stalemate which slightly looked better on the Asanti as late as the early 19th century, and that 17th century Japan and 18th century Madagascar would successfully drive missionaries out without repercussions (in that era at least). But still, despite quibbles, I would add this and 'Liberalism: A Counter History' to my required reading list for any up and coming euphoric liberals/humanists who need a healthy dose of reality.

  • Caroline
    2019-06-23 13:20

    Good concept, rocky execution. Too bad the first 300 pages aren't as coherent as the epilogue.It reads as if Mishra did his research on old fashioned note cards, then shuffled them like Nabokov only without achieving any artistic or intellectual design, or as if he dropped the box as it was delivered to the printer and just stuffed the cards back in the box willy nilly. As a result, the reader is dropped into a pinball machine, ricocheting from one writer, country or year to another one without warning or transition. Time after time he writes two or three sentences about one person by last name, dropping him into the text as if the reader knows him well, then finally introduces him by his full name and mini-biography fifty pages later. The structure of the book purports to focus on Liang Qichao, Jamal al-Din al-Afghani, and Tagore, but it rockets all over. He starts a section and gets half-way through a thought about one of them and then dashes off twenty years and six degrees of separation to talk about someone else. It is just a terrible struggle to read.When reviews of other histories talk about the author's ability to order his material, they are talking about the author's ability to avoid this kind of mess.Still, Mishra does present a great deal of material. Too much for the size of the book, but he gives a sense of the breadth of thinking on the topics of imperialism and nationalism in Asia from about 1800 on. His epilogue is very good at finally giving an orderly structure to what he has presented. His three or four core thinkers went through an evolution of political philosophy as they aged, lived through wars and negotiations, and traveled abroad. While many Asian intellectuals wanted to Westernize as a way to gain the power and prestige to evict the Westerners, these men eventually, generally saw the Western nation state and industrial culture as inherently corrupt, and sought strength through a return to traditional Asian cultural values. The epilogue, however, makes the claim that successful as many Asian countries now are, they don't have a true political philosophy that can provide a long-term, successful unifying principles for their peoples. Also interesting is the point that the Japanese occupation of many Asian countries during WWII, as brutal and devastating as it was, enabled many of them to evict returning European powers after 1945 because revolutionary groups had gained some organization and creditability during those crucial years.

  • Dilip Varma
    2019-06-16 12:07

    The Victorian era is considered to be a golden period for Europe that saw immense economic growth in the region. It drew its strength from the Industrial Revolution and converted small European countries into huge empires through rapid colonialization of Asiatic peoples. In the book, From the Ruins of Empire: The Intellectuals Who Remade Asia, Pankaj Mishra looks at this period through the eyes of the people on the other side. The Asians who saw their empires, economies and beliefs destroyed by the invading Europeans. Mishra presents this period through the works of various intellectuals of that time from places such as Japan, China, India, Persia, Turkey and Egypt. Though he discusses the views of many personalities, the author chooses to focus on the works of two remarkable persons; Jamal al-Din al-Afghani and Liang Qichao who are relatively unknown to casual readers of today like me. For a book that re-interprets century old works of others, the originality of the author shines through the strikingly cohesive pan Asian view on Western imperialism, culture and Asian future that he is able to evolve. Mishra also presents an interesting perspective about Japan, a country that according to some, wanted to leave Asia and join the West. In spite of this, the author argues that the resurrection of Asian peoples was inspired by the Japanese rout of Tsarist Russia in a naval battle of 1905 and finally hastened by the humiliation of almost all European powers by the same Japan at the start of the second World War. The book comprises of analysis of events that occurred during the period under focus and works of influential people who lived in that time. The first chapter on al-Afghani is an odyssey in itself and can feel a bit dragging. You will also see the same or similar ideas being espoused by multiple people at various points in the book. Still, you cannot fail to be impressed by the amount of research that has gone into writing this book. A book that is definitely a prized addition to a reader's personal library.

  • Murtaza
    2019-06-08 11:09

    One of the best books I've read in years, calling Mishra the modern inheritor to Edward Said's legacy is no exaggeration.

