Monday, May 20, 2013

The Wikipedia lemma on "Koenraad Elst": a textbook example of defamation


 
To the editors of Wikipedia, particularly the lemma on Dr. Koenraad Elst
 
Mortsel, 20 May 2013
 

 

Dear editor(s),

 

It has been for quite a few years that I have chosen not to react to my own Wikipedia lemma and the many inaccuracies in it. Currently I think I have no other option. My temporary work contract at the Belgian Senate came to an end, and while looking for a new job, I find that all employers who care to explain why they refuse to hire me, refer to the Wikipedia lemma at the head of the results of the google search they now automatically apply to all applicants. It seems you have a lot of influence, in fact more than anyone else, for you inform or misinform the decision-making part of mankind. And power brings responsibility.

Being by definition the greatest expert in the world on this lemma’s subject, I know for fact that a lot of it is mendacious. It is either your own lie or the lie of a source that you have cited or reproduced in good faith, but either way, it is not truthful. It does not follow your self-imposed requirement of “objectivity”. It describes an imaginary strawman, not me.

While untruth would be a serious flaw in any text, there are moreover several aspects in your  article that could fit in some other genre, but not in an encyclopedia. This lemma relies on hearsay rather than certified facts, and it mostly discusses my supposed opinions, but leaves practically unmentioned what I have actually done. If I have a Wikipedia lemma at all, it is not because of opinions, which everybody has, but because of what I have achieved. I have not merely uttered views, but also offered arguments for them, discovered or outlined facts to support them, convinced people, and very moderately changed the ideological landscape. People who consult the Wikipedia about me, probably want to know what I have done that made a difference.

So, permit me to go over some strange traits of your lemma on “Koenraad Elst”, presented to the world as objective scholarship but in fact suffering from many defects.

 

Selectiveness

“Koenraad Elst (born 7 August 1959) is a Belgian writer and orientalist (without institutional affiliation). He was an editor of the New Right Flemish nationalist journal Teksten, Kommentaren en Studies from 1992 to 1995, focusing on criticism of Islam, various other conservative and Flemish separatist publications such as Nucleus, 't Pallieterke, Secessie and The Brussels Journal.”

This is only partly untrue, but even where true, it clearly biased by being very partial. For instance, in exactly the same years when I was on the editorial board of TeKoS, meeting 6 or 7 times in the said period, I also wrote for the business weekly Trends. Though one article in Trends had far more readers than all my TeKoS articles combined, you fail to mention this. Given your eye for selective detail, it is also remarkable that you omit my leftist period, from far-leftist camp follower at 15 to occasional anti-NATO demonstrator at 24. Not that it is that important, but then neither is my having written for this paper or that. In an article that pays far more attention to my alleged opinions than to what I have actually done, it remains at any rate remarkable that you omit a turn of opinion that would add some perspective to my ideological development. 

I started public life in 1989 with an article about the Satanic Verses affair in the Communist weekly Toestanden. It illustrates that there is nothing right-wing about criticism of religion, but this is apparently inconvenient to the message you try to convey. My first lectures about Islam were for local departments of the Masereel Foundation, which was linked to the Communist Party of Belgium. This foundation’s chairman Antoon Roosens (Archief 1994) wrote that multiculturalism “is always characterized by a more or less serious disturbance of society’s order” and “not a usable model of living-together”. Since Angela Merkel’s utterance in the same vein, this is the received wisdom, but back then it was quite a statement.  

Around 1990, well before joining TeKoS, I also wrote regularly for Inforiënt, a monthly issued by the Asian Studies Department of my home university. This was a non-political scholarly paper, and clearly some pseudonymous contributor decided that this was not the association he wanted for me.

Anyway, name me a single lemma that starts out with a living author’s membership of the editorial board of a trimonthly paper 18 years ago, which met 6 or 7 times in this period, and where no decisions whatsoever were taken; when the same author has written more than 20 books, some of them best-sellers or otherwise remarkable..

 

Right and left

Your lemma claims: “His writings are frequently featured in right-wing publications.”

Left-wing publications as well as many conformistic commercial media have mostly decided to boycott me, so I am left with right-wing publications (at least in the time when this was first written, the internet having opened new avenues of publication). A better way of putting the same state of affairs would be: “The left has issued boycott orders, which are followed up by leftist camp-followers and by a compliant bourgeoisie. That is why you get to see his texts mostly in right-wing publications.”

As for the “right-wing” publications that choose to feature me, this term itself is ideologically coloured. It may be hard to avoid on Wikipedia but should be handled with utmost care – more than was applied in this case. For instance, Adolf Hitler is conveniently dubbed (extreme) “right-wing”, but he more than anyone else pursued the formulas of the socialist economist John Maynard Keynes, at the time also applied by the progressive President Franklin Roosevelt to the extent that the “checks and balances” of the American republic allowed him, and currently still championed by the centre-left parties in Europe. Part of Hitler’s inspiration (e.g. in mass murder) and much of the reason for his rise to power came from Bolshevism, left-wing par excellence. He and his lieutenant Heinrich Himmler were pro-Muslim, like most contemporary neo-Nazis and like the contemporary Indian and much of the European left. He pursued what we now call “identity politics”, currently a left-wing preoccupation. At a time when “right-wing” still meant “pro-monarchy”, he failed to bring the Kaiser back. Much can be said for the Libertarian view that he was a Leftist.

I am not saying that the concepts of Left and Right no longer matter, as political illiterates and crypto-Rightists would say. But they have a slightly different meaning than the Left presupposes when it doles out these labels to different actors in the field at its own convenience.

 

Hindutva   

“Having authored fifteen English language books on topics related to Indian politics and communalism, Elst is one of the western writers (along with François Gautier) to actively defend the Hindutva ideology.”

It would be more appropriate to say that I am the only Westerner who criticized the Hindutva movement all while knowing the subject. I criticized it thoroughly in my book BJP vs. Hindu Resurgence and passim in Decolonizing the Hindu Mind and some other books. But the approved Western “experts” are just parrots of the Indian establishment, which in turn has historically been formed by an ideological interiorization of Western prejudices about Indian religions and society. Their position is that everything that conflicts with the conventional view must be “Hindutva”. I have explicitly analyzed and refuted that assumption at length, and if your contributor had actually read me, he would have known that and mentioned it.

