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The Victors and the Vanquished

Warriors and conquerors who emerge as heroes have always fascinated historians and appear in their narratives as the main players of history. Why are they eulogised, admired and worshipped as heroes while scholars, scientists, and reformers are marginalised? Hero-worship is perhaps based on power play. Society projects those who have material resources, wield political power and authority and are projected as great and magnificent.

Historians write about the rulers’ achievements, poets compose panegyric poetry, scientists and artisans invent either weapons for them or produce tools and instruments to further add to their comfort and luxury. In exchange of material benefit they surrender their talents and energy to the absolute ruler. It is ironical how people who invaded and occupied other countries, imprisoned women and children, massacred populations, burnt down towns and cities, pillaged and plundered are called great and are admired for their bravery, war tactics and strategy and earn the status of national heroes.

Presently, even though the concept of power has changed and history no longer remains under control of absolute authority, historians continue to use the title of ‘great’ for conquerors and invaders. In the past, when conquerors would return after conquests laden with slaves and looted wealth, they would be lauded by their subjects and welcomed back as heroes. The Romans would line up, watch and applaud the procession of their victorious generals as they passed by. Nobody ever spared a thought for the fate of the vanquished or defeated. History remains partial to victors, not the vanquished.

These conquerors were in fact ambitious murderers and criminals who invaded foreign territories for the acquisition of more resources, authority and power. History of Alexander or Cyrus does not show any greatness of character except brutality, cruelty, arrogance, moral depravity and bankruptcy. But to Greeks and the western nations, Alexander is great because he defeated the eastern country of Persia and established the domination of the Hellenistic civilisation. Films have been produced and novels published to project his glorious image. He is regarded as a forerunner of the hegemony of the western civilisation and an icon for European historiography.

Similarly, the Persians resurrected Cyrus as their hero and Muhammad Reza Pahlevi organised a celebration in his memory to legitimise his rule. In Iraq, after the revival of the Mesopotamian civilisation, Hammurabi and Nebuchadnezzar became ideals for the Iraqi ruling classes. For Mongolians, Genghis Khan is a national hero. To the Turks, Muhammad Fatah, the conqueror of Constantinople and Suleiman the magnificent are among honoured rulers. The European nations glorify Charles Martel, Char Léman who founded the great Carolingian empire and Richard the Lionheart, who fought against Salahuddin Ayubi.

For the Muslims of the Indian subcontinent, Muhammad bin Qasim, Mahmud Ghaznavi and Muhammed Ghauri became heroes for defeating Hindu rulers. Scholars and thinkers who contributed to knowledge and learning, like Al-Beruni and others, were sidelined despite the fact that the empire of Mahmud Ghaznavi disappeared in the oblivion of history but Al-Beruni’s work has survived and become a classic.

Solon, a poet, politician and lawmaker was considered to be one of the Seven Wise Men. He found democracy in Athens.

Socrates was declared the wisest man by the oracle of Delphi. Greece recognises its philosophers and reformers and ignores politicians except Pericles. Our concept of power is related to politics and not knowledge. Thinkers, philosophers and their work and inventions that changed the world are ignored.

To this day, politicians get more media coverage than scholars. It is time we changed our mindset and condemned conquerors of the past or present as criminals while scientists, thinkers and reformers who are changing the world in a positive way should be celebrated.

By by Mubarak Ali :

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