  • Nithyanand
    2019-06-24 13:11

    Pankaj Mishra’s mastery turns dry, leaden history into narrative gold, full of drama and intrigue.Mishra examines how Asian societies absorbed, and reacted to, Western modernity under colonial rule. He focuses on the careers of two men I had never heard of—Jamal al-Din al-Afghani and Liang Qichao, with the life and thought of others such as Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, Rabindranath Tagore and Mao Zedong briefly examined.I hadn’t quite realised how humiliating and devastating European rule was to the Muslim world. All Asian societies before colonialism were self-contained to various extents, but the Ottoman Empire, with its moral authority for Muslims, felt itself to be on a different plane to what they thought of as the barbarians from the West, as did the Chinese. But those illusions were swept away with the economic, political and technological might of Europeans in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The Ottoman and Chinese empires decayed from within, and extraordinary concessions were granted to European imperialists who came under the guise of traders, financiers and diplomats, even as livelihoods were destroyed under the assault of European goods. Europeans were, for example, granted immunity from any prosecution, whatever their conduct in Ottoman Istanbul. And the loans the Ottoman sultan took on from European banks in order to frantically modernize his country to compete with the West meant that he handed over his country’s sovereignty. The upper class everywhere tried to accommodate the West to maintain its standing. The result of these and other humiliations in Turkey and the Arab world was that Muslims felt marginalised in their own lands. Even though Turkey and Iran were not outright colonies politically, they were subjugated economically. In India, meanwhile, the failed mutiny of 1857 was much more disastrous for Muslims than it was for Hindus, again something I hadn’t appreciated.The intelligentsia in all Asian societies knew they had to modernize, one way or another, or perish. This meant, above all, building a strong national consciousness amongst the people, a shared solidarity. One characteristic response to this need was to invoke religion.One of the men who tried to do this in the Islamic world was Jamal al-Din al-Afghani, who represents a fascinating blend of much that would today be considered impossible—a man who appealed to both Shia and Sunni Muslims, a man who has proved, indirectly, to be an inspiration for both the Islamic Revolution in Iran and the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, a man who advocated that Muslims should fight alongside Hindus, Christians and Jews to overthrow Europeans from Asia. A Shia born in Persia, al-Afghani presented himself, for the most part, as a Sunni hailing from Afghanistan. He travelled remarkably widely for his time, spending time in, among other places, Delhi, Hyderabad, Cairo, Istanbul, Tehran, Kabul, London, Paris and Moscow.At first, everywhere he went, he exhorted his fellow Muslims to embrace modern education and lamented that they had fallen on hard times because of their complacency. He wanted them to borrow from the West their knowledge, and hence the secret of their power, so that Muslims could forge strong nations themselves and expel their European colonizers. Though this was what Sir Sayyid Ahmed Khan, who founded the Aligarh Muslim University, wanted too, al-Afghani did not want to reject Islam the way Khan, whom he accused of being pro-British, wanted to. In all this, what drove al-Afghani was a keen sense of the humiliation Muslims had been subjected to by Europeans, particularly by the British, in India, Egypt and Persia.Later, al-Afghani became less convinced that adopting Western education and ways would lead Muslims anywhere. He felt, instead, that Muslims should look into the Quran and their own tradition to find ideas for their regeneration. (Many others Mishra writes about went through the same U-turn—embracing Western ideas enthusiastically at first, then realising the perils.) He also wanted the Ottoman sultan to be the enlightened despot who, as the caliph, would lead Muslims, unite them, and forge his country into a modern state that could stand up to the West. Except the sultan wasn’t keen on this project. So al-Afghani tried the Persian shah, who also declined.An eye-opener from this book was the hold that a rising Japan had on the minds of Asians everywhere. Japan’s naval defeat of Russia in 1905 sparked celebrations and eruptions of pride across Asia, even from pacifist Tagore. (I had no clue people in India, China, Japan, Egypt and Iran, followed events in each other’s countries so closely. Today, any pan-Asian feeling is totally absent.) In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, students from all over Asia were routinely sent to Japan to study and absorb their modernizing ways. Japan, though it tried hard to earn a seat alongside the European imperial powers, soon found that the club belonged exclusively to white men. Despite this, and despite Japanese aggression and brutalities in Asia, before and during WWII, many Asians saw in Japan a strong refutation of the idea that Europeans and their ways were somehow superior. And Japan’s conquests in Asia during WWII had the effect of hastening the exit of European colonial powers.The second thinker Mishra focuses on is Liang Qichao of China. Like al-Afghani, Liang Qichao initially sought to reinterpret China’s Confucian tradition in order to make his modernization project palatable to the more conservative section of his society, yet advocated borrowing liberally from the West. (I hadn’t realised the extraordinary enduring influence of Confucian thought in China. Though identified with the monarchy, and discredited and mocked during the failed revolution after WWI, and also after the Communist takeover and the Mao era, it has undergone a resurgence in recent years.) But later, on his tour of the US in early twentieth century, Liang saw for himself the racism, inequality, poverty and injustice behind the glossy veil of American superpower. The power of the corporates, and the increasing centralisation of power with the federal governement that he witnessed in the US, convinced him that autocracy, not republican democracy, was the only way to build a strong nation state, laying the model for present-day China’s state-backed capitalism.A “Peace Conference” held in Paris after WWI promised much for Asia, especially with Woodrow Wilson’s rhetoric of self determination for all. As it turned out, he meant self-determination for conquered Europeans, not Asians. Representatives from Asian countries travelled from far and wide but did not get a hearing despite the fact that millions of them had died for the allied war effort. This profound betrayal was experienced even by Japan, who were expecting a seat on the high-table. The world also got to know, through Lenin, the existence of a secret treaty, the Sykes-Picot agreement, among European imperial powers to divide up their conquests of Arab lands after the war—an agreement that, among other things, created artifical nation states with arbitrary borders such as that between Syria and Iraq, which ISIS made a show of erasing not long ago. All this further entrenched Asian beliefs of a world order rigged against them. And China’s communist turn was sparked in the wake of this collective humiliation which made many in Asia rethink their attempts at uncritical imitation of the West.In fact, all of the thinkers Mishra profiles in some detail foresaw, remarkably, the disastrous consequences of wholesale imitation of Western nationalism. Tagore even went on lecture tours in China and Japan. However, he encountered heckling and stiff opposition to his ideas, and had to cancel his tour, as the mood in these countries had shifted by then. The first-generation of thinkers, such as Liang Qichao, had been displaced by younger men who saw assertive self-strengthening and nationalism along Western lines as the only salvation.As with Mishra’s previous books, there is a continuity of thought that’s very evident. I can see more clearly how and why he reached the arguments he did in Age of Anger: that liberalism was always meant for the elite, that the passage to modernity is filled with violence—physical and psychological—not as accident but as coercion, as logical, foreseeable consequence, and that economic and political models that enabled modernity in the West weren’t universal and are fraught with disastrous consequences if transplanted elsewhere. Violence, war and conquest for imperial expansion and ruthless exploitation—to extract raw materials and cheap labour and for new markets in which to flood their goods—were central to how the West achieved prosperity as modern nation states. Also clear, from historical precedents, is that nationalism and the homogenisation that ensues, is central. As such, it hardens ethnic, cultural, national and religious loyalties.The last two chapters were a let-down. I’m none the wiser about how Turkey, Iran and China have aggressively modernized in their very different ways post-WWII—Turkey, until recently, through a rejection of Islam, and embrace and imitation of the West; Iran through an appeal to puritanical Islam; and China through state-backed capitalism. (I did appreciate that Turkey’s desire to imitate Europe and gain entry into their club goes back further than Atatürk, and that modern Iran cannot be seen in isolation from the insults inflicted upon it by the West that provoked the 1979 Islamic Rrevolution.) Mishra’s comments on these are a confusing mix of vague statements thrown together in an incoherent manner. They probably reflect that he was in a hurry to finish the book, but these two chapters definitely make for unsatisfactory reading.