Many Hindu stalwarts who granted me interviews after my pro-temple conclusions in my first Ayodhya book would never talk to the established “specialists” on their very own movement. That is why I have collected data on the Hindu movement that the “experts” cannot even hope to get. Moreover, the “experts” show no inclination to actually talk with Hindu activists. As admitted by a professor on my doctoral jury, I had presented a truly exceptional collection of data; few could muster it, fewer still even tried to get at it. They are satisfied in repeating and elaborating the enemy-image of the Hindu movement common since at least the Mahatma Gandhi murder. As recently also pointed out by Prof. S.N. Balagangadhara and Mr. Rajiv Malhotra, Western Hinduism experts are, with only little hyperbole, the only academic specialists who actively work for their own field of study to die. (Well, I’ll grant you the criminologists.)

At any rate, the “experts” have political opinions, but because these are so dominant, these are taken in stride and often not even noticed as such. Their viewpoints can definitely not be invoked as “scholarly” let alone “impartisan” findings just because they sport academic titles. Indeed, exposing the political bias in the dominant academic output on India has precisely been one of the cornerstones of my work, and a decent lemma on me would have to mention this.

One of the features typical of established India “expertise” is the conflation of the specific viewpoint that calls itself “Hindutva” (a Persian-cum-Sanskrit neologism thought up in the late 19th century and meaning “Hinduness”, effectively “Hindu identity”) with the broader Hindu activism. Hindutva, now incarnated in the mass organization RSS with its clumsy quasi-nationalist discourse, is easy to find fault with, so lazy academics with an anti-Hindu agenda call every utterance of Hindu survival “Hindutva”. It is only in this inaccurate and politically motivated sense that Wikipedia can call me a defender of “Hindutva ideology”. It amounts to siding with the trend that I have explicitly criticized – the very criticism this lemma ought to be describing objectively.

I have analyzed the concept of Hindutva at length – to my knowledge, deeper than anyone else, including the “experts”. So I challenge you to give me one quote of mine that substantiates your description. If this matter ever goes to court (but praise yourself lucky that I have neither the inclination nor the means for litigation), I will give ten quotes that refute it. But of course it is not my task to prove my innocence. Since you leveled a claim that is meant (and read) as an allegation, it is your task to prove you claim – or to withdraw it.

Of course I have accepted invitations to speak on Hindutva platforms, as on many others, but it is quite wrong to deduce from this that my viewpoints and those of the organizers are the same. My viewpoints are only those which I myself pronounce, on those platforms as on others. In fact, intellectuals tend to find it insulting to be described as party activists. They may perhaps inform the official doctrine of a party or organization, but it is insulting to reduce the complexity of their thought to the simplicity of a party manifesto. This is what is called a “category mistake”.

 

Subjectivity

Your lemma claims: “He describes himself as an independent scholar.

This is not untrue, but why “he describes himself”, an unusual phrase on Wikipedia, when this self-description happens to be factual? What stops you from writing “KE is an independent scholar”? You have no reason to present as a personal fantasy or plain lie what is just a plain fact. I have three MAs and a PhD, dozens of books (most of them packed with footnotes or other references) and hundreds of articles to my credit, and have spoken at many academic conferences, enough to qualify as a “scholar”. I doubt that your sophomoric contributors have as much to show.

Further, I have no affiliation at present, a condition expressed through the word “independent”. It is precisely the goal of your contributors to warn possible employers against me and make me unemployable, so this “independence” is not entirely innocent. But it is factual, and that should be enough for an encyclopedia. Of course I have opinions; but so do most scholars.

“Elst says that his language has ‘softened and become more focused on viewpoints rather than groups of people such as, ‘the’ Muslims or the Marxist historians.’ He writes that he has reoriented his scholarly interests towards more fundamental philosophical studies and questions of ancient history, rather than questions in the centre of contemporary political struggles.

The position that Islam as an ideology is the problem, rather than that part of the population which calls itself Muslim, has been my position since the beginning. The change lies elsewhere: in the 1980s, I set out to do fundamental research into Asian civilizations, then was derailed by the gaping lack of proper scholarship on India’s interreligious relations, and later found that I had made my contribution so I could move on. I also realized that I had become old enough to have something serious to say on the deeper issues. Actual events keep calling me back to commenting on contemporary political issues; but as a general reorientation, I am indeed focusing more on fundamental doctrinal issues instead of day-to-day events. So, in practice, I still comment on communal issues when I’m asked for it, but basically Islam and communalism have lost my interest some years ago. Everything important on those topics has already been said; now these insights have to inform policy.  

At any rate, if you doubt what I say, you should decide for yourself, on the basis of hard proof, whether I am saying the truth or not. Then write your conclusions in your own name.

 

The Hugo Claus incident

 “At the end of March 2008, Koenraad Elst ridiculed Hugo Claus's decision to undergo euthanasia, claiming that it was influenced by the purple agnostic lobby to embarrass the Roman Catholic Church.

I am a long-time supporter of my country’s liberal euthanasia policies, and had nothing but sympathy when Hugo Claus did it. That the socialist-liberal (red-blue or “purple”) coalition saw it as a crowning achievement of their reforms is true and noteworthy, but I supported it nonetheless. What happened was that the editor of ‘t Pallieterke added a disparaging sentence to my article about the affair, an intervention which I found unacceptable so I ceased writing in his paper. I explained the whole event and reiterated my position in an article in next month’s issue of Nucleus. Full knowledge would have allowed you to write correct information worthy of an encyclopaedia, but a little knowledge is a dangerous thing.

By the way, the publisher of Nucleus, the late Mr. Pieter Huys (whom I knew as a sincerely good person), was decidedly against the liberalization of euthanasia. That I could publish my article there, testifies to his open-mindedness and to the objectivity of my article. It also illustrates a more general principle: one cannot find out about someone’s views by listing the papers in which he published or the people he talked with. This refutes the assumption by which most gossips go, and by which your contributors have gone.

 

Guilt by association

In my journalistic capacity I have talked with all kinds of people, and photographs of us in conversation could be used by gossips to “prove” that I share the same views with the other person. We have a famous example in our country: as a student, top Flemish leader Bart De Wever attended a debate featuring Jean-Marie Le Pen, and was photographed alongside him. This photograph proves nothing, but is used as “proof” against him by all the Francophone dailies. As for articles, I as a marked man have a limited choice of avenues, so I am not very choosy as to where I publish. But it is typical of gossips that they deduce my opinions from the papers I publish in, instead of the contents of what I write.

