Open Thread, 08/14/2018

Weekly book recommendation, Power and Plenty: Trade, War, and the World Economy in the Second Millennium.

V. S. Naipaul has died. I never read his fiction. Perhaps I should. Suggestions? People always talk about A House for Mr. Biswas.

Genome-wide polygenic scores for common diseases identify individuals with risk equivalent to monogenic mutations. ” We propose that it is time to contemplate the inclusion of polygenic risk prediction in clinical care, and discuss relevant issues.” Totally honestly, this is happening way faster than I had assumed it would.

Relatedness disequilibrium regression estimates heritability without environmental bias. A blog post on the topic: Relatedness disequilibrium regression explained.

Large-scale whole-genome sequencing of three diverse Asian populations in Singapore. Han (Southern) Chinese, Malays, and Indians (mostly Tamil).

Can Amazon Maintain the Spirit of ‘The Lord of the Rings’? I doubt it. One thing to remember is that George R. R. Martin was a screenwriter in Hollywood for a period. His writing is a more natural translation to modern visual media.

Only the Truth Will Prevent Harm. Sarah Haider. Enough said.

Deep Reads: How I learnt to love population genetics.

Important preprint. Expected patterns of local ancestry in a hybrid zone.

Salt and heart disease: a second round of “bad science”?

Last year, The Witchwood Crown was published. Haven’t read it. Any good?

Live not by the haplogroup alone

In The population genomics of archaeological transition in west Iberia the authors note that “the population of Euskera speakers shows one of the maximal frequencies (87.1%) for the Y-chromosome variant, R1b-M269…” In the early 2000s the high frequency of R1b-M269 among the Basques, a non-Indo-European linguistic isolate, was taken to be suggestive of the possibility that R1b-M269 reflected ancestry from European hunter-gatherers present when farmers and pastoralists pushed into the continent.

The paper above shows that the reality is that the Basque people have higher fractions of Neolithic farmer ancestry than any other Iberian people. Additionally, they have lower fractions of the steppe pastoralist ancestry than other Iberian groups. This, despite the fact that we also know from ancient DNA that R1b-M269 does seem to have spread with steppe pastoralists, likely Indo-Europeans.

Obviously the relationship between Y chromosomes and genome-wide ancestry is complex. The pattern here for the indicates that Indo-European male lineages were assimilated into the Basques. Perhaps the Basque were matrilineal? One can’t know. But, these men did not impose their culture. Instead, they were assimilated into the Basque. This is entirely not shocking. There history of contact between different peoples in the recent past shows plenty of cases where individuals have “gone native.” In some cases, many individuals.

I was thinking this when looking at South Asian Y chromosome frequencies. Though R1a1a is correlated with higher castes and Indo-European speakers, its frequency is quite high in some ASI-enriched groups. I suspect that the period after 2000 BC down to the Common Era witness a dynamic where particular patrilineal societies were quite successful in maintain their status over generations. Additionally, the ethnogenesis of “Indo-Aryan” and “Dravidian” India was occurring over this period, in some cases through a process of expansion, integration, and conflict. It seems some pre-Aryan paternal lineages were assimilated into Brahmin communities. For example, Y haplogroup R2, whose origin is almost certainly in the Indus Valley Civilization society.

Some population genetic models are stylized and elegant. They have to be to be tractable. But we always need to remember that real history and prehistory were complex, and exhibited a richer and more chaotic texture.

White people are not gods, they bleed

I’ve kept my mouth shut on this issue for a while, but it keeps popping up on my Twitter timeline.

The comment above was directed at a piece in The Washington Post, White, and in the minority: She speaks English. Her co-workers don’t. Inside a rural chicken plant, whites struggle to fit in. You can imagine the typical reaction to this sort of story. Journalistic organizations don’t arbitrarily select a particular topic. A story about non-college educated whites being demographically and socially marginalized is appealing for various reasons that have nothing to do with how representative the story is. The cognitive anthropologist Pascal Boyer would say that this is a story that we’d be interested in because it’s a “minimally counter-intuitive” concept: the dominant demographic experiencing what it’s like to be a minority. It’s interesting…but it’s not far-fetched.

