Brown man’s debt, white man’s burden

Published: July 22, 2013
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The writer is a lawyer based in Lahore and studied law at Lincoln’s Inn and the London School of Economics. He tweets @AsadRahim

The writer is a lawyer based in Lahore and studied law at Lincoln’s Inn and the London School of Economics. He tweets @AsadRahim

It’s an arresting three words, ‘white man’s burden’. For brown men, it’s a phrase that can’t be said without feeling a kind of punch to the stomach. And it’s an expression that was destined to disturb the natives, come as it did from that ‘prophet of imperialism’ Rudyard Kipling himself. Kipling had a deeply personal understanding of India and the horrors of Empire that came with it. He was born in Bombay, called a newspaper in Lahore his ‘most true love’, and felt the colours and contours of the Raj in his marrow.

So, when he sat down to write “The White Man’s Burden”, he did so as an imperialist with rare self-awareness. Kipling put into words what was left unsaid: the duty of the white man to civilise the wretches he saw around him, to rule their lands in pursuit of this noble mission, and to treat it as a burden by grace of being the better race. Empire died before most of us were born, but it’s a phrase that still tugs at our heritage: the conceit of the concept, the shame of submitting to it, the feelings of inadequacy the coloniser fed on. To hear ‘white man’s burden’ today is to feel anger well-justified.

Assed Baig’s piece on “Malala Yousufzai and the white saviour complex” (white man’s burden 2.0) plays into this. To skin the elephant in the room first, we are seeing all kinds of people disturbed by the Malala phenomenon. And however hard it is for the English press to hear, it’s a segment that is growing. They include the usual suspects: Facebook warriors, the JUI-F, creepy Dajjal theorists, the JUI-F again. But they also include rational, thoughtful, angry Pakistanis. And their concerns (the considered ones) are best engaged than tweeted ironically. We’ve learnt the hard way that changing perspectives requires debate, not dismissal.

One takes Mr Baig’s critique over others because it’s relatively considered (and competition was scarce). He argued “the Western saviour complex had hijacked Malala’s message,” that it “allowed countries like Britain to hide their sins in Afghanistan and Iraq”, that she was rescued from the barbarians by ‘white knights’, and that journalists could focus on the girls Nato saved by bombing, over the girls the US actually bombed via drone strike. Less worthily, he said Malala was the ‘good native’ who’d neither mention drones nor policy.

There can be agreement with Mr Baig on some counts: drone attacks are acts of evil, a child’s right to education cannot be allowed to edge out their right to life, and Malala’s rescue served as a PR victory for parties less deserving. To witness Gordon Brown stretching his lips (the man is incapable of physically smiling) standing by Malala in the UN, having deprived Iraqi girls in the thousands of their schools, lives and families, smells of rank hypocrisy. Sweeping logic maybe, yet one that resonates in all of us.

But that’s where it ends. Mr Baig’s term ‘white saviour complex’ gained currency when Nigerian-American writer Teju Cole used it last year, for a sketchy NGO called Invisible Children. Invisible Children had been pushing the First World to ‘stop’ an African warlord, to Mr Cole’s ire. But Mr Cole also did something we’re terrified of doing: point his powers of perception at himself. “I involve myself in this critique of privilege … my cell phone was likely manufactured by poorly treated workers in a Chinese factory, the coltan in the phone can probably be traced to the conflict-riven Congo. I don’t fool myself that I am not implicated in these transnational networks of oppressive practices.”

In our case, where the evil of white man’s burden ends, the evil of brown man’s debasement begins. It was a brown man that shot Malala Yousufzai, knowing the state would do nothing. It was our own brown men that let him escape to Afghanistan. It was those brown neighbours that sneered they weren’t interested in pursuing cross-border criminals. Our compassion for fellow browns let local healthcare sink to the state it’s in, allowing Mr Baig’s ‘white knights’ to ride in and save her life with better facilities.

