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Mountstuart Elphinstone in South AsiaPioneer of British Colonial Rule$
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Shah Mahmoud Hanifi

Print publication date: 2019

Print ISBN-13: 9780190914400

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: September 2019

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780190914400.001.0001

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Muslim ‘Fanaticism’ as Ambiguous Trope

Muslim ‘Fanaticism’ as Ambiguous Trope

A Study in Polemical Mutation

(p.91) 4 Muslim ‘Fanaticism’ as Ambiguous Trope
Mountstuart Elphinstone in South Asia

Zak Leonard

Oxford University Press

This chapter is concerned with the phenomenon of "Muslim fanaticism", an amorphous threat to governmental security that resisted colonial scrutiny throughout the nineteenth century. As tensions with borderland tribes, Wahhabi conspirators, and the forces of a global Muslim "revival" mounted, fanaticism evolved into a floating signifier, a malleable construct that could service divergent polemical agendas. Borderland ethnographers and India reformers conceptualized Muslim religiosity in various ways to support their own commentaries on native "political" vitality. Earlier observers like Mountstuart Elphinstone represented Indian communities in gendered terms and downplayed the influence of religious enthusiasm on societal progress. Later ethnographers, however, invoked fanaticism to justify a colonial "Forward Policy", or conversely, attributed Muslim discontent to the state's poorly conceived, westernizing legislation. Meanwhile, reformers who were calling for the retention of princely rule referenced fanaticism to defend the interests of Muslim notables in South India and Bengal. These loyalist leaders, they argued, could help provide native society with an organic trajectory of civic growth and douse the embers of fanaticism whenever they became enflamed. Extending this advocacy of native sovereignty to the Afghan frontier ultimately proved contentious on account of Russian expansionism and the resurgence of the Eastern Question.

Keywords:   Frontier, Fanaticism, Ethnography, India, Reformism, Native Sovereignty

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