I grew up in the 1980s in an area where the majority population was white, and the non-whites were black. I know what it’s like to be a minority. To be complimented on my English every week by strangers, and asked what “Indian tribe” I belonged to if I told people my family was from India (they wouldn’t know where Bangladesh was). In my adolescence, I lived in areas which were even whiter. Over 95% white. When many non-whites in the United States have to read about white people expressing worry and consternation because they’re not the majority and in a position of demographic dominance as if we are supposed to have sympathy, people with my experiences can get frustrated because being a minority is constitutive to many of our lives. Welcome to our world!

The problem is that we really shouldn’t reduce everything to a simple racial equation. Our color is not our world. Or at least that’s my opinion. If you are a frog-nazi, your mileage may vary.

I don’t know Rani Molla’s class background, and I won’t presuppose, but she managed to get degrees from Oberlin and Columbia. She’s now a data journalist for Recode, but she’s done work at Bloomberg and The Wall Street Journal. If she came from a position of less privilege, she’s been a sterling meritocrat, getting degrees from elite institutions, and transitioning to a career as a journalist in New York City.

The fact is that the piece above makes clear that the people profiled did not have “every advantage.” Yes, they are white. But in the economy of 2018 in the United States, and the developed world in general, they did not have every advantage. Though the story highlights their alienation from the Spanish-speaking majority at their plant, their class interests were interchangeable with the immigrant demographic majority.

In contrast, even South Asians who grow up poor in the United States, usually have an ancestral class background which is somewhat elite. While black Americans and South Asians may share common physical features as dark-skinned people of color, most black Americans descend from slaves, while most South Asian Americans are more likely to either be the scions of a genuinely elite family or a prosperous lineage from a rural backwater. If you buy Greg Clark’s argument in The Son Also Rises: Surnames and the History of Social Mobility, then you know that he makes the case that social status is highly heritable when you look across many generations, as opposed to focusing on single generation correlations.

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The new post-genetic paradigm will come

Oftentimes the domain on which a technical framework is applied matters a great deal. Imagine, if you will, an explicit statistical test for a phylogenetic relationship between a set of extant populations, whereby one infers a group of ancestral populations. If the genus is Drosophila, it’s academic. Interesting, but academic. If the genus is Homo, then it gets complicated.

People care a great deal about the historical inferences made from human population genomic datasets. I say genomic, and not genetic, because the last ten years with genome-wide analyses and ancient DNA is very different from what we saw in the late 20th century and aughts. The definitive granularity is such that population genomics has touched upon very sensitive and precious issues, both in a scholarly and non-scholarly context.

A lot of the time I have my head down reading supplements where the statistical methods are. The reality is that this sort of science is cutting edge, and there are always later revisions. Usually you can see where those revisions might come from if you look at the detailed methods and conclusions that are found in the supplements. Also, you will find that that is where you see the limitations, and the reasons that the authors chose particular parameters.

To give you a sense of what I’m talking about, consider 2016’s Genomic insights into the origin of farming in the ancient Near East. The paper proper is 24 pages. But the supplemental text is 148 pages. There is a lot of interesting stuff in there, but I would just jump to page 125 and read the whole section there and down to the end. The method portion is important because you always need to take number values in results with a grain of salt. You see for example later work which refines fractions significantly when it comes to estimating admixture between a finite set of putative populations. And the last section seems likely to become a paper in and of itself at some point

But that doesn’t mean that the genetic inferences are not robust and come out of a vacuum. In the details the phylogenetic models being tested are going to be wrong on many particulars, but in relation to hypotheses being tested they are often entirely sufficient to reject to accept.

For example, there was long the idea that the Basque people of the western trans-Pyrenees region of Spain and France descended from pre-farming Europeans, and therefore the Basque language, which is an isolate, might have local roots which went back to the Pleistocene. Today, ancient DNA along with explicit testing of various phylogenetic scenarios makes it clear that the largest fraction of Basque ancestry derives from “Early European Farmers,” who represent a demographic pulse which radiated out of the Eastern Mediterranean and reached Spain 7,500 years ago. Of course Basques do have local hunter-gatherer ancestry, but these Mesolithic peoples themselves were the last in a sequence of very distinctive populations in Pleistocene Europe. Finally, Basques do have admixture from Indo-European peoples, just less than other people in Iberia.

