The question of how the past is remembered will always be unavoidable. But in recent years, it has loomed particularly large and proved particularly contested. These “memory wars” are fought so hard and argued so passionately because, ultimately, they’re battles for control of the narrative. How we remember the past determines who we believe ourselves to be.
“There is actually no way to understand who we are and how we think about each other and how we think about our relationship to the world without thinking about history,” says author and academic Priyamvada Gopal. In this conversation with New Lines’ Lydia Wilson, she argues that we never really leave the past. “I tend to use the word ‘afterlife’ rather than ‘the past,’ because I think that things that have happened in history have a life in the present. It’s ongoing.”
“I tend to use the word ‘afterlife’ rather than ‘the past’, because I think that things that have happened in history have a life in the present. It’s ongoing.”
Such disputes over history are shaping politics the world over. In the U.K., the death of Queen Elizabeth II has brought to the surface fierce disputes over the darker chapters of British history. Likewise, many of the Commonwealth countries for whom the British monarch is still head of state are now reassessing their relationships with the crown. Conversely, in India, the Hindu nationalist government of Narendra Modi has promoted a belligerent and exclusionary reinterpretation of India’s past — and wielded the power of the state to suppress competing narratives.
“Muslims are a deeply endangered community in India because of this mythology,” Gopal explains. “Myths are not innocent.”
Produced by Joshua Martin