The aim of this magazine is to connect the communities of Hindu Kush, Himalaya, Karakorum and Pamir by providing them a common accessible platform for production and dissemination of knowledge.
This essay is based on an understanding that European colonisation was carried out through both physical and socio-semiotic violence. This socio-semiotic violence includes the formation of new concepts and categories in English, e.g., ‘country’, ‘language’, and ‘religion’; an introduction of new forms of education and literacy; and, using these categories and processes to divide up and influence peoples’ beliefs and practices. While the Europeans physically retreated from their colonies starting the middle of the 20th century, the socio-semiotic processes that they put in place continue today. In this long essay, we will identify some of these processes and see how they allowed the Europeans to turn Colonisation 1.0 into Colonisation 2.0, while their colonial subjects celebrated ‘independence’. The essay further looks at signs of another on-going transition, which can be considered a shift to Colonisation 3.0. The essay identifies possibilities that are available during times of flux and shares strategies that can be taken to help people end socio-semiotic colonisation.
Everyone is familiar with Colonisation 1.0. This was when the European powers went out on a contest for World Domination. They sailed across the world either claiming lands as their own or snaking their way into existing civilisations to take control of them and rule them through both material (physical) and non-material (socio-semiotic) violence. Once captured, they traded these lands and people and animals between each other and some emerging powers (e.g. United States).
Colonisation 1.0 evolved out of a long battle between the powers in Europe, who used their power to benefit a few people and exploit the rest, against other traders (who had strong local networks) and were networked with Constantinople/Istanbul. Unable to penetrate these strong, pluralistic, and harmonised bonds of the “Muslim” trading networks, the colonial forces found ways to go around them and weaken their bases. In order to do this, the Europeans learnt to navigate from the Muslim astronomers, mathematicians, and traders, and then went on their own explorations of “discovery”. However, unlike the previous civilisations, the Europeans used this knowledge to conquer other lands through both material and socio-semiotic violence. For example, while the Muslims traded across South and South East Asia (and even explored some of the northern territories of Australia), they did not claim these lands as theirs nor kill off the Indigenous peoples in these lands. The European exploitation of Muslim nautical sciences was not unlike the European learning about “gun powder” from the Chinese and then using this knowledge to make weapons. In addition, the European colonisers did something else that the previous colonisers did not do: they changed the socio-semiotic beliefs and practices of the colonised peoples.
Socio-semiotics, in brief, is everything that is not material. Thus, all beliefs, attitudes, religions, languages, histories, cultures, economics are examples of socio-semiotic systems. Socio-semiotic systems, or the non-material world, operate through symbols. And, symbols are inherently dynamic, variable, and unstable.
Our only “real” access to the material world is through our five material senses (see this for a longer discussion of material senses and the non-material world). Everything else, all manners in which we understand and share these understandings of the world are non-material. In addition, even things that are material for us are understood and interpreted differently by each individual and group. This is why nothing in human existence is static or constant: not even the human study of science or mathematics. While highly technicalised and internally consistent, the systems of science or mathematics, are not singular: there are multiple ways of doing what might be considered science or math. Evidence of this, although fast disappearing, can still be found in the various Indigenous communities that have different ways of counting and marking/using colours.
What is, however, similar across all these socio-semiotic systems is that they operate symbolically. Humans, essentially, engage with the world symbolically. We associate different symbols with different meanings and have different ways of patterning these symbols and meanings. This creates a world that is always dynamic, shifting, and changing. A system that is dynamic thrives when it is free to shift and evolve; and, in contrast, breaks down and collapses when it is constrained. This, something that no other “empire” had ever done before, is what the European colonisation did: they changed the socio-semiotics of their subjects around the world and therefore changed how people interpret the present, hope for the future, and take actions based on those beliefs. We will look at some of the processes they used to do this in the next section.
The European colonisers had already learnt how to use symbols to divide people in their own countries, e.g., through literacy, land ownership, economic policies. With a desire to dominate the world and become the supreme leaders (supported by philosophies such as the White Man’s Burden or the Manifest Destiny), they started a socio-semiotic war against their perceived ‘enemies’ and, through that, unleashed the inhumane treatment and policies that were to mark Colonisation 1.0.
Colonisation 1.0 ended when the colonisers were satisfied that the local populations were sufficiently divided to continue in-fighting. In addition, they were confident that they had made the peoples of their colonies dependent on their knowledge, science, language, currency, goods, and sometimes religion – guaranteeing a continued subjugation of the colonised lands and peoples.