  • Sam
    2019-06-06 11:15

    A good read that links intellectual movements from Japan all the way across the world to Egypt through the stories of thinkers like Jamal al-Din al-Afghani and Liang Qichao. I'd certainly buy it and read it again, knowing what I know now. However, Mishra missteps sometimes. He again and again hammers on the importance of the Japanese besting the Russians in the 1904 Battle of Tsushima as the first time non-Europeans had "vanquished a European power in a major war," ignoring the success of the Ethiopians over Italy in the battle of Adwa in 1896. He also seems to think that western European imperialism is inherently worse than any other kind of imperialism. "There had been other imperialisms in the past. Indeed, many victims of European conquests themselves belonged to powerful empires -- Ottoman Turkey, Qing China. But modern European imperialism would be wholly unprecedented in creating a global hierarchy of economic, physical and cultural power." I am not as well-versed on this subject as Mishra, but it seems as if Ottoman Turks, Qing Chinese, Japanese, Romans, the Incas, the Aztecs, the Mughals (in India) were also imperialists who placed themselves above their subject peoples in economic, physical and cultural terms.

  • Anders Hjortshøj
    2019-06-07 13:03

    Commenting on a nineteenth-century revolt in Egypt, The Times wrote, with typical English understatement, that "a native opinion exists... and is not to be entirely ignored."It is this "native opinion" of Western high imperialism, still obscure to Westerners, that is the topic of this book.Departing from the personal trajectories of three Asian intellectuals (Jamal al-Din al-Afghani, Liang Qichao, and Rabindranath Tagore), Mishra lays out the conflicts, upheavals, and disappointments that fed their lives of struggle and their shifting, creative responses to a ruthless imperialist world. Instead of presenting a clear-cut verdict on several centuries of wrenching change across a vast area, the author seeks to render the experiences of Asians themselves in all their complexity, from the bitter irony of the Japanese failure to beat the West at its own blood-soaked game, to the descent of secularizing modernization programmes into naked despotism in Turkey, Egypt and elsewhere. Women are largely absent in the narrative, and glaring omissions such as the Armenian genocide when discussing Turkey are puzzling, but the project succeeds overall, and is a valuable antidote to the Niall Fergusons and Samuel Huntingtons of this world.

  • Kiran Mudumba
    2019-06-09 08:20

    The book makes you realize how less you knew about the ideological, intellectual, and cultural turmoil that entire Asia went through during the european colonization, besides the moral, physical and economical suffering. It covers the kind of details that we should all have read in high school... we would have come to respect more our freedom.... we would have gotten the true picture of the west that we only encountered in books and movies and glorified ....... so we wud have grown thankful to the likes of Gandhis and Tagores for saving India from going the same way as the rest of Asia... for saving us from turning into religious fundamentalists, anglophiles, communists, and violent nationalists for the sake of freedom from the white peril.While the middle east still struggles to free itself from the same military imperialists, we the free countries of Asia are again heading towards a new form of imperialism - corporate imperialism, headed by MNCs which will sooner or later have the same effect on our rural populations as the previous colonization. Alas, this time we don't have any Gandhi or Tagore to save us.

