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The modern Brown Sahibs

Zafar Bangash


Lord Macaulay could not have imagined that his Minute on Education, written for the British Colonial Administration in 1835, would still be valid 170 years later. His idea to create “Brown Englishmen” in India is alive and well, but with an important difference: the brown sahibs have now arrived in Europe and North America as well, and are hard at work to please their masters. In addition to the Brown Englishman, there is also now the Brown Frenchman, Brown Dutchman, Brown American, and so on. Macaulay’s Brown Englishmen were so thoroughly westernised that, nearly 60 years after the departure of the colonialists, their descendants are still implementing their agendas. It is simply impossible for them to think or act independently; the instinct for subservience runs too strongly in their blood. Without the patronage of the white man, they cannot survive.

Almost all colonized people display two characteristics: total subservience to the colonial master, and utter contempt for their own peoples. The depth of their subservience is the direct result of colonialism, but is dependent not on its duration, rather on its “depth and texture”, according to the Congolese philosopher Valentin Mudimbe. Professor Mahmood Mamdani of ColumbiaUniversity suggests that “institutional texture” must also be added to this. The Pakistani brown sahibs are a typical example of the phenomenon. They are products of institutions created and bequeathed by the British, but there is one area in which they have excelled even their colonial masters: over-indulgence and profligacy. Pakistani officials in and outside the country lead a lifestyle that is the envy of most people in the West: expensive chauffeur-driven cars, huge mansions to live in that they could never afford on their own salaries, and so on. Western officials have often wondered, not very softly, why the Pakistanis come begging, bowl-in-hand, for aid when they are live so extravagantly.

One might have hoped that the brown sahibs occupying the posts that come with such perks might at least be competent. This is a concept totally alien to them. They have not only made matters worse in their own societies but, in a massive vote of no-confidence in their own systems, they send their children to study in Britain and America. Upon retirement, they themselves go and live there. Perhaps this is not surprising; after all, physically they may be Pakistan but mentally they live in the West. Their lifestyle, mannerisms and tastes are all Western; in short, they are Macaulay’s perfect brown Englishmen.

Over the last 30 or 40 years, another phenomenon has emerged: the arrival of a large number of Muslims in Europe and North America. In addition to the raw racism and discrimination they face, the post-911 environment has made life much worse. Every Muslim is now regarded as a potential terrorist, such racism being promoted by Western governments as well as academia and the media, which never tire of lecturing others about democracy, freedom and equality. While most Muslims are appalled at such blatant racism, there is a tiny group among them that can never show enough gratitude for being allowed to live in the West. The more they are insulted, the lower they stoop; they display what the late Malcolm X (El-Haj Malik Shabazz) called the ‘House Slave’ mentality, identifying completely with the slave master. He distinguishes this state from that of the ‘Field Slave’, the quintessential rebel forever trying to escape. As Malcolm X put it: “When the master is sick, the House Slave says, ‘What’s the matter master, are we sick?’ while the Field Slave prays for his death.” The house-slave mentality is now also displayed by the small breed of Muslims trying to ingratiate themselves with the colonial masters in Europe and North America.

They make no secret of the fact that they have no desire to live by Islamic tenets, even if they were born Muslim. For them Islam is outdated, and they would like it to undergo a “reformation” as Christianity has, apparently ignorant of the fact that Islam’s historical experience is very different. There is no Church in Islam, so it has no dogma; Muslims have not perpetrated pogroms or indulged in witch burnings, practices that were common in Europe at the zenith of Christianity’s power. Islam has the regenerative power to revive itself from within. This is not something the colonial subjects understand or want to understand; they feel they have discovered their nirvana and do not wish to be disturbed by the “backward” ideas of Islam.

These modern-day house slaves, however, ignore a simple historical fact: colonialists have no permanent friends, only permanent interests; they have little use for such a slave mentality, especially when they know that the house slaves are a tiny minority of the colonized peoples. Despite their undoubtedly hard life in the West today, Muslims will not achieve anything by means of subservience. If they are to achieve any degree of respect in the West, they will have to do it in the manner of other political movements, such as the movements for women’s and workers’ rights in the early twentieth century. There can be no substitute for hard work to secure a life and status of dignity and respect.

Article from

Crescent International Vol. 34, No. 2

Muharram 20, 14262005-04-01

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