For ordinary people, this mostly stems from laziness: it is easier to see a name in the table of contents of a paper and draw your conclusions on that limited basis than to go through the trouble of reading and digesting his article; let alone place it in the context of his whole ideological evolution. But for leftist intellectuals, it is also an everyday reality that they avoid anyone suspected of different views and exclusively associate with fellow Leftists. If you want to understand the caste system and the exclusion of untouchables, watch the uptight behavior of Leftist intellectuals. So, they genuinely assume that if I talk to someone or appear in his paper, he and I must be holding the same opinions.     

 

Nouvelle Droite

“Elst actively contributes to nationalist New Right Flemish publications, and has shown sympathy to the Nouvelle Droite movement since the early 1990s. He has sometimes criticised that movement in relation to particular topics. He said that the collaborationist aspects of the careers of two Belgian writers were covered up in Nouvelle Droite articles, and that he suspected that ‘its critique of egalitarianism in the name of ‘differentialism’ could at heart simply be a plea against equality in favour of inequality, Old-Right style’.

Actually, even when I occasionally published in a Nouvelle Droite paper (TeKoS), I never endorsed Nouvelle Droite viewpoints, such as their anti-Liberalism, their anti-Americanism, or their championing “identity”, or the “Traditionalism” which some of its leading lights espouse. The only time I wrote in a real Nouvelle Droite publication (Nouvelle Ecole 2000), it was to defend the Out-of-India Theory against the Aryan Invasion Theory, central to the Nouvelle Droite worldview and defended in that same issue by both Prof. Jean Haudry and Alain de Benoist. Recently I have written some skeptical comments on the Nouvelle Droite, but throughout, I have absolutely never expressed any kind of agreement with it or, when it still mattered, even just an opinion on it. You or your sources are simply inventing this. If not, show me. And I don’t mean the gossip by my enemies, quoted on your talk page as authoritative, but an actual text by me. As the writer of thousands of pages of well-considered findings, I have a right to be evaluated on what I have actually written rather than on some vague rumours propagated by my self-declared enemies.  

After I had become somewhat well-known as an Islam critic, I accepted a fully non-committal post on the editorial board of TeKoS at the request of the general editor Luc Pauwels, who wanted a counterweight to the heavy pro-Muslim presence with their fantasies of a “Euro-Arab alliance against the US” on his editorial board. It took some time before I knew what it was all about, and by the time I did, I left.

“However, his endorsement with the Nouvelle Droite is still active: ‘Wisely or unwisely, I have not taken my scepticism to be a reason for any active hostility to the Nouvelle Droite people, some of whom I count as friends... Time permitting, I accept invitations from that side, so that I spoke at their conference in Antwerp in 2000, if only as a stand-in for an announced speaker who had cancelled at the last minute for health reasons (Pim Fortuyn, no less, the Dutch liberal sociology professor who criticized Islam, subsequently went into politics, and ended up murdered by a leftist).’

Of course I shake hands with all kinds of people. As an intellectual, I am conversant with Marxism (of which I have always appreciated the pretence of intellectual seriousness), structuralism, postmodernism etc., as I am with the Nouvelle Droite. There is no difference in the way I treat Leftists and Rightists, there is only a difference in the way they treat me. It is an idiosyncrasy of Leftist intellectuals to practice untouchability and to veto any contact with different-minded people. Thus, when the French academic André Taguieff wrote a publication on the Nouvelle Droite some twenty years ago, he was criticized by his Leftist friends for appearing to know too much about it. They opined that someone who had gone that deeply into the actual positions of a Rightist movement had to be contaminated by it. To them, ignorance is virtuous; and that is the secret behind the shoddiness of my lemma too.

Also, I judge ideological movements issue by issue (rather than a wholesale endorsement or rejection, as follower types do). Thus, at the time of my involvement it was not important, but nowadays I retrospectively agree with the Nouvelle Droite’s choice for European unity rather than for the nation-states, and its consistent stand against Christian doctrine and apologetics. Or, back then I endorsed its anti-Communism, all the more so since I personally had to even out my own past in that regard. By contrast, I disagree with its opposition to globalization (an inevitability and for the generation that was raised on science-fiction even an inherently good thing), its emphasis on identity and, in my early years, its fascination with the “Conservative Revolution”. This is the common name for a string of schools in Weimar Germany, of which I have read nothing at all except Hermann Keyserling’s report on his stay in India. You may contrast this with my work on Hindu revivalism, which is very thorough, or even with American paleoconservatism, of which I read a lot in about 1995-2005. It is at any rate only of historical value, as the Nouvelle Droite has lost its importance as a distinct ideological movement.

 

Vlaams Blok

“Jan De Zutter criticized Elst for being too close with the Vlaams Belang, as in June 1992, Koenraad Elst gave a speech directed against Islam at the Vlaams Blok Colloquium where the party proposed its first version of its 70 point anti-immigration policy.

This sentence wrongly suggests any causal connection between that 70-point plan and me. In fact, I didn’t know about this plan before and even during the conference, which I didn’t attend except in the late afternoon for giving my own speech plus listening to the concluding words by the chairman. Later I learned that the plan was news even to many party leaders, as it was a private idea of one of them which the others were then forced to defend. They amended it to bring it in line with the law, and later abandoned it altogether. Even for the party it is old history; only the Left keeps on bringing it up. Till today, I haven’t read the 70 points (only those few relating to Islam), but have vaguely heard that some of them have been implemented into law by the mainstream parties, so apparently they are not that extreme. One of the points relating to Islam is diametrically opposite to my own view: the party wanted to separate Muslim pupils in Muslim schools (exactly like the Mullahs), while I myself expressed belief in immersion and assimilation.

At any rate, I have nothing whatsoever to do with this plan, and it has no reason at all for figuring in an encyclopedia article on me. It is based on rumours which all go back to a single libelous article in the tabloid De Morgen, also the only source for the Vlaams Blok claim of Jan De Zutter, then working for the very same tabloid. The Vlaams Blok connection has always been only a Leftist fantasy and has nothing in common with the facts. Since when does an encyclopedia deal in fantasies?