  • Sumirti Singaravel
    2019-06-11 05:00


  • Kamran
    2019-06-16 13:16

    National Freedom, Racial Dignity, Simple vengefulness were three main factors ensuingly responsible for partition, freedom and liberty from British Empire's colonial states.Battle of Tsushima paved the way towards what we may call freedom from the 'Oppressors'. Japan’s victory over Russia accelerated an irreversible process of intellectual, if not yet political, decolonization. What Tsushima could not immediately reverse was the superiority of Western arms and commerce which had been impressed upon Asia and Africa for much of the nineteenth century."This book seeks to offer a broad view of how some of the most intelligent and sensitive people(Al-Afghani, Liang Qichao, Tagore are main characters) in the East responded to the encroachments of the West (both physical and intellectual) on their societies. It describes how these Asians understood their history and social existence, and how they responded to the extraordinary sequence of events and movements – the Indian Mutiny, Anglo-Afghan Wars, Ottoman modernization, Turkish and Arab nationalism, the Russo-Japanese War, the Chinese Revolution, the First World War, the Paris Peace Conference, Japanese militarism, decolonization, postcolonial nationalism and the rise of Islamic fundamentalism – that together decided the present shape of Asia."starting with "Ali Bonaparte" in Egypt, Mishra presented a remarkable intellectual based history of British Empire's ruling policies with activist-ic tendencies of colonial intellectuals from China to Egypt and Iran.Mishra stated that Britain enslaved nations (the then mostly confused collective masses of no specific ideologies extracted from their civilizations which mainly depended on their religions) through Capitally lucrative and supportive excuses of modernization , and others like Ottoman Turkey Ottoman Turkey the dominion of the West was achieved not through outright conquest, as had happened in India, but through urgent borrowings of political, economic and cultural ideas from Europe. Nonetheless, as al-Afghani was to find out, the changes unleashed uponordinary Muslims were no less disorientating than they had been in India.Egypt was entangled in by spiraling debt and free trade market,Poland through territorial partition,India through exploiting internal divisions,Philippines and the Transvaal through simply overwhelming adversaries with military superiority.Independence war of 1857, Tanzimat reforms by Ottoman's 'efforts' for modernization, Meji reforms from Japan, China-japan war, Boxer Rebellion, Opium War, Battle of Tsushima, First World War, Paris Peace Treaty, Ataturk's Rule, Egypt's timely revolutions, and Active parts from the Iranian intelleactuals werev the main factors of the Change.Mishra's words are worth mentioning here that One of the two most enduring consequences of modernization everywhere in the Asian world would be the rise to power of new secular and Westernizing groups, whether military officers or government bureaucrats and new professionals. The other would be the backlash from those ordinary citizens who were asked to pay taxes, the religious-social elites who saw their influence threatened by the Westernizers, and the minorities who, in the face of a centralizing authority, became aware of their separate ethnic or religious identity. throughout the book there is a comprehensive outlook from all the then befuddled and chaotic territories and masses under Britain Rule and Legacies of great minds. and then we read a great foresight of Rabindranath Tagore's noting that Imperialism had to justify itself to this modern sentiment and could only do so by pretending to be a trustee of liberty, commissioned from on high to civilize the uncivilized and train the untrained until the time hadcome when the benevolent conqueror had done his work and could unselfishly retire.there is an echoing ideology of Pan-Asianism among Asians then turned after 2nd world war into Nationalism and how Successive humiliations by foreigners shaped Chinese nationalism and that This was the fundamental challenge for the first generation of modern Asian intellectuals, and many of the ideologies embraced by modern Asian peoples – secular nationalism, revolutionary communism, state socialism, Arab nationalism, pan-Islamism – developed as a response to the same stubborn challenge of the West. It links not only the Muslim Jamal al-Din al-Afghani to the Chinese Liang Qichao, but also al-Afghani to Osama bin Laden, Liang to Mao Zedong, the Ottoman Empire to present-day Turkey and pre-Communist China to the capitalist China of today.A GIGANTIC RESEARCH-BASED BOOK, I RECKON.