Of course, genetics can’t tell us about languages. Using linguistic labels in population genetic papers is to some extent a lexical convenience, but it is also one we use because of the constellation of information we have. The last major demographic pulse into Iberia is associated with an ancestry which derives from Central Eurasia. This ancestry is copious in Northern Europe, but is also found in South Asia, and ancient DNA suggests its expansion occurred between 5,000 and 3,500 years ago. It also happens that the Indo-European languages are spoken in both India and Europe. The natural inference then is to make an association between this language family, and this demographic pulse.

Some observers note discordance between estimated fractions from paper to paper, but don’t seem to understand that the point isn’t to estimate fractions of ancestry as ends in and of themselves, but to estimate fractions of ancestry to expose and highlight demographic change (or lack thereof). We can say with a very high degree of certainty that the period between 3000 and 2000 BC witnessed massive demographic change in Northern Europe. Somewhat later there was a similar change in Southern Europe, but more demographically modest. These are simple facts.

There are some scholars, frankly often archaeologists, who dismiss the relevance of the genetic findings. But anyone who has read archaeology knows that there are many cases where researchers see demographic continuity, and posit in situ cultural evolution, where it is just as possible that a new people arrived. The reason ancient DNA has revolutionized our understanding of prehistory isn’t because it has brought us new knowledge, it has foregrounded old and buried knowledge. The knowledge being that migration matters.

But genetics is only a skeleton. A framework. True flesh on the bones of the story needs the input of archaeologists, linguistics, and other scholars. In Who We Are and How We Got Here David Reich expresses his ambition to construct a historical genetic atlas of the world. But that atlas will be all the poorer without the input from other fields besides genetics. Many archaeologists have gotten on board with genetics as a tool, but the reality is that there needs to occur the rejection of some theories precious to some scholars if there is going to be total buy-in. Eventually that will happen, and a new synthesis will arise.

Open thread, 08/06/2018

In light of the recommendation of F. W. Motte’s Imperial China: 900-1800, I thought it would be useful to reiterate a minimal set of other books that are important in my intellectual development in relation to the history of China.

The Early Chinese Empires: Qin and Han. You need to start at the beginning, and this is that. To be fair, the Spring and Autumn period were a pretty big deal too, but I think a lot of their insights were distilled into what we see in the Qin-Han era. The Zhou and Shang are so distant that I’m not sure a real history could be written, as opposed to analysis of myth and archaeology (especially for the Shang).

China between Empires: The Northern and Southern Dynasties. The period between the fall of the (Later/Eastern) Han and the rise of the Sui-Tang lasted many centuries. There wasn’t a precedent yet truly for the revival of a unitary Chinese state during this period. So a lot of cultural and political issues got hashed out over these 300+ years. Buddhism became a major cultural force, and the social and political fabric of Tang dynasty was stitched together (the Tang were a Han-Xianbei cultural mix, for example).

There are many histories of the Tang, which has a particular appeal in the modern era, but I like China’s Cosmopolitan Empire: The Tang Dynasty. For the more ambitious, I think S. A. M. Adshead’s T’ang China: The Rise of the East in World History is worth a read (this is expensive, so find a good library!).

The Age of Confucian Rule: The Song Transformation of China. Compared to the Tang the Song seem a bit dull, but a lot that defines modern China has its roots in this period, and not the Tang (which was somewhat atypical). For example, the meritocratic bureaucracy really got ingrained during the Song (though it has roots in the Han).

The Troubled Empire: China in the Yuan and Ming Dynasties. The title says it all. We’re coming into early modernity here.

And finally, China’s Last Empire: The Great Qing. These are the Manchus.

If you are wary of diving in headfirst, then I suggest John Keay’s book on China, but do not stop there. Keay is more conversant in the history and peoples of South Asia, so it’s not just best work in terms of thoroughness.

Why does any of this matter? First, because China matters to non-Sinologists in the 21st century, like the United States mattered to non-Americans in the 20th. That’s just a plain fact. It matters for the future. Second, if you take an interest in the human past China is a large proportion of that past. If you don’t know Chinese history, don’t talk to me about knowing history (similarly, you should know the history of the Near East and the Classical West, at a minimum, to really express an opinion to me about history in a broad sense and be taken seriously by me).

I would be interested in a recommendation on modern Chinese history, perhaps dating to after 1800. Someone besides Spence. And then also something on the Spring-Autumn period.

