Recently the noted lyricist Javed Akhtar posted two Tweets my wife today pointed me to:
“If you plunder from west to east you are great like Alexander. if you do the same from east to west you are a barbarian like Chengiz.”
Although I don’t have issues with what intellectuals like him have to say about various cultural and historical opinions/facts the duality is really surprising. These are well-read people after all.
Both Alexander (whether great or not) and Chengiz Khan attacked other countries in order to increase their domains and, let us say, that the time was like that, that it was okay to plunder and takeover other countries and make its citizens your slaves. Shit happens during various historical periods (it still happens but we live in denial). This is not the issue.
But you cannot equate both these guys. Alexander had Aristotle as his teacher and he had specifically employed a historian to document his conquests and experiences. Remember the encounter he had with Porus when he attacked India? He received the brave Porus like a king and even though Porus had been defeated and captured he was not humiliated or brutally killed (I am not sure what happened to him after that famous exchange with Alexander as depicted in the Bollywood movies). Could you expect similar civility from Chengiz Khan? I’m not saying that since Chengiz Khan was a Muslim so he had to be an out and out asshole (he was not a Muslim, according to WikiPedia), but he was after all a barbarian with no affinity to intellectual thinking.
Alexander built relationships (not social media and networking relationships, obviously). He was not into burning down libraries and universities and razing cities. He formed many alliances and he only attacked when kings did not except his dominance which is fair enough considering those times.
Not being a history student I don’t know much about both these historical figures but it is silly to rue the fact that Alexander is called “great” and Chengiz Khan is termed as barbarian.