  • nick
    2019-06-09 06:09

    tough book to review, at first and to be honest I am still quite skeptical but I do believe this book is one of those I will remember for a long time. I have read criticism on this book for being not spot on accurate or selective in what to put in the book and that might be true but those who claim that fail to see the aim of the book. This book is a book on the specific world view and historical mindset of the educated Asian (east and south) and middle eastern middles classes and their perceptions of their respective home regions that are coming to terms with over a hundred years of history and societal changes. It is not meant to be an objective piece of historical research but a book of the awakening of those millions in the world who no longer accept the dogmas that prevailed for so long. Having said all the above I do have a few remarks some which that perhaps say more of my personal political views then on the specifics of this book. One, is Mishra has a very pro Turkish and Pro Erdogan view on Turkish politics and casually waves away the Armenian deportation as only claimed to be a genocide (implying it isn't one) as well as endorsing Erdogans long term ambition of making Turkey the leading state in a more unified panislamic state. I am always up for criticizing or at least de-idealizing national heroes such as Ataturk for a more objective analysis but Mishra is quite unrelenting and even his analysis of Mao is less harsh then the secular ambitions of Ataturk but again perhaps not to be seen as an objective observation but rather on how current politicizing disillusioned young people in Asia reevaluate their nations history (He is spot on when saying Gandhi has lost his appeal let alone mythical status with India's new generation). On the book structure despite being a book on a long period of time and a vast swat of the world population and land, the book is remarkably coherent. The chapters ar well thought trough on subjects and persons tackled and none of it feels added on for no reason. I personally am not a huge fan of biography driven historical narritves but the lifestories of Al-Afghani, Tagore and Lian Qichao used as the canvas to reconstruct the times they lived in was well done. I had never heard of two of those men and had only vague knowledge of Tagore and it is clear that I underestimated the capabilities of their respective home regions for producing such mystifying complex revolutionary characters let alone their long and short term impact. Perhaps it is yet another proof of western dogma of superiority or at least initiative dominance to believe decolonization ideologies to be product of western ideas adopted to Asiatic settings. Off course here at this point historical research and rhetoric meet, are these three persons ideas and students as influential as Mishra claims them to be? Al-afghani reminded me on some level off Kropotkin the Russian anarchist (mishra makes the comparison with Karl Marx) for both lived a wandering live of not truly belonging and endless frustrations. The difference being that Kropotkin has little influence and impact in the contemporary wold were as Mishra claims Al-Afghani inspired both the conservative muslim brotherhood and the liberal muslim reformer as well as both the Iranian Islamic republic as inspiring the revolutionary radical global salafi movement. While Lian Qichao is less seen as the pivotal point of change in China, he was chosen for his personal ideological development (pro emperor gradual decisive reform, anti emperor radical change and finally neo traditionalist careful modernizer) that might indeed be a allegory for the history of China the last century. Tagore is the person Mishra spent the least time on and Tagore is presented as a sort of ethical point. Tagore's criticism of Asian societies adopting blindly the western ways of organisation and materialistic ambitions are rephrased as a gut feeling fear for the new century in which Asian societies show signs of repeating the horrors of imperialism and war that possessed western societies (both elites and citizens). After all Tagore was right of Japan so why not the rest of Asia for when liberalism and status quo loses it appeal in Asia as it did in the reformed Japan in the 20th century who knows what the 21th will bring when China, India and the Middle east truly awaken? At least that seems to be the point and warning Mishra was trying to get across.I must admit the warning struck me but I do remain skeptical for if it does seem as a logical chain of events it is because of the way he connected events as is the case with any good history book and future claim. I did feel that these three men mentioned above were given a bit to much attention and even if many more persons were mentioned to be looked into on our own, it still felt as a rather selective list to support a point. regardless it is as important if not more important to acknowledge that according to a growing number people in Asia, these three men and their ideas are as and perhaps even more influential as any western liberal,marxist and nationalist ideologue or other Asian persons of interest of their time and region. It is true that the narrative of adoption of western ways has lost a lot of appeal in the world but unlike Mishra I do not see this quite as teleologicaly moving towards a new global era of conflict as the western order fails or is weakened sufficiently for alternatives to challenge it militarily. It is clear that Mishra is inspired by the three men he build his work around for being realistic of both the possibilities as dangers of western modernization, their ambition to preserve the best of their societies and avoid the worst of the western model, a delicate balance that he clearly feels is being lost with all the dangerous consequences entailed. So in conclusion, a thought provoking book that will make me reevaluate some assumptions I made earlier (overemphasizing western ideas as inspiring the modern decolonization movements) and a must read for anyone interested in a book on long term globalization and political/ideological developments that will affect the near and long term future of our world.