For a while I’ve been saying the new Rakhigarhi paper is going to be over-hyped in relation to what the science will tell us. The reason I say this is that The Genomic Formation of South and Central Asia really hit the major points in broad-strokes already. But in India Rakhigarhi is going to be a huge deal because:

1) it is a site in the Republic of India
2) it is from the mature Harappan phase

The results will confirm some beliefs, but it’s not a game-changer. A game-changer would be if we found someone who was half Corded-Ware in genetic ancestry from India in 2250 BC. Ultimately a lot of ancient DNA will probably come online in India over the next few years (hopefully?), and then the real action of mapping the details will begin. That’s exciting.

The Genomic Basis of Arthropod Diversity. This is a big preprint and a big deal.

Population size history from short genomic scaffolds: how short is too short?

I’ve started using my Facebook Page (as opposed to Profile). Mostly I’m going to use it push my content.

Workplace Wellness Programs Don’t Work Well. Why Some Studies Show Otherwise. Randomized controlled trials, despite their flaws, remain a powerful tool.

On Sarah Jeong. People need to never forget that NYC-DC elite journalists are a class. Their defense of her is a defense of their class interests. She’s a friend or acquaintance, and her social and political views, and writing style align with their own (or the writing they’d like to do more in public). Of course they are going to have her back and interpret everything she says charitably. She’s “their kind of people.” Someone like Protagoras, eh, I mean Jeet Heer, is inevitably going to tweet-storm about “contextualizing” her offensive statements.

Once you view elite national journalism as the voice of a self-interested class, as opposed to disinterested reportage, then it all makes sense.

Here’s Why It’s So Impossible to Get Reliable Diet Advice From the News. You should know all this. If you don’t, read it closely. It’s pretty obvious.

Mitochondrial genomes reveal an east to west cline of steppe ancestry in Corded Ware populations. No surprise. Men on the move.

The fitness consequences of genetic variation in wild populations of mice. The Hoekstra lab is producing work in evolutionary biology that is always worth keeping track of.

Genetic draft and valley crossing. You had me at draft, but I want to marry you at “valley crossing.”

How Sexually Dimorphic Are Human Mate Preferences? The blogger and twitter named “Yeyo” (the new one is a fake) raised my consciousness to the fact that in terms of upper body muscle mass human males and females are extremely dimorphic.

On Twitter, I joked that people should send me money via Paypal as recompense for my “emotional labor” as a PoC who has to educated people. No one sent me money. #whitePeopleAreRacistForReal! If you are an anti-racist white person who reads my blog, you should send me money, or you are a racist! How do you feel when you read about Cameron Whitten’s shakedowns of white liberals? I think they’re hilarious, and more power to him. He’s a total con artist, but I would appreciate these people going broke.

The “clash of civilizations” is a thing, just not the only thing

A few days ago I put up a post, The “Islamic World” Was Not Invented By Europeans. Since then, I have been reading the author’s book, The Idea of the Muslim World: A Global Intellectual History.

It’s an interesting work with a lot of facts. Though so far no facts have been surprising to me, and, many facts were known to me. For example, the author talks about the reality that Muslims were subjects of the Russian Empire in the 18th and 19th centuries. I happen to have read a book about the topic. Specifically, how the ulema in the Russian Empire adjusted to rule under an Orthodox Christian monarch. The author mentions that Protestants fought with the Ottomans at Vienna, and exhibited a cool attitude toward Indian Muslim nationalism against the British. Both of these facts, I knew.

The basic thesis seems to be similar to what I had inferred earlier: that the idea of a unitary Muslim world is a reaction to the European colonial experience, and not deeply rooted. The problem is that a lot of these assertions hinge on semantic interpretations. What does “unitary Muslim world” mean for example? The author, Cemil Ayden, seems to also suggest that both the “West” and the “Muslim world” are modern constructions. And they are. That does not mean these modern constructions don’t build upon and extend pre-modern self-conceptualizations which are very important. We can walk and chew gum at the same time.

Reading Ayden reminds me of encountering Bryan Catlos’ work on Muslim Spain years ago. Catlos’ publicity people at the university press tried to make it as if he was arguing that the line between Muslim and Christian was incredibly fluid and that his work refuted the “clash of civilizations.” But anyone, which includes me, who is aware of the large numbers of conversions of Christians to Islam and then back to Christianity, not to mention the Jews, knows that the categories are a bit more complex than the modern cartoon. Nevertheless, nothing in Catlos’ scholarship refutes the reality that religious identity was a critical, and perhaps the most important, building block of self-conceptualization in medieval Iberia.

