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The last frontier: Fernand Braudel’s France

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By Uditha Devapriya

Fernand Braudel’s “The Identity of France, Volume I: History and Environment”, translated by Siân Reynolds. HarperPerennial, 432 pp., 1993.

Since at least Jason and Odysseus, home has rarely been where the heart is. The Greek hero leaves everyone dear to him, in pursuit of a divine calling. In all those myths that immortalise him, his catharsis comes once he realises that home is more than just a geographic space: that it’s part of a cosmos spanning heaven and earth, between which he must serve as messenger and mediator. Contemporary intellectuals are no different: postmodern Odysseuses in their own right, they too traverse multiple worlds and mediate between them.

Multiple worlds, of course, don’t exist between multiple geographical spaces: they can be, as they often are, the same space, the tides of change sweeping across them through the years. In the first of his two colossal books on France (The Identity of France, originally planned for four volumes) Fernand Braudel transforms from historian to cartographer, taking us through village after bourg after city, as these tides of change sweep over, turning them not only from village to city, but also, occasionally, from city back to village.

From the 13th to the 18th century, these communities – and Braudel dwells on four of them, Besançon, Roanne, Laval, and Caen, before moving on to Paris – evolved at different speeds and on different levels, either gobbling up neighbouring spaces or being gobbled up by other spaces in turn. France’s cities grew as fast as neighbouring towns allowed them to, and as quickly as their roads connected them to bigger cities. Depending on whether these roads were wide enough, the linkages between towns would tighten or snap.

Thus the moment merchants and traders discovered quicker routes to Paris, the undisputed capital even then, one town’s prospects would improve at another’s cost. Indeed the fortunes of these cities depended more than anyone else on the whims of traders. Where they went, the cities they set camp in prospered; where they left, they sank.

This is how Besançon profited from the arrival of Genoese bankers and merchants in the 16th century. Having been expelled from Lyon by Frances I (a Spanish colony then, Besançon was still to be conquered by Louis XIV following his marriage to Marie-Thérèse), these financiers found the city’s proximity to their former “home” (again, a fluid term, especially for as fluid a vocation as a banker’s or a merchant’s) much too an advantage to let go. One by one, some of the century’s most powerful financiers made their way here, soon to be followed by richer immigrants from Montpellier, Lons-le-Saunier, Luxeuil, and Fontenoy-en-Voge.

Yet a mere century’s passing reversed these fortunes, reducing it to a hotbed of poverty. On May 15, 1674, against the onslaught of some 200,000 cannon balls, it finally surrendered to French conquest. Such twists of fate overwhelmed cities elsewhere too.

The quicker these towns evolved, grew, prospered, even languished, the quicker became their incorporation and integration into the wider French polity. Yet this abstraction of France as a single unit never came to fruition until the monarchy itself had run its course: nationalism in its modern form, after all, dates from the Revolution of 1789. With villages squeezed beyond the limits of endurance, with tax upon tax forcing the peasant to finance France’s wars abroad and Louis XVI’s hubris at home, the bourgeoisie, incorporated by conquest to the monarchy, took part in the uprising against the Empire, replacing the landed aristocracy with a capitalist State. Thus nationalism, the political expression of the bourgeoisie, articulated itself here, as elsewhere, in the voice of a unified civic consciousness.

Braudel shows us how even this unified civic consciousness failed to dampen or put a stopper on the consciousness of towns and villages. What historians call “provincial particularism” – a term that evokes the particularism which prevailed in the Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa periods here – sometimes if not often prevailed over the consolidation of unitary nationalism. To what extent did this fragmentation of France – “France’s name is diversity,” wrote Lucien Febvre – into different regional polities reflect the autonomy of those polities? Braudel does not provide all the answers, but like all good historians – and what better example of such an intellectual do we have than him? – he gives us real life, tangible case studies.

How one makes sense of a country thrice Britain’s size and twice Germany’s invariably boils down to what united it and divided it. Eric Wolf begins and ends his Europe and the People Without History with the point that time compresses space, as one mode of production gives way to another, and one tribe or clan surrenders to another. Yet despite this compression, one could say atomisation, of space, remnants of the past – cultural, linguistic, social, economic, even political – remain. Faced with the threat of their obliteration, civilisations respond in two ways: they fight back, or they adapt. In the case of France, Braudel is unequivocal: most of the time its constituent parts fought back, yet often they adapted.