“Elst said that he spoke there because it was the only party where the ‘problem of Islam’ was brought up, but that he also explicitly said that he did not agree with the party's solution for that problem, and disapproved of their xenophobia. He stated that the VB can not be and was never his party because of its xenophobia and ethnocentrism. Since this event, he has often been accused of being the party's specialist on Islam and its link with the new Pagan Movement.”

No, I have only been accused by this tabloid, and then by a few of its readers, that is all. No truthful observer (worthy of being quoted by an encyclopedia) has said that, and everybody in Flanders knows that the party has other Islam specialists. Even this tabloid later changed its tune, e.g. describing me in 2011 as a “new-rightist separatist”, not accurate either but vague enough to be passable. In my own country, this very old rumour, refuted by the facts many times even for those who initially believed it, has died down. The rumour, however, lives on through other, ignorant avenues; including Wikipedia.

It becomes wholly ludicrous when the Pagan movement is brought in. Having even several practising Pagan members of Parliament, the party hardly needed a critical observer like me as middle-man. Anyway, this is all Leftist fantasy, and it is just shameful that this is included in an encyclopedia article.

One thing of supreme importance to scholars, including most writers of encyclopedias, but only a bothersome trifle to the activists who wrote my lemma, is the question of truth. What I said more than twenty years ago about Islam, later expanded into book form (De islam voor ongelovigen, 1997), was the scholarly truth. Since then, my position on Islam has hopefully become a bit more sophisticated but essentially it has remained the same. It might have been different if anyone had proven me wrong, but that hasn’t happened. Lambasted and called names, often enough, but refuted, never. The only feeble one-sentence attempt to prove me wrong was by Lucas Catherine, who reacted to my analysis of the Koran by asserting that “the Koran is already an old book”. Well, let him repeat that in a mosque: “The Koran is a 7th-century book by a half-literate businessman, maybe acceptable as a testimony of its age, but no longer relevant to you moderns. Live your lives without regard to what it says!” If the Koran was just an ancient book, like so many others, it would not be studied now by a host of scholars (including myself) and a mass of non-scholars.

“Though he himself denies any affinity to the party program, he admits to ‘lukewarm’ sympathy for the Flemish cause (of independence). Lucas Catherine contrasted Elst's viewpoint with the viewpoint of Filip Dewinter, who according to him could not have been very happy with Elst's opinion that not Muslims, but Islam, is the problem.

The conflation of two unrelated issues is another indication that you have no grasp of the subject and merely quote by hearsay a few claims made by various parties and that fit in your mission of doing me maximum harm. Having sympathy for the Flemish cause (which can take more forms than just striving for independence) is unrelated to any viewpoint for or against this party. Other parties and non-party movements and people are pro-Flemish or even pro-Independence.

As for Lucas Catherine, a pro-Palestinian campaigner and sometimes a critic of mine (but some of whose books I have reviewed favourably), he rightly pointed out that the party’s position and my Islam criticism (even as enunciated before a party audience) are at variance. The same observation was made by other party critics such as Marc Spruyt, and by the party’s own Islam specialist Marc Joris. In fact, it was remarked by every single commentator who based himself on contents rather than on association. That should suffice to make some of your earlier insinuations untrue and superfluous. It also illustrates how there is a big difference between speaking to people and being on the same wavelength with people.

 

Omissions

You also leave unmentioned that Jan De Zutter is a Socialist Party functionary, hardly a neutral observer. While you made sure to describe Koenraad Logghe as a “Neopagan high priest” (below), you fail to do so in Jan De Zutter’s case, though it is equally true: he is a Wiccan high priest as well as a practitioner of Santería, and writer of several handbooks of Neopagan religion. At the time (1998) he wrote for De Morgen, a tabloid known for its partisan and untruthful reporting.

The whole Flemish public knows a number of notorious cases of De Morgen’s mendaciousness. For example, it has waged a campaign against “sollicitor X”, accusing him of raping his sons, repeatedly getting crowds of Leftist camp-followers to demonstrate against him, and seriously damaging his reputation and livelihood. When grown up, the sons have denied the allegations and explained the whole affair, but the offending journalists have to this day refused to admit that they were wrong and guilty of libel. You have entered a very murky field here, and you are not equipped to deal with it competently. Fortunately you don’t need to, for a real encyclopedia would have left these unimportant rumours of unimportant incidents undiscussed.

Similarly, on the talk page someone refers to a brief exchange with journalist Freddy De Pauw without mentioning the (otherwise unimportant but here somewhat relevant) fact that he is a known Trotskyite. The only exchange with him that I remember was friendly enough, with us agreeing to disagree. I have always respected him, unlike the two professors who follow.

Someone also quotes Prof. Robert Zydenbos without mentioning that he has a serious axe to grind. In an Indian Express column at the very beginning of the Aryan invasion debate, he likened critics of the Aryan Invasion Theory to the Nazis, no less, forgetting that this simile is generally a give-away of unscholarly intent, and that the Nazis themselves were very much on the side of the European homeland hypothesis, implying an Aryan invasion of India. I pointed out that this theory deserved to be called the “Hitler-Zydenbos theory”, after two of its best-known proponents. Though he had ventured outside his field, misunderstood the whole Aryan debate and should simply have admitted and corrected his mistake (the record shows that I myself always do this), he took it as a grave insult to his authority and has been nurturing a desire for vengeance ever since. On the Religion In South Asia list, he broke the list’s academic decorum by calling all Hindu nationalists, a category intended to include me, as “the scum of the earth”. On the secretive Scholarly List Services list, he (together with Michael Witzel) has been advocating censorship of me.

That is always the reaction of the out-argued. Countless times I have been censored, excluded, disinvited under pressure, as well as decried and covered with abuse. Some debating partners have also disinvited themselves upon hearing that I was going to be on the panel. At any rate, my critics always try something else than the simple scholarly avenue, which would be to prove me wrong.   

You also omit the possibility of change. Many people who peddled or relayed accusations against me long ago wouldn’t do so now. I am not sure Jan De Zutter would repeat today what he wrote fifteen years ago.

“According to Sanjay Subrahmanyam, he has connections to the far-right Vlaams Blok. though Dr. Subrahmanyam did not provide any supporting evidence.”