It was also our own brown men, who condemned a little girl for doing what they went weak in the knees over. While they were busy compromising, a child was standing up, and getting shot in the face for it. It was educated, emasculated brown men again that resorted to conspiracy theories in response. And it falls on this little girl to scream about drones in the UN, while our brown marshals keep those pretty F-16s grounded and our brown statesmen cower in palaces? Today’s use of beghairat may be a slur that covers drone apologists, but the traditional meaning is meant to shame much harder. A man with no heart and no guts. Both apply to the citizens who latch on to one without fighting as hard for the other.

Uganda’s Idi Amin understood imperialism as well as Kipling, if from the wrong end of the Crown. A hulk from the King’s African Rifles, Idi was thought “a splendid chap to have about” by one British superior. As President For Life, his way of dealing with white man’s burden was literal: forcing Britons to carry him on their shoulders. His reign led to some 300,000 deaths. Evil knows no race — it’s time we understood as much. The life of a girl threatened by brown savages is every bit as sacred as one threatened by white drones.

Pakistanis, preoccupied with white man’s burden, should try brown man’s guilt instead: with security that prevents their children from getting shot at by maniacs, education that inspires and empowers them and healthcare that saves their lives so that others won’t have to. If nothing else, Malala is a hero all of us can believe in. And Pakistan can still be a place like anywhere else, where heroes bring us together than split us apart.

Published in The Express Tribune, July 23rd,  2013.

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Reader Comments (37)

  • Tauq
    Jul 22, 2013 - 11:22PM

    Simply brilliant. An article that lays waste the intellectual way to bash Malala, namely to concentrate on the race of her supporters than going against an innocent, gravely wounded little girl. More power to you.

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  • Tauq
    Jul 22, 2013 - 11:22PM

    Simply brilliant. An article that lays waste the intellectual way to bash Malala, namely to concentrate on the race of her supporters than going against an innocent, gravely wounded little girl. More power to you.

    Recommend

  • Babloo
    Jul 22, 2013 - 11:26PM

    Brown man, White Man, Malala. Could someone summarize this piece for me. Thanks.

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  • SM
    Jul 23, 2013 - 12:34AM

    Its so fantastic that no one realizes in Pakistan that they are still under the Imperial yoke of Arabistan. Are you kidding me? Who do you think Taliban represents, the Brown people of the subcontinent that Pakistanis are trying to deny or the Arab tribes who gave rise to Islam? The Arabs sends a few petro-dollars to the Masjids to Pakistan and Pakistanis are killing each other to prove who is the better Muslim. You should think about that, rather than all this “intellectulization” of “white man’s burden”. How would one solve a problem when one is asking all the wrong questions. Raj is long dead, now get over it.

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  • Parvez
    Jul 23, 2013 - 1:05AM

    I think I got what you were trying to say but it was like working my way through a maze.

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  • Javed
    Jul 23, 2013 - 1:09AM

    @Babloo:
    The summary of this article is that it’s not for you.

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  • darbullah
    Jul 23, 2013 - 2:25AM

    It should be titled “religion of peace’s debt, humanity’s burden”.

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  • Arindom
    Jul 23, 2013 - 2:35AM

    Interesting one and touches a raw, brown nerve! Remember, 4000 years ago, we brown people had composed great epics, sophisticated astronomy, health sciences, literature, arts, music and mathematics when the whites were still living in caves and eating raw meat….We browns controlled more than 30% of world’s trade and were , by far, the richest and the most developed countries till as recently as 500 years ago…..

    The problem is we somewhere down the line lost our self esteem and the urge to develop ourselves and make our lives better. There are many white countries that has no “n-bums” , nor planes and ships. But in quality of life and freedoms, they are much ahead of us today…why?