One way to avoid the baggage around the word civilization is to rename it a “meta-ethnic” identity, as Peter Turchin does. A meta-ethnic identity allows people from different tribes and ethnicities to unite around something greater. Often, though not always, it is religion. The initial decades of the rise of Islam are complicated by the possibility that the religion wasn’t a meta-ethnic identity, but rather a tribal cult specific to a group of Arabs. This was not sustainable if Muslims were to maintain a multi-ethnic polity. Like the Mongols, they would have been absorbed by those whom they conquered. The rise of the Abbasids around 750 is often characterized as the revenge of the convert peoples, with Iranians in especially prominent in the early years of the dynasty.

Something similar happened with Christianity, which in its early centuries was fundamentally a Roman religion in Western Europe. Eventually, the expansion of the commonwealth of European kingdoms in the early medieval period occurred through the expansion of the Roman religion, and its transformation into something that was post-ethnic (during the medieval period in parts of pagan Eastern Europe Christianity was considered a “German” religion!).

There is certainly something commendable in Ayden’s work in situating current geopolitical tensions and alignments with their early modern precursors. But to the naive these arguments often erase the real deep roots of these configurations and their durability across the millennia. For example, I have stated, justifiably I think, that modern Iran was fundamentally and essentially shaped by the Safavid transformation of the region in the 16th century. That is, unifying the various Iranian and Turkic peoples in present-day Iran under the banner of Twelver Shia religion. But this is not to deny the reality that elements of Persian national self-conception predate the Safavids by thousands of years!

To bring it back to conflict, Christian cities such as Amalfi in southern Italy, often aligned themselves with Muslim pirates and corsairs in the first few centuries Islam. This does not mean that Amalfi was not Christian. Or that the distinction between Christianity and Islam meant nothing. Amalfi came under sharp criticism from Christian polities for its pragmatic alliances with Muslims. Similarly, France’s traditional friendly relations with the Turks due to the common Habsburg enemy came under criticism during the second Ottoman siege of Vienna.

Because of profit or in the exigencies of the moment, strange bedfellows often emerge. The Hungarian Protestants that marched with the Ottomans against the Habsburgs were marching for their cultural survival. The Habsburgs were suppressing and slowly extinguishing the Reformed movement in Hungary and had been doing so for decades. Hungarian Protestantism persisted only under Ottoman protection. This does not mean that Hungarian Protestants are not aligned with Christianity. But before their civilizational commitment could come into play, they had to safeguard their existence, which forced them into making a decision to march with the armies they had and not the ones they would have wished (Viktor Orban is a Hungarian Protestant).

What quantitative scholars like Turchin, and Azar Gat in War in Human Civilization, have shown is that conflicts across meta-ethnic or civilizational boundaries tend to be particularly brutal and characterized by the dehumanization of the enemy. On average. The fact that most Christian states in the pre-modern world bordered on Christian states means that most conflicts would occur between Christian states. But the conflicts at the civilizational boundary would be characterized by more extreme levels of brutality, coercion, and a lack of chivalry.

One might see in most conflicts that they occur within meta-ethnic groups, or that in a large number of cases the alliances cross meta-ethnic identities. For example, Pakistan today is under the grip of Sinophilia, despite China’s objective reality that it is an anti-Islamic state which oppresses Muslims, and Pakistan’s objective Islamic extremism. The fact on the ground currently though is that Pakistan as a nation-state benefits much more from being pro-China in its rivalry with India then rejecting Chinese entreaties on principle due to meta-ethnic solidarity with China’s Muslims. The pragmatic aspect of this alliance does not negate the reality that Pakistanis are sincere Muslims who have strong commitments to a trans-national Islamic identity, as evidenced by the fact that Pakistanis are often represented in trans-national Muslim movements.

Anyone who has read my thoughts knows I reject the idea that religions have fundamental clear and distinct essences. Religions are what people believe they are. What people practice. But people with particular confessions exhibit more solidity in their understanding of group identity than most post-colonial treatments seem to allow. Islam and Islamic identity do not exist only in contrast with Western Christians. In the east Islam interfaces with Indian traditions, Buddhism, and Zoroastrianism. Across all these interactions Muslims have a certain sense of self as distinct and can grade differences between various out-groups (e.g., Christians are not clearly idolaters, Jews are clearly monotheists, and Buddhists are idolaters).