 What in the world is Sanjay Subramahnyam doing here? He is neither an expert on me nor on Belgian politics, so no self-respecting encyclopedia would cite his layman’s opinion. Moreover, he has an exceptionally big axe to grind. In my book Ayodhya: the Case against the Temple (2003), I have devoted a chapter to him and exposed his partisan and unscholarly treatment of former Indian Express editor and the BJP Disinvestment Minister Arun Shourie. Since he failed to refute me on contents, he tried to get back at me by repeating a convenient rumour he had picked up. So he wrote an article against my person, predictably displaying his ignorance, which I thoroughly refuted in a chapter of my book The Saffron Swastika (2006). This left him smarting for even more revenge. He is just about the last person an encyclopedia would quote.  

Finally, in your lemma on him, you conveniently omit Sanjay Subrahmanyam’s single claim to fame: that he served as poster-boy for the BJP Government’s “saffronization of education” by his nomination to the Oxford-based chair of Indian Studies which the BJP created. This was the only time that Sanjay Subrahmanyam made news headlines, so as an encyclopedia, Wikipedia had a duty to mention it in its lemma on him. In my books, the incident was proof of the BJP’s spinelessness and stupidity, since it used this opportunity to prove (in vain) its “secularism” by nominating one of its known opponents, instead of creating status and influence for one of its sympathizers. Incidentally, since his reply can be foreseen, let me clarify that I myself was no candidate at the time, being incapacitated (from everything except writing) by a heart disease that was only resolved by a heart transplantation in 2007.

 

 

Neopaganism

Slander against me has often taken the form of confusing a speech or article directed at a certain audience with being of those people’s opinion. Thus, the Jan De Zutter you quote, has taken my speech in 1996 at the conference of a Pagan group which was also predominantly nationalistic as “proof” that I must be nationalistic too. In reality, my speech, which was in the press folder and of which his paper must have obtained a copy, is very explicit in denouncing the nationalistic use of Paganism, not on modern or moralistic grounds (which that particular audience would be insensitive to) but precisely on Pagan grounds: nowhere in the musings of the Edda or its hymns to the gods is nationalism in evidence. Germanic religion was different from Celtic religion, not for the principled nationalist reason that Woden or Freia are “more fit for the Germanic soul” or some such ethnic consideration, but simply because of the distance in language and sheer geography.

This is in line with my oft-stated criticism of Hindu nationalism or “Hindutva”. I have consistently argued that nationalism was understandable in the context of the anticolonial struggle, but had now become counterproductive and leads to a misstatement of legitimate Hindu concerns. In fact, this is one of the points that define the specificity of my analysis of the Hindutva movement and should certainly figure in a lemma on me. 

“In his twenties, he participated in the New Age movement, worked in a New Age bookstore and organized New Age events, although he later seemed to depart from New Age groups. In the 1990s he became interested in the European Neopagan movement: he co-edited the extreme New Right from 1992, together with ‘pagan high priest’ Koenraad Logghe, whom he joined at the World Congress of Ethnic Religions.”

I have never co-edited a paper called New Right, which I have never heard of; much less would I have anything to do with an “extreme” paper. You are misinformed and must correct your error forthwith. There is simply no excuse for this misinformation in an encyclopedia.

Also, you say that I became “interested” in the Neopagan movement. Many people are interested in many things, without it being mentioned on their Wikipedia page. Here it is only mentioned as a way to do me harm. For your information: it was at the suggestion of Ram Swarup, who didn’t know the specificities of every Neopagan movement, that I became interested in the Neopagan associations locally available.

But this much is true, that in 1995-98 I have written some articles in a Neopagan paper. You will fail to quote an incriminating sentence from those (as will also be clear from Jan De Zutter’s treatment of the same, viz. to remain conspicuously silent). It was in fact one such article which led to my temporary break-up with the Neopagan movement: a description of the meanings and uses of the swastika ending in a plea that heirs to Flemish and other collaborators in World War 2 could not use the swastika without making a clean break with the misuse of the swastika by Nazi Germany. This provoked the criticism that I had introduced politics into a religious society which had resolved to keep politics out. That remark was not incorrect, though I still think that this caveat was necessary. This outcome was translated by a few Leftist sources as my being thrown out for Left deviationism.   

I have never had any kind of privileged relation with Koenraad Logghe, and there is no reason for even mentioning him here; except for your contributors’ strategy of “guilt by association”. I met him as a co-editor of TeKoS among many others, whom you rightly don’t mention. As the circles involved have long known, in my view he represented everything that is wrong with the Neopagan movement. A nice and helpful fellow in his personal life, he is also philosophically a vitalist as well as a Freemason and a Traditionalist in the mould of René Guénon (a convert to Islam, the anti-Pagan religion par excellence), and so he did Neopaganism a lot of harm by mixing it up with other agendas. With his racist past (very much past since his Thai love affair and subsequent U-turn, but he knew fully well that Leftists would use it against him forever anyway), he should also not have put himself at the head of the Neopagan association he founded, knowing that this would only damage it. He should have followed the example of Leon Trotski, who refused to be Lenin’s successor because as a Jew, his becoming the leader of the Soviet Union would only confirm Christian conservatives in their allegation that Communism was a Jewish conspiracy. But alas, unconventional religions attract people who enjoy playing guru.

I was not involved with the organization of the World (now more realistically called: European) Congress of Ethnic Religions conference in Antwerp 2005, the only one I attended, and that too on the press benches. My only involvement with the erstwhile WCER is that at the time of its founding, I e-mailed in some reasons for opposing the label “ethnic”, but in vain.