Colonisation 2.0 started with the formation of the countries. The British invented a new category in their language, a category which they defined as a “sovereign” region with marked and defendable boundaries and governed by a single government (enabled by a military and a pro-state police). Colonisation 2.0 is characterised by ex-colonial trained and/or loyal servants as rulers; an increased dependency on colonial languages; an increased dependency on colonial forms of knowledge; an increased dependency on colonial goods, economy, and currencies; and, an increased dependency on (and resistance to) colonial religions.
‘Colonial religions’ refer to the category ‘religion’ that was invented by the Europeans during Colonisation 1.0 by a trick of “language”, not unlike the one they used in making the category ‘country’. In fact, ‘religion’ pre-dates ‘country’ as a colonial category. The category ‘religion’ was developed (like ‘language’ and ‘culture’) as the European colonisers navigated the seas to “discover” and capture more lands.
When European colonisers came across regions that did not have a strong centralised system that could resist their force, they butchered the local populations and forced or cajoled the remaining populations to convert to their “religion” and “language”. This is why the majority of the populations in the Philippines and South and Central Americas are Catholics (or other denominations of Christianity) and speak English or Spanish or Portuguese today. ‘Religion’ in these places continues to hold the local populations in a hierarchal relationship with the Vatican or other ‘Holy Churches’.
In contrast, when Europeans came across regions where other civilisations existed, with alternative ways of knowing and doing. The Europeans quickly used ‘religion’ and ‘language’ to engineer social divisions and thus get a stronghold on the local lands and resources, including all human and non-human life forms. This strategy served Colonisation 1.0 so well that it has been strengthened during Colonisation 2.0 and will continue to play a significant and growing role in Colonisation 3.0.
The European strategy during Colonisation 1.0 was to use “religion” to identify and highlight genealogical and/or structural/functional differences between people, the two principle ways in which Europeans build their taxonomies and categories. Once established, these new “identities” create divisions, which are shaped by and enable prejudice.
Muslims, who the Europeans had already fought with multiple times over access to trading routes and resources, were one of their main enemies. The Europeans were also familiar with the Muslim traditions and had, for centuries, used the scientific development in the Muslim world to fuel their own ‘Enlightenment’. To secure this ‘enlightenment’, and with the newly gained supremacy over the sea routes, the European colonisers worked to break-up Muslim networks everywhere as well as capture and subjugate new territories. The Europeans broke all Indigenous and local networks in order to create new ones that would serve their needs and interests.
‘Religion’ worked as an ideal tool to do this. And, once they set up initial divisions, they use other symbols, e.g. language, diet, clothing, traditions etc. as additional symbols of religion. We see evidence of this in how the English divided a “single and mutually intelligible” boli into two languages: Hindi and Urdu, by using script as a divider. Once done, the Hindu and Muslims, with their Hindis and Urdus continue to stay divided and fight each other today. In fact, the divisions have gone further and there are new sects within ‘religions’ and new dialects and languages that now divide the people further.
This is one way in which socio-semiotic changes may disharmonise a region: the effects of which continue unless changed through deliberate action. These actions, as I will discuss later, will need to be those of honesty and integrity. This is because symbolic systems are in harmony when no one ‘X’ is trying to dominate everyone else. Such a state is known as a state of ‘imaandari’: a state of honesty and integrity. A break of ‘imaandari’ is called ‘bei-imaani’ and it implies a disharmonising or a breach of the system [notice that in Saudi Islam, imaandari is reduced to ‘iman’, which is restricted to a belief in Allah and his Prophet; the centrality of ‘imaandari’ is forgotten].
What European colonisation did – and which has led to the fragmented, violent, and overexploited world of today – is that they influenced a change in the socio-semiotics of their subjects: from one of imandaari to one of bei-imaani. This disequilibrium in the human symbolic systems, which results in, for example, the blatant differences in the economic means of people, was a novel socio-semiotic virus that evolved in Europe and then transferred to the rest of the human populations, where it has mutated in different ways. The Europeans carried out socio-semiotic warfare in all their colonies, which has guaranteed the continued decline of and divisions in the colonies. This is why, the Euro-US colonisers are now confident to transition into Colonisation 3.0.
Among the socio-semiotic violence that the Europeans committed, one of the most damaging one has been the creation of a new country ‘Saudi Arabia’ and placing one family in charge of the whole “Kingdom”. Saudi Arabia was created with absolute disregard to previous practices in the region and mirrored on narratives of kingdoms that are absolute and with no tolerance for difference of opinion or dissent (the Saudi flag includes a sword). The British and the Europeans created a violent, an unjust, and a bei-iman Saudi Arabia in order to make sure that the Muslims would never pose a challenge to them again: once the system of imaandari was broken and replaced by bei-imaani, the colonisers became confident that the colonised people will continue to fight and spread the fractals of dishonesty.