  • Trish
    2019-06-18 12:25

    A little history is a dangerous thing. One of the reasons I have never liked reading history is that I discovered written history often has pieces that are missing that can change one’s understanding of an event or time. One has to dig down into the details and the truth may never reveal itself. But thank goodness for Pankaj Mishra, who gives us history like nothing Americans are likely to encounter in school: history from the point of view of majority non-white nations around the time of the first global upheaval, at the turn of the last century and the First World War. Mishra focuses on Asia as it was defined at the time, anything east of Turkey and west of Japan, and uses the words of individuals to define a zeitgeist that inspired and motivated upheavals taking place in the world at the time. Though Europe’s most influential thinkers deemed most of the non-white non-European societies unfit for self-rule, the men that drove revolutionary change in those very societies were motivated by notions of equality and human dignity spoken and written of in Western Europe, and later, by Woodrow Wilson.One of those men was Jamal al-Din al-Afghani, revered now as the intellectual god-father of the Islamic Revolution. Educated in Tehran in the mid-ninetieth century, al-Afghani passed himself off as a member of different sects and nationalities in order to most effectively educate and reform with an eye to anti-imperialist strategy.The English people believe me a RussianThe Muslims think me a ZoroastrianThe Sunnis think me a ShiiteAnd the Shiite think me an enemy of AliSome of the friends of the four companions have believe me a WahhabiSome of the virtuous Imamites have imagined me a Babi…And yet al-Afghani was able to keep his focus on power to the subjugated people of Asia and exhort them to greater resistance to the imperialist power being brought to bear upon them by the West. Al-Afghani turns up wherever societal turmoil was in progress (Afghanistan, India, Turkey, Egypt, Iraq, Iran) and by his writings and speeches was able to urge a “protective modernization” upon fellow Muslims: “self-strengthening without blind imitation of the West, and who insisted that the Koran itself sanctioned many of the values—individual freedom and dignity, justice, the use of reason, even patriotism—touted by Turkish high officials as ‘Western.’” “Fanaticism and political tyranny” were the basic evils of unreformed Muslim society, he argued, the means by which the West had come to dominate the East.Eventually al-Afghani came to believe that modernization alone as not sufficient, as it was making countries in the East subservient client states of the West. Pan-Islamism and nationalism was then considered to be the only way to beat back the encroaching West. He has a long history, traveling to Paris, Moscow and back, eventually, to Persia, agitating until his death in 1897. His grave, long unmarked, was moved to Kabul in 1944, and was visited by the American ambassador in 2002, who paid for restoration of the site. One group of al-Afghani’s followers became proponents of Salafism, the puritanical movement which is the basis for ISIS, surely a perversion of what al-Afghani believed.I spend so much time on al-Afghani because I don’t think I have ever heard of him before, or if I have, I never knew anything about what he was thinking. Mishra just begins with al-Afghani, however, and delves into China’s (and Vietnam’s) pre-revolutionaries, Liang Qichao, Kang Youwei, and Tan Sitong. Tan died, tragically for China’s interests one might argue, by allowing himself to be captured and executed in his twenties by forces loyal to the dowager empress. He was one who was clever enough to have negotiated the moral shoals of republicanism by combining it with the Confucian notion of social ethics.Liang Qichao was the one of Tan's contemporaries to travel in the United States, writing “70 percent of the entire national wealth of America is in the hands of 200,000 rich people…How strange, how bizarre!” Liang was later part of a delegation to the peace conference held in Paris following the First World War. Interests of the non-white majority countries were ignored, despite the notions of freedom from oppression and human dignity embodied in Wilson’s ‘Fourteen Points’ and lodged in the hearts of many nationalists.The final figure upon whom Mishra focuses is Rabindranath Tagore, who was likewise awakened to new ideas through contact with the West, but who also saw the spiritual vacuity in the West’s worldview. When he visited China in the 1920’s he was disparaged by crowds shouting “We don’t want philosophy, we want materialism!” Such a thing could be said to be heard today in Beijing. Let’s hope the Chinese don’t come to regret their single-minded choice, or are turned back once they see the desert ahead.It is hard to avoid Mishra’s conclusion that racism was the reason Eastern countries were exploited and ignored by the West at the turn of the twentieth century. It is also true that the West had made advances in science, logic, and humanistic theories that struck thinkers in Asia as entirely worthwhile and modern. The Asians, however, could see something perverted in the West’s materialistic rapacity and sought to preserve some of their rich spiritual heritage while modernizing their political systems. If the West had only appreciated and taken on board what the East had to offer, rather than using muscle to subdue the insistence on autonomy from imperialism, probably none of us would be in the position in which we find ourselves today.Mishra’s work of history is enormously important and entirely welcome, covering as he does vast parts of the non-white Asiatic world during a time of turmoil. He does not avoid the blank spots, omissions, and imputations common to writers of history: in the one sentence assigned to Armenia he writes, “However, harassed by Armenian nationalists in the east of Anatolia, the Turks ruthlessly deported hundreds of thousands of Armenians in 1915, an act that later invited accusations of genocide.” Nonetheless, this work and its bibliography is a giant step towards redressing our ignorance of the histories, needs, and desires of peoples in their search for rights.

  • Prasatt
    2019-06-10 11:04

    Madeleine Thien recommended this book to me when I met her at the Singapore Writers Festival 2017. I had asked her to suggest a book that had been influential in shaping her worldview, and this was her suggestion. I felt myself being both edified and entertained at the same time - I couldn’t wait to get to the next page and the page after. Which doesn’t happen all that often for me with non-fiction. A must-read for anyone who is a postcolonial subject.

  • Sabrina
    2019-05-27 11:23

    I really enjoyed this book! It was kind of hard to read at times, what with all the historical information and formal writing, but definitely worth it. Well-written and extensively researched, this book examines how Western imperialism and hypocrisy led to the rejection of liberalism and Western-style democracy across Asia as well as the rise of Communism in China and radical Islam in the Middle East. I liked how Mishra included writing from intellectuals in China, Iran, India, etc., and thought it was very refreshing to read about the rise of the West from the perspective of subjugated peoples rather than Westerners. A must-read for anyone wishing to understand more about current geopolitics.

  • Alper Çuğun
    2019-06-11 10:19

    An essential anti-colonial counter-history that uses sources, thinkers and voices from Asia to shine a light on some dark chapters of our Western history.

  • Willem
    2019-06-05 08:12

    een must read voor een beter begrip van de huidige situatie in Azië, Europa en de rest van de wereld

