Time To Abandon Colonial Geography

Empowering Weak & Oppressed

Zafar Bangash

Sha'ban 09, 1444 2023-03-01


by Zafar Bangash (Opinion, Crescent International Vol. 53, No. 1, Sha'ban, 1444)

Colonialism has had a profoundly negative impact on victim societies in many different ways. From stealing their resources to imposing alien systems of education and languages on well-establish traditional societies, the colonial experience has been an unmitigated disaster.

Colonized people were taught to hate their culture, dress and local languages. Under colonial rule, they were forced to acquire western education to get a job in their own country. This necessitated learning the language of their colonial master whoever it happened to be. English, French, German, Dutch, Flemish (Belgium version of Dutch), Spanish or even Portuguese were imposed on colonized peoples.

Theoretically, colonialism has ended but it would be wrong to assume that the colonized states of Asia and Africa have achieved true independence. The elites in these societies have more in common with their colonial masters in Europe than their own impoverished masses. Many of these societies are also quite dependent on their former, or not so former colonial masters.

There is another area where colonialism, or more specifically British colonialism, has had a major impact on how the regions of the world have been named. For instance, most people are familiar with such expressions as the ‘Middle East’ or ‘Far East’. The question that immediately comes to mind is, ‘middle’ or ‘far’ from where? In other words, what is the starting point that is used to designate a particular name for a region?

It would be immediately obvious that the starting point is assumed to be the tiny island of Britain, that pompously calls itself ‘great’ Britain. There is nothing great about it. In its hay days—the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries—it may have been a military power, primarily because of its naval strength, but today it does not rank even among the middle powers. Yet its disastrous legacy continues to plague the world.

Let us be clear, Britain is not the centre of the universe even if the British continue to believe in this myth. True, there is one area where the British enjoy an advantage. English is considered a universal language. No other language comes close, not even French, much to the chagrin of the haughty French.

The reason is simple. People of British origin settled (colonized) many parts of the world: North America, Australia, New Zealand and parts of Asia such as India and Malaysia, and Africa. That is quite an achievement for people living in grime and hardly able to afford potatoes. In North America, Australia and New Zealand, they committed genocide of indigenous peoples. The North American settlement was predicated on another myth: that Christopher Columbus had ‘discovered’ America. He had done no such thing.

The North American continent was already populated by Indigenous peoples who had their own well-established culture. In fact, there is evidence from tablets found in the US bearing Arabic writings that prove Muslims had predated Columbus by many centuries.

The Indigenous peoples lived in harmony with nature, unlike the European settlers who have also caused irreparable damage to the environment. Had the European settlers not massacred the Indigenous peoples, the native population in North America would be nearly one billion strong. Through genocide, they have been reduced to a few million scattered on far-flung reservations.

Let us, however, return to the question of colonial language and how various regions have been named. Instead of the ‘Middle East’, it is more accurate to call it West Asia. We already have Central Asia, the region that is also called Eurasia. Instead of the Far East, it should be called by its proper name, Southeast Asia.

Let us reverse the equation. Suppose we take the heartland of the Muslim world as the centre of the world. It is not an unreasonable assumption. Based on this, North America would be called the ‘Far West’, Europe as the ‘Middle West’ and tiny England, which is so insignificant, it would not even merit a mention. Australia and New Zealand would be called ‘Far South’.

How is that for rearranging the world’s geographical language and paying the colonialists back in their own coin? It is time for the rest of the world, especially the Muslims to abandon the political geography of colonialism and use more accurate expressions to describe the various regions of the world. Asia is the world’s largest continent. It should assert itself more forcefully. A good starting point would be to refer to the various regions of the world by a more accurate designation.

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