The maze of dialects, accents, languages, not to mention cultural mores, even units of measurement (“Is it possible to lay down a single standard capacity for the cask of wine?”one intendant of Poitou was asked in 1684), makes it hard if not impossible for one to put a finger on the country, indeed on the very idea of it. Where does one begin?

very town, Braudel informs us, had a different social equation within a separate economy: in Mountauban it was the clothiers who reigned supreme, in Toulouse it was the landowner, and in Dunkirk those who owned and handled ships. The bourgeoisie took time to emerge in these enclaves of nascent capitalism, but their ancestors were there, trading, bartering, often speculating, rebelling against the intendants and the tax-officers.

On these different social equations rested different, at times unidentifiable, patterns of life, and on them rested a fundamental division between north and south. Thus provincialism in France, as in Britain, reflected a duality: two territories encompassing hundreds of villages, towns, and bourgs between them. This duality, Braudel tells us, was mostly linguistic, lying on either side of the frontier from La Réole to the basin of the Var River.

To which side you belonged depended, incredibly, on how you answered in the affirmative: in the north everyone replied with oui, in the south with oc. Oui eventually came to prevail over oc, no doubt because the north produced the culture, the politics, indeed the very mores, which constituted the idea of France. Yet these linguistic divisions remained; more than one famous chronicler from the north made his way through the south without understanding a word of what he heard: “I swear to you,” wrote a frustrated Racine to his friend La Fontaine in 1661, “that I need an interpreter here as much as a Muscovite would need in Paris.” Such differences in language were punctuated by even sharper contrasts of dialect, often within the same area: thus on either side of the Garonne, people spoke “two completely different patois” of Gascon, itself spoken in two provinces, Gascony and Guyenne.

Standing apart from these provinces, while connecting them together, was Paris: not the only big city in the country, but the biggest among them (from 1787 to 1789 its population stood at 524,186, an underestimate according to Braudel, but in itself four times as high as the next city on the list, Lyon: 138,684). Yet like France itself, Paris never incorporated itself as one, nor allowed itself to be incorporated into one. Occupational specialisation within its districts compounded ethnic stratifications, with Saint-Marcel housing poorer artisans and being overwhelmed by successive waves of immigration from Lorraine, Burgundy, Lorraine, and Champagne, and Saint-Jacques transforming into the preferred home of the Limousins. These quarters, as with most cities in Europe, turned into urban villages, “where people could recognise their own ‘pays’.” Such divisions did not fade away with capitalism’s rise: as late as the 1960s, certain Parisian streets remained meeting spots for certain communities.

 

Reading Braudel, one wonders whether Europe’s encounters with nationalism ever really succeeded in forging a sense of unity between its cities. The case appears to be particularly pronounced in France, in which the tiers of settlement followed, not a preconceived and predetermined course, but rather a wayward, haphazard trajectory, from the Rhone corridor to the Parisian basin. It both echoed and diverged from the experience of Western Europe, on account of two reasons: its size and population, and the peculiar character of its bourgeoisie. Indeed, the role played by the latter may have forced the State to regulate the convulsions of commerce by centralising its authority. The conclusion to be drawn there is that, in France, diversity coexisted with an irregular, but continuous, process of unification.

If there is one problem with this view of French history, it’s that it simplifies the reality of post-16th century economic, political, and cultural consolidation of French society. One must understand why the author engaged in such simplifications. In writing his account of French history, Braudel was reacting to contemporary historiography which charted France from the tail-end of the 19th century: a historiography tracing its origins to Hippolyte Taine and Alexis de Tocqueville – centring on the notion that “France was born of the dramatic ordeal to which it was subjected during the violence of the Revolution” – and questioned if not challenged by the Annales school to which Braudel belonged.