 

Criticism of Islam

 “Some of his books or articles contain harsh criticisms of Islam as a whole (among others Wahi: the Supernatural Basis of Islam, [and] From Ayodhya to Nazareth, an article written in the form of an open letter to the Pope and Indian church Bishop Alan de Lastic, whom Elst calls ‘Your Eminences’, and in which he invites them to ask Muslims for repentance towards Christians, or Ayodhya And After, a book in which he delves into the realm of establishing a purported link between Ayodhya and the conflict between Palestinians and Israel -- section 2.2 Jerusalem and Ayodhya --, not an isolated attempt in some far-right European movements;”

This passage is fairly accurate, but then the totally unnecessary and inappropriate last phrase spoils it all. Please show me what is “Right-wing” about my critique of various aspects of Islam. Karl Marx said that “criticism of religion is the beginning of all criticism” (he too would be called an “Islamophobe” today), and I have taken this maxim to heart, whereas the contemporary Left looks the other way when it is even mentioned.  That so-called Right-wing movements say similar things will not do; Left-wing individuals and movements have done so as well. In the Muslim world, religious conservatives are deemed Right-wing though their line is defended by our Leftists, and critism of Islam Left-wing (Aziz Nesin, Salman Rushdie, Taslima Nasrin). Quote me a Right-wing sentence from my discourse (say, a rejection of democracy), or else strike these insinuations from your article.

You continue: “similarly, section 13.2 of that book is called Islam and Nazism). More precisely, Elst argues often that ‘not Muslims but Islam is the problem’. His views on Islam are markedly in line with the neoconservative think-tank Middle East Forum, to which he has contributed.

Yes, like myself, the Middle East Forum has devoted some attention to the Muslim-Nazi connection. It just happens to be a well-documented fact, first remarked by Sir Winston Churchll. Drawing attention to facts doesn’t require a political position. By contrast, your article’s insistence to present my awareness of this fact as something bizarre that needs to be boxed up into a political position, itself betrays a political agenda.

 

Aryan invasion debate

 “On the topic of the ‘Indigenous Aryans polemic within Hindu nationalism, Elst writes: ‘One thing which keeps on astonishing me in the present debate is the complete lack of doubt in both camps. Personally, I don’t think that either theory, of Aryan invasion and of Aryan indigenousness, can claim to have been ‘proven’ by prevalent standards of proof; even though one of the contenders is getting closer. Indeed, while I have enjoyed pointing out the flaws in the AIT statements of the politicized Indian academic establishment and its American amplifiers, I cannot rule out the possibility that the theory which they are defending may still have its merits.’

This is a rather meagre representation of my ample contribution to the Aryan invasion debate, but your choice of a single quote is quite felicitous. It also illustrates nicely who in this debate takes extreme views and who does’t.

“The Hindu nationalist N.S. Rajaram criticized Elst's book Asterisk in Bharopiyasthan because of Elst's alleged agenda of ‘rescuing Indo-European linguistics from oblivion’. Elst's views on the Aryan Invasion Theory were also criticized by, for example, Hans Hock, Edwin Bryant, George Cardona and by Michael Witzel.

It is normal for new theories to be criticized by the establishment. In this case, it was criticized from both sides, as you rightly note (though it will escape most of your readers): whereas Michael Witzel is the proverbial champion of the Aryan Invasion Theory, N.S Rajaram is one of is leading critics. You might have specified in more detail what my position in this debate is. In particular, you might have mentioned that unlike 99% of the Aryan Invasion skeptics, I stand by the comparative-linguistic approach and have defended it in writing at some length. Though this specifies my position in the Aryan debate in a fundamental way, you choose to leave it unmentioned.

 

Predictions

In science, a true theory is proven by correct predictions. In this regard, established Indology has proven to be an outrageous failure. During the 1990s, the established “experts” predicted that if the BJP would come to power, all Muslims would be thrown into the Indian Ocean, civil war would ensue, the Government would come down on women and Dalits, and what not. The BJP did come to power from 1998 to 2004, and nothing happened (except high growth figures that today’s Indians can only dream of). Not one of their predictions beame reality, even remotely.

By contrast, lonesome me stood vindicated by reality. The “experts” may be uncontroversial, but they were totally wrong. I may be controversial, but I was right.

In 1996, I spoke in Boston before the Union of Concerned Scientists. Upon their enquiring about what the BJP in power would do, and whether it would go nuclear, I said that it would do nothing which the “experts” foresaw (Muslims in gas chambers, etc.), that they would not get serious about any of the “communal” points on their agenda (Common Civil Code, resettlement of the Kashmiri Hindus chased out by the Muslims, etc.), but that they would very certainly go nuclear. Unlike the “experts”, I am willing to repeat now what I said in 1996, because I have been proven right in every respect.

 

Talk page

Coming to the talk page, we get to see the motives for these distortions. At the head, the principles by which Wikipedia swears are stated: (1) No original research; (2) Neutral point of view; (3) Verifiability. Contributors are also warned: “Unsourced or poorly sourced contentious material about living persons must be removed immediately from the article and its talk page, especially if potentially libellous. If such material is repeatedly inserted, or if you have other concerns, please report the issue to this noticeboard.”

 

Endless pages are spent on deciding whether I am a scholar. That your contributors are not, is a foregone conclusions, but am I? If I am not, it should be easy for legitimate scholars to prove me wrong, rather than to lambast or censor me. But you fail to quote even one who has done that. You only quote their gossip and scatologism.

 

At any rate, status is not that important, at least not for finding out the truth of someone’s theories. Laymen look up steeply to people equipped with academic titles, as do your sophomoric contributors; but people in the know are less impressed. Academic post are given, or withheld, for all kinds of reasons. As an Indo-Canadian professor told me: “You certainly deserve a professorate. But don’t count on ever getting it.” Conversely, all kinds of mediocre people have academic careers. If you know a certain scholarly subject well, you will be familiar with the sight of professors making fools of themselves by their silly utterances, and of outsiders contributing very serious insights.

 

But socially, of course, status is very important. The Hindu bourgeoisie, for instance, including the leaders of the Hindu nationalist movement, will give more credit to an enemy with status than to a friend without status. And the slanderers know it: by denying status, they aim precisely at isolating the targeted person from the general society including his natural supporters. The libel in this Wikipedia article follows the same pattern.

 

A certain Alex Oriens, very active in this lemma, remarks: “It is impossible to speak of K. Elst without mentionning the very controversial aspects of his writings.” I preserve his French spelling of “mentioning” on purpose, as many elements indicate that he is French-speaking.

Anyway, his remark that my writing is “controversial” is a statement of a social fact, but is not an evaluation of my work. There is, for instance, nothing controversial about my perfectly logical and factual observation, repeated on many forums, that Indian “secularism” fails the very first test of secularism, viz. by adhering to separate law systems depending on religion. Of course I know that the Indian establishment and its parrots in Western academe swear by this hypocritical situation: treating citizens differently according to their religion yet calling it “secularism”. But what I say is just logic and would be approved by any candid and unforewarned outsider, while the prevalent claim of Indian “secularism” amounts to a defence of vested political interests.