It is simply a fact that post-colonial peoples had a pre-colonial history, and that pre-colonial history is just as important in their self-understanding as the post-colonial one.

What if everything that’s not a disease is polygenic?

In the early 2000s FOXP2 was dubbed the “language gene”. It was a sexy story. Humans exhibited accelerated adaptive evolution on this locus in relation to our relatives. Additionally, vocally oriented lineages such as birds and whales were also subject to the same process.

But over the past five years or so I’ve heard a lot of skepticism of the early claims as more genomic datasets have come online. Cell has a new paper which pretty much smashes the door down and breaks the skepticism out into the open, No Evidence for Recent Selection at FOXP2 among Diverse Human Populations:

FOXP2, initially identified for its role in human speech, contains two nonsynonymous substitutions derived in the human lineage. Evidence for a recent selective sweep in Homo sapiens, however, is at odds with the presence of these substitutions in archaic hominins. Here, we comprehensively reanalyze FOXP2 in hundreds of globally distributed genomes to test for recent selection. We do not find evidence of recent positive or balancing selection at FOXP2. Instead, the original signal appears to have been due to sample composition. Our tests do identify an intronic region that is enriched for highly conserved sites that are polymorphic among humans, compatible with a loss of function in humans. This region is lowly expressed in relevant tissue types that were tested via RNA-seq in human prefrontal cortex and RT-PCR in immortalized human brain cells. Our results represent a substantial revision to the adaptive history of FOXP2, a gene regarded as vital to human evolution.

Basically, our confidence in the inferences ran ahead of the data on hand. The reason that the story of the “language gene” spread like wildfire is that people wanted to believe. It was obvious that we were special. And we wanted to find how we were special.

In the 2000s, and even today, there was an idea that some single mutation might have allowed for the “Great Leap Forward” into behavioral modernity. I think that that model is probably wrong, and modern humanity was a more gradual and stepwise development. During the Eemian interglacial from 130 to 115 thousand years ago, agriculture did not emerge. No “lost civilizations” to our knowledge. Something happened to our species over the last 100,000 years. Probably biological, though in a way that facilitates cultural plasticity and evolution.

But genetically I bet it wasn’t that “one thing.” It was a lot of different things.

DNA results from Rakhigarhi are now being reported (really!)

It looks like Outlook India is the first out of the gates to start reporting on the results from Rakhigarhi in northwest India, We Are All Harrapans. This is a “mature phase” Harrapan site that dates to about 2250 BC or so. Media reports have always been garbled on this topic, so anything that is coming not out of a paper needs to be treated cautiously. But I’ve heard some of the same things from independent sources from a while back, so I believe that this reporting is broadly on the mark.

Basically, the individual(s) they got DNA out of did not have any Eurasian steppe ancestry. This seems to confirm again that Eurasian steppe ancestry, which is found in fractions as high as ~30% in twice-born varna in Northern India (e.g., Rajputs, Tiwari Brahmins), arrived after 2000 BC. That is, after the peak period of the Indus Valley Civilization.

Again, one has to be wary of anything from the media because I’ve heard so many confusing things, including claims of garbled quotes, but here’s one of the authors of the forthcoming paper being quoted:

We did some analysis to figure out the exact date of the admixture. We have prepared a model in which all these stats fit together very tightly and that model suggests the Central Asian admixture happened about 1500-1000 BC…. Significant mixing happened around 1000 BC, also at 800 BC and 600 BC.

This is totally in line with the results from the March preprint discussed in the piece. That is, the Swat Valley samples show admixture and genetic change after 1200 BC. And the semi-historical understanding that we have of India during the period between 1000 BC and the rise of Mauryas is that it was a society in flux. But the only way the dating was changed by the Rakhigarhi results is if the genome is high enough quality that it allowed them to narrow down the parameters on some of the estimates of admixture.

One thing to keep in mind is that it is unlikely that the “Harappan people” were one single people genetically. There was probably a lot of variation in admixture with the indigenous South Asian substrate. And, I believe that the inflated steppe & AASI (“Ancient Ancestral South Indian”) ancestry you see in some North Indian Brahmin groups compared to Sindhis (who are more “Iranian”) is evidence that the Indo-Aryan intrusion resulted in an expansion of people with West Eurasian ancestry much deeper into South Asia than was the case with the Harappans.