In reacting against those earlier “Scholars of the Republic” (as I like to call them), Braudel hence went back in time, poring over Michelet, Racine, and other “documentarians”, before moving on to Lucien Febvre. The line between Febvre and Michelet is unmistakeably clear there: the one “his [Braudel’s] immediate master”, as Perry Anderson described him, and the other, possibly, the master of that master. The France they saw was very different to, and in fact lay a world away from, the France Taine and de Tocqueville dwelt on. It was the France that Braudel lived through, wrote of, talked about, and ultimately died in.

The author intended, as I mentioned earlier in parentheses, to follow this volume (“History and Environment”) and its sequel (“People and Production”) with two more: on culture and on external relations. That would have been a fitting coda to his earlier works, priceless in their own right: his magisterial two volume study of the Mediterranean under Philip II, his trilogy on Civilization and Capitalism (still the best there is, translated as with The Identity of France by Siân Reynolds), and several others besides (including A History of Civilizations, a personal favourite and a bedside companion). His death in 1985, however, marked an end of an era in historical scholarship, and put a permanent halt on the enterprise.

Braudel is not without his faults; even his trilogy on capitalism gets several points wrong, including the entry on Ceylon tea. Yet of these faults one can say, they never really tarnished his perspective: what he called the longue durée. Though never an avowed Marxist, much less a practicing one, his preference for social history, as opposed to the series of dates and names and innumerable other associations one memorises today, put him on par with Marxist historiographers. The two volumes of The Identity of France have long been out of print – the copies I have are old and tattered – but they are available on second-hand bookstores online. They offer an insight into a great historian – though by no means an omnipotent all-seeing one – and hold the ideal to which those in his trade should aspire. And of course, they evoke the fluidity of home: neither limited to geography, nor stuck in posterity.

 

The writer can be reached at udakdev1@gmail.com



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Sat Mag

Globalism and tribalism: The Barber polemic

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By Uditha Devapriya

Samir Amin, who passed away in 2017, wrote frequently on the dangers of fundamentalist nationalism in the Global South. As with Lenin, Trotsky, and Mao, his focus and interest remained in the periphery: The weakest links and the ‘storm centres’ of the world. Yet he did not see the growth of fundamentalism in these regions as a self-regulating trend: Rather, he viewed it as a consequence of their forced integration into the world economy by neoliberal globalisation. Far from considering them as separate processes, he considered nationalism and neoliberalism as one and the same, feeding into each other. For him, integration didn’t so much unite the periphery as promote its very antithesis, fragmentation.

The experience of Third World societies in the post-1975 conjuncture confirms this link. The radicalisation of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, the revival of Hindutva in India, and the resurgence of ethnic separatism in the former Soviet Union followed the neoliberalisation of these societies via the IMF prescription of tax reductions, welfare cuts, currency devaluation, and privatisation. Yet the course of history has not resolved the debate: Polemics continue to appear, even today, on the relationship between globalisation and development on the one hand, and globalisation and nationalism on the other. One such polemic, which appeared 30 years ago, continues to be of particular interest.

In 1992 Benjamin Barber authored an essay in The Atlantic that went on to animate scholarly discussions on the difference between globalisation, neoliberalism, and nationalism. Titled ‘Jihad vs McWorldism’, the article contended that while these two titular forces coexisted across nations and borders, and while both of them promoted fragmentation, even if not in equal measure, they pulled in different directions: “the one driven by parochial hatreds, the other by universalising markets.” Barber cheered neither of these forces (“both bleak, neither democratic”), yet he observed within the conflict between them a choice, a fundamental one, for humanity, between “the brutal realities” of Jihad and “the dull realities” of McWorld. This Manichean view continues to be promoted by mainstream scholarship today.

In its most essential sense, the essay delves into two forms of nationalism. In its first form, to be found in the metropolitan centre, it traces its origins to the French Revolution and speaks the voice of a unified civic consciousness; in its second form, more prevalent in the tropics, it speaks the voice of a hundred fragmented ethnicities.

The solutions policymakers tend to prescribe for the periphery, in which nationalism operates as a supposedly disuniting force, are always the same: Globalise, liberalise, open up markets, let in multinational capital, and conduct economic shock therapy. Mike Davis in ‘Planet of Slums’ calls this “adjustment from below”, whereby the markets of the Global South, through IMF reform packages, are forcibly freed with no consideration for its impact on the poorest of these societies. Fidelis Balogun’s summing up of the process hits the target: “privatising in full steam and getting hungrier by the day.”