Most Western experts start their papers with the assertion: ”India’s secularism is threatened by Hindu nationalism.” That position is not socially controversial, it is the received wisdom, but it is logically controversial and implies the untrue description of the present system as “secular”. It is also logically controversial, in fact untenable, to describe as a “threat to secularism” the BJP, the only party whose manifesto promises the enactment of a Common Civil Code, that definitional cornerstone of secularism, taken for granted in most Western countries.

He also claims that my “‘rewriting of Indian history’ is of very controversial nature, and, in fact, very controversed by many Hindus themselves and also by the vast majority of Indologists”. Well, let him describe what is wrong in my version of history, which to my knowledge I have never called a “rewriting”. It is simply objective factual history, taken for granted by earlier historians like Jadunath Sarkar and R.C. Majumdar. For instance, when asserting that “Hindu Kush” means “Hindu slaughter”, I simply repeat what I have learned at the feet of Prof. Pierre Eggermont, a very established Indologist, and what time-witness Ibn Battuta wrote. These sources are not infallible, but are worth quoting. If you can do better, the reader would like to see it. At any rate, there should be nothing controversial about quoting them and approving of what they say. By contrast, the establishment’s insistence on denying this well-known fact ought to be seriously controversial, at least for someone with the scientific temper.

He also says: “Voice of India, in which many of his books are published, is pretty well known to be on the far-far-right side.”

 

This is definitely untrue, and a give-away of political bias. Voice of India is by no means “far-far-right”. The very first criterion for calling something “far” this or “extreme” that, is willingness to use violence. Nobody published by Voice of India has ever hurt a hair on the head of any Muslim. By contrast, Presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama and Prime Minister Tony Blair have praised Islam to the sky but have killed hundreds of thousands of Muslims: by starvation, targeted assassination, torture and bombing. The facts show that criticism of Islam is inversely proportional to violence against Muslims.

 

Secondly, another criterion to decide whether a movement is “far” or “extreme” is its attitude to democracy. Many secularists who dole out the label “extreme right” so easily, have completely forgotten about democracy. Of course they do, because India was declared a “secular, socialist republic” under Indira Gandhi’s Emergency dictatorship, which many vocal secularists supported. The first thing that Hitler (following Lenin) did upon coming to power, was to abolish democracy. Now, let us look at Voice of India in this regard. Ram Swarup and Sita Ram Goel, Gandhian freedom-fighters in their youth (whereas the much-revered Dr. Bhimrao Ambekar emphatically pronounced himself in favour of the continuation of colonial rule), stood by democracy all their lives. They actively opposed the Emergency dictatorship, in this case alongside the Hindutva organizations (and a faction among the Communists), against its secularist enforcers.   

What counts as “extreme” and “controversial” in India is Voice of India’s criticism of religions. There is nothing “Right-wing” about that; if anything, it should rather be called Left-wing, but it is principally just a scholarly pursuit.

Finally, Alex Oriens uses Muslim convert René Guénon’s (1886-1951) book Introduction Générale à l'Etude des Doctrines Hindoues (“General Introduction to the Study of Hindu Doctrines” ) to analyze my position within the spectrum of Hindu doctrines, calling it “westernized Vedanta” or “neo-Vedanta”. As a matter of fact, I have consciously avoided taking sides in intra-Hindu quarrels and hardly written about them for the first so many years. Of course I had to report truthfully that the reformist Arya Samaj was a major influence on budding Hindu nationalism (with Lala Lajpat Rai and Swami Shraddhananda as key figures); but that doesn’t mean that I opt for the Arya Samaj.

Someone counters Alex Oriens by saying: “Elst's works are relatively free from political bias. He writes truthfully about communalism and is critical of the political establishment in India, including the Sangh and Congress governments. ‘I don’t need to belong to ... any specific ideological categories in order to use my eyes and ears.’" That’s nice, but it hasn’t really percolated to the lemma read by the general public.

Another one of critics doesn’t like my making an issue of the Aryan question: “The ‘Aryan Invasion Debate’ is of a very special nature. It has never been considered in India and Hinduism, through all its long history, but only in very modern times”, probably starting with Swami Dayananda Saraswati ca. 1870.

In reality, the notion of an Aryan Invasion was imported into India from Europe, and its political abuse had dire consequences for India. Of course Hindus then chose to react to it. And just as naturally, they hadn’t made an issue of it in the preceding millennia, when they didn’t know any other version than that the “Aryans” had always lived in India. Noting these facts is not political, but insinuations against this objective attitude are.

“About Elst's comments on ‘revivalism’, the following reference contents detailed proofs of Elst's patent lies and ideological bias: ‘Koenraad Elst--Sangh Parivar's Apologist’ by A. Khan http://communalism.blogspot.com/2003_03_01_communalism_archive.html. Khan's point is substantiated by historical evidences carefully deleted by Elst.”

 

Well well, we’d like to see those evidences. Meanwhile, we note that it is logically impossible to prove anything about me by quoting someone else, moreover someone who is explicit about his hostile intentions. Yes, there are allegations against me. Unlike Sanjay Subrahmanyam and other hostile Professors, this A. Khan even does more than just lazily lambast me. But still he does not prove his points. Or is it that your contributors have a more relaxed definition of proof than scientists do? At any rate, I have replied to my critic A. Khan at length in my book The Problem with Secularism, which is a bigger compliment than my enemies have ever done to me.    

“Now on Elst's secularism standpoint that you mentionned. Once again, it suffices to cite Elst himself to get acquainted with his use of secularism as a weapon to dissimulate other motives:”

Welcome to conspiracy country! People who have proven unable to refute me on the Indian application of the simple notion of “secularism”, now resort to accusing me of ulterior motives.

“In other words, as long as secularism substantiates Elst's point, it is of value. If not, let's reject it. But it is not ‘universal’ secularism that is important to Elst:”

Quite the contrary. Secularists when cornered often resort to the argument that the word “secularism” happens to have different meanings in Europe and India. I however maintain that “secularism” has only one real meaning, that this meaning was already firmly established before the word came to be used in India, and that what prevails in India is therefore something else than secularism.