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  • csmann
    Jul 23, 2013 - 3:10AM

    “educated, emasculated brown men ” says it all. They are,in fact, white men in a brown hide.They are offended that a native girl from a backward area can take a stand,whereas there knees shake even sitting in their cozy mansions.They lash with their educated voices against a girl for raising her voice against barbarians ,and barbarity-a place where they become tongue-tied.They become the apologists and a shield for the dark forces that a kid has taken on.They are jealous of the deserving limelight that Malala has been put into,exactly for doing what they should have been doing.They call the terrorists freedom-fighters. They call their murder of their own country-men as fighting for the country. They are the one with privileges of education and security, but cheer as those privileges are taken away from their unfortunate brothers and sisters.They,indeed, are impotent,emasculated men.

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  • Ch. Allah Daad
    Jul 23, 2013 - 3:34AM

    Excellent article..Thank you.

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  • nonintervention
    Jul 23, 2013 - 3:42AM

    Afghanistan, pakistan and the whole region needs to be left alone. The ‘white man’s burden is the front for commercial interests. The source for middle east unrest is the white man’s interference for financial interests .

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  • RAW is WAR
    Jul 23, 2013 - 8:04AM

    Malala- the real man of Pakistan.

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  • AD
    Jul 23, 2013 - 8:10AM

    Once again, kudos for a piece that is succinct, thought provoking and mostly devoid of cliches of self pity or overt nationalism. Yes, we the people of the subcontinent would be well served by some honest introspection. Of our shameless lack of integrity, intellectual dishonesty, small minded ness and zeal for conspiracy where there exists just an ugly rotten truth staring at us.

    As Dr. Martin Luther King said…We will remember not the word of our enemies but the silence of our friends.

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  • Mirza
    Jul 23, 2013 - 8:16AM

    @Babloo: “Brown man, White Man, Malala”
    In my humble opinion the writer is speaking from both sides of his mouth depending upon he is prosecutor or defense attorney. There is no need to complicate simple basic issue of educating girls in our country and those bent upon stopping it.
    There is basic good in most humans no matter what color of their skin is. This is what is taught us by all great people including the prophets. In this day and age there is no need to classify humans and vertically and horizontally polarize them. There is already too much hate and conspiracy theories are prevailing we don’t need more fuel to the fire. Sad to see OBL and Idi Ameen are still popular in Pakistan and S. Arabia.
    Regards,
    M

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  • Khan
    Jul 23, 2013 - 8:45AM

    Is the article in favour of Malala or against her? Am I brown or white? What the …. did I just read?

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  • Rudy K
    Jul 23, 2013 - 8:53AM

    Kipling also said Afghans were the only Asians to not see themselves as inferior.Recommend

  • ujwal
    Jul 23, 2013 - 9:49AM

    what a statement “preoccupied with white man’s burden, should try brown man’s guilt instead:” what a thought sirji.

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  • GD
    Jul 23, 2013 - 9:52AM

    A tightly woven, well-informed masterpiece. Authors Op-eds have grown to some of the very best on ET.

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  • wonderer
    Jul 23, 2013 - 10:18AM

    I wonder how many of us educated Pakistanis will even understand this brilliant piece. Not many, looking at the comments here.

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  • Murad Malik
    Jul 23, 2013 - 10:56AM

    Another brilliant attempt of making a point, BUT in a pointless, directionless, lethargic,lengthy debate the AMER LIAQUAT way. This writer (lucky one or close to E.T ) at best can be compared to a Mullah discussing a Juma-Khutba, going on and on forver, without any substance, or a T.V christian preacher, who has only one line of substantial literature to say, but since its an hour long program he has to go about his antics to kill time.
    Yet again, this article looks like a personal diary, and if this writer ( if u wanna call him that ) keeps on going like this, i guess we wud soon be labeling his work as,”personal diary of a wimpy kid”.

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  • paroonroonroon
    Jul 23, 2013 - 11:08AM

    EXCELLENT!
    @csmann My thoughts exactly.Recommend

  • Topak Khan
    Jul 23, 2013 - 11:21AM

    Sir ala, bohat ala!

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  • thebluedot
    Jul 23, 2013 - 12:00PM

    Malala’s speech was, probably, not prepared by Malala herself. From the text of the speech it is evident that the speech was prepared by a white and Malala was made to readout the same.