We know privatising in full steam has exacerbated disparities, within the third world, and made hungrier. But how has its impact been on nationalism? Less than half a century since the first structural adjustment was forced on Mexico, it would seem that globalisation and liberalisation have failed to vanquish tribalism from the periphery: far from obliterating it, these “reforms” and processes have instead sharpened its contrasts, fuelling centripetalism and centrifugalism while perpetuating inequalities. “The market,” observed Andre Gunder Frank, “unifies but does not homogenise and instead simultaneously polarises and thereby fragmentises.” To put that pithily, the unifying-polarising tendencies of McWorldism have managed to feed into the unifying-polarising tendencies of Jihadism.

One should, of course, desist from viewing these issues along the lines of Cowboys versus Indians. Reducing them to a simple binary between neoliberalism/bad and nationalism/good, or vice-versa, gets us nowhere. Even Barber’s essay stops short of endorsing McWorldism as an objective necessity, or for that matter a necessary evil; it instead calls for a compromise between these two extremities, concurrently encouraging “indigenous democratic impulses” while envisioning a globalist social contract: What Barber calls a “confederal union of semi-autonomous communities smaller than nation-states.” One notices in this an approximation, albeit ever so slight, to a United States of the world: A political model which facilitates both regional autonomy and international cooperation.

Reading between the lines, it’s evident that Barber shares a concern, a liberal one, about the potential of free markets and ethnic fault-lines to rend entire societies asunder. His point isn’t so much choosing between these two, as coming up with a third option: What I see as a global federal government, divided along ethnic lines rather than into geographic entities. Barber not unfittingly quotes Tocqueville here: “The spirit of liberty is local.” Any deviation from this model is to be critiqued: Hence he considers it futile and untenable to try parcelling democracy over long distances, to “Fed Ex the Bill of Rights to Sri Lanka.” Penned a decade or so before George Bush the Second parcelled his version of American democracy to West Asia, these words sound extraordinarily prophetic.

Regardless of what one may think of it today, it’s easy to understand why confederalism felt relevant and timely back then: Coming right before the disintegration of the Soviet Union and the horrors of Sarajevo, the solution the essay proposed seemed apt for a post-Cold War order and conjuncture in which superpower tussles no longer shaped the trajectory or resolution of national/regional conflicts. However, one must not be hasty in endorsing Barber’s model and polemic. Instead one must ask two crucial questions: To what extent was Barber’s optimism about “strong democracy” buttressed by a world-government, as he saw it, justified, and to what extent was it, as it eventually turned out to be, misplaced? To restate this, to the extent that his critique of globalisation and tribalisation enabled him to come up with an alternative, how justified was he in his belief that devolution and integration along confederal lines could deliver to the periphery what neither globalisation nor tribalisation had?

Barber’s confederation-integration-devolution model can be criticised from three vantage points. The first is its assumption that globalisation, in modified form, can vanquish tribalism, and that it can deter the reassertion of ethno-nationalist fundamentalism. What the confederal model seeks to achieve is a framework within which globalisation can achieve this end more quickly and efficiently: With the world divided on federal lines, yet integrated into a wider body politic, it promotes representation at the local level, tackling ultra-nationalism and anti-nationalism. As Barber notes, there is “always a desire for self-government, always some expression of participation, accountability, consent, and representation, even in traditional hierarchical societies.” These “need to be identified, tapped, modified, and incorporated into new democratic practices with an indigenous flavour.”

Globalisation with an indigenous democratic impulse, however, is still globalisation, and as such suffers from globalisation’s fundamental malaise: The halving, if not quartering, of the world into enriched haves and dispossessed have-nots, a division which fits in neatly with the bifurcation into metropolitan centre and global periphery. Any model which seeks to remould and restructure globalisation without addressing the systemic divide between well off and worse off communities that it entrenches, within regions and between continents, runs the risk of exacerbating ethnic and religious polarities, thus fuelling the very forces of tribalism it set out to eradicate. At best then, such a model can only prolong, not resolve, the rift between world-affirming and world-denying impulses within the Third World.