  • Manu
    2019-06-10 09:17

    The mid-late 19th century and the first half of the 20th century was a period dominated by Europe and later, America, and much of humanity's narrative in that period has, as always, been written by the victor. The victors also did much to enforce their way of life and thinking on to their subject audience, which, seeing its own set of institutions crumbling against this onslaught, began admiring and aping their masters, or at least silently suffering.What Pankaj Mishra does in this book, is give us a perspective shift - a view from the 'first-generation' thinkers of the time. Though their approaches and line of thinking were different, courtesy the varied milieu they lived in, their narratives had a couple of commonalities - an aversion for the West, and a recognition that they needed to build an indigenous renaissance to break the shackles and rise again. Jamal al-Din al-Afghani, Liang Qichao and Rabindranath Tagore are the ones chosen by Pankaj Mishra to structure the flow of the narrative. Together, their 'footprint' cover Afghanistan, Persia, the Ottoman empire including Egypt, China, Japan and India and the other areas these collectively influence. Their ideas traverse everything from Pan-Islamism, Nationalism, Pan- Asianism and revolution in politics to Confucianism and Hinduism in spirituality. Across time, we are able to see the rise of colonialism, America as the (soon fallen) icon of liberty, world wars, and the change of the world map since. The book gives an amazing sense of (to use two phrases I picked up from it) historical continuity and enables to see at least a faint gradient of transformation across time and place. A shift in worldview that owes as much to the West as it does to original (or revived) thought. Though I am not really someone interested in geo-politics, it helped refine perspectives and understand the reason for the ways nations are - be it China, Japan, Iran, Egypt or even us. It also made me realise that history indeed repeats itself though its manifestations might seem different. Ironically, something that each of the above inherited from the West was the concept of the nation state - a device that I have found to be one of best tools of manipulation in this age. In that context, I must thank Pankaj Mishra for reintroducing me (had first come across it in Amartya Sen's "The Argumentative Indian") to Tagore's critique of the nation state and for advocating a more universal ideology that encompasses humanity as a whole. In fact, given the way the world has been acting recently on its chosen path of progress, this concept and its associated materialism driven approach seems ill equipped to handle the scarcity of resources and other constraints that we will soon face. A fantastic read that throws light on not just geo-politics, political philosophies and ideologies and history per se, but even questions the paths of progress that we, as a civilisation, have taken, and where it might lead us.

  • Sajith Kumar
    2019-06-24 08:01

    Asia is the cradle of all civilizations and religions now extant in the world. Europe was groping in barbaric darkness while culture had its finest flowers lolling in the gardens of Asia. This state of affairs continued till the fifteenth century when Europe at last caught up with Renaissance and overtook it two centuries later with Enlightenment. Industrial Revolution and the multifaceted devices science had invented helped the Europeans expand into Asia in search of colonies. Steeped in a culture that was stagnant for many millennia, Asia was humbled and European hegemony ruled over her. Asians watched their masters and responded in various ways to challenge them. A few imitated them, while many others wanted to go back to the fundamentals of their culture and religion. The first copied the concepts of modern society like national states, capitalism, socialism, rule of law and secularism, while the latter fell back on fundamentalism, which is mocking the foundations of the world order now. Pankaj Mishra tells about the pioneering intellectuals who guided the so-called Asian remaking that revolted against the West and put Asian countries on the path of progress after decolonization. The author principally writes for the Guardian, the New York Times and other leading journals. He lives in London and Shimla.Originality and individuality had departed from the social and political mores of Asia from the mid-nineteenth century. The great continent had become the battleground of major European powers in their quest to carve up ever lucrative slices of the territorial pie with abundant raw materials and cheap labour. All the major upheavals in Asian history from 1850 till present are succinctly summed up by the author, which include the Indian Mutiny, Anglo-Afghan wars, Ottoman modernization, Turkish and Arab nationalism, the Russo-Japanese War, the Chinese Revolution, the First World War, the Paris Peace Conference, Japanese militarism, decolonization, postcolonial nationalism and the rise of Islamic fundamentalism. All these factors that decided the present shape of Asia are inextricably linked in some way or the other to western ideals. It was surprising at first to watch Europe subdue Asia as individually the Europeans are no more brave, innovative or sensitive or loyal than Asians. However, the social institutions that guided the Europeans were modern and full of energy. As members of corporate groups, churches, or governments and as efficient users of scientific knowledge, the Europeans mustered more power than the wealthiest empires of Asia (p.40).Most Asians, as well as the book’s author assume an unappreciative perspective on Europe’s surging ahead after the Enlightenment. This did not come about in a day or two. Innovations and interdependent entities like efficient taxation, codified laws, conscript armies, and capital-raising joint-stock companies moulded its development. While Europe was perfecting these mechanisms with which they set out to subjugate the world, Asia was blissfully immersed in despotism and blindly following traditional wisdom. European subordination of Asia was not merely economic, political or military. It was also intellectual, moral and spiritual, which left its victims resentful but also envious of their conquerors.Mishra tells his narrative based on the lives of Jamal al-Din al-Afghani, Liang Qichao and Rabindranath Tagore. All three tried to follow the West in the beginning, but quickly diverted their trajectory as soon as they detected the grave inner conflicts behind the façade of Western civilization. Al-Afghani fell out with the monarchs of Iran, Egypt and Turkey, even though he entered their services with the promise of radical new thinking. Communism also exerted its appeal on rising Asian intellectuals like Lian Qichao of China. One thing is to be clearly kept in mind here. Communism was yet one more Western ideology imported to Asia, like democracy, imperialism and nationalism. Qichao’s original view was that socialism had its roots in the terrible class inequalities and conflicts created by the laissez-faire policies followed in Western Europe after the Industrial Revolution. China, or any other Asian country, had experienced no such polarization or clashes. It was patriotism, not communism which had prompted Ho Chi Minh to believe in Lenin. Perhaps that’s the reason why communism enjoyed a more lasting presence in Asia. Even long after the overthrow of Stalinist regimes in Eastern Europe, Chinese Communist Party is still going strong. Tagore, the celebrated Indian poet of global renown, believed that Western civilization, built upon the cult of money and power was inherently destructive and needed to be tempered by the spiritual wisdom of the East.Asians discovered the chinks in Europe’s armour of superiority during and after the First World War. The war was bloody and exacted a heavy toll from the combatants. This fratricidal warfare among European states goaded the Asian intelligentsia into recognizing the pitfalls associated with blindly following the West. The Great Depression and the Second World War put the final nail in the coffin of colonialism. At this point, Islamic and other Asian countries parted their ways. Every nation dived into their cultural traditions when they faced a superior rival in the form of European imperialism which couldn’t be defeated in a conventional way. Countries like India and China extracted new hope and aspirations from the rich mines of those countries’ social treasure accumulated over the ages. But Islam was different. It is not just a religion, but a whole way of life that negates local differences and enhances blind devotion to a set of beliefs that reward obedience rather than skepticism. Countries like Iran and Turkey had a fertile past, but the disillusioned intelligentsia turned towards pan-Islamism as the key to unlock their winning streak once again. This had disastrous consequences. Not only did the strategy failed to produce a stable result (with a few exceptions like the Iranian theocratic state), it turned towards violent extremism that proved to be a scourge of the entire world. On the home front too, Israel emerged as a challenge to Arab self-pride. As terrorism was strictly dealt with elsewhere, the militants turned upon their own brothers. Now, Muslims are perhaps the largest victim of Islamic terror.Mishra handles Europe and its ideals with a tinge of hostility and resigned acceptance. The demoralizing facets of colonialism are obviously exaggerated while the real civilizing mission goes unnoticed. Asian intellectuals used European capitals as their base for obtaining and dissipating knowledge. Jamal al-Din al-Afghani operated out of Paris and London in his intellectual career. The British readily tolerated him though he was preaching against their influence in the Muslim world. Tagore had a sizeable following in Britain. This was actually one of the drawbacks arraigned against European liberalism – that they allowed the lofty ideals of enlightened toleration in their own homeland, but denied it in the colonies. The book unfairly ascribes racial prejudices to most Western leaders before and during the World Wars. British Prime Minister Lloyd George might indeed have used the term ‘nigger’, or Australian Premier Billy Hughes might have uttered ‘cannibalism’, but such words were used in common parlance in those times. We should not judge the past in the glow of enlightenment of a future era. The book is provided with a good index, an extensive section on Notes and a commendable bibliography.The book is recommended.

