Naeem Malik's Speech on 150th anniversary of 1857 in Manchester
Thanks for being here today to mark 150th anniversary of the events
of 1857 in the sub-continent.
Some of us who have been involved in struggles against racism,
colonialism and imperialism originating from the sub-continent were
prompted by the current events like the Iraq war and the occupation
of Afghanistan etc to come together to look at the significance of
We saw the similarities of what is happening around the world today
to what happened 150 years ago in the sub-continent.
The terminology and the language are not that very different.
The geographical area involved than and now is just as large.
Than, Britain was involved in the wars in Persia, China and the
sub-continent. Quite apart from what it was doing in Africa and the
Today US Britain and its allies are involved in Iraq, Afghanistan and
areas of Pakistan with ambitions in Iran.
The area covered is not dissimilar in size and influence.
As we have already heard, 1857 was a result of the similar processes
that we see developing today, globalisation, multinationals and their
impact and the West’s thirst for resources.
Than it was the East India Company.
Today it is Halliburton and its likes.
Than it was cotton - the driving force for industrialisation.
Today oil the necessary ingredient to keep the economy moving.
Others before me have dealt with the history of the events and
players of 1857.
I am going to concentrate on what we have been promised by modern day
colonialists or imperialists.
They have said they are committed to fighting this war on “terror”
for fifteen or so years and that it will be fought more viciously
than the cold war that ultimately lasted around half a century.
I have little faith in the time-scales of some of the western
leaders. Bush declared the War in Iraq, Mission Accomplished within a
few weeks of the Invasion of Iraq
Yet, some four years later, it continues with the only likely outcome
the defeat of the American giant and Mission abandoned.
The non-partisan British Minister for securities, an ex-navy person,
has already asked people to tell on their friends and neighbours who
exhibit any qualities of would-be terrorist.
Already teachers in British Universities are asked to report any
character likely to be radicalised. And we thought you do not qualify
to go to university if you are not going to be effected by the
radical environment at the Universities.
Perhaps I was wrong.
Universities are no longer places you go to get new ideas that
influence your life.
May be some of the other speakers would illuminate what that means as
some of them would have lived under dictatorships where similar
tactics were used to terrorise dissent.
First of all let us be clear on terror and what it means and to whom.
The imperialists themselves are deliberately vague on the definition
of the word terror.
They are afraid they might expose themselves and their allies as the
main instigators of terror.
What Israel does to the Palestinians, on a daily basis, cannot be
classified as anything other than terrorism.
Terrorism is using or threatening to use force to get others to do
that they would not do otherwise.
Therefore, if you blow up a General’s car to force him to be
President no more, that would be an act of terror.
Similarly, if the same general used his military boots to acquire
power over you that you would not have given him under normal
circumstances would also be classified terrorism.
The use of force to move people out of their villages would be
terror, no matter what the justification.
However, keep in mind that terror can be a response to terror itself.
I think I cannot put it better than Marx did writing about the events
of 1857, in of all the papers, the New York Daily.
In the 4th September 1857 edition of the paper. - Note there was a
lot of talk about the brutality of the rebels in the British press of
the time as it is today about the so-called Jahidist and others. Marx
was trying to answer that.
He writes “However infamous the conduct of the sepoys, it is only the
reflex, in a concentrated form, of England’s own conduct in India,
not only during the epoch of the foundation of her Eastern Empire,
but even during the last ten years of long settled rule. To
characterize that rule, it suffices to say that torture formed an
organic institution of its financial policy” – end of quote -
What is Marx alluding to? I think he is talking of the method of
collecting taxes in India where the authorities, to be specific, The
East India Company, actually used terror to collect taxes to the
extent that questions were raised in the Houses of Parliament on
behalf of some of the Indian victims of terror. There are several
references in Hansard and even reports of various committees etc
alluding to terror being used as part of the administration process
The Governor of Bengal, Warren Hastings, later to become First
Governor General of India, wrote to the directors of the East India
Company in 1772:
"Notwithstanding the loss of at least one-third of the inhabitants of
this province, and the consequent decrease in cultivation, the net
collections of the year 1771 exceeded even those of [pre-famine]
1768." - End of quote –
Perhaps, this violent method of collecting taxes contributed to the
11 million people who perished as a result of the famine in his
Note Bengal, than incorporated more than East and West Bengal. I
think it included Orissa, Jharkand, and Assam as well as both East
and West Bengal.