The second critique has to do with Barber’s conceptualisation of nationalism. Viewing it through a Eurocentric/West-centric prism, his essay frames it, specifically its ethno-tribalist manifestations, as a backward Third World phenomenon. A corollary of this is the belief that Europe is too civilised, too mired in a civic consciousness, to tolerate such primitive/barbaric sentiments. According to this view of things, the West stands for global cooperation because it has liberated itself from the confines of such ideologies; the East, on the other hand, needs to be incorporated into a globalist order by the West because it has not.

Even when confronted with the fact that peripheral Third World nationalism considerably borrowed from 18th century European nationalism, critics brush aside the past: Hence Guy Verhofstadt, former Belgian Prime Minister, extols the virtues of a more perfect union in the EU while excoriating “the chronic condition of nationalism” and its founder, the 18th century German philosopher Johann Gottfried Herder.

Historical reality does not bear out such jaundiced views of nationalism. As anyone who has read R.A.L.H. Gunawardana’s essay ‘The People of the Lion’ will know, many terms from the nationalist dictionary, such as race, have distinctly European origins. More insightful in this regard is James Petras’s 2008 Foreign Affairs essay ‘Us and Them’, which refutes the thesis that nationalism is backward, and Third Worldist, by showing that the First World has had its own share of tribalist ideologies: propelled not by a twist of history alien to the West, but, as Muller points out, “by some of the deepest currents of modernity.”

The third critique is essentially a rehash of the first and second. Barber’s solution suffers from the myopic worldview of reformists the world over: It assumes that systemic rifts can be eradicated through structural reforms. As the Third World experience will attest, though, no systemic rift was ever resolved through political structures.

Samir Amin classified the Global South into two distinct geographic entities: The Third World, or countries linked to the industrial West, as in East Asia, and the Fourth World, or the rest of humanity, which exports primary commodities for cheap and imports industrial goods from the West and East Asia for dear. To the extent that neoliberal globalisation has sped up the enrichment of Amin’s Third World at the expense of the Fourth – particularly in South Asia, whose share of the world’s poor rose from 27.3 percent in 1990 to 33.4 percent in 2013, and in Africa, whose share rose from under 20 percent to more than 25 percent – it goes without saying that cosmetic political reforms will not question, let alone modify, centre-peripheral relations in existence since the 15th century, “when Columbus globalised us all.” To modify them, not just a new model of globalisation, but a new conception of democracy (participatory rather than liberal), needs to be in place – and not just in the periphery.

Today, no one seriously advocates Barber’s model of confederalism. This has as much to do with the experience of the West as it does with that of the non-West: Deindustrialisation in the ex-factories of the West, plus capital flight into the non-industrialised East – from Detroit to Delhi – has generated a popular, populist backlash against further global integration. This in turn has legitimised nationalist tribalism, even in the First World: A deplorable state of affairs which has entrenched disparities and thwarted systemic reforms.

The assumptions on which Barber’s model rests appear to have facilitated a coming together of neoliberalism and nationalism. Twelve years after his essay appeared, it behoves us to ask how we can resolve the dialectic between these two forces. The world today seems to be falling apart and coming together: A unity of disunity, paraphrasing Perry Anderson, sucking us into a maelstrom of perpetual fragmentation and integration. We badly need a way out.

(The writer can be reached at udakdev1@gmail.com)

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Islam and meat eating

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Islam is not a primitive culture and spirituality. It is the culture of Islam that has led to many of the advancements in human knowledge, that are now synonymous with civilization itself. In India it is the Muslims that have kept the arts and crafts alive, and the language, Urdu, is the most gentle, mellifluous, cultured means of communication. But at the end of the day it is Eid, and the slaughter of animals that day, that popular opinion that Islam is a culture/religion of violence, a people who define themselves by the eating of other beings, impossible to communicate with, illiterate and permanently angry.

It is the largest religion in the world, with shades of complexity as in any other religion, but is still seen as a fringe element, a minority population, whose opinions are backward and aggressive.It is not for the rest of the world to change its opinion. It is for Muslims themselves to take the first step, and show that they respect the world and all beings in it. Only then will the world, which is eager and waiting, respond with mutual respect and cooperation.

