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nationsbook I’ve expressed a little disappointment in a book I recently read, Azar Gat’s Nations: The Long History and Deep Roots of Political Ethnicity and Nationalism. There are two primary reasons for this. Nations simply does not measure up to his previous work, War and Human Civilization. But that is perhaps not a fair assessment, since War and Human Civilization is quite possibly Gat’s magnum opus. A second issue is that the core assertion in Nations is quite modest, and not entirely at variance with conventional intuitions. Basically, Gat is refuting a modernist view, which has arguably gone from being revisionist to normative, that the concept and execution of a nation is a historically contingent construction of early modern Europe, and more precisely Revolutionary France of the 1790s. This is not an unfounded characterization of what the default position for many is, I myself have parroted the idea that the nation-state was “invented” by the French in the 1790s. This may be a vulgarization, but I’ve heard others express the same sentiment in the years since I first encountered this thesis in high school. It’s one of those “fun counter-intuitive facts” which has the beauty of simplicity, and the drawback of almost certainly being false on the face of it.

But note that I qualified the nation-state, rather than nation unadorned. When properly qualified and delineated one can perhaps defend the empirical validity of the idea that something unique emerged in early modern Europe after the Peace of Westphalia, and culminating in the Congress of Vienna. The problem is that the model being presented is usually not couched in modest terms. In hindsight the idea that nationalism is an invention of early modern Europe, and Revolutionary France, has as much plausibility as the idea that the Troubadours of the Provence invented romantic love. Yes, there are particular motifs and forms in the idea of love as it is culturally practiced in much of the world which may have its roots in this period and place, but I think it is totally misleading to assert that “love” is a cultural invention of the medieval West, as a common vulgarization goes.* Rather, love has a deep cognitive and evolutionary basis in our lineage, and manifests in a variety of ways in different social contexts. There isn’t a part of the brain which is our “love region,” rather, it is an emotion which synthesizes basic elements of human nature. It is not particularly surprising that romantic love is going to be more salient in an individualist society with consumer surplus, but that does not mean that subsistence level peasants lack the basic cognitive facilities because they had not been properly enculturated.**

Obviously there are differences between the phenomena of love and nationhood. The latter is a much more ‘high level’ phenomenon in terms of social complexity. Nationhood can not be understood except in the context of aggregates, while love is a phenomenon that can play out in dyads.*** Gat’s thesis is that given particular conditions nations are a primal unit of organization for humans. Those conditions obviously include a rate of primary economic productivity and elaborated social complexity which can support supra-tribal political units. Notice here that a state as we understand it is not necessary; the Greeks of the classical period were a nation, but they lacked a state. Nations supports Gat’s thesis with a literal flood of historical facts. Much of this is interesting. But, it presupposes that the readership can actually judge the selection and veracity of said facts. I can, because I know a lot of history. But I suspect that for readers with a weaker historical knowledge base a book of half its length would have sufficed. Second, throughout the narrative Gat refers to the modernist scholars who he is refuting extensively, but repeatedly suggests that even they don’t subscribe to the extremist caricatures of the origins and invention of nationhood (at least implicitly).

To state it in extremely plain language Nations argues that nations which are persistent have coherent cultural cores, which are more robust than states. To me this seems uncontroversial and obvious, but I do know that plenty of people find this surprising. Additionally, there is the problem that many lack the nuance to understand what this does, and doesn’t, mean. Consider for example the Byzantine Empire. As an empire one can immediately infer that it was multicultural, in that multiple nations were under its rule. It is a curiosity to note that until its last the Byzantines considered themselves Romans, and thought of their empire as the Roman Empire. Notwithstanding this peculiarity from the middle of the 7th century the core cultural identity of the Byzantine Empire was that of Greek speaking Christians. That Christianity varied in theology (e.g., see Monothelitism), but those within the Byzantine Empire and outside of it who adhered that position were consider orthodox and part of the imperial party.**** Additionally, Greek was obviously the language of the elite. In the classical Byzantine period between 650 and 1100 most of the emperors had ethnic origins which were clearly not Greek (e.g., Syrian and Armenian), and likely not orthodox (since certain ethnicities, such as Armenians, had national churches at variance with Byzantine orthodoxy). But nevertheless these individuals assimilated to the ethno-cultural identity which was hegemonic throughout the history of the Byzantine Empire.

Gat’s idea about nationhood is multi-textured, and gives due respect to the fact that the ancients held multiple ideas interleaved in their own minds. Nations were generally conceived in a manner which presupposed common descent and biological unity. That is, the population were descended from legendary founders. And yet they could also acknowledge composite origins. For example, the Romans were a Latin people, but they also had Sabine antecedents at the founding, including some of their most famous patrician families, such as the Claudii. Though the common Latin core persisted down to the fall of the Empire, it was integrative and assimilative. The Roman Empire was multicultural, but it was ruled by a Latin speaking elite. Gat points out that by the 5th century in much of the Roman Empire local languages and identities were fading, so that what had been an core ethno-cultural group was transforming into a majoritarian nation. The local populations conquered by Germanic tribes referred to themselves as “Romans,” in contrast to their rulers. And this illustrates the common sense model which is exposited in Gat’s work, nationality emerges and coalesces organically from loyalties and allegiances at a lower order of organization, and extends gradually upward and outward. The stylized contrast is the idea that nationhood is extruded ex nihilo from the minds of ruling elites in a specific period and place.

All of this is at the front of my mind while reading what’s going in the news right now. Consider two pieces in The New York Times, In a Syrian City, ISIS Puts Its Vision Into Practice and Report Cites ‘Aggressive’ Islamic Push in British City’s Schools. From the first piece:

…The traffic police are based in the First Shariah High School. Raqqa’s Credit Bank is now the tax authority, where employees collect $20 every two months from shop owners for electricity, water and security. Many said that they received official receipts stamped with the ISIS logo and that the fees were less than they used to pay in bribes to Mr. Assad’s government.

“I feel like I am dealing with a respected state, not thugs,” said a Raqqa goldsmith in his small shop as a woman shopped for gold pieces with cash sent from abroad by her husband.

From everything we read it seems that a shockingly high proportion of the front line troops of the Islamic State are psychopaths. By this, I don’t mean that they are normal people caught up in conforming to a cruel system, but that they are literally mentally unstable violent individuals. The fact that the Islamic State can organize a less venal system of political order than what came before in regions under its rule despite the human capital it has to work with tells you something both about the Islamic State and its enemies. It is cliche to suggest that the “nation-states” of the Middle East are all artificial kleptocracies derived from the imaginations of Europeans. What is less palatable is to admit that the Islamic State is presenting a positive vision which can impose order upon its subjects as well its less than mentally normal foot soldiers. I don’t think this is scalable or sustainable, but it is something we have to admit as truth. The Islamic State has Asabiyyah.

The second article is about the fears over Islamic fundamentalism taking over state sponsored faith schools in Britain. Here the back-story is that Britain has long mixed state and religion, ergo, education and religion. So with a large Muslim minority, and in some regions a majority, it is reasonable to expect that Islamic faith schools would emerge. The problem is that modern Britain also demands these schools adhere to particular Western liberal norms. There are debates aired within the article whether the British government’s reports on Islamic fundamentalism within these specific schools are exaggerated or not. That’s not my focus or concern in this post. Rather:

One public high school at the heart of the Trojan Horse controversy, Park View Academy, was ranked as one of the worst schools in Birmingham in the 1990s, with most students failing their final exams. But by 2012 it had received top marks from school inspectors, and nearly four in every five of its students now go on to university.

The dominant element in the Muslim population in the United Kingdom is from Pakistan, with the majority overall being from South Asia. These Muslims are likely Europe’s most socially conservative, and the dominant British ethos of multiculturalism is such that they are given free rein to develop their own identity (which is something somewhat different from that of their South Asian lands of origin). The fact that “British nationals” are prominent in overseas jihadi movements should be a tell that a substantial element within this population has an identification with worldwide Islam that is inimical to their integration into broader British society, which is post-Christian and liberal. Would it be entirely surprising if a population which has a conservative Muslim ethos would have more “buy in” to public education if they felt that that education reflected their deeply held values?

The New York Times piece quotes the British education secretary as saying ‘These people had “a restricted and narrow interpretation of their faith,” and had failed to promote fundamental British values and to challenge.’ Two points. First, where does the British education secretary get off critiquing how British Muslims interpret their faith when there’s been generations of hands off multiculturalism? As a person of no faith I don’t particularly privilege faith in any way, but Western liberals have been playing an inchoate game for several generations about the nature of religious liberty. There is no free lunch. If religious liberty is a fundamental right, then you should expect some religious people to cry foul when you constrain that right. Second, what exactly are British values? Tolerance, diversity, and respect for the Queen? British Muslims isolated in their ethnic ghettos have a clear and crisp voice from conservative and fundamentalist Islamic theorists in terms of what their appropriate standards of behavior and belief should be. I don’t see any such clarity from the British state, so as a matter of description it is entirely predictable that bringing a large population with such a different historical experience would result in a culture clash.

The problem is that Western liberals want to have their cake and eat it too. They want to tolerate diversity, but that diversity is constrained by the fact that their own vision of what is a “fundamental human right” is peculiarly isomorphic with the social consensus of their societies’ elites at a particular time and point. The current focus on LGBT rights is perfectly illustrative of this dynamic. Social and political thinkers who have only recently “evolved” on this issue, within the last 20 years, now wish to promote tolerance for LGBT individuals in a world where broad swaths reject that proposition. The reality is that this is Western cultural imperialism. Of the humane and good sort, just as the British campaign against suttee, but that is what it is. People whose ethos is non-Western see clearly that this is the specific and historically contingent ethos of a Western global elite, while Western thought leaders continue to speak of “universal human rights,” out of time and history, eternal.