Hastings was clear on why and how this was achieved. It was, he
And I quote him from a report he made to the East India Company
Directors "owing to [tax collection] being violently kept up to its
former standard." End of Quote –
By violently, if there is any doubt, he meant torture that Marx
referred to in his article in the New York Daily I quoted earlier.
Incidentally, RC Dutt, an economist of the late 19th early 20th
century wrote an excellent book on the famines of India. It is
available on our website www.1857.org.uk
Let me illustrate the use of terror by the colonialist powers of the
mid nineteenth century in their own words – it will give some idea of
the terror the peoples in occupied lands endured.
in the "Bombay Telegraph" (The Paper was English owned) and
subsequently reproduced in the British press testified to the scale
and nature of the retaliation: following the re-occupation of Delhi
by the East India Company forces.
".... All the city people found within the walls (of the city of
Delhi) when our troops entered were bayoneted on the spot, and the
number was considerable, as you may suppose, when I tell you that in
some houses forty and fifty people were hiding. These were not
mutineers but residents of the city, who trusted to our well-known
mild rule for pardon. I am glad to say they were disappointed".
Another brief letter from General Montgomery to Captain Hodson, the
conqueror of Delhi exposes how the British military high command
approved of the cold blooded massacre of Delhites:
He wrties "All honour to you for catching the king and slaying his
sons. I hope you will bag many more!" End of Quote
So the terror we are talking about is not the one executed in the
heat of the moment but one sanctioned in the cold light of the day by
the top command. Exactly, like Rumsfield approving torture at
Guantanamo and Abu_Ghairab.
The nature of the attrocities were such that even the British
soldiers were forced to comment on them. Captain Hodson himself in
his book, Twelve years in India: He says
"With all my love for the army, I must confess, the conduct of
professed Christians, on this occasion, was one of the most
humiliating facts connected with the siege." – end of quote –
(Hodson was killed during the recapture of Lucknow in early 1858).
Another young soldier - Edward Vibart, barely nineteen, also recorded
"It was literally murder... I have seen many bloody and awful sights
lately but such a one as I witnessed yesterday I pray I never see
again. The women were all spared but their screams on seeing their
husbands and sons butchered, were most painful... Heaven knows I feel
no pity, but when some old grey bearded man is brought and shot
before your very eyes, hard must be that man's heart I think who can
look on with indifference..." End of Quote
Put this in the context of what is happening today.
On a daily basis, in villages in Afghanistan and across the border in
Pakistan, cities in Iraq and the occupied territories in Palestine
suffer casualties of men women and children because the “Coalition of
the willing” – including our Enlightened moderate Muslim General
Musharraf are bent on removing any opposition to the West’s
occupation of the region.
In the absence of an alternative as Marx suggests, the response, call
whatever you will, is inevitable.
It is inevitable that the response, in the form of resistance would
have several features and we must be careful not to allow or even
join in the demonizing of those features.
For example, a great deal has been made of the word Jihad. In what
way is it different to struggle? The language is different. The
meaning is the same. For those of us coming from the sub-continent
know from our historical experiences those of non-Muslim faiths use
the word jihad to imply struggle.
For example, some of the most well known Shaheeds of the liberation
struggle in the sub-continent, like Bhagat Singh and Uddham Singh did
not belong to the Muslim faith.
As Pakistani workers Association, in the eighties and nineties, when
we were looking at the history of the sub-continent and the British
occupation, we concluded that those giving fatwa’s against Jihad
during British occupation were disarming the people’s resistance to
Whether they were the modernist, like Syed Ahmed Khan, or the Sufis
talking about international brotherhood or to be more precise
brotherhood of the elite. Perhaps, in the context of the India, the
most well known sufi is Aga Khan.
Allama Iqbal was very negative of this Sufism and yet was
appreciative of the early Sufis, like Rumi, whom he considered
progressive elements within Islam.
Also, note that Gordon Brown is also talking about British values.