The respect so far has been forced: the Muslim countries own the oil so everyone pays homage. But we are rapidly moving to a post oil world. Then what? The Muslim theocracy need to address the issue that bothers most of the world — the ritual slaughter of animals.Sacrifice is not a pillar of Islam. Nor is it obligatory during Hajj, its accompanying ‘Id or the ‘Id al-Fitr.Instead of me talking about Bakr Eid – a massacre that gives me such pain that I find it impossible to believe that humans exist who do not feel the same – let the Islamic scholar Shahid Ali Muttaqi,  writing in islamicconcern.com, put the sacrifice into context –

1. The Qur’an did not get “sent down” as a blueprint for human society, with a list of do’s and don’ts that were to be magically implemented overnight to form a utopian world. It came over a period of 22 years, sometimes in answer to the prayers of the Prophet, other times in relation to a circumstance within the community, to questions that the faithful had regarding a particular practice, etc., and always with the goal of helping the faithful strive to further know Allah and to live in harmony with both the Heavens and the Earth. The Qur’an itself refers to those verses as having allegorical meanings behind the apparent literal ones.

2. In pre-Islamic Arabia the pagan Arabs sacrificed to a variety of Gods. So, too, did the Jews of that day seek to appease the One True God by blood sacrifice and burnt offerings. Even the Christian community felt Jesus to be the last sacrifice, the final lamb, so to speak, in a valid tradition of animal sacrifice (where one’s sins are absolved by the blood of another).

3. Islam, however, broke away from this longstanding tradition of appeasing an “angry God” and, instead, demanded personal sacrifice and submission as the only way to die before death, and reach “Fana” or “extinction in Allah.” The notion of “vicarious atonement of sin” (absolving one’s sins through the blood of another) is nowhere to be found in the Qur’an. Neither is the idea of gaining favour by offering the life of another to God. In Islam, all that is demanded as a sacrifice is one’s personal willingness to submit one’s ego and individual will to Allah.One only has to look at how the Qur’an treats one of the most famous stories in the Judeo-Christian world: the sacrifice of Isaac (here, in the Islamic world seen as the sacrifice of Isma’il) to see a marked difference regarding sacrifice, and whether or not Allah is appeased by blood. The Qur’anic account of the sacrifice of Isma’il ultimately speaks against blood atonement.37:102-107

Then when (the son) Reached (the age of) (Serious) work with him He said: “Oh my son! I see in vision That I offer thee in sacrifice: Now see what is Thy view!” (The son) said: “Oh my father! Do As thou art commanded: Thou wilt find me, If Allah so wills one Practicing patience and constancy!”So when they had both Submitted their wills (to Allah), And he had laid him Prostrate on his forehead (For sacrifice),We called out to him, “Oh Abraham!” “Thou hast already fulfilled. The vision!” thus indeed Do We reward Those who do right. For this was obviously A trial

And We ransomed him With a momentous sacrifice.Notice that the Qur’an never says that God told Abraham to kill (sacrifice) his son. Though subtle, this is very important. For the moral lesson is very different from that which appears in the Bible. Here, it teaches us that Abraham had a dream in which he saw himself slaughtering his son. Abraham believed the dream and thought that the dream was from God, but the Qur’an never says that the dream was from God. However, in Abraham and Isma’il’s willingness to make the ultimate sacrifice — Abraham of his son, Isma’il of his own life — they are able to transcend notions of self and false attachment to the material realm, thus removing a veil between themselves and Allah, enabling Allah’s mercy to descend upon them as the Spirit of Truth, and illuminate them with divine wisdom (thus preventing a miscarriage of justice, and once and for all correcting the false notion of vicarious atonement of sin).

For, certainly, the Ever Merciful, Most Compassionate — would never ask a father to go against His command of “thou shall not kill” and kill his own son in order to be accepted by Him. For the Qur’an teaches us that God never advocates evil (see 7:28 and 16:90) and that only Satan advocates evil and vice (24:21). The notion, that Allah would want us to do an immoral act, runs counter to Allah’s justice.