Human social existence is thick. It is multi-textured and threaded with diverse strands, some at cross-purposes. When we attempt to model this complexity with thin abstract stylized models, we often fail. In the 19th and early 20th centuries a particular sort of biological model arose of nationality which conceived of the English and German races, where nations were inevitable and primordial expressions of genetic relatedness. After World War II such views fell into disrepute, and ideas of civic nationalism arose which seemed to presume that the nation-state could arise out of the will of elites within a single generation. Both of these are thin models which fail to predict the organic waxing and waning of nations, because they elide causal complexity. With simple models in hand it is hard to understand history and current events, because human behavior can confound in its riotous unpredictably. There are no short cuts here. The maxim to make models as complex as needs be, but no more, is easier to follow in the physical sciences where the models are actually not that complex!

* There are other non-Western candidates proffered for the inventors of love, so this need not be an issue of Eurocentrism.

** Even if romantic love did not loom large in the life of a peasant family in medieval Germany, to give an example, love as a generalized emotion surely existed between mother and child, and so on. I doubt the cognitive competencies here are separable, so humans likely retain a capacity for romantic love even if it is not culturally prominent.

*** Or in the case of narcissists, one suffices.

**** Ergo, even in Muslim lands those Christians who adhered to the Byzantine formula were “Melkites”, “imperial.”

 
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  1. I recently finished War in Human Civilization and am also reading Nations. I am highly impressed by Gat’s scholarship. Unfortunately, his internet presence is small. I’ve rounded up what links I can find.

    Hear him speak about war in this video (his speech starts about 15 minutes in): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8mSIo-kLBNY

    A phone interview with him about War in Human Civilization: http://newbooksinhistory.com/2010/07/15/azar-gat-war-in-human-civilization/

    Another phone interview concerning Nations: http://newbooksinpoliticalscience.com/2013/04/09/azar-gat-nations-the-long-history-and-deep-roots-of-political-ethnicity-and-nationalism-cambridge-up-2013/

    An article Gat wrote about the Arab Spring: http://nationalinterest.org/feature/the-arabs-1848-10256

  2. I was more impressed with Nations than it seems you are. Admittedly, it lacks a narrative thrust since he jumps around from region to region. Still, his main theses seem sound: the convergence of ethnos and state in a national state could arise even in antiquity; ancient Egypt or China for instance were national states; Ethnicity mattered even in city-states and empires; Empires in the Mid East destroyed incipient nations; National states were more typical of Europe than elsewhere but not exclusively a European invention.

    I enjoy one irony: Those writers who yelp so loud about the evils of Eurocentrism never questioned the Eurocentrism of the social constructionist and modernist writers on nationhood.

  3. Really excellent analysis!

    I would be happy to get a comment from Peter Turchin on this.

  4. “quotes the British education secretary as saying ‘These people had “a restricted and narrow interpretation of their faith,” and had failed to promote fundamental British values and to challenge.’ Two points. First, where does the British education secretary get off critiquing how British Muslims interpret their faith when there’s been generations of hands off multiculturalism?”

    On this specific point a lot of the “narrow version of Islam” and “tiny majority of extremists” stuff is directed at the majority population. Although as you say multi-culturalism has been the official public policy for a long time in private most of the people behind it believed that immigrants would eventually morph into standard issue secular liberals by magic or osmosis. As it became increasingly obvious the exact opposite was happening i.e. as numbers increased cultural conservatism increased in proportion, the multi-cultists had no idea what to do about it so they buried their heads in the sand, covered it up and pretended it wasn’t happening.

    They don’t want to admit there are clear majorities of particular groups from particular regions who have irreconcilable differences over certain issues e.g. FGM, because they have no idea what to do about it so quotes like that are partly a kind of mantra to themselves like trying to ward off the evil eye.

    .

    “invented romantic love”

    I think it would be interesting to see a study of what percentage of folk songs in different cultures are love songs. I wouldn’t be surprised if it was the majority in most cultures although the percentage that are about marriages thwarted by land/dowry etc might vary.

    .

    “One public high school at the heart of the Trojan Horse controversy, Park View Academy, was ranked as one of the worst schools in Birmingham in the 1990s, with most students failing their final exams. But by 2012 it had received top marks from school inspectors, and nearly four in every five of its students now go on to university.”

    The biggest educational problem in the UK was the gradual abandonment of school discipline in the 1970s which led to less lesson time devoted to education and more to crowd control. One of the upsides to hard line takeovers of any description is they tend to put a stop to that.

  5. I just read Nations last weekend. It’s interesting you drew most of your examples from the Byzantines since Gat himself practically skipped over the distance between Roman and Ottoman. Yet Greek identity would be an excellent case study for discussion of modernist theories of nationalism versus what ever its opposite is. (I hate to use the word “essentialist”.)

    Gat basically argues there is an objective pre-modern foundation, based on a cultural core, for many modern ethnic identities. But I think that misses the point.

    Modernists (e.g., Hobsbawm, B. Anderson) do often overstate their case, but their major contribution was to stress the contingency of modern nation-states and the modern manifestations of nationalism — not that they are totally arbitrary constructions invented whole-cloth in a single generation. It’s about arguing against the inevitability of the configuration we see today. We know the core of the Byzantine empire was Greek-speaking and Orthodox Christian. But there’s a kind of survivorship bias — because the modern state of Greece is the evolved remnant of a larger Hellenistic world, we tend to think of a continuously existing core Greek identity. Yet change just a few variables and you might have had several “Greek” states in analogy with the “Roman” states of Italy, Spain, France and Romania. In the reverse direction we might imagine many fewer Arab republics than the membership roster of the Arab League.

    Now, maybe some nation-states we see today are more likely to have emerged than others, because of deeper reasons like geography, early adoption of agriculture, early state formation, linguistic consolidation, etc. Gat comes close to arguing that the division of French Indochina into those three particular ethnolinguistic states was inevitable, as opposed to Indonesia. China certainly looks more inevitable than Norway, but that could be a failure of imagination.

    A key premise of modernists is, there was a persistent cultural gulf between the elites and the masses before modern times. Modern Greek nationalists have dug up many instances where Byzantine writers referred to themselves not simply as Romaioi (as we learn from the modern historiography of the Byzantine empire), but also Graikoi and Hellenes. I think those are thin, but let’s grant that — after all, many of the Byzantine elites were steeped in the pagan classics especially after paganism was long dead and hardly a threat. But did such feelings of ancient cultural unity and continuity exist, say, amongst the peasantry of the Cappadocian theme in the 10th century ? Gat points out there’s almost no evidence about the self-conception of the masses from premodern times. So what does he do ? He goes on to argue that the masses did have a self-conception roughly congruent with that of the elites.

    Gat anticipates the “elite versus masses” distinction and the “customary objections to the common-sense proposition that Egypt was a national state” by focusing on religion, customs & ritual. But did that really a create a subjective sense of national identity in pre-modern times ? Despite the reams of facts presented, that’s far from demonstrated by Gat. Take the Greek war of independence. He points out, correctly, that the peasantry played a crucial role in independence ; and their awareness of themselves as Christians is part and parcel of modern Greek identity, even if the elites were motivated by more abstract European ideals. Sure, but then, why didn’t the Greeks revolt earlier ? Basically Gat’s answer is, they did ! So he recasts pre-modern wars, like the Serb rebellions against the Ottomans, as having a fundamentally nationalistic character defined around religion. The Taiping rebellion has been deemed a nationalist rebellion by modern historiography for some time now, but was the Red Turban Rebellion also a nationalist reaction, like the Indonesian war of independece from the Dutch ? Gat doesn’t reference the Red Turban rebellion by name, but I think his answer would be yes.

    I don’t see the difference between modernists and Gat as empirical. I see it as ideological and axiomatic. Gat presents many broad facts and reinterprets them in the light of his thesis.

    The modernists like Hobsbawm and Anderson talk endlessly about the role of mass compulsory education and the enforcement of a national langauge. Their greatest validation is that almost all non-western societies belatedly followed the western model of mass linguistic unification. Now I call that a “western model” only because of where it happened first, not because there is anything uniquely western about it. A striking feature of modern European societies is they became less diglossic earlier than non-western societies. In 1900 the gulf between the classical Chinese of the mandarins and the vernaculars was pretty vast.

    And we know from the recent experience of non-western states most of them placed great emphasis on the standard language, sometimes to the point of suppressing dialects & regional languages. The Chinese do not actively suppress, but they make a big show of insisting Cantonese, Shanghainese et al. are dialects not languages. (Not to mention, what other country that size has a single time zone ?) The Arabs have this extraordinary attachment to “Modern Standard Arabic” even though it’s only acquired at school (and not even the same as Qur’anic Arabic), much like westerners acquire Latin. The subordinate place of the numerous vernaculars is seldom questioned. Pakistan is frequently cited as a failed state but it has had much better success in making the Urdu variant of Hindustani a national language, which is non-native to at least 90% of the Pakistani population, than India has had with its variant of Hindustani. The Turks purged Ottoman Turkish to the point that no Turk can read it without highly specialised training ; and of course they ruthlessly stamped out everything else. The Indonesians, by contrast, adopted a divergent dialect of Malay instead of the dominant Javanese. The Greeks were arguing into the 1960s what kind of language (the faux-classical Katharevousa or the more “natural” Demotic) they should be learning at school !