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  • Truth
    Jul 23, 2013 - 12:08PM

    @Ujwal – The author conveniently ignores his own White man’s guilt by refusing to acknowledge that Shia/Sunni sect war and Al-qaida sponsored terrorism was responsible for the majority of killings in Iraq. The same goes for brown man’s burden of maintaining strategic assets in Afghanistan and providing protection to OBL Kudos to hypocrisy.

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  • AHK
    Jul 23, 2013 - 12:18PM

    I think what is bothering people in general is that Malala Yousufzai is being used as a propaganda tool.

    The fact remains that Malala is a hero to you because the west made her out to be a hero. If she hadn’t been given the attention & projection by the west i am more than certain you would not be writing any articles about her. She would be forgotten like her other friends who were not given the same attention.

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  • amoghavarsha.ii
    Jul 23, 2013 - 12:22PM

    @author, if you treat your woman properly then why will they look out of there homes for there needs. Don’t be racist by saying brown man / white man, don’t discriminate on gender, saying only about men. This is issue of woman too, they are also humans with there own brain, if there brain needs exposure, don’t stifle it by forcing customs/traditions etc.,
    This is there in all civilizations, western countries (western means west of our globe) have moved way forward in knowing this truth and are treating there woman better. Should we think this as good or bad. Should we adopt this good thing or not. OR Do we know all this and still treating our woman against there wishes?
    Choose your answer, be careful you might contradict most of your believes.

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  • Parvez
    Jul 23, 2013 - 12:35PM

    @RAW is WAR Malala – the real man in Pakistan ………………….well said.
    By simple extrapolation that would pointedly mean the Taliban are women……..if I were a woman I’d be gunning for you……but I’m not :-)

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  • Anwar
    Jul 23, 2013 - 1:57PM

    @Rudy K
    If Afghans don’t think themselves inferior then why do they claim to be of Arab ancestry when they speak a Indo-Iranian language ?

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  • Socrates
    Jul 23, 2013 - 2:05PM

    We’ve learnt the hard way that changing perspectives requires debate, not dismissal.

    Good luck with this!

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  • Jul 23, 2013 - 2:41PM

    Splendid!

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  • Sohrab Karboy
    Jul 23, 2013 - 3:07PM

    @wonderer: I am afraid you are right when you say: “I wonder how many of us educated Pakistanis will even understand this brilliant piece. Not many, looking at the comments here”

    because right above your comment, @GD says: “A tightly woven, well-informed masterpiece. Authors Op-eds have grown to some of the very best on ET”

    and right below your comment @Murad Malik says: “Yet again, this article looks like a personal diary, and if this writer ( if u wanna call him that ) keeps on going like this, i guess we wud soon be labeling his work as,”personal diary of a wimpy kid”.

    Quite amazing how the same piece is eliciting two diametrically opposite views. I agree with you and with @GD, Asad Raheem is creating masterpieces and we have to be thankful to ET for having this forum.

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  • Murtaza
    Jul 23, 2013 - 5:32PM

    Great reflection. Its good to know that there are still conscious thinkers around

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  • M
    Jul 23, 2013 - 7:08PM

    Good effort! But Assad Baig’s piece was far more convincing! :)

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  • sameer
    Jul 23, 2013 - 9:01PM

    FYI it was not white man but brown man who arrange for helicopter to transport her, it was brown man not white man who paid for her treatment in United Kingdom

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  • Another Pakistani
    Jul 23, 2013 - 9:46PM

    Such an amazing piece once again. Couldn’t agree more!

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  • MS
    Jul 24, 2013 - 5:04AM

    Bravo.

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  • Skeptic
    Jul 24, 2013 - 12:40PM

    Asad, lovely work- though someone of your intelligence and understanding should be a little careful in the choice of words. Beyghairat always gives me the creeps, this word should be removed from our part of the world because of its various connotations.

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