Before Saudi Arabia was created, Istanbul served as the cultural capital (not a centralised power) for the Muslims (who were settled in trading centres and nearby areas, not everywhere, across very vast regions and territories) – and, thus, was not really an ‘empire’ in the European way of building empires. Istanbul did not control the day to day regulation of the areas where Muslims lived. This is why the Mughals and others were largely independent of Istanbul; and, this is why the Indigenous populations of various lands where Muslims traded were not killed off or forced to convert to Islam or to learn Arabic. The common link between the Muslims, wherever they were, was ‘imandaari’ (being imaandar, or having iman, i.e., being honest and having integrity). It was imandaari that brought strength to the Muslims, who were mostly traders; and, the European colonisers destroyed this by rewriting the history of Islam, influencing their educational texts and curricula, and changing the Muslim calendar, with support of the Saud family – who they supported and financed to form Saudi Arabia.
Iran and Afghanistan refused to follow the colonial policies and even kept the Jalali calendar as their official calendar. Jalali calendar is a solar calendar which was created by some of the leading Muslim scientists and mathematicians of the day, including Omar Khayyam, and was adopted by the Muslim world around 1079. The Jalali calendar replaced a luni-solar calendar that was used by the Muslims since the time of the birth of Prophet Muhammad (and was the calendar used by the Jewish traders who habited the lands before Islam). However, the Saudi Hijri calendar, that is enforced as the Islamic calendar by Saudi Arabia today, predates the birth of Prophet Muhammad by 200 years and had been abandoned by the people of the region by the time Prophet Muhammad was born. The conflict between Iran and Saudi Arabia dates back to the time of the break-up of the Ottoman “empire” and the refusal of Persians to bow down to the new Arab Kingdom and their interpretations of Islam. Notice, Iran and Afghanistan remain the two enemies for the West (and their allies, such as Saudi Arabia). This also suggests that aspects of Colonisation 1 continue into Colonisation 2.0: battles for global domination continue in parts of the world that refuse to conceit defeat (e.g. Afghanistan, Iran, N. Korea, etc.) or manage to decolonise themselves (e.g. China).
Colonisation 2.0 is also characterised by a sharp rise in human population and remittance-based economies, i.e. economies that are dependent on nationals going abroad and sending back money. Such an economy makes countries further dependent on the colonising countries (and their allies), where these people typically want to go. This dependency also further skews the local educational systems to create graduates who have a higher chance to go abroad and further contribute to brain drain in the country (in addition to the loss of investment on education etc.), instead of developing an educational system that focusses on improving local conditions.
In addition to the colonisers benefiting from large populations in their “countries”, which lowers the cost of the raw material (and human labour) that they import; the exploitation that they carry out and encourage in the countries (through politics, military, and economic measures) are also the cause of the over-population in these countries.
If one looks into the estimates of human populations around the world over time, one will note that Indigenous populations, which were always sustainable, typically fell in numbers at first contact with Europeans – caused by the savagery let loose by the colonisers. However, what might surprise one is that this number stabilised and started to rise very quickly. This becomes most evident at the time when Colonisation 1.0 was at its heyday, for example, early part of the 20th century in South Asia.
The correlation between human population disbalance and continued stress on a population can be understood if we look at nature. If a species is attacked materially, it may become extinct. However, if populations are suppressed socio-semiotically, along with a constant threat of material violence, then they may either become extinct, or, as in the case of humans, increase in numbers. And, if this increase in human population happens without any socio-semiotic guidance or support, then the people will end poorly and may take actions that will damage the environment as well.
We can see evidence of this by observing what happened to ‘countries’ as they transitioned from pre-colonisation to Colonisation 1.0 (as we looked earlier), and from Colonisation 1.0 to Colonisation 2.0.
‘Countries’, which are modelled on colonial powers (e.g., look at the set-up of government into two “houses” in Pakistan, India, and most other colonies), maintain colonial military and police structures, which were designed to curb any “rebellion”. These countries are also dependent on colonial goods and currencies. At the same time, all so-called ‘post-colonial’ countries have expanded their control over the territories allocated to them, crushing any movements for Indigenous rights through police and military action (following colonial blueprints) [and indiscriminately destroying the environment in the process; see, for example, the Indian occupation of Kashmir].