    The point here is not who succeeded at what and how and why. The point is the centrality of the language issue in the “national question” of so many disparate non-western countries. So why that centrality, if the “western” model of language assimilation & unification were mere eurocentric misextrapolation ? (Gat talks a lot about languages but frankly I don’t get what his point is. The artificial standard language did spread in pre-modern times, but the masses never learnt it until very recently.)

  6. the arguments about the peasantry were the most hand wavy to me. unlike *war in human civilization* there’s no social science quantitative analysis (not that that’s possible), so you have to take his word for it. i found the book interesting, but confused somewhat in its focus. it seems that it was a good attack on vulgarization of the modernization hypothesis, but not sure it was as clear a hit on the scholarly exposition (this is even evident from gat’s depiction of his opponents!)

    Pakistan is frequently cited as a failed state but it has had much better success in making the Urdu variant of Hindustani a national language, which is non-native to at least 90% of the Pakistani population, than India has had with its variant of Hindustani.

    a minor note, but i think the proper comparison though is pakistan and the ‘cow belt.’ hindi has had particular problems in south india where they do not speak indo-aryan languages, while punjabi and sindhi are both relatively close to hindustani (like gujarati, as opposed to bengali or marathi).

  7. @Pseudoerasmus

    I see an analogy:

    –The cultural anthropologists (ie Razib’s frequent antagonists) hold that race and the races never really existed until they were invented or socially constructed into being over the last couple of centuries by Europeans.

    –The modernists likewise hold that ethnicities, nations, and national states never really existed until they were invented or socially constructed or imagined into being over the last couple of centuries by Europeans.

    Just as the former are a sort of race-denialist, so the latter are a sort of ethno-denialist.

    You say of the modernists: “their major contribution was to stress the contingency” of nations and nation-states. Certainly, by their account the invention was a giant Big Bang, an accident and might easily not have happened had the Europeans done otherwise. But I think they are wrong about that. It looks more like their major anti-contribution.

  8. an accident and might easily not have happened had the Europeans done otherwise.

    i might be wrong here, but i don’t think this is right. i think that most would admit the nation-state is likely or inevitable as a consequence of modernity. just that europe hit on it first 18th century.

    some of this issue is semantic. gat distinguishing between the nation and nation-state gets to this. something different and specific occurred in europe. if we give it a different label a lot of the confusion would go away. OTOH, the question as to the character of mass psychology and identity still hold. it seems that gat is likely correct that mass national consciousness is old. but, that doesn’t mean it was a common phenomenon. i suspect that the greeks (hellenes) of the 5th century were more self-conscious as greeks than the ‘romans’ of gaul were as romans, top to bottom. the roman nobles certainly were self-conscious, but not sure about the peasants….

    • Replies: @Whyvert
    Agreed that national consciousness certainly wasn't universal. In South Asia (India) I think it was non-existent, to do with caste, weak and short-lived states. OTOH, national consciousness is not universal in modernity either.
  9. @Razib Khan
    an accident and might easily not have happened had the Europeans done otherwise.

    i might be wrong here, but i don't think this is right. i think that most would admit the nation-state is likely or inevitable as a consequence of modernity. just that europe hit on it first 18th century.

    some of this issue is semantic. gat distinguishing between the nation and nation-state gets to this. something different and specific occurred in europe. if we give it a different label a lot of the confusion would go away. OTOH, the question as to the character of mass psychology and identity still hold. it seems that gat is likely correct that mass national consciousness is old. but, that doesn't mean it was a common phenomenon. i suspect that the greeks (hellenes) of the 5th century were more self-conscious as greeks than the 'romans' of gaul were as romans, top to bottom. the roman nobles certainly were self-conscious, but not sure about the peasants....

    Agreed that national consciousness certainly wasn’t universal. In South Asia (India) I think it was non-existent, to do with caste, weak and short-lived states. OTOH, national consciousness is not universal in modernity either.

  10. Yes, it does help there are no Dravidian languages in Panjabistan (other than the minor Brahui). But Panjabi and Gujarati are closer to Hindustani than Sindhi and Marathi. Sindh has always been pretty nationalistic.

    Whyvert, no, not the contingency of nation-states in toto, but the contingency of particular, “actually existed” nation-states. And most “modernists” are the opposite of “ethno-denialists”. They typically argue nationalism is founded on ethnic or some other lesser-order sentiments. Now, there are later critics of nationalism who might fit the bill of analogy with race-denialists, but Hobsbawm, Gellner, Anderson do not.

  11. On one side it is always useful to remind the fact that current Hollywood fueled values – like those who help to perpetuate the social construct of “romantic love” – are not some kind of anthropolgical necessity. In the case of “romantic love” it especially useful if you are not of those 5% most attractive males who take it in the winner takes all partner market:-)
    But on the other side romantic love can still be found in so many old texts from so many cultures. Think of the Ramayana, old chinese stories about young lovers, medieval european stories. But in most cases in the old times romantic love was something experienced by princesses and princes, not by ordinary people. This once led to state that our times can be characterized as the times when everybody lives like a queen or a king.
    Modern british values? Anything which leads to more children with subsharaafrican ancestry in britain

  12. I could be wrong but, from your summary, it seems Gat is attacking a straw man.

    From what I remember of Gellner, the nation state was a contingent event that depended on a mass education in a particular language. Pre modern nations were impossible because mass vernacular education did not exist. Is Gat really saying anything inconsistent with this? Is he just quibbling over the definition of “nation”.

    Also, I concur that Pakistan has been more successful in establishing Urdu than india have been in establishing Hindi, and I don’t think this is because of India’s dravidian problem. Post 71, there is a Pakistani consensus that Urdu is the national language for Muslims and unlike Hindi, Urdu has a deeper reserve of high culture to draw from, facilitating adoption. The proof of this theory is the increasing adoption of Urdu in Indian Kashmir (even though kashmiri is a dardic language).

    Would a separate north Indian state have been successful in imposing Hindi from Delhi to Calcutta? I don’t think so. As in post ottoman turkey, Pakistan is successfully creating a national identity out of a religious identity. India will have to choose a different path.

  13. I did not read Nations.
    Still, some observations:

    – Identities are like Russian dolls. The Greeks were Greek, but Athenians were also Athenian and Spartans Spartan. Multiple, nested identities.

    – An empire needs a ruling culture. Duh! This doesn’t imply one identity for all or most of your people.

    – Since Constantine up until the Enlightenment, it was a common religion, not a common ethnicity, that held empires together. The presence of different ethnocultural groups within your borders was no problem. The presence of different faiths, was!

    – What’s new about the modern nation-state is that ALL the people in one are expected to share a common cultural/national identity (there are tolerated exceptions, such as Scotland within Britain, but they are anomalies and a source of tension; conversely, different states with the same identity are expected to unify, like Germany, and unlike ancient Greece). This is a consequence of revolutionary republicanism where the state comes from the citizens.

  14. Since Constantine up until the Enlightenment, it was a common religion, not a common ethnicity, that held empires together. The presence of different ethnocultural groups within your borders was no problem. The presence of different faiths, was!

    so, china? it’s more complicated than you’re presenting, though obviously this was a solution that worked west of the indus. in any case, gat would not deny that religion and empire went together. that’s turchin’s argument. religion gives one a meta-ethnic identity.

    What’s new about the modern nation-state is that ALL the people in one are expected to share a common cultural/national identity

    well, athenians and republican romans shared this attitude too. though the polity was narrower in scope, and not universal to the domain (e.g., metics and the allied peoples of italy were not part of the citizenry, but somewhat integrated into the polity).

    But in most cases in the old times romantic love was something experienced by princesses and princes, not by ordinary people

    romantic love is a problem for elites, whose marriages have temporal consequences. no one cares so much about the travails of peasants, whose ups and downs do not have national import. of course their social networks were also much smaller, so romantic love may not have been in the cards, as opposed to necessity (i.e., a wife or husband was a co-worker in maintaining bare subsistence).

    Pre modern nations were impossible because mass vernacular education did not exist. Is Gat really saying anything inconsistent with this? Is he just quibbling over the definition of “nation”.</i.

    i think he would disagree that vernacular education is a necessary precondition for nationalism. also, i do think that moderns over emphasize standard education and mass literacy, as pre-modern peoples could be united by ritual and oral poetry, etc. the greeks certainly had a national self-identity despite being mostly illiterate due to their common pantheon and cultural events such as the olympic games (from which non-greeks were excluded). but again i'm not sure that this nationalism is totally comparable to modern nationalism.

    but again, since this is a qualitative argument i had a hard time parsing any disagreement that didn't seem stylistic.

    Would a separate north Indian state have been successful in imposing Hindi from Delhi to Calcutta?

    hindi does seem broadly accepted in the cow belt states . bengal is different because bengalis are snobby about their distinct language and its literary culture.

  15. Razib,

    if you haven’t read it, you may like Ancient Religions and Modern Politics by Michael Cook. It touches on ethnicity among many other topics in the course of a long (500pp+) and erudite comparison of Islam, Hinduism, and LatAmer Catholicism, past and present.

    Cook was a proponent of Hagarism, though that fascinating theory doesn’t crop up in this book, alas.

    http://press.princeton.edu/titles/10255.html

  16. thanks for the book recommendation.

