Sunday April 14, 2024

Decline and bloodshed

By Mubarak Ali
April 30, 2018

When a society undergoes a process of decline, the first sign of its weakness is the breakdown of political stability that culminates in disorder and chaos within its many spheres.

Moral values that strengthened the social and cultural structures begin to crumble. As a result, the refinement and sophistication that develops in society through a ‘civilising process’ is replaced by selfishness, which leads to the destruction of traditions and values. When various ruling classes try to usurp state power, it results in civil war and bloody conflicts.

The parties that succeed in assuming power try to eliminate all those rivals, including their relatives and friends, who pose a threat to their authority. This creates a sense of insecurity. In order to protect their rule, the ruling class adopts a policy of brutality, mercilessness and bloodshed. It loses all moral values of kindness, sympathy, forgiveness and brotherhood.

There are countless examples of societies and empires that have faced such crises. The Roman Empire offers a useful example in this regard. In its earlier phase, it defeated a large number of nations; occupied their countries; and extracted resources to enrich its influence. However, when the yoke of the Roman Empire was gradually weakened, its institutions lost their control over state affairs. The kingship lost all its grandeur and dignity. The army became the kingmaker and appointed emperors in exchange for bribes. Most emperors were either assassinated or strangled. Bloodshed weakened the roots of the Roman Empire and accelerated its decline.

The Ottoman Empire, which expanded its boundaries and became the mightiest power of the East and the West, is another example. When state institutions in the Ottoman Empire began to degenerate, conspirators appeared from all sides to weaken the emperor’s rule.

There were many religious and ethnic minorities within the Ottoman Empire, including Christians, Jews, and Armenians. These groups became victims of suspicion and riots broke out against them, which caused political instability and economic crises. Armenians were uprooted from their homes and massacred. The Armenian Genocide reflects a dark chapter in the history of the Ottoman Empire.

Besides these minorities, officials of the Ottoman Empire were also not spared and severe punishments were awarded on the basis of minor suspicions. The steps taken against the Jan Nisaris mark a crucial event in history.

A group within the army, which consists of members who had been groomed from childhood, had a close affiliation with and loyalty to the Sultan. With time, this institution became corrupt and acquired a reputation for notoriety. The army conspired against the Sultan to coerce him to award its members with financial benefits and privileges. As a result, Mahmud II, the Ottoman sultan, lost patience with their incessant demands and decided to finally eliminate this group. In 1826, almost all members of this group were slaughtered while 400 others were burnt alive in their barracks. However, these severe punishments did little to stabilise the crumbling Ottoman Empire.

Examples of disorder and chaos can also be found within the Mughal Empire. After the death of Aurangzeb in 1707, an unending series of civil wars began among his sons. In the absence of any law of primogeniture, Aurangzeb’s sons staked a claim to the throne. The first conflict occurred between Bahadur Shah-I (who ruled between 1708 and 1712) and Azam Shah. The latter was defeated and his head was cut off and placed before Bahadur Shah I as a trophy of the new emperor’s victory.

Whenever a prince succeeded to the throne, he immediately assassinated all his rivals and the nobles who supported them. Another tactic was to blind the claimants to the throne. When Farrukhsiyar (who ruled between 1713 and 1719) defeated Jahandar Shah (who ruled between 1712 and 1713) ,he ordered his men to strangle Jahandar Shah and execute Zulfiqar Khan, who was his close supporter, before entering the city of Delhi. This bloodshed inaugurated the rule of Farrukhsiyar. Afterwards, it became customary to punish the nobility of the fallen kings and their property was confiscated.

No one felt secure amid these circumstances and the Mughal aristocracy and the royal family lived in constant fear. The series of civil wars ended when the East India Company came into power. In 1803, Lord Lake occupied the city of Delhi and took the then Mughal emperor, Shah Alam II, under his protection.

Starting then, the British resident had the authority to appoint an emperor of the East India Company’s choosing. The reign of Mughal emperors was confined to the four walls of the Red Fort. The Mughal princes, who were known as ‘salatin’ were forced to reside in the fort like prisoners and were not allowed to leave the premises. In 1857, the War of Independence ended this nominal rule of the Mughal Dynasty.

When we observe the current situation of Pakistani society from the perspective of decline, we not only find signs of decadence and degeneration but also of the political, social and economic crises that have resulted in ethnic and sectarian violence, and created disorder and chaos. Whenever a society goes through such a situation, people lose all hope and their lives become miserable. When the people find no hope, all efforts to resist and change society become futile.

The writer is a veteran historian and scholar.