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Jan. 16 2010 - 9:19 am | 39 views | 0 recommendations | 0 comments

Cultural Supremacism? Not at all

So I’ve been called out for my article on Pakistan’s threatened archaeological treasures by a blog called Cinema Rasik. In their post, they say I engage in deliberate “cultural supremacism” because I gave short shrift to the history of Gandhar.

The author complains:

But what did we find as we read the Allbritton article? The 3rd paragraph begins with the sentence:

“The Gandhara kingdom and its art are important because it shows the impact of Hellenistic influence brought by Alexander the Great and his Macedonians (emphasis ours).”

Here it is in plain English. The importance of Gandhar derives from and only from the influence of Alexander and the Greek influence he brought with him. This is the definition of cultural supremacism, in our opinion. The deep roots of Gandhar in Indian history and its rich contribution to culture and education in pre-Alexander period seem to be completely irrelevant to Mr. Allbritton.

Now, I will take the hit that perhaps I did put too much emphasis on the Hellenistic influence as a way of illustrating the civilization’s importance. But the authors of the blog — who seem to be writing from an Indian perspective — should realize that my primary audience is a Western one, and the parts of Gandhar’s history that would most interest them or they might be most familiar with would likely include Alexander the Great. No disrespect was intended; I was just trying to root the story in a context Time’s audience might relate to more.

The author then proceeds to give a long and detailed (but interesting) history of Gandhar and its impact on the sub-continent. Fair enough. They have the room to do that, and I did not. As the author points out, “But Mr. Allbritton’s article is about Archaeological Treasures and not about history.” Well, it was specifically about the current threat to archaeological treasures, but no matter. However, the author of the post goes on to accuse me of deliberately ignoring the history of Taxila. That was not the case at all. I was fully aware of its importance, both to the Middle East and to the immediate region, but again, journalism is not history. It’s about cramming as much information into a limited word count. Some things inevitably get left out.

I guess what irks me the most is the idea that I exhibited “a deep-seated cultural supremacism” and engaged in “a deliberate attempt to rewrite history according to his own biases. Based on our analysis above, we also opine that his ignorance of the Gandhar history is not accidental but deliberate. It reminds us of the perversion of Indian history practiced by many British Historians of the 19th & 20th century.” Quite the contrary, and email from archaeologists who specialize in the Gandhar excavations wrote me to praise the article. I don’t think they saw a “deliberate attempt to rewrite history.”

Finally, the author says he reached out to Time Magazine for a response, and was rebuffed. That’s unfortunate, and I regret that. However, I have no control over that as I’m a freelancer. But I will say I never received an email from anyone on this subject. A simple Google search would have turned up many ways to contact me, if they really wished to discuss this. I would have welcomed that feedback.

So let this blog post be an opportunity for them to respond and engage. And anyone else who thinks I deliberately neglected India.


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    About Me

    I’m a freelance journalist with experience in the Middle East, Africa and now south Asia. I’ve written for TIME, Boston Globe, Washington Times, San Francisco Chronicle and many others. I also founded the two influential blogs, Back-to-Iraq.com and InsurgencyWatch.com.

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    Contributor Since: May 2009
    Location:Islamabad, Pakistan

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    I’m currently bouncing around Pakistan chasing the various ups and downs of the Islamic insurgency here.