  17. I have posted about the same elsewhere. Not based of Gat.

    The cultural unity of England was the product of centuries of bloody wars suppressing the Scots, the Welsh, the Irish, and during the earlier period a number of autonomous or semi-autonomous kingdoms, duchies, counties, etc. The tide turned in the early 19th c. when the Irish seceded. Even today the Welsh and Scots have some autonomy and are wishing for more.

    France, likewise: the Basques, Normans, Alsatians, Occitans or Provencals, Savoyards (19th c.), the medieval Burgundians. Even today the Bretons are restless though nothing is likely to come of it. But the French do not tolerate autonomy and are very centralist.

    It seems to me that this is one history of the nation state, and the nineteenth century is a second history. Germany and Italy were put together very late and are as culturally pluralist as England or France ever was, without the Celts, but the process seems to have been much quicker and less painful. Likewise the Denmark-Norway-Sweden separation.

    Austra Hungary survived as a non-national state until 1917. 10 recognized languages being played off against one another, frequent revolts (Always with some subject nations supporting the Germans), the German language always dominant but the Germans nonetheless discontented because the strongest German faction wanted to join Germany. After 1918 much of the empire became linguistic nation states, but Yugoslavia was non-national.

    An even more contrary case is Switzerland, stale for centuries with no linguistic, religious, or geographical unity. Like Holland I think it is defined by a political idea and history. They tell me Belgium is defined as Catholic though not a theocracy.

    This is somewhat rambling but my specific point is that I think that England and France with their own histories produced a nation-state template which other states reached by somewhat different methods, probably because they realized that that was the only way to be viable in a nation-state world. None of the non-national states (Switzerland, Belgium, Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia) has done more than just survive.

    And then again, the USSR and Russia…..

  18. so, china? it’s more complicated than you’re presenting, though obviously this was a solution that worked west of the indus. in any case, gat would not deny that religion and empire went together. that’s turchin’s argument. religion gives one a meta-ethnic identity.

    You’re right, I should have added “west of India”. I assumed that “in the West” was given for granted because we are speaking English.

    well, athenians and republican romans shared this attitude too. though the polity was narrower in scope, and not universal to the domain (e.g., metics and the allied peoples of italy were not part of the citizenry, but somewhat integrated into the polity).

    That’s another thing I should have specified: there’s a difference between city-states and vast nation-states.
    The Greeks had a state whose glue was being an Athenian, but not one whose glue was being a Greek.
    Furthermore, as you point out, those ancient city states either didn’t extend citizenship to their conquests and allies in spite of cultural proximity, or when they did, did so as a gift and not as a recognizion of a preexisting shared cultural identity, and after the edict of Caracalla the Romans didn’t really bother that many (most?) of their fellow citizens across the empire didn’t speak Latin.

    Another clarification: when I said

    different states with the same identity are expected to unify, like Germany, and unlike ancient Greece

    I meant Germany in the 1800s.
    Another example is Italy in the 1800s.

  19. I mean that I’m at fault for not saying “in the West”, and should have said it.

  20. When people say that romantic love came into existence in 18th century or 12th century Europe, they’re collapsing a rather complex argument into a zinger. Zingers are easy to refute. In both those cases the argument is mostly that something which had been secondary, often somewhat denigrated, and sometimes suppressed became more public, more central, and more honored. As for it being unique to the west, that was just a wild guess based on lack of study, and in fact one of those theories believe that the Provencals learned it from Arab Andalucia and even that bakhti yoga had something to do with it.

    Something that may be unique is the collapsing of all words for [love] (eros, agape, philia, storge, ludus, and pragma in Greek) into one, and the failure to distinguish pure desire from romantic love and nonsexual forms of love.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Greek_words_for_love

    http://www.yesmagazine.org/happiness/the-ancient-greeks-6-words-for-love-and-why-knowing-them-can-change-your-life

  21. Well, I don’t know. Perhaps this “nations emerging from the French revolution” is more a US thing. What I remember from studying history (just as a minor) a while back in Germany, no one mentioned anything like that.

    The European nation state was considered more a gradual development from the Middle Ages onwards with some nation states (eg. England) emerging earlier & others (eg. Germany) rather late.

    Haven’t read Gat’s books, but his ideas as conveyed here don’t seem that new or spectacular.

  22. What I remember from studying history (just as a minor) a while back in Germany, no one mentioned anything like that.

    no comment 🙂

  23. The cultural unity of England was the product of centuries of bloody wars suppressing the Scots

    well, you mean the united kingdom or britain? i’d think the cultural unity of the ‘saxon shore’ has pretty obvious primal roots, tempered by the contrast with the native britons. modified of course by the scandinavian incursions and the norman conquest.

    Germany and Italy were put together very late and are as culturally pluralist as England or France ever was, without the Celts, but the process seems to have been much quicker and less painful.

    well, not intelligible dialects have persisted in both germany and italy. finally dying now, more so in germany than italy. if the penetration and ubiquity of vernacular is a judge, then the temporal sequence is obvious. from what i know scots and geordie are still much more like bbc english than italian dialects, definitely sicilian, are in relation to standard italian (which is based on florence).

  24. Many British people don’t know what British Values are. But that’s not because they don’t exist, rather British culture is unself-conscious, non-reflective. Partly due to its history of prominence and partly as a characteristic of the culture.

    The situation is exacerbated due to the dual nature of British culture – English vs Celtic fringe.

    The situation is further exacerbated by the dual nature of English culture – polite society vs ‘local’ society.

    But… the over-riding fundamental aspect of all these cultures is that of ‘fitting in’. Britishness is essentially very conformist. Without that conformism probably the industrial revolution and heroic efforts in two world wars would not have been possible. And equally, the tolerance of eccentricity is possible because it is easily identifiable and rare.

    In polite society, ‘fitting in’ is a silent process. People are given freedom to work out for themselves what is acceptable. This is one reason why there is virtually no ethnic conflict in polite society – you can’t be in polite society unless you conform and there are obvious rewards to being in polite society.

    [In ‘local’ society, ‘fitting in’ is a noisy process carried out through Banter, which would take some explaining as a cultural mechanism but it is not just ‘avin a larf’, it is a sophisticated mechanism for identifying trust within a group. Many early immigrants, who assimilated into the working class before multiculturalism emerged, can Banter with the best.]

    Incoming cultures were given the opportunity to understand for themselves what it meant to be British. Some of them chose to use that freedom to not be British or rather to redefine British. The situation was then exacerbated by atheists and deconstructionists who simply want to do away with Englishness and took the opportunity to spread the meme that there is no such thing as British culture.

    In time honoured fashion, polite society allowed a generous period of time for schools to realise for themselves that they were out of step and when that time ran out, also in time honoured fashion, polite bureaucrats moved in and took away the freedom.

    On a similar note – British people do not take possession of public space, they borrow it, always on the look out for the need to negotiate that space. Incoming cultures which are unused to a public sphere have the attitude that whatever bit of public space they occupy is de facto their sole ownership for the time that they are in it.

    In other words the idea of ‘giving way’ is disappearing. Peter Hitchens speaks about how a decrease in trust creates the need for literal regulations because people, including two generations of undereducated indigenous, no longer practice trust-based conformity.

  25. Britishness is essentially very conformist

    useless general trait. first, conformity almost certainly a human universal as an ancient adaptation. you don’t have to rationally work everything out yourself. second, actually the anglo-sphere nations are the most individualist in their ethos in the world.

    some interesting observations. but the specious causal roots make one skeptical.

    • Replies: @realorfictitious
    Specious, OK. Tough but fair.

    Razib - do you know that Britain is a Constitutional Monarchy and that the Queen opens and closes Parliament and is Head of the Church of England? And that 27 Bishops sit in the House of Lords? Parliament and national pageantry are riddled with Christian ritual and many local councils are too. So, very much not post-Christian. Just thought you might be interested.
  26. @JohnEmerson

    “The cultural unity of England was the product of centuries of bloody wars suppressing the Scots, the Welsh, the Irish”

    You’re confusing England with Britain. They’re not the same. In any case, Britishness seems to be decreasing in importance in the UK nowadays. Obviously the case in Scotland, with devolution and the Scottish “nationalists”. But concerning England, it has been said that only ethnic minorities and metropolitan liberals nowadays regard themselves as British, whereas English identity is getting ever more important for a large part of the white population.

  27. but again i’m not sure that this [pre-modern] nationalism is totally comparable to modern nationalism.

    I think one major way the two must be quite different is that in the pre-modern period there was much more tolerance of being ruled by foreigners. One can make the argument that in many (most?) places the foreign ruling elites eventually became assimilated into the larger culture but still rule by foreign elites was so normal and widespread compared with today.

    “well, not intelligible dialects have persisted in both germany and italy. finally dying now, more so in germany than italy”

    The most divergent “dialects” of German were simply left out of Germany : those of Switzerland and Austria. Austrian programmes on German television are usually dubbed and no one even pretends Swyzertutschi is a dialect.

  28. The above should say subtitled or dubbed.

    ————-

    From Whyvert’s book recommendation, Ancient Religions, Modern Politics :

    That a Christian chaplain on pilgrimage should express this view, and see the ethnic identity of the Turks as a valid title to territory, is particularly notable. So also is the fact that in these centuries the common Trojan descent of the Turks and Italians could be advanced as a reason why the two peoples should not make war on each other. 5 In other words, ethnic identity as a basis of moral claims was not just some local copper coinage; it met the gold standard of the day. Against the wider background of European history, this is in no way unexpected. But to anyone more familiar with the Ottoman way of seeing things, it is arresting.