And of the Harappans, some of the Indian scholars have asserted that their descendants are still present in the region. I think this is right, insofar as some of the jati groups, often scheduled caste, in the northwestern region of South Asia share a lot more affinity with populations to the south and east.

Related: Michael Witzel has commentary from a more linguistic perspective. If the “Para-Munda” hypothesis is right, I think what Witzel is seeing is the substrate language on which Munda was overlain, because Munda people are clearly intrusive from Southeast Asia in the period between 2000 and 1000 BC.

Addendum: If a relatively late intrusion (after 1500 BC) of Indo-Aryans to South Asia is supported by the evidence, it would be interesting in light of the high likelihood that Indo-Aryans were present in the region of upper Mesopotamia before 1500 BC. I believe that these “Indo”-Aryans actually probably never had any contact with South Asia, but descended from the horizon of cultures of which Sintashta and Andronovo were constituents. The Indo-Aryans who arrived in South Asia were probably from a different branch, and likely had interactions with other peoples in what is today eastern Iran and Afghanistan.

The “Islamic world” was not invented by Europeans

Aeon has published a piece, What is the Muslim world? Islamists and Western pundits speak of ‘the West’ and ‘the Muslim world’ but such tribalism is dangerous colonial propaganda. The piece itself is more subtle and textured than the headline and subhead. Unfortunately, I’m 99% sure that 90% of readers will simply take the headline at face value and not engage with the text of the piece.

That being said, I also strongly disagree with the overall message of the author’s piece. He has written a book, The Idea of the Muslim World: A Global Intellectual History, where he presumably extends the argument. By the message, I mean that I believe the author overemphasizes the contingent, necessary and sufficient role of European colonialism in the idea of an Islamic world.

Anyone who has read a history of the modern world, as I have, knows that it is essential to integrate into that understanding the rise of the West after 1500, and the supremacy of the West after 1800. To a great extent, modern history is Western history.

But the West did not create everything anew, and there were, and are, preexistent identities which predate the West as we commonly understand it. Anyone who reads Al-Biruni knows very well that scholars in Islamic societies had a sense of us vs. them. Al-Biruni could admit that Indian civilization was characterized by a high level of intellectual sophistication, while also asserting its differences and uniqueness in relation to the Islamic civilization which had emerged in the wake of the Arab conquests.

In the Aeon piece, the author points out that Pan-Africanism, Pan-Asianism, and Pan-Islamism, developed as reactions to European colonialism. The first thing is to observe that Pan-Islamism is a very different thing than the idea of the “Islamic world,” a set of societies delimited by a cluster of beliefs and practices. Pan-Islamism is a modern ideology, strongly influenced by the rise and domination of the West. As such, contemporary Islamic fundamentalism is a reaction to modernity. But Islamic fundamentalism draws on older traditions within Islam, for example, the thinking of Ibn Taymiyyah.

Additionally, like many post-colonial thinkers, the author in the piece collapses different movements together in a mishmash as if they were equivalent. Pan-Asianism and Pan-Africanism have no deep historical roots, but were and are geopolitical responses to European domination. In contrast, arguably the West can not be understood without integrating the rise of Islam. Pan-Islamism appeals to a genuine history of pre-modern unity, before its dissolution and decay. Pan-Africanism and Pan-Asianism have been relative failures in comparison to Hindu nationalism and Islamic fundamentalism because they were thin, artificial, and purely geographic, constructions. In contrast, Hindu nationalism and Islamic fundamentalism appeal to and extend from true commonalities that have deep resonances.

The theoretical foundation for understanding what Pan-Islamic identity is and its historical precursors is that it is a “meta-ethnic” identity. Islam, like most of the world religions, binds together people of disparate backgrounds. It does not collapse differences, and it does not impose homogeneity. Nor does it mean that every Muslim shall stand with every other Muslims against every non-Muslim. Rather, it simply gives people from diverse backgrounds who may not know each other an immediate common ethical and cultural currency, tenuous as that may be.

Modern political movements have to be understood as reactions to events and situations of the modern era. But those political movements were not created ex nihilo out of a cultural vacuum. It is surely correct that in most cases one cannot understand the modern without considering the colonial era, but it is also true in many cases that one can not understand the modern without understanding the deep history of many regions of the world which long predate the colonial area.