As far as the yearly ritual of the sacrificing of an animal, that has followed this event, we must understand it in the context that people making a personal sacrifice by sharing their limited means of survival with the poorer members of their community.That is to say, the underlying implication of Islam’s attitude toward ritual slaughter is not that of blood atonement, or seeking favour with God through another’s death, but, rather, the act of thanking God for one’s sustenance and the personal sacrifice of sharing one’s possessions and valuable food with one’s fellow humans.So, let us examine some of the appropriate verses in the Qur’an to see what it has to say about sacrifice, and how it related to life in 500 C.E. Arabia.

*”This is the true end of sacrifice, not propitiation of higher powers, for Allah is One, and He does not delight in flesh and blood, but a symbol of thanksgiving to Allah by sharing meat with fellow humans. The solemn pronouncement of Allah’s name over the sacrifice is an essential part of the rite” (Yusuf Ali commentary)22:37

It is not their meat Nor their blood, that reaches Allah: it is your piety That reaches Him: He has thus made them subject to you, that ye may glorify Allah for His guidance to you:* And proclaim the Good News to all who do right.It is quite clear from the Qur’anic passages above that humans are commanded to praise Allah for the sustenance He has given them, and that they should sacrifice something of value to themselves to demonstrate their appreciation for what they have been given, and share it with the community.

Animals are mentioned in the Qur’an in relation to sacrifice only because, in that time, place, and circumstance, animals were the means of survival. But let us not assume for a minute that we are forever stuck in those circumstances, or that the act of eating meat, or killing an animal is what makes one a Muslim.To utter “Ashhadu an la ilaha illa-Llah, wa ashhadhu anna Muhammadan rasulu-Llah” is what makes one a Muslim. The understanding that there is “No God, but Allah.” This is the heart of Islam. Animal sacrifice, or meat eating, does not make you a Muslim.

Meat-eating (and in relation to it, animal sacrifice) is not intrinsic to who the Prophet (sal) was, or to what he preached. The time has come for all true Muslims, be they Sunni or Shi’a, Sufi or otherwise, to stand up for the universal standards of justice and compassion that the Prophet (sal) not only spoke of (both through Hadith and, more importantly, as the receiver of the Qur’anic revelation), but actually put into practice. However, for those of us who no longer need to kill in order to survive, then let us cease to do so merely for the satisfaction of ravenous cravings which are produced by nothing more than our Nafs (or lower self). That would truly be the Sunnah of the Prophet (sal).

(To join the animal welfare movement contact gandhim@nic.in, www.peopleforanimalsindia.org)

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When a wonderful human being crosses the great divide

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Sarasaviya took this picture of Punya and Milroy at their home after the “Abhimani” Legendary Award was conferred on Punya, during their last visit to Sri Lanka to attend the Sarasaviya Festival in 2016.

“There are friends,
There is family,
And then there are friends
That become family”

Such a friend was Milroy, whose passing away a few days ago, we learnt with heavy hearts and deep sorrow.

To those who didn’t know him, he was the husband of Punya Heendeniya, the actress who captivated the hearts and minds of a nation by her portrayal of Nanda in the film classic “Gamperaliya”; Nanda was the quintessential Sinhala upper class village maiden who valued tradition over love.

To MBS (Siri) he was a lifelong friend “who stayed forever, beyond word, beyond distance, beyond time”.

To me (Kumar Gunawardane) who came to know him through Siri and also through his brothers, he was a pleasant companion, and good friend.

PUNYA:

“He loved music, sing songs and kalawaa (art) in all its forms. That is why he married me. He went out of his way to help the needy in whatever way he could. He did everything for me and the children.

“In the last year or two he took to understanding what real Buddha Dharma was.

“May he attain the supreme bliss of Nibbana!”