    From an Ottoman viewpoint, the European religious perspective looks immediately familiar: all we have to do is flip believers and unbelievers and we have a central component of the Ottoman worldview. The ethnic perspective, by contrast, looks outlandish. It is true that the Trojan theme seems to have meant something to Mehmed II (ruled 1451– 1481) 6 but not as part of his public persona as a Muslim ruler. The point is not that ethnicity signified nothing to the Ottomans but rather that it was not a currency in which legitimate claims could be made to something as important as territory. 7 In other words, the moral reach of ethnic identity was significantly less in the Ottoman context than it was in Western Europe. Why should that be so?

    [some passages about the ethnic identity amongst Turkic tribes prior to conversion]

    Yet this sense of the Turkish ethnicity of the Ottomans, though well preserved in the western Arab world, 18 faded out among the Ottomans themselves, to return only under the impact of Western modernity in the nineteenth century. 19 In fact, the process had already begun among the cultured Muslims of the cities of Anatolia even before they came under Ottoman rule. For them the Turks were the wild tribes of the Anatolian steppes, uncultured savages dedicated until the Resurrection to the remorseless destruction of civilization. 20 In the meantime we find the Ottomans— whom the Europeans never stopped calling Turks— now referring to themselves as Rūmīs, a term more geographical than ethnic in origin. Thus, in the late sixteenth century the Ottoman writer Muṣṭafā ʿĀlī uses the term in referring to people that we would unhesitatingly call Turks. 21 He tells us that Rūmīs (merdüm-i Rūmī) are best— better than Arabs or Persians; indeed today they are a hundred times better than Persians, for to them belongs a glory (ʿizzet) that the Persians no longer possess. 22 Yet, at the same time, he speaks pejoratively of Turks (Etrāk) in contexts in which it is clear that he has in mind a population of Anatolian peasant stock. 23 Such usage points to a significant downgrading of ethnicity in the Ottoman context. Being a Turk no longer cut any ice in the state apparatus; being a Rūmī did, but it was not a currency in which claims were made to territory or statehood. 24

    You could almost concoct the same passage from bits and pieces of Bernard Lewis’s The Emergence of Modern Turkey

    • Replies: @Whyvert
    I recall that interesting discussion of the Ottomans and their loss of a sense of Turkish ethnicity. The post-Ataturk elite very much reacted against that. In general Turks today appear to me to have a very intense feeling of nationalism.

    The same book describes the Arabs of the caliphate era as displaying ethnic chauvinism.
  29. The nation stuff is a very underappreciated factor in history. Historians do seem to know that the ordinary stuff of history, kings and battles and the like is affected by economics and demographics, just like military strategy is confined by logistics, the usual metaphor being an iceberg where 90% of the ice is beneath the water. But unlike economics and demographics, where they can compile stats, though I think that they often have way too much confidence in the accuracy of their stats, whether it be about the late Roman Empire or medieval census stats like the ones Pinker used for calculating murder rates, the whole nation thing, or tribal identity, as distinct from the state or govt, defies any statistical treatment at all, so since they cannot talk about it this way, it is assumed not to exist and ignored. I once read that a poll of English history professors in the UK determined that Thomas Beckett was the worst Englishman of the 12th century. That’s somewhat nonsensical because there was no such thing as an ‘Englishman’ in the 12th century, Henry II most certainly was not an Englishman and would have looked like you as if you were mad if you told him he was or said something like ‘Being the master of a certain stable does not mean one is a horse’. From some time during 600-1000 AD (it’s not easy to date in a coherent narrative, certainly not with any stats, that’s why it’s ignored), until about 1500, people in western Europe were members of the nation called Christendom, and Christendom was divided up into lots of little states. English history professors in UK universities definitely have room for improvement, not that American ones any better.
    I have not read this book, but it would seem to me that the basic tribal identity of a man is his family, with it growing weaker as one’s relatives become more distant. Every tribe bigger than this almost always uses familial metaphors. The Fatherland, the founding Fathers, Uncle Sam, Mother England, Holy Mother Russia, Marianne (who is kinda your sister), and to use Europe’s medieval tribal identity, Holy Mother Church, Father Jones, Mother Seton, Brother or Sister for nuns and monks, all looked over by the patriarch, or Papa or Pope, whose title is literally ‘Big Daddy’. A pseudofamilial relationship amongst non relatives whom one might not even personally know, seems to be the at bottom thing a nation is. I realize I am using only Euro examples and the book and some of what the commenters know is broader than that but that’s what I know about.
    Lastly, at least for now, that Hobspawn is half right, he’s was a Marxist so he cannot be fully right. In my examples about familial metaphors and titles, I only cited Euro examples above, but all these metaphors do not seem to have come into use for the most part organically or naturally, they were chosen by people who were consciously trying to create a tribe. The Church created Christendom because it was trying to, Christendom being Augustine’s City of God in action. England and France, the English tribe and the French tribe, of the France in ‘Vive la France’ or the England in ‘England expects every man to do his duty’, were both deliberately created by their respective states, just like the TGV railway system, or the NHS, there was nothing natural or organic about either of them, though they both got started, with tremendously uneven progress towards their goal, in the early 1500’s, and the process was not finished in France until the Revolution, and in England maybe by 1720, they were way ahead of the French in that regard, and could be said to have been both beaten by the Dutch who seemed to have a nation around 1620, though separating the Dutch nation from the reformed protestant nation might be a bit difficult, as I said it’s hard to make hard and fast distinctions on this topic which is why it’s ignored. Nasty run on sentence and I guess I have to stop.
    I haven’t read the book, but I’d say it’s not a very good book if it’s says otherwise.

  30. @pseudoerasmus
    The above should say subtitled or dubbed.

    -------------

    From Whyvert's book recommendation, Ancient Religions, Modern Politics :


    That a Christian chaplain on pilgrimage should express this view, and see the ethnic identity of the Turks as a valid title to territory, is particularly notable. So also is the fact that in these centuries the common Trojan descent of the Turks and Italians could be advanced as a reason why the two peoples should not make war on each other. 5 In other words, ethnic identity as a basis of moral claims was not just some local copper coinage; it met the gold standard of the day. Against the wider background of European history, this is in no way unexpected. But to anyone more familiar with the Ottoman way of seeing things, it is arresting.

    From an Ottoman viewpoint, the European religious perspective looks immediately familiar: all we have to do is flip believers and unbelievers and we have a central component of the Ottoman worldview. The ethnic perspective, by contrast, looks outlandish. It is true that the Trojan theme seems to have meant something to Mehmed II (ruled 1451– 1481) 6 but not as part of his public persona as a Muslim ruler. The point is not that ethnicity signified nothing to the Ottomans but rather that it was not a currency in which legitimate claims could be made to something as important as territory. 7 In other words, the moral reach of ethnic identity was significantly less in the Ottoman context than it was in Western Europe. Why should that be so?

    [some passages about the ethnic identity amongst Turkic tribes prior to conversion]

    Yet this sense of the Turkish ethnicity of the Ottomans, though well preserved in the western Arab world, 18 faded out among the Ottomans themselves, to return only under the impact of Western modernity in the nineteenth century. 19 In fact, the process had already begun among the cultured Muslims of the cities of Anatolia even before they came under Ottoman rule. For them the Turks were the wild tribes of the Anatolian steppes, uncultured savages dedicated until the Resurrection to the remorseless destruction of civilization. 20 In the meantime we find the Ottomans— whom the Europeans never stopped calling Turks— now referring to themselves as Rūmīs, a term more geographical than ethnic in origin. Thus, in the late sixteenth century the Ottoman writer Muṣṭafā ʿĀlī uses the term in referring to people that we would unhesitatingly call Turks. 21 He tells us that Rūmīs (merdüm-i Rūmī) are best— better than Arabs or Persians; indeed today they are a hundred times better than Persians, for to them belongs a glory (ʿizzet) that the Persians no longer possess. 22 Yet, at the same time, he speaks pejoratively of Turks (Etrāk) in contexts in which it is clear that he has in mind a population of Anatolian peasant stock. 23 Such usage points to a significant downgrading of ethnicity in the Ottoman context. Being a Turk no longer cut any ice in the state apparatus; being a Rūmī did, but it was not a currency in which claims were made to territory or statehood. 24

     

    You could almost concoct the same passage from bits and pieces of Bernard Lewis's The Emergence of Modern Turkey

    I recall that interesting discussion of the Ottomans and their loss of a sense of Turkish ethnicity. The post-Ataturk elite very much reacted against that. In general Turks today appear to me to have a very intense feeling of nationalism.

    The same book describes the Arabs of the caliphate era as displaying ethnic chauvinism.

  31. @Razib Khan
    Britishness is essentially very conformist

    useless general trait. first, conformity almost certainly a human universal as an ancient adaptation. you don't have to rationally work everything out yourself. second, actually the anglo-sphere nations are the most individualist in their ethos in the world.

    some interesting observations. but the specious causal roots make one skeptical.

    Specious, OK. Tough but fair.

    Razib – do you know that Britain is a Constitutional Monarchy and that the Queen opens and closes Parliament and is Head of the Church of England? And that 27 Bishops sit in the House of Lords? Parliament and national pageantry are riddled with Christian ritual and many local councils are too. So, very much not post-Christian. Just thought you might be interested.