  • Netusha
    2019-06-05 10:08

    One would feel slightly hesitant at my first attempt of reading this book. Initially, you might be overwhelmed by the strong sense of colonial angst that seemed to paint the overall nature of sentiments. To me, at least, it was an indication that one is in dire need to free their minds of inherited and systematic biases towards regional intellectual history - especially since Eurocentrism is evidently still prevailing in our postcolonial universe.Ultimately, Pankaj Mishra successfully encapsulates the remarkable contentions of Asian intellectuals as well as summarizing the history behind the making of modern Asia. It is no mystery that he is a brilliant writer, and this book testifies as a wonderful piece of historical writing, especially for one who strives to chart the journey of rediscovering the ideas of Asia. More importantly, this book reminds us of a rather incredible story of class struggles against the currents of Western imperialism. It provides a reasonable understanding of the present day interactions between modern nation-states as well as responses towards multiculturalism, religious nationalism, the war on terror and sovereignty. All in all, I would definitely recommend From the Ruins of Empire as an introductory reading because it provides the perfect foundation of our regional history. Think of it as a walkabout from the eyes of Sun Yat Sen to that of Liang Qichao and Mao Zedong when in China. Or even with Jamal al-Din al-Afghani to Abul A'la Maududi. If you are looking for something that will rejuvenate an excitement for reading history, this is a go-to. At least in my opinion, it is.

  • Alan Cunningham
    2019-06-07 10:10

    I brought this book along on a visit to Istanbul, Mumbai and Delhi. While it was not geographically specific within those cities, it did give me a new appreciation of the history of the east frrom the middle East to Japan.I had a hard time imprinting on the writing at first, but came to love the scope and depth of the research here. The provactive (at least for my unread POV) thesis thesis of this book is that the East remains wary of the west, and market capitalism for rational and historic reasons. Each of the regions had a pervasive and persuasive worldview that ordered their civilizations for centuries or millennia. Each of these was torn apart by the western need for market capitalism starting in the 1600s, intensifying between 1800 and 1940, and remaining today. As much as the libertarian mythology of Pareto optimality holds true, we cannot blithely dismiss Islam, Hinduism or Confucianism as alternate ways to order societies. At least not in the way that they were dismissed by the west over the last several centuries.While the pacing of this book was tedious for me (overlong chapters), I loved the richness of information that I had never read before. I loved the linkages between what went on 150 years ago with the Mahdi, Indian Mutiny, and the Opium War and today, and would like to know more about the number and strength of these threads today.America has done a terrible job convincing the middle east that they are not practicing more of the same. A sure way to invite more terrorism is continued alienation from the "modern" economy.