My people

November 27, 2006 at 3:48 am (Culture, History, Islam, Judaism, Languages, Oriana Fallaci, Personal, South Asia, The Rest, The West)

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?


  1. geoff said,

    Excellent post. This is also very pertinent to discussions of racism in the US. The treatment of Colin Powell and Condoleeza Rice by blacks has been based on a race=ideology form of racism. Much as the outing of conservative gays has been based on a sexual orientation=ideology rationale. These are heinous forms of bigotry, demanding that people of a certain distinguishing characteristic think in lockstep with others who share that characteristic.

    And while bias based on skin color is deplorable, bias based on religion, culture and value system is not. These are major factors in defining behavior and thought patterns, and pretending that all cultures are equally valid is to say that all behaviors and thoughts are equally valid. Unfortunately cultural criticism is invariably labeled as racism, which immediately puts the subject beyond rational discussion.

    Few of us consciously opt in or out of the culture we were born to. It takes a very introspective mind to rise above the cultural assumptions imprinted upon us and make an objective choice contra our upbringing. I envy that strength.

    Welcome to the West, Muslihoon.

  2. Enas Yorl said,

    Good stuff Muslihoon! It’s funny – I’ve had a situation at work that was sort of the reverse of your dilemma. The top big-wigs at my organization are mostly liberal types, and they do their best efforts to include “diversity” elements in anything they do. A few years ago our annual “employee day” festival highlighted our ethnic diversity and we were supposed to wear name badges with our ethnic identity identified under our names. On both of my parents’ sides my “ethnic” heritage is American for three or more generations – and we have no more firm genealogical history than that. Ostensibly my surname is Welsh – but there is absolutely nothing Welsh-ish in any of my family’s customs or manners. We are solid United States of Americanians! It is a distinct culture of its own. I was tempted to submit “Unhyphenated-American” as my ethnicity, but I chose not to stir a hornet’s nest. Since I was born in Texas I had them put “Texan-American” under my name. It still got noticed and I got my point across. 😀

  3. dicentra said,

    Bill Whittle has a good piece on Tribes and how who you are is based on your values and mindset and actions, not on your geography or genetics.

  4. dicentra said,

    Oh, and. Good to have you in our Tribe. 😀

  5. Wickedpinto said,

    I don’t know who my blood belongs too, except for those living, and I don’t think of them as representatives of a broader tribe.

    Everything I am, good or bad, is based on the experiences I had thanks to my family, my friends, and my environment. I’m American, in a Washingtonian sense. Period, don’t call me italian, don’t call me german, don’t call me anything else.

    I’m an american in the same way that america exists in the minds and wills of the people who love freedom in this great nation.

    So I agree with you mus.

  6. Isaac Schrödinger said,

    My thoughts on this matter.

  7. Wickedpinto said,

    Also, while I know what Geoff meens by “Welcome to the West, Muslihoon. ”

    I think it would be best to say “Welcome home.”

  8. Theway2k said,

    If Mom and Dad immigrated to Pakistan, then your theological ancestry is Islam?

    I am happy you have chosen the West, however do you not feel threatened? If theologically you were or are of Islam, would not your choice list you among those who have apostasized Islam? In Pakistan is that not a death sentence?

    This makes you an even braver and heroic person in my book!

  9. shimauma said,

    I refer to myself is a North American MUTT. There’s just too many countries involved in my parentage to bother keeping track, though I often refer to my French and German roots whenever I act crazy…that just makes sense to me.

  10. Sean M. said,

    I know you live here in the US, Muslihoon, but I don’t know if you’re a citizen or not. If you’re not a citizen, I hope you’ll become one someday. Then, you can join the rest of us mutts (Irish, English, Scottish, German, and French in my family) in accepting a heritage that’s based on the best things of all–freedom and liberty.

  11. afriendtohumanity said,

    I’m afraid that I have to say I am nothing but west european (mainly UK, some Scandinavian I think) by ancestry. My ancestors came over a while back I think so I guess I am American through and through…by blood that is. But I have to say, there is something that draws me so powerfully to the outside world. I am fascinated that your background is so diverse and so rooted in the east and yet your heart is here in the west. Maybe I am just hopelessly utopian but, for me, there is no east and west; or should I say I wish that there didn’t have to be any east and west. I feel drawn to know more about the east and, more particularly, about Islam. I don’t feel any animosity toward Islam (note, I am Christian) and I have such a deep desire to know the Islam of the 7th century AD, not what these more radical and militant groups of today have turned it into. Anyway, call me a fool if I am naive in these thoughts.

    As for what I am…I guess by blood I am western european. I am, on the surface, just a generic, Caucasian American. But in spirit I haven’t figured out what I am. I am an absolutely devoted Christian, but I am something of a pariah in my own religion because I am LDS (i.e. Mormon or a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints). In my discipline (I am a graduate student) I straddle the fence between biology and engineering which has its own interesting ideological dynamics. I don’t necessarily claim any state in America as the place where I am “from” because I have spent a significant amount of time in four states. Although, not by ethnicity or ancestry, I know what it is like to have my feet in different worlds. Actually, I quite like it. If I could see the world from every possible perspective, so that I could know the inner workings of peoples thoughts, the histories of nations, the dynamics of world affairs, I might be more at peace in my life. Then maybe I could be of some use to the world. Until then, I sit here restless, wishing that I could do more to help.

  12. My Utopian Views On the World « A Friend To Humanity said,

    […] Well, I do not think I have ever posted twice in one day, but I just came across the most interesting post on Muslihoon called “My People”.  This is someone who is South Asian by ancestry, started out Muslim and converted to Christianity.  I will let you visit the post for the details, but it just got me thinking about this idea of the labels we choose for ourselves, who we are and where we come from (in terms of our nationality, our ethnicity, our ideological or religious background, our political party, etc). […]

  13. Wickedpinto said,

    Something that I have said many times about “multi-culturalism” and the whole lie of “all people are equal” as the left believes.

    I’m MOSTLY, german and italian.

    My great grandfather and his wife, on my mothers mothers side were a german and netherlands immigrants, they had 2 sons, and 3 daughters after he came to the US in, (I and my mother THINK) in the 1890’s)

    My Great grandfather and great grandmother were european muts, they were various mixes of italian cultures, I know I have some sicilian by my fathers mothers parents, but in generaly my fathers mothers history is just as muttish is mine, only on a differen continent, and a with a smaller stock. My fathers fathers family is a little different, I understand.

    My great grandma on my fathers fathers side was either swiss or dutch, my great grampa was all german, they became US citizens before 1910.

    The reason I went through that whole innacurate, but accurate enough depiction of my geneology, is this.

    My great grandfathers, and my great grandmothers produced childrend, who were old enough, to serve in the military.

    My grandfather, the son of german and italians went out and fought in a war against the very nations his parents were born of.

    My other grandfather (we won’t talk about that) but his brother did the same, and he died.

    My great uncles, all served in wartime against all the nations that spawned them.

    My grandparents knew who their people were.

    I could continue, but then I would become a bundle of anger and rage, but I think I outlined my point.

  14. anon said,

    um, dude…although since your half punjabi I can see why you are identifying with “South Asian” but Pashtuns are a central asian group of ppl…. not south asian.

    any so-called Pashtuns in pakistan who calls themselves south asian, is one who has alot of indian blood…. because pashtuns are from Afghanistan, a Central asian country.

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