  32. #32, i know all that.

  33. [Sarcastic comments aren’t going to be posted; though you are free to continue writing them. This is a general note to commenters -Razib]

  34. “As a person of no faith I don’t particularly privilege faith in any way, but Western liberals have been playing an inchoate game for several generations about the nature of religious liberty. There is no free lunch. If religious liberty is a fundamental right, then you should expect some religious people to cry foul when you constrain that right.

    The problem is that Western liberals want to have their cake and eat it too. ”

    This is all residual from their Christian past. A “post-Christian” society will inevitably be influenced by Christianity. At its core Christianity is anti-religious liberty as it is an ideology, like Islam, that espouses one god and one religion for all. That’s why “tolerance” is the mantra of these post-Christian liberals instead of “mutual respect”.

    “Religious tolerance was advocated in Europe after centuries of wars between opposing denominations of Christianity, each claiming to be “the one true church” and persecuting followers of “false religions.” Tolerance was a political “deal” arranged between enemies to quell the violence (a kind of cease-fire) without yielding any ground. Since it was not based on genuine respect for difference, it inevitably broke down”

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/rajiv-malhotra/hypocrisy-of-tolerance_b_792239.html

    They probably should take a crash course in polytheism before they jump from the frying pan (monotheism) into the fire (atheism). At least that way they might learn some respect for religious liberty.

    • Replies: @Shuddh Bharatiyaan
    “quotes the British education secretary as saying ‘These people had “a restricted and narrow interpretation of their faith,” and had failed to promote fundamental British values and to challenge.’ Two points. First, where does the British education secretary get off critiquing how British Muslims interpret their faith when there’s been generations of hands off multiculturalism?”

    Well it is odd for me as a South Asian to see so many South Asian-British Muslims in the UK tying to act Arab. They're South Asian by ethnicity and British by nationality so they should be fusing those two together, not copying and pasting Saudi culture on top of it, especially considering how oppressive Saudi culture is.
  35. @Shuddh Bharatiyaan
    "As a person of no faith I don’t particularly privilege faith in any way, but Western liberals have been playing an inchoate game for several generations about the nature of religious liberty. There is no free lunch. If religious liberty is a fundamental right, then you should expect some religious people to cry foul when you constrain that right.

    The problem is that Western liberals want to have their cake and eat it too. "

    This is all residual from their Christian past. A "post-Christian" society will inevitably be influenced by Christianity. At its core Christianity is anti-religious liberty as it is an ideology, like Islam, that espouses one god and one religion for all. That's why "tolerance" is the mantra of these post-Christian liberals instead of "mutual respect".

    "Religious tolerance was advocated in Europe after centuries of wars between opposing denominations of Christianity, each claiming to be "the one true church" and persecuting followers of "false religions." Tolerance was a political "deal" arranged between enemies to quell the violence (a kind of cease-fire) without yielding any ground. Since it was not based on genuine respect for difference, it inevitably broke down"

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/rajiv-malhotra/hypocrisy-of-tolerance_b_792239.html

    They probably should take a crash course in polytheism before they jump from the frying pan (monotheism) into the fire (atheism). At least that way they might learn some respect for religious liberty.

    “quotes the British education secretary as saying ‘These people had “a restricted and narrow interpretation of their faith,” and had failed to promote fundamental British values and to challenge.’ Two points. First, where does the British education secretary get off critiquing how British Muslims interpret their faith when there’s been generations of hands off multiculturalism?”

    Well it is odd for me as a South Asian to see so many South Asian-British Muslims in the UK tying to act Arab. They’re South Asian by ethnicity and British by nationality so they should be fusing those two together, not copying and pasting Saudi culture on top of it, especially considering how oppressive Saudi culture is.

  36. #36, it is not atypical for migration to result in a reconstruction of one’s identity. south asian identities make more sense in a south asian context, informed by that history. in a transnational cosmopolitan world a deracinated and ‘thin’ muslim identity which draws from arab archetypes seem to emerge. those arab archetypes themselves are often artificial an only perceived (i.e., arabs in most of the arab world may not recognize the neo-salafi norms among some british south asians as particularly authentic).

    • Replies: @Shuddh Bharatiyaan
    When you consider that the same trend is taking place in South Asia itself, your argument "south asian identities make more sense in a south asian context, informed by that history. in a transnational cosmopolitan world a deracinated and ‘thin’ muslim identity which draws from arab archetypes seem to emerge." holds no relevance.

    "those arab archetypes themselves are often artificial"

    While imposed and adopted, they are not entirely artificial when you consider their origins and the socio-religious as well as geo-political reasons for this trend.

    "and only perceived (i.e., arabs in most of the arab world may not recognize the neo-salafi norms among some british south asians as particularly authentic)."

    Many would recognize them. Many South Asians, even non-Muslims, are compelled to adopt some of those norms when living and working in Saudi, Yemen and Gulf nations.
  37. @Razib Khan
    #36, it is not atypical for migration to result in a reconstruction of one's identity. south asian identities make more sense in a south asian context, informed by that history. in a transnational cosmopolitan world a deracinated and 'thin' muslim identity which draws from arab archetypes seem to emerge. those arab archetypes themselves are often artificial an only perceived (i.e., arabs in most of the arab world may not recognize the neo-salafi norms among some british south asians as particularly authentic).

    When you consider that the same trend is taking place in South Asia itself, your argument “south asian identities make more sense in a south asian context, informed by that history. in a transnational cosmopolitan world a deracinated and ‘thin’ muslim identity which draws from arab archetypes seem to emerge.” holds no relevance.

    “those arab archetypes themselves are often artificial”

    While imposed and adopted, they are not entirely artificial when you consider their origins and the socio-religious as well as geo-political reasons for this trend.

    “and only perceived (i.e., arabs in most of the arab world may not recognize the neo-salafi norms among some british south asians as particularly authentic).”

    Many would recognize them. Many South Asians, even non-Muslims, are compelled to adopt some of those norms when living and working in Saudi, Yemen and Gulf nations.

  38. #38, it’s a general trend, not limited to islam. sri lanka’s theravada reformation of the 19th century, and the rise of sanskritization, arya samaj, an hindutva, illustrate it in south asia. in a cosmopolitan world where local identities are weaker and mobility is at a premium you need a more portable religion not moored in place. the ‘arab’/saudi aspects you impute to british islam themselves are pretty artificial and not arab specific, as i made clear above. the salafi ideology of the nejd is probably not sustainable with oil money and is probably not really organic.

  39. ” in a cosmopolitan world where local identities are weaker and mobility is at a premium you need a more portable religion not moored in place.”

    But it is very moored in a place – Saudi. Moreover not all places and the cultures/ideologies that spring from them are equally problematic.

    South Asian-British Muslims could very easily meld Desi and Anglo cultures, which some of them do and many more of them have done decades ago, instead of joining the dangerous and oppressive Saudi cult.

    “south asian identities make more sense in a south asian context”

    There is more of a South Asian than an Arab context in the UK as there are more South Asians than Arabs in the UK. Hence its easier and more practical for Desi Muslims in the UK to identify with their own Desi demographic than an Arab one.

    ” in a cosmopolitan world where local identities are weaker and mobility is at a premium you need a more portable religion not moored in place.”

    Saudi style Islam is not that “more portable religion”.

    A more portable religion would be one that South Asian-British Muslims created anew by and for themselves. This would mix elements from Islam with elements from Hinduism and Sikhism (since you are talking about South Asian context and there plenty of SA Hindu and Sikhs in UK) with elements of Anglicanism as well as New Atheist thought ala British intellectual hero Hitchens.

    You seem to be arguing that the rise of oppressive Saudi stye Islam in the UK is a sign of its fluidity and mobility and its compatibility with modern migrant cosmopolitan populations when nothing could be further from the truth. What it does is the exact opposite of melding a new and more fluid identity that is compatible with the new cultural environment that migrants and their successive generations find themselves living in.

    It superimposes a very foreign, very regressive and very immobile, non-translatable culture onto a landscape that is already rich enough in cultural and philosophical diversity to enable the creation of a brand new and much more relevant religion altogether.

  40. i don’t think you really know enough to argue with me. i’m not arguing what you seem to be thinking i’m arguing, but i don’t think you actually know enough about islam to appropriately situate what salafi islam, is, or isn’t. for example:

    But it is very moored in a place – Saudi. Moreover not all places and the cultures/ideologies that spring from them are equally problematic.

    saudi is not a place. it is a dynasty. the place is arabia, and more specifically wahhabism is rooted in the najb, in central arabia. in any case, south asian islam exhibited the same reformist ‘salafi’ (didn’t use that word) at the same time as arabia in the 18th century, the deobandi movement. it’s probably a ‘natural’ reaction in mainstream sunni islam to dispossession and anomie (e.g., it arose in arabia with the collapsing ottoman hegemony in india with the decline of the mughals).

    in any case, since it doesn’t seem that you know much about islam’s history, or religion generally, let me make an analogy. the protestant christianity of the united states is notoriously culturally thin and labile. this is in contrast with the forms of christianity in europe, which are organic and historically contingent, rooted in their locales and places (e.g., pilgrimage sites). the various forms of ‘western islam’ are more like american low church protestant christianity, though some of them specifically co-opt ideas and motifs from salafi islam, which itself is an artificial and modernist reaction of very recent vintage in arabia. the analogy here with american protestant xtianity is close since americana protestants often assert they are ‘primitive’ christians, closer to the ways of the early xtians.

    syncretism is certainly one reaction to cosmopolitanism. but it seems to be an elite/and or minority reaction in a context of modernization. india is a case in point, as groups like sikhs are an exception. more common is the shift of liminal groups like hussaini brahmins and meo muslims are assimilating to normative hinduism and islam.

