This is a bit of a personal post, but I hope you’ll indulge me.
For many years, I have been confused as to who my people are. By “my people,” I mean the people to whom I owe and freely give my allegiance, whose ways and values I adopt, whose civilization I seek to prosper further.
Most often, one determines one’s people by ethnicity. For people of Chinese origin or descent, the Chinese people is their people. For people of Russian origin or descent, the Russian people is their people.
Logically, I would then say that my people are the South Asian people. But then I begin asking: who or what is the South Asian people? And I realize that “the South Asian people” is comprised of many other peoples: Tamils, Malayalis, Rajputs, Rajasthanis, Maharashtrians, Sindhis, Balochis, Pashtuns, Panjabis, Kashmiris, and so on and so forth. I simply cannot call myself a South Asian. Just as there’s little in common between an Irish person and an Italian person, there is little in common between my relatives and Tamils, for example, or practically any other sub-people of the South Asian people.
Most technically, I would be a Mohajir. A “Mohajir” is one who left India and settled in Pakistan during the Partition or thereafter; this also refers to the descendants of Mohajirs. But even Mohajirs are ethnically diverse. Plus, to be honest, “Mohajir” is more a political term and one that describes more where my ancestors were rather than who or what I am or to whom I ought to be allied.
Going further, trying to discover the roots of where my ancestors have come, does not help me any. For one thing, they say that my mother’s side is from the Punjab (making her Punjabi, and me half-Punjabi) while my father’s side is Pashtun (making him a Pashtun, and me half-Pashtun). The Pashtun and Punjabis are not too far from each other. But how Punjabi is my mother, and how Pashtun is my father? Does this mean my mother’s ancestors came from and lived in the Punjab for centuries and centuries before they began moving around? Does this mean my father’s ancestors lived in the hills of the Pashtuns before they began moving around? Or does this simply mean, “Last I heard, such-and-such ancestor lived in Punjab/among the Pashtuns before moving to such-and-such place,” with no reference where he was before or for how long or how many generations he was in his supposed place of origin?
Some say that even though my paternal ancestors were Pashtuns, they, in turn, came from the Kingdom of Israel, from among the lost tribes of Israel, dispersed when the Assyrians conquered the Kingdom of Israel in 722 BC. So…I am now a Jew?
(Unfortunately or fortunately, Jewish law, halakhah, makes this easy: according to Jewish law, the child of a Jewish mother is Jewish. Since my mother is not Jewish, I am not Jewish. Unless it can be proven that she is Jewish matrilineally. Then I am Jewish. And I have no idea where my mother’s ancestors that far back came from. As it is, this belonging to one of the lost tribes is a common motif among Pashtuns for some reason. Still, it would have been nice to have discovered, and been able to prove, that I am genetically Jewish.)
And, then, what do I have in common with others known as Punjabis and Pashtuns? My relatives–my ethnic unit, as it were–are Barelvi Hanafi Sunni Muslims. Pashtuns are often Deobandi Hanafi Sunni Muslims. Punjabis are often Sikh or Hindu or Barelvi Hanafi Sunni Muslims. Many of our customs and traditions resemble that of Hindu Indians. Our food is Northern Indian, with focus on Mughal cuisine. We don’t eat Pashtun or Punjabi food. We don’t speak and most of us can’t even understand Pashto or Punjabi.
Who, then, am I? Where, then, did I come from? With whom, then, shall I cleave myself?
Of course, finding the theological answer to these has helped some, but there’s more to this than that.
I realized one grand truth: civilizations are based on values and standards, customs and understandings. They are not based on ethnicity or race or genetics. There is no such thing as a race. Everyone is a mutt or mongrel, because no one’s ancestors has stayed put. Every ancestor had to come from somewhere. Even the aboriginal Australians came from somewhere else. This gene-splitting (reliance on genetics + hair-splitting = gene-splitting) was and is irrelevant.
Of all the world’s civilizations, which one do I identify with? whose values have I taken to be my own? whose paradigm have I made my own? whose history do I know best and which I celebrate?
The answer is obvious. Despite my accent, brown skin, love for South Asian food, love for Muslim-Hindu traditions and rituals, my civilization is the Western civilization, and my people is the Western people. (And it feels great to be at home at last.)
You know the much-mocked otaku, the geeky gaijin (foreigner) who is obsessed with everything Japanese? Who becomes more Japanese than anything else? I submit he is a part of the Japanese people, no matter where he was born or where his ancestors came from.
Reading Orianna Fallaci made me realize that I could no longer sit on the sidelines; I could no longer straddle the fence between The East and The West. If there is a war between civilizational ideologies, I had to be clear whose side I was on, and why.
I am on The West’s side, and this because I am part of the Western people. I am a Westerner.
Where do you declare your stand, and why?