SIRI:

“We met on the very first day in the “Block”; alphabetically we were next to each other, Milroy de Silva and MBS de Silva. That day, wearing our white jackets and ties back to front, we had to march to the Anatomy laboratory, jeered by serried ranks of haughty seniors. The naked bodies lying on marble slabs was nauseating. I was directed to the appropriate cadaver by a tutor and paired with a brilliant student JBC De Silva, to dissect the upper limb. Confused and bewildered I could only gaze at the colleague carving the other arm. He looked equally nonplussed wielding a scalpel nonchalantly, while another student recited the instructions from Cunningham’s manual of Anatomy. Our eyes met and that was the start of a beautiful friendship; a coming together of the high-spirited and full of joie de vivre. We immediately downed tools and scampered to the canteen to revive ourselves with a cup of tea, laced with condensed milk, and the cheapest available cigarette ‘Peacock’. Our interests were similar; studies took a back seat, larking around taking precedence. The friendship was sealed further when we joined Bloemfontein the formidable male medical student hostel alternatively feared and lauded.

“I remember our first Block dance at the King George’s hall. He was smartly dressed in black tuxedo pants and a cream jacket; only missing element was a lady companion. I, who wore a black shirt and a white tie, had a beautiful girl on my arm. I asked Milroy where he came by his tuxedo and he disdainfully replied I have two brothers who are doctors and one tuxedo for the whole family and now it is my turn to have it!!

“Our bonds strengthened during our intern year. Milroy returned to his roots in Galle and I joined him a few months later at Mahamodara, the hospital by the sea. It was a year of back breaking work, but also a year of fun and frolic.

“Milroy was then posted as chief (District Medical Officer) of the Moneragala hospital. But “I was left high and dry, Milroy, thoughtful as ever arranged for me to work with his brother Dr A.S.H De Silva, who had a thriving general practice just down the road from the hospital. Three months later, I got a posting to Buttala, which was then a mostly elephant and serpent infested jungle. It was classed as a ‘punishment’ station by the Health Department. The attractions however were the proximity to Milroy, and also the predecessors who included medical giants such as Professor Rajasooriya and the distinguished surgeons Dr Bartholomeuz, and R. L. Spittel the Surgeon of the Wilderness. In this pastoral outpost Milroy was bowled over by the image of Punya. He was at a loss to reach her. I advised him to write and he did so with panache. She invited him to visit them at Mirigama, her hometown to meet her folk. They teamed up in Punya’s own words for 52 years seven months and 22 days; a match made in heaven.

“As a dutiful father, he wanted to give his son and daughter the best education available and so it was that he and Punya migrated to Zambia. It was here that they demonstrated hidden strengths of character which helped them overcome adversities and even threats to their lives and move over to England. Milroy re-invented himself and rose to top of the ladder to become a consultant psychiatrist. His two children also became consultants in the NHS, the son a gastroenterologist and daughter an endocrinologist. He acknowledged freely Punya’s role not only in all his triumphs, but also in the hazards and misfortunes in their paths.

“Yet, more than all this was his humanity and humility, generosity to those less well endowed especially relatives and also to those medical graduates at the threshold of their careers. They were gracious hosts; Punya was an accomplished cook and less well known, a euphonious singer. I and my good friend Karu had the good fortune to enjoy their hospitality on many occasions in London.

“Milroy my friend, “To live in the hearts of those we love is never to die”

“May your journey in Samsara be short and my you attain the Supreme bliss of Nibbana!”

 

KUMAR:

I first got to know Milroy at Bloemfontein, the medical student’s hostel adjoining Carey College. He was a dapper figure, stylishly dressed with an unceasing gentle smile on his face. His chums, Siri, Gerry, Wicky and others were always friendly with us juniors and never intimidating. Their banter and capers in the dining room and the spacious portico were invariably hilarious.

My friendship with Siri was cemented in the hurly-burly of the Galle hospital, where I too did my internship. When I was unemployed after its completion it was Siri who arranged for me to work with Dr ASH, Milroy’s brother. ASH and Kingsley, another brother became my friends and mentors.

“Punya was a heartthrob of many young bucks of our era. But only one, Milroy, could win her hand and her heart. What a splendid partnership it was.

The Buddha Dhamma teaches that death is natural and inevitable. Yet it is sorrowful and we pray for you and your family’s peace and comfort. Their sadness is soothed by the beauty of your life, a life well lived. As the Buddha said death has no fear to those who fashioned life as a garland of beautiful deeds.

May you attain the Supreme Bliss of Nibbana!

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