    • Replies: @Shuddh Bharatiyaan
    "saudi is not a place. it is a dynasty. the place is arabia"

    The place is Saudi Arabia.

    "the various forms of ‘western islam’ "

    The type of Islam I am discussing is not "Western". It is Saudi Arabian.

    As someone who has traveled extensively throughout the Arab world, your contention that "arabs in most of the arab world may not recognize the neo-salafi norms among some british south asians as particularly authentic" is wrong. Come on now, we're not talking about Ismailis here. I can tell you that they do recognize it as an authentic form of Islam, whether they personally practice that form or not. Not only that, I, as a non-Muslim person had to conform to some of its norms in various countries myself.

    Your idea that this form of Arab culture and Islam is somehow "more mobile" and contextually congruent for Desi-British Muslims than just melding Desi and British cultures is ridiculous and comes across as disingenuous, even if that is not what is intended.
  41. @Razib Khan
    i don't think you really know enough to argue with me. i'm not arguing what you seem to be thinking i'm arguing, but i don't think you actually know enough about islam to appropriately situate what salafi islam, is, or isn't. for example:

    But it is very moored in a place – Saudi. Moreover not all places and the cultures/ideologies that spring from them are equally problematic.

    saudi is not a place. it is a dynasty. the place is arabia, and more specifically wahhabism is rooted in the najb, in central arabia. in any case, south asian islam exhibited the same reformist 'salafi' (didn't use that word) at the same time as arabia in the 18th century, the deobandi movement. it's probably a 'natural' reaction in mainstream sunni islam to dispossession and anomie (e.g., it arose in arabia with the collapsing ottoman hegemony in india with the decline of the mughals).

    in any case, since it doesn't seem that you know much about islam's history, or religion generally, let me make an analogy. the protestant christianity of the united states is notoriously culturally thin and labile. this is in contrast with the forms of christianity in europe, which are organic and historically contingent, rooted in their locales and places (e.g., pilgrimage sites). the various forms of 'western islam' are more like american low church protestant christianity, though some of them specifically co-opt ideas and motifs from salafi islam, which itself is an artificial and modernist reaction of very recent vintage in arabia. the analogy here with american protestant xtianity is close since americana protestants often assert they are 'primitive' christians, closer to the ways of the early xtians.

    syncretism is certainly one reaction to cosmopolitanism. but it seems to be an elite/and or minority reaction in a context of modernization. india is a case in point, as groups like sikhs are an exception. more common is the shift of liminal groups like hussaini brahmins and meo muslims are assimilating to normative hinduism and islam.

    “saudi is not a place. it is a dynasty. the place is arabia”

    The place is Saudi Arabia.

    “the various forms of ‘western islam’ ”

    The type of Islam I am discussing is not “Western”. It is Saudi Arabian.

    As someone who has traveled extensively throughout the Arab world, your contention that “arabs in most of the arab world may not recognize the neo-salafi norms among some british south asians as particularly authentic” is wrong. Come on now, we’re not talking about Ismailis here. I can tell you that they do recognize it as an authentic form of Islam, whether they personally practice that form or not. Not only that, I, as a non-Muslim person had to conform to some of its norms in various countries myself.

    Your idea that this form of Arab culture and Islam is somehow “more mobile” and contextually congruent for Desi-British Muslims than just melding Desi and British cultures is ridiculous and comes across as disingenuous, even if that is not what is intended.

  42. Your idea that this form of Arab culture and Islam is somehow

    i didn’t say arab culture. i’m specifically trying to decouple salafi/deobandi forms of islam from their local patrons. please stop purposely misconstruing me or i won’t post your comments. a lot of your reactions are substituting your interpretation of what you think i mean for what i mean.

  43. and i’m aware that many western muslims think their islam is ‘more arab’ or ‘purer.’ that perception is irrelevant to whether it is either of those things. i don’t think salafi islam is actually particularly conservative, despite its intentions.

  44. “i didn’t say arab culture.”

    I did, in comment 36.

    “Well it is odd for me as a South Asian to see so many South Asian-British Muslims in the UK tying to act Arab. ”

    You responded to that and our dialogue took off from there. Islam cannot be divorced from Arab Civilization because it is an Arabia originating religion. What can happen though is syncretism which melds Islam and other religions and cultures together based on the present local environment that Muslims find themselves living in. Technology and the internet serves to keep Muslims and non-Muslims alike connected to the wider world and abreast of cultural trends and shifts, both local and global.

    The type of spirituality that will survive into the future is one that will shift and morph to meet the expanded awareness of our information highway human population. It will have to be logical and make sense to an increasingly higher IQ population. It will have to be, as you put it, “more portable”, “transnational” and “cosmopolitan”.

    This is not the type of Islam that the British liberal quoted above is seeing blossom in the UK right now.

  45. It will have to be logical and make sense to an increasingly higher IQ population.

    no, stupid people have more children. so the IQ isn’t getting higher. instead of more liberal religion in many developed societies what you see is polarization between those who are irreligious and more fundamentalist in orientation (though again, this fundamentalism is often superficial).

    second, in situations of modernization from pre-modernity religious traditions get MORE, not LESS exclusionary and conservative. at least they fancy themselves as such. this is clear from the social science. british muslims can be thought of as basically an instance of this model, because they’re mostly the descendants of peasants from mirpur and sylhet, not people who have gone through multiple stages of confessionalization and de-corporatization.

  46. “instead of more liberal religion in many developed societies what you see is polarization between those who are irreligious and more fundamentalist in orientation”

    That’s not what I see. What I see is a shift towards syncretism, open-mindedness and fluidity between traditions, updating them and making them relevant. If by “irreligious” you mean atheists, most of the “new atheists” make it clear their main beefs are with Christianity and Islam, not Buddhism, Jainism, Hinduism, Wiccan, this or that, etc. New Atheist god and guru Sam Harris practices Buddhist meditation and there are a number of atheists who while not formally belonging to any organized “spiritual” group, incorporate elements from their practices, philosophies and ethics into their own lives. In fact, the latest talking point amongst “New Atheists” is how they can more formally take and incorporate from aspects of religious traditions that appear to serve some very important needs in the human psyche and appear to be elemental in human evolution, sans the requirement of believing in a personal deity. Atheists even have pages at Patheos (“hosting the conversation of faith”) and have their seat at the table of cultural discourse. They are part of the new spirituality.

    So as you see, things are not black and white and the only polarization is amongst those persons who refuse to adapt and the rest of humanity. Not those persons and “irreligious” people. For example, I’m religious, and I cluster myself with the New Atheists, not religious Muslims or fundamentalists of any sector. My tradition does not require me to interpret myths literally and impose those interpretations upon others or preach and proselytize. There are millions of people like me out there and the New Atheists are amongst them. In fact, this is the way that more and more people are approaching religious culture.

    ” stupid people have more children. so the IQ isn’t getting higher.”

    I’m willing to wager that most so called “stupid people” are not religious fundamentalists so let them have kids if they want to. Due to technology and the multi-cultural and fluid nature of our world, more and more people are getting exposed to more and more ideas and having their own ideas challenged, which means their awareness is expanding, if not their IQ rising.

    “the protestant christianity of the united states is notoriously culturally thin and labile. this is in contrast with the forms of christianity in europe, which are organic and historically contingent, rooted in their locales and places (e.g., pilgrimage sites). the various forms of ‘western islam’ are more like american low church protestant christianity, though some of them specifically co-opt ideas and motifs from salafi islam, which itself is an artificial and modernist reaction of very recent vintage in arabia.

    the analogy here with american protestant xtianity is close since americana protestants often assert they are ‘primitive’ christians, closer to the ways of the early xtians.”

    I have Protestants in my extended family and they have never referred to themselves as “primitive christians”. Which particular group of Protestants are referring to themselves as such and what are their numbers in the US? I feel your analogy wrt to what is happening in the UK regarding Desi Muslims doesn’t appear to hold because Protestants are about as mainstream American as you can get. Indeed “WASP” is a very thick yarn in the fabric of America. You will not be able to distinguish a Protestant from a Catholic from a Buddhist from a Wiccan from a “Spiritual But Not Religious” from an Atheist at Starbucks. That is not the case with the types of Desi-British Muslims talked about in this piece and that is precisely the problem.

    Having lived in the UK and experienced first hand the issues regarding what the British refer to as “Asians” over there, it is not surprising at all that a pro-multicultural “liberal” would have concerns. Why not? Not all cultures are compatible. There is an onus on immigrants to meet their host citizens halfway and assimilate as much as possible. Where the immigrant sub-culture is not compatible to the larger surrounding macro culture, try and make it so. What is the harm?

    For some Muslims this will require bid’ah, innovation. Innovation is part and parcel of growth, expansion, evolution and progress. Its that adaptable vs the non-adaptable I talked about earlier, not irreligious vs fundamentalist. Stay religious, no problem. Believe in a deity, perform the rituals and what not. But implement bid’ah and evolve the religion like the rest of us are doing.

    Its really quite simple.

  47. That’s not what I see.

    this is what i mean: http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=130264527.

    Which particular group of Protestants are referring to themselves as such and what are their numbers in the US?

    evangelicals. on the order of 1/4.