That is his attempt to mobilise what he thinks is his constituency.
Why should the resistance also not be allowed to use the language
that its constituents can understand?
Prof Akbar, ex-ambassador to London for Musharraf, in his recent book
has divided Islam into three types.
The Modernist, according to him, has adopted the globalisation
agenda. In my opinion, they lack any constituency today. In the early
part of the last century, some of the Nationalist with the
modernisation agenda had some constituency but soon lost it as a
result of the failure to deliver on the modernist agenda including in
The Sufi Islam, again a preferred type of Islam is more acceptable to
the global agenda because it disarms the resistance.
The Fundamentalist trend, Akbar associates with the Deoband
tradition. The tradition started after the defeat of the 1857. It was
a response to the British occupation of India. It was an attempt to
build a defensive wall against the colonialist onslaught. It still
today represents that as the onslaught continues.
Given all that, as progressives what should be our response?
I think we also need to return to basics. We need to understand the
contradictions and the nature of those contradictions to work out
strategies that will take us all forward.
We need to translate our understanding of these contradictions into
alliances that can be formed today to help international resistance,
especially in our own region.
Anti-imperialist alliance is the most obvious and fundamental one in
today’s context given the contradictions and their relationships.
Around Anti-Imperialist alliances we should be working in broad
fronts where different peoples can come together on an
anti-imperialist agenda irrespective of their ideologies or political
In Britain, and possibly in other imperialist countries some form of
anti-imperialist alliances exists.
However, some of the left tendencies, specially those originating
from our regions are critical of such alliances.
To some extent it is understandable due to the recent history between
some of the Islamist groups and the left.
However, let us not forget that some of the so-called left were also
not very kind to each other before the war on terror for example, in
The current situation in Afghanistan was brought upon primarily by
the adventurism of the left in Afghanistan and the opportunism of the
The Russian invasion of Afghanistan ultimately resulted in the
destruction of the socialist camp in whatever form it existed and
brought about the conditions that allowed the only super-power to
launch its globalisation process.
That Super Power, THE USA, began to think itself as invincible.
I think it is learning from its experience in Iraq and Afghanistan.
However, it is not going to give up.
It might withdraw from some parts, modify its strategy and tactics
and that is why it is returning to the language of the cold war.
However, its onslaught in certain areas might intensify and it might
bring about new alliances.
We have seen this happening in Pakistan. It seems Begum
Sahiba(Bhutto) might be brought back via the United States.
Instead of trying to appease the forces in Pakistan against
occupation of Afghanistan Pakistani military is being pushed to send
its troops into the tribal areas to sort out the difficulties NATO
faces in Afghanistan. It will make Pakistan into Cambodia or Laos of
the Vietnam War period.
One American analyst, conservative commentator William Kristol, known
to reflect the current administration's thinking, had predicted US
strikes inside Pakistan to disrupt terrorist sanctuaries.
The analyst says:
"I think, frankly, we won't even tell Musharraf. We'll do what we
have to do in western Pakistan and Musharraf can say, 'Hey! They
didn't tell me,"' he said in a TV talking heads show.
In response Pakistan's ambassador to the U.S Mohammed Ali Durrani
defiantly told a US network, "They are not welcome. We can do the job
This is what the Lal Masjid episode was all about. Well I think if
Musharraf cannot do the job, certainly the Americans are losing the
political will to do the job, as the cost is likely to be higher than
it already is for the Americans if they try to do the job themselves.
The casualty the Pakistani army has suffered in the last few days
Musharraf did not want a peaceful solution because he has to prove to
the West he can do the job. Pakistan has possibly lost more soldiers
than the whole of the coalition of the willing put together in this
war on terror. Just this week it has possibly lost scores of soldiers
in the North West, Islamabad and Balochistan.
United States wanted a war in the West of Pakistan bordering
Afghanistan. Musharaf needed the Lal Masjid to develop as it did to
bring it about.
Our demand in the context of the Lal Masjid would have been a demand
A Peaceful resolution of the Lal Masjid episode, followed by a trial
through a judicial system where everybody could have been made
What happened instead, as Asma Jehangir puts it, was an
extra-judicial killing at a large scale. She has demanded an enquiry
and among the Pakistani progressives one of the very few who has
possibly, properly judged the nature of the military operation.