With ‘post-colonialism’ (which is really Colonisation 2.0), ironically, the suppression of common people became worse than during the period of Colonisation 1.0, which explains why some people wish that their colonial masters took over their lands again. And, as predicted in the previous paragraphs, the human population in these exploited lands has skyrocketed.
In contrast, we also note that the only colonial countries that have been able to manage their population growth are those who have either: a) prospered economically by following colonial policies and agendas (e.g., Singapore, S. Korea, Japan); or, b) decolonised themselves (China).
Currently, when Colonisation 2.0 is at its peak, the Euro-US colonial governments (observe that the majority of people in these countries are also exploited and colonised) are changing the system once again. And, with the U.S. led politicisation of COVID19, we are starting to see the emergence of Colonisation 3.0.
If Colonisation 2.0 was marked with large migration from Colonial 1.0 and other poor regions of the world to economic powers (which are either Colonial 1.0 powers or their allies, like Saudi Arabia and the Gulf Cooperation Council), then Colonisation 3.0 will be marked by the rising of the borders between ‘countries’.
Colonisation 3.0 is being partially formed as a response to COVID19 and the need to restrict human movement. However, this is not all. The President of the United States was one of the first to turn COVID19 into a political tool by accusing China of the virus. The US was quickly followed by its western (colonial) allies. On the one hand, while this may appear to be Trump’s next move in the US-China trade war, it is much more than that.
There is a real or perceived threat in the colonial countries that “foreigners” are taking their jobs and resources. There is a rise in far right and neo-Nazi groups in these countries. Part of this is driven by the dire economic situation that the people find themselves in (people turn to exploitative colonial religion to find solace in the US; not unlike the exploited ‘Muslims’ to Saudi Islam and exploited ‘Hindus’ to Hindutva parties). By closing borders and with some time passing, the United States and other major powers, will be able to open up new industries in their countries, which will help maintain local economies.
At the same time, Trump has let COVID19 lose on the masses. While the media and Trump are busy debating when he found out about COVID19 and what he did or not do/say, nobody is considering the long-term fallout of this for the colonised world. As a seasoned entertainer, Trump is trained to manipulate public attention in ways that allows him to play his tricks. In this case, while the press keeps blaming him, hundreds of thousands of people will die across the world and the colonised peoples and countries (note that there are thousands of colonised people living within colonising countries – a feature of Colonisation 2.0) will fall further into economic, social, and political disarray. The suffering will be much higher in the colonised countries because they lack good governance, unity, resources, education, and training to fight off the virus; because of colonial strong holding; and, because Trump is slowly disassembling the instruments of ‘country’ management established during Colonisation 2.0, e.g. WHO, UN, NATO.
With COVID19, a longer-term problem in the colonised world, travel will become even more difficult for the residents of these countries. Remittance-based economies will struggle as migrant workers and students return home. These countries are already economically weak and have poor infrastructure, health, and education. With COVID19, all these resources will be further stretched, and the countries will fall in further debt. As a consequence, these countries will find themselves in exponentially weaker position as Colonisation 3.0 begins to take shape.
Depending on the country, the region, and the demographics, the colonial powers will offer jobs and tasks that people can do from their home countries for petty wages. However low the wages (in global terms), they will be attractive to people living in the colonised world, which will have massive unemployment rates and wide-spread poverty.
This will further increase the desire for jobs in “multi-national” corporations, even if the jobs have to be performed from home or from a local office. Given the corruption and the incompetence of the governments of colonised countries, the governments will be unable to tackle the problems that emerge during Colonisation 3.0. Private and corporate educational institutions will change their curricula to meet the needs of the new situation: train graduates to work for multinational corporations within the country. As a result, Colonisation 3.0 will further increase the dependency of the colonised countries on their colonisers. And, public education will further disable the populations to take care of themselves or meet their needs.
Colonisation 3.0 will be marked by stronger borders. This, as in the case of the United States, may be physical walls. These walls will be built with total disregard to non-human life forms, who know no borders; and, who will now lose terrain. Some of these animals may even become extinct of such human activity.
In the short run, COVID19 will reduce human population (as we saw in Colonisation 1.0). However, with continued poverty, misinformation, lack of education, exploitation, and suffering, the populations will rise again. This will likely lead to further socio-political destabilisation, weaponization, and conflict. In addition, the huge population growth will mean that the natural resources and the environment will be further plundered, leading to further disease and suffering.