“In conclusion, Elst's stance suffer from very partisan and ideological bias, and it is important to warn readers in a non-partisan encyclopedy like Wikipedia.”

Well, there you have it. The lemma on me has ended up taking this form because some militant among your contributors purposely wanted to “warn readers” against me. Please cite me an instruction for encyclopedists that names “warning” among the legitimate goals of an encyclopedia.

 

Conclusion

Someone on your talk page tries to sound reasonable. He says: “Elst is a controversial figure, and it is difficult to describe this controversy in a manner which does not inflame feelings on either side of the debate. It serves no purpose to insist on portrayals which clearly show sympathy with one or the other side in this debate, as that is not a description, but partisanship. (…) It serves no purpose to indulge in wars of opinion online here; the readers of Wikipedia are mature enough to follow up on a controversy when it is pointed out to them, and come to their own opinion without the need of pointing them on their way.”

Indeed it serves no purpose to take sides for or against me. But as is clear from your many readers that I have had to deal with, the lemma strongly takes sides, viz. against me. This is intentional, as illustrated by a contributor’s insistence to “warn readers”. Moreover, it is very naïve to think that “the readers of Wikipedia are mature enough to follow up on a controversy when it is pointed out to them, and come to their own opinion without the need of pointing them on their way”. That is too easy a way to deny an encyclopedia’s responsibility. My experience amply teaches that most readers don’t “follow up” on a controversy at all. And among those few who understand the truth of the matter, a majority reasons that the Wikipedia version may be slanderous and the targeted person may be right, but clearly he is the object of a controversy, and therefore to be shunned. To be seen associating with someone who is bad-mouthed on a powerful forum like Wikipedia is sure to bring trouble. So even then, the contributor who wants to “warn readers” against me, has his way.

Now it is up to you to do something about this. Either you remove the lemma altogether, or you straighten it out and apply the rules of encyclopedia-writing to it. At any rate, in a encyclopedia, I count on being judged for what I myself have said or done, and not for the gossip my declared enemies have come up with.

 

Kind regards,

 

Dr. Koenraad Elst

 

11 comments:

ysv_rao said...

Truth be told,I only glanced at your wikipedia page to find some details of a book,otherwise I wouldve brought it to your attention In the meantime cant you edit it yourself?It is wikipedia after all!

Are potential employers so foolish that they rely solely on google search when researching a writer who comments of controversial ideologies?
Surely they must anticipate slander and screen out the noise accordingly.

Koenraad Elst said...

Employers are not into truth. To them it is not important whether Wikipedia is truthful or not. When they hear slander, they may even think that the slanderers are wron,g and I am right. All the same, they reason: this man means trouble if we associate with him, so we'd better avoid him. Slanderers don't care so much whether their slander is believed, they only care whether it conditions people's behaviour. And it does.

ysv_rao said...

I suppose you are right. The point of slander is not to enlighten but to do damage and it often does work.

The good news is on the online front,you have tools to undo much of the damage- you can edit your wikipedia or urge well wishers to do so. And use SEO so that more friendly pages pop up first on google search.

For traditional media, you may have to hire a PR firm or pull in favors from your friends in the media.

Unknown said...

I have read all of elst's writings on VOI and find them very scholarly and informative.I can't believe that he is being slandered on Wikipedia. Slander and character assassination is a typical leftist WMD. Scholarly debate Is not their forte.

Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
ShankaraBharadwaj Khandavalli said...

Hmmm... Wiki. As Swamy Devananda mentioned, these Wiki editors are those who refused to correct the St. Thomas myth on wiki. They are the same who refused under various pretexts to keep out pages on greatest of people like Vasistha Ganapati Muni. They are the same editors who kept pages of calumny (for instance the saffron terror one) while suppressing information that is not so good for colonial masters.

displayname said...

Dear Dr Elst,

Could you mention some sources that discuss your work, so that they could be referenced and mentioned in the article? Wikipedia relies on what has been published about the subject in other sources, so without the support of the right sources it's hard to permanently improve the page in the right direction.

Akshar said...

Dear Mr. Elst,


I tried to edit your page by giving details citations. (Look at the current talk page). However someone reverted my changes without giving me any good reason to do so.

So I escalated the matters to the admins via Quora. They did take a notice and cleaned it up to meet the basic Wikipedia guidelines. Even that basic clean up exercise seems to have cleaned up a lot of nonsense that was there.

You biographical article is is currently queued up on their noticeboard and probably someone will clean it up even more later.

Thanks
Akshar

wikipediaindia said...

There are many on wikipedia who specialize in attacking and smearing pro-Hindus (Biographies of living people articles), like the wikipedia editors Dbachmann, Hornplease, Fowler&Fowler, Sitush and many more.

I'd like to criticize one point in your (otherwise, and as always, excellent) article. These wikipedia contributors, at least not all of them, are not all leftists. For example the user Dbachmann likes to use leftist sources when they can be used to smear Hindus with allegations of facism/racism/nazism (i.e. he is "playing the race card", precisely that what he criticzes in Hindu (and African-American) editors), but in other areas in wikipedia his edits seem more right-wing (for example, he criticizes the leftist politician Cohn-Bendit, and he laments on the talkpage of Scientific racism that the latter is not anymore so accepted in mainstream society (at the same time, of course, he makes the dubious claim in the Wikipedia article on the history of Hinduism that modern Hinduism was influenced by “scientific racism”)).

The most detailed article to the anti-Hindu bias on wikipedia is probably the one at the alt.politics.india Google Groups:
https://groups.google.com/forum/?fromgroups#!topic/alt.politics.india/j9kEYaZ7DrQ

Koenraad Elst said...

Thanks for your contributions. The lemma has indeed been corrected. Not sufficiently, but very substantially.

Karthikrajan said...

Sir,
It is a shame that wikipedia is behaving in this fashion. Either they should get rid of their encyclopedia tag or change their ways.
Just read the article on 'moon landings', you can find the hoax theory being mentioned in it with the statement "some people insist that these landings are a hoax", but never bothers to give the names. This, in spite of the fact that all these hoax theories have been dismantled brick by brick by experts in physics.
At least they should take care while writing articles on persons who are alive, and , a nice hiding you've given them !