    • Replies: @Shuddh Bharatiyaan
    "this is what I mean..."

    Then we mean the same thing. Basically people who are not officially affiliated with any religious organization but range from one end of the spectrum - hardcore atheist with no interest in transpersonalism in any form whatsoever, to people who may incorporate one or more practice, philosophy, ethical structure from one or more religious traditions into their own lifestyle while perhaps even making something brand new up as they go along on the other end, with everything in between.

    That's whats going on right now and why instead of "irreligious vs fundamentalist" I pose it as "adaptable vs non-adaptable" or we could even say "rational vs irrational." It is feasible that the later two groups could incorporate Muslims who innovate vs Muslims who claim bid'ah is most hated by Allah and those who engage in it are doomed.

    The only problem I have with that piece is that it appears to focus solely on the diversity of Abrahamic traditions in the US; "The United States is a nation that was both founded by religious people and built around a guarantee of liberty from state-imposed religion. The religious landscape has changed substantially over the past three centuries, with the addition of faiths in America that range from Islam and Judaism to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints; today's landscape of worship includes megachurches with huge congregations, storefront tabernacles, spiritual advisers."

    When the fastest growing religious tradition here is Buddhism and the "nones" (non-officially affiliated) are largely influenced by Buddhist and Hindu thought. Jesus as yogi and "Christ consciousness" are common themes amongst Americans not officially affiliated with Christian sects but who nonetheless have a soft spot for his message.

    Newsweek wrote about this trend years ago in their "We Are All Hindus Now" piece;

    http://www.newsweek.com/us-views-god-and-life-are-turning-hindu-79073#sthash.C58H7POE.dpuf

    "And mostly, Americans accept that diversity with remarkable tolerance. "

    It is celebrated at UU (Unitarian Universalist) centers across the nation. There you will find Atheists, Buddhists, Hindus, New Age Christians, Jews, Sufis, Pagans, Wiccans, Satanists (yes, even), Spiritual-But-Not-Religious, Nones, and all manner of people coming together to learn about various traditions and what positive things they have to offer as well as what negative things need to be left behind, all in an effort to make the world a better place.

    This is why I was stumped by your "irreligious vs fundamentalists" polarization. Some of the above listed are quite observant in their practices.
  48. @Razib Khan
    That’s not what I see.

    this is what i mean: http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=130264527.

    Which particular group of Protestants are referring to themselves as such and what are their numbers in the US?

    evangelicals. on the order of 1/4.

    “this is what I mean…”

    Then we mean the same thing. Basically people who are not officially affiliated with any religious organization but range from one end of the spectrum – hardcore atheist with no interest in transpersonalism in any form whatsoever, to people who may incorporate one or more practice, philosophy, ethical structure from one or more religious traditions into their own lifestyle while perhaps even making something brand new up as they go along on the other end, with everything in between.

    That’s whats going on right now and why instead of “irreligious vs fundamentalist” I pose it as “adaptable vs non-adaptable” or we could even say “rational vs irrational.” It is feasible that the later two groups could incorporate Muslims who innovate vs Muslims who claim bid’ah is most hated by Allah and those who engage in it are doomed.

    The only problem I have with that piece is that it appears to focus solely on the diversity of Abrahamic traditions in the US; “The United States is a nation that was both founded by religious people and built around a guarantee of liberty from state-imposed religion. The religious landscape has changed substantially over the past three centuries, with the addition of faiths in America that range from Islam and Judaism to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints; today’s landscape of worship includes megachurches with huge congregations, storefront tabernacles, spiritual advisers.”

    When the fastest growing religious tradition here is Buddhism and the “nones” (non-officially affiliated) are largely influenced by Buddhist and Hindu thought. Jesus as yogi and “Christ consciousness” are common themes amongst Americans not officially affiliated with Christian sects but who nonetheless have a soft spot for his message.

    Newsweek wrote about this trend years ago in their “We Are All Hindus Now” piece;

    http://www.newsweek.com/us-views-god-and-life-are-turning-hindu-79073#sthash.C58H7POE.dpuf

    “And mostly, Americans accept that diversity with remarkable tolerance. ”

    It is celebrated at UU (Unitarian Universalist) centers across the nation. There you will find Atheists, Buddhists, Hindus, New Age Christians, Jews, Sufis, Pagans, Wiccans, Satanists (yes, even), Spiritual-But-Not-Religious, Nones, and all manner of people coming together to learn about various traditions and what positive things they have to offer as well as what negative things need to be left behind, all in an effort to make the world a better place.

    This is why I was stumped by your “irreligious vs fundamentalists” polarization. Some of the above listed are quite observant in their practices.

  49. “this is what I mean…”

    Then we mean the same thing. Basically people who are not officially affiliated with any religious organization but range from one end of the spectrum – hardcore atheist with no interest in transpersonalism in any form whatsoever, to people who may incorporate one or more practice, philosophy, ethical structure from one or more religious traditions into their own lifestyle while perhaps even making something brand new up as they go along on the other end, with everything in between.

    That’s whats going on right now and why instead of “irreligious vs fundamentalist” I pose it as “adaptable vs non-adaptable” or we could even say “rational vs irrational.” It is feasible that the later two groups could incorporate Muslims who innovate vs Muslims who claim bid’ah is most hated by Allah and those who engage in it are doomed.

    The only problem I have with that piece is that it appears to focus solely on the diversity of Abrahamic traditions in the US; “The United States is a nation that was both founded by religious people and built around a guarantee of liberty from state-imposed religion. The religious landscape has changed substantially over the past three centuries, with the addition of faiths in America that range from Islam and Judaism to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints; today’s landscape of worship includes megachurches with huge congregations, storefront tabernacles, spiritual advisers.”

    When the fastest growing religious tradition here is Buddhism and the “nones” (non-officially affiliated) are largely influenced by Buddhist and Hindu thought. Jesus as yogi and “Christ consciousness” are common themes amongst Americans not officially affiliated with Christian sects but who nonetheless have a soft spot for his message.

    Newsweek wrote about this trend years ago in their “We Are All Hindus Now” piece;

    http://www.newsweek.com/us-views-god-and-life-are-turning-hindu-79073#sthash.C58H7POE.dpuf

    “And mostly, Americans accept that diversity with remarkable tolerance. ”

    It is celebrated at UU (Unitarian Universalist) centers across the nation. There you will find Atheists, Buddhists, Hindus, New Age Christians, Jews, Sufis, Pagans, Wiccans, Satanists (yes, even), Spiritual-But-Not-Religious, Nones, and all manner of people coming together to learn about various traditions and what positive things they have to offer as well as what negative things need to be left behind, all in an effort to make the world a better place.

    This is why I was stumped by your “irreligious vs fundamentalists” polarization. Some of the above listed are quite observant in their practices (religious?) but they are by no means fundamentalists or literalists.

  50. a lot of this debate seems semantic. probably not fruitful to double back over every term, so let’s move on.

    • Replies: @Shuddh Bharatiyaan
    Its fruitful to clarify terms and get a clear grasp on the direction spiritual culture is taking globally.

    The shift of many Desi-Muslims in the UK from one more congruent with that direction to one that is diametrically opposed to it is what has British liberals worried, and rightly so.

    Its especially out of place when you consider that they originate from a very eclectic and fluid area of the world religiously and culturally, that being South Asia, which has long been a land of bid'ah, fusion, fluidity and cross religious exchange.

    That they would shun these wide open positive values in favor of narrow negative ones is worth close examination by us all, and examining it we are.
  51. @Razib Khan
    a lot of this debate seems semantic. probably not fruitful to double back over every term, so let's move on.

    Its fruitful to clarify terms and get a clear grasp on the direction spiritual culture is taking globally.

    The shift of many Desi-Muslims in the UK from one more congruent with that direction to one that is diametrically opposed to it is what has British liberals worried, and rightly so.

    Its especially out of place when you consider that they originate from a very eclectic and fluid area of the world religiously and culturally, that being South Asia, which has long been a land of bid’ah, fusion, fluidity and cross religious exchange.

    That they would shun these wide open positive values in favor of narrow negative ones is worth close examination by us all, and examining it we are.

  52. Its fruitful to clarify terms and get a clear grasp on the direction spiritual culture is taking globally.

    yes, but after all these comments i don’t think you have a particular coherent or clear grasp. so not interested in continuing discussion.

  53. I was under the impression you didn’t have a clear grasp and thus sought to clarify by defining terms more concisely than just “irreligious vs fundamentalist” as those categories do not at all describe what is going on.

    Perhaps you meant non-fundamentalist vs fundamentalist, which would be somewhat more accurate because it includes a wider spectrum of people and ideas than merely “irreligious”.

    Anyway, as per your desire, this will be the last word on that. Peace.

  54. The writers of the US constitution did not anticipate there being any political parties and had made no provision for political parties. They just appeared. Life is multilevel group selection. (DS Wilson “…from a multilevel perspective, the core claim of group selection is often correct. In other words, traits can evolve in the total population even when they are selectively disadvantageous within groups. “). States are the top level. But all states would be as one if aliens tried to conquer the Earth as Ronald Reagan suggested to Gorby at the Iceland arms talks. Gorby replied it was ‘too soon to talk of such an intervention’.

  55. look for the deifinition of nation as advanced by one hussite in Czech in early XV century.

    Except the part about “one faith”, the rest looks surprisingly 19th centurish (nation are people of one blood, language and faith, hieronymus of prague)

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