Without some ways of stabilising the colonial countries and guiding them through a process of decolonisation, hundreds of millions of people are going to be worse off under Colonisation 3.0 than they are in Colonisation 2.0. This may even make some people wish that they were living under Colonisation 2.0 again!
However, at times of change, there are also new possibilities. Reforms that may have had no hope of succeeding under ‘normal’ circumstances may become reality. So, while Trump and the colonial powers ‘secretly’ work to transition in Colonisation 3.0, people across the colonised world can also launch processes of decolonisation.
Decolonisation, in Colonisation 2.0, does not imply getting rid of visible ‘foreign’ rulers – this was done decades ago in most cases. Decolonisation, during the period of Colonisation 2.0 will require getting rid of the ‘invisible’ and ‘viral’ socio-semiotics that are designed to destroy us.
Decolonisation will require a study and reformation of all social, educational, economic, legal, defence, political, religious, cultural, and linguistic policies of a colonised country and then realign them to support the well-being and prosperity of all residents – humans and non-humans – and neighbours. And, this process can begin with education and academia. There are two main reasons for this:
- All members of legislature, judiciary, military, media… go through education. So, if our education is strong and independent, our graduates will be strong and independent; and, in time, our institutions will become stronger and independent;
- Educators are responsible for caring for the socio-semiotic well-being of students. If they are unaware of the damage that the current practices are causing, then they will contribute to the perpetuation of fractals that will continue to undermine our well-being.
Fractals are patterns that repeat themselves at different scales in natural systems. Fractals can also be observed in both material and non-material systems. At present, in the colonised world, the fractals are patterns of corruption, dishonesty, and exploitation – these patterns repeat themselves at various scales across most aspects of our society including education, governance, healthcare, housing, industry, law, media, military, politics, religion, and transport. Decolonisation requires one to identify these fractals and alter them, which can allow for new patterns to emerge. The goal of decolonisation is to replace the fractals of dishonesty and exploitation with those of harmony and well-being.
Decolonisation is a complex process – and, in many ways, it is an individual and personal one; at the same time, decolonisation can also be turned into an educational outcome and goal. There are multiple ways of achieving these goals. Here are six features that we can consider, based on my work so far (see The unmaking of paradise: Literacy as Trojan Horse, Part III for a longer introduction of these):
- is not consumed by the goal of spreading universal literacy;
- is not designed to only prepare people to work for others for (petty) wages;
- considers the needs of the community and then trains the residents to learn to address those needs;
- values all form of knowledge and skills, not just ones included in colonial textbooks/languages;
- is designed to make people independent and able to manage their own needs and resources; and,
- involves all stakeholders in its development and management.
If colonized countries can awaken to what is happening at present and take action, there is a strong possibility that they can become independent. If we look back at China, we will realise that Mao led the Chinese independence movement at the time when the world was transitioning from Colonisation 1.0 to 2.0.
Instead of following the rest of the countries into Colonisation 2.0, Mao led China through a process of decolonisation. And, this decolonisation was carried out at a very high cost through a process of ‘cultural revolution’. The cultural revolution was an attempt to cleanse China from the influences of colonial socio-semiotics, which had become a source of societal disbalance (not unlike in other colonised countries). After emerging from the Cultural Revolution, famine, and ongoing colonial sanctions, China rebuilt herself economically to regain her independence from colonisation. This is one reason why the colonial powers continuously attack China as well as instigate rebellions and resistance against her.
While there is no doubt that the Cultural Revolution could have been managed differently; it still provides lessons about what to do and what NOT to do in our struggles for decolonisation. What the China example does tell us though is that there is a higher probability of a successful transition out of colonisation into independence during times of transitions.
This is because the whole system is in flux and nothing is stable. This instability allows possibilities that are not available under “normal” conditions. Once the new systems emerge and stabilize, making any major changes will become next-to-impossible. Countries will get locked into the chaos that Colonisation 3.0 will bring to the peoples of these countries. However, there are ways out – if the colonised people act; and, act with integrity.
Ways out of colonisation will be led by people who have integrity and an understanding of how symbolic (or socio-semiotic) systems work; and, have the ability to apply these understandings to improve the material and non-material conditions that they find themselves and others in. There is no one way in which people will make the reforms and transitions necessary; nor, is there a way to know what the outcomes of such reforms will be. These will depend on context. However, one thing is for sure, if these movements are led with ‘imandaari’ (and not ego, or greed, or personal gains), then people and non-humans in the region will be much better off than under regimes of exploitation and colonisation.
Do not pride yourself to be a listener of the breeze, Nomad;
Socrates flew with the winds, yet was captured by hemlock.