This brings me to the second point. We must also form alliances on
the basis of justice and we must struggle against injustice.
Lal Masjid, irrespective of the individuals involved was an
injustice, even if the two mullahs were guilty of everything under
the sun, because they did not get a proper trial. The extra judicial
killings at the Lal Masjid did not only deny the two Mullahs justice,
the peoples of Pakistan still do not know what happened, why it
happened. Perhaps, the real guilty went free. There is too much
speculation on the real reasons behind the events of the Lal Masjid.
The resolution favoured by the General has further increased the
level of speculation to a stage where anarchy can easily become the
norm in Pakistan. Perhaps that is what he wanted.
Our voices, by that I mean the voices from the left, should have been
heard against all this but they were not because of the confusion on
Musharraf was relying on just such confusion.
If the left had correctly accessed the situation and demanded a
peaceful and judicial solution, they would have strengthened the
anti-imperialist alliance in Pakistan.
Instead, they continued to live in the past and failed to outwit the
Let us see how events develop in the next few weeks. Already, it
looks things are going to get worse.
I think, as the leaders of western powers tell us, we are for a very
bumpy and a long ride.
This struggle would determine the nature of the world that humanity
would have to face in fifteen or twenty years at the conclusion of
their war on terror.
What the left does, in terms of the anti-imperialist alliances, its
stand on justice and its opposition to oppression would determine the
nature of that world.
If it stood for so-called modernity it risks being on the wrong side
of the alliance and totally ineffective. It will be standing by its
elite financed by the imperialist powers.
If it continues to be confused with the rhetoric and does not answer
the needs of the time it is destined to be in the wilderness.
We cannot expect that modernity, in its positive and genuine sense
would be delivered to us via imperialism. It has a capacity to bomb
us back into history as it has so often threatened our self appointed
It cannot propel the occupied forward and it has no intention to do
that, as it is not in its interest.
Let me finally talk about some of the things we are doing as
individuals from the sub-continent in the West. We are first of all,
part and parcel of the Anti-War movement. We may have differences
with some of them on politics and ideology.
We are opposed to any occupation and stand firmly on the side of the
We are against injustice.
We oppose imprisonment without trial and are vigorously involved in
the closure of all illegal prisons known or unknown.
In this respect, Guantanamo and Abu-Ghairab are possibly the most
Some of us are actively involved in getting Guantanamo closed.
Primarily, because a large number of our people are in these prisons.
Also, our General has kidnapped most of them and handed them to the
Americans without a legal process.
We should be doing more on other prisons, especially the ones unknown
or new ones being built in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Morocco etc.
Again, this should be an opportunity for us to build alliances
against imperialism based on commonalities across the ideological
We are against globalisation and in this respect have begun to look
at the economic processes, especially in India, like the setting up
of Special Economic zones in Bengal and other states.
These zones resemble the special powers bestowed on the early
arrivals of the East India Company in the 17th & 18th century.
Indeed, in Bengal, some of the land is acquired for SEZ using
colonial law that the British created to obtain lands in India for
their military cantonments.
We are also looking at the situation regarding minorities and other
nationalities within India.
In this respect some of us are campaigning to get reprieve for Afzal
Guru from the President of India. We see this as part of our front
for justice and also the unfinished business of the National question
on the sub-continent level. Again, it is something on which we can
come together across ideological, political and even national
Our choice, internationally, is not to stand-alone in our ideological
island or joining the imperialist.
The real choice is between being part of the anti-imperialist front
or the imperialist front under several guises.
I have concentrated on what the left needs to do because I belong to
that constituency and I want to be part of a force that helps build a
progressive and just world with a left vision.
Also, I expect most of those present here today belong to the left
tradition and would want to hear how we can relate 1857 to today in a
practical form. However, if the left fails to respond to the new
imperialist onslaught with a strategy that meets the requirement of
the times it faces being ineffective and unable to shape the world of
tomorrow. I think very soon, the battle ground for this war on terror
would move further east into the sub-continent, if it is not already
there and we need to be ready for any such shift to be able to
properly mobilise our peoples into an effective opposition to the