(Recently, people from several Hindu quarters have alleged that I have done nothing worthwhile. More about that in a following post. But a group of Delhi citizens thought otherwise and organized a function in my honour on 13 January 2014. There they gave the participants the following survey of my work.)
Dr. Koenraad Elst
Koenraad Elst (°Leuven 1959) grew up in a Catholic family, as the second of five. His father was a law scholar and civil servant, his mother a teacher turned housewife. He distinguished himself early on as eager to learn and to dissent. After school, he spent a few hippie years doing odd jobs while scouting the spiritualist world. Deciding to put his interests on a firmer basis, he studied at the KU Leuven, obtaining MA degrees in Sinology, Indology and Philosophy. After a research stay at Benares Hindu University where he discovered the true nature of India’s religious problems, he did original fieldwork for a doctorate on Hindu nationalism, which he obtained magna cum laude in 1998. He eked out a living with political journalism, mostly on a free-lance basis (e.g. as a correspondent for the Brussels business weekly Trends in 1992-95), sometimes as an employee (e.g. as foreign editor of the Antwerp-based weekly Punt in 2001-2002). He also contributed columns to Indian papers such the late Observer, the Pioneer and the weekly Outlook India. In 2011-13, he served as a research assistant in the Belgian Senate, following foreign policy.
His main focus has always been scholarship, as laid down in 25 books, many papers and numerous articles. Initially, his work received a decisive impetus from the philosopher Ram Swarup (1920-1998) and the historian-publisher Sita Ram Goel (1921-2003), later to evolve under divergent influences but mainly by his own lights. His doctoral thesis, when published in 2001, became an Indian best-seller.
As an independent researcher he earned both laurels and ostracism with his findings on hot items like Islam, multiculturalism and the secular state, the roots of Indo-European, the Ayodhya temple/mosque dispute and Mahatma Gandhi's legacy. He also published on the interface of religion and politics, correlative cosmologies, the dark side of Buddhism, the reinvention of Hinduism, non-Sangh instances of Hindu activism, technical points of Indian and Chinese philosophies, various language policy issues, Maoism, the renewed relevance of Confucius in conservatism, the Asian face of World War 2, the increasing Asian stamp on integrating world civilization, direct democracy, the defence of threatened freedoms, and the Belgian question. Regarding religion, he combines human sympathy with substantive skepticism.
He underwent three life-saving operations, including a heart transplantation in 2007. Though walking with a limp, deaf on one side, heavily myopic and with an impaired sense of balance, he keeps his mind sharp as ever. He and his ex-wife have had four children, now grown up. He lives in a suburb of Antwerp.
Ram Janmabhoomi vs. Babri Masjid, A Case Study in Hindu-Muslim Conflict (Voice of India, 1990): Not a very good book, a typical first, but very necessary at the time. It showed that an unbiased Westerner, when relying on first-hand sources rather than on “secularist” intermediaries, could see for himself that the Ayodhya conflict resulted from one of the numerous temple destructions by Muslim conquerors. It restored the consensus view of only a few years earlier (abandoned only be “secularist” high-handedness), viz. that a Hindu temple had been forcibly replaced by a mosque. The book was presented to the world by L.K. Advani and Girilal Jain, together with Sita Ram Goel’s Hindu Temples, What Happened to Them, and thereby appeared on the cover of most Indian newspapers.
Ayodhya and After. Issues before Hindu Society (Voice of India 1991): A first introduction to all the aspects of India’s religious conflicts. Critics might mention the author’s unfamiliarity with the sociological jargon that dominates the discourse on this subject. That is what makes this book so fresh and untainted. Most themes studied more thoroughly in later books are already treated here.
Negationism in India (Voice of India 1992): Based on a Dutch book review of Sita Ram Goel’s Hindu Temples, this publication grew into a meditation on the similarity between India’s official denial of the destructive Muslim policies in India, almost since the beginning of Islam, and other feats of history denial such as Holocaust negationism.
Indigenous Indians. Agastya to Ambedkar (Voice of India 1993): Part of this book is a first treatment of the Aryan homeland debate, now very much dated because of the many new developments in this controversy. Still relevant is the part about the various political uses of this debate, particularly to pit Indians against other Indians on the basis of an entirely false dichotomy between invaders and natives. It shows the similarities between European anti-Semitism and Indian anti-Brahmanism. Original at the time, but fairly common knowledge now, is the revelation of Dr. B.R. Ambedkar’s harsh Islam criticism, of his important but confused history of the caste system, and of his opposition to the Aryan Invasion Theory. The Ambedkar chapter was also separately published as Ambedkar, a True Aryan (Voice of India 1993).
Psychology of Prophetism (Voice of India 1993): Seeing that Indians tend to display a shocking ignorance about Christianity and a great gullibility vis-à-vis the syrupy stories peddled by the missionaries and their “secularist” loudspeakers, the author put together a survey of some recent scientific Bible criticism for the Indian public. Given the mass of Bible scholarship by both Christians and post-Christians, it is still very incomplete, but covers some debunkers of the founding Christian myths. Special attention goes to the 20th-century scholars who diagnosed a psychological problem behind several prophetic careers, most sensationally that of Jesus. This culminated in the presentation of the work of Herman Somers, whom he befriended in person.
BJP vs. Hindu Resurgence (Voice of India 1997): One of his most important books, a twin volume of the collection of testimonies edited by Sita Ram Goel, Time for Stock-Taking. Whither Sangh Parivar? It takes stock of the relation between Hindu ideals and the actual performance of the RSS-BJP. The book was totally vindicated by the BJP’s terms in power in 1998-2004, when not even a token gesture towards Hindu demands such as a Common Civil Code or the resettlements of the Hindu refugees from Kashmir was made.
The Demographic Siege (Voice of India 1998): This booklet counters the soothing “secularist” propaganda by giving the true demographic figures and deducing from these an unmistakable procentual growth of the Muslim population in India. It concludes that in the mid-long term, the choice is between an Islamic take-over or a massive walk-out by born Muslims from Islam.
Update on the Aryan Invasion Debate (Aditya Prakashan 1999): An overview of the debating points in the ongoing controversy about Indo-European origins. While a few points were wrong or have been superseded, most of the book remains valid. Its overview of the political use of the AIT and some of its linguistic arguments have not been repeated anywhere else ever since.
Decolonizing the Hindu Mind. Political Development of Hindu Revivalism (Rupa 2001): The book version of most of his Ph.D. thesis, defended in 1998. A very thorough treatment of the Hindu movement since before its official genesis in the 1920s and until the very end of the 1990s. Unlike other Westerners, he has been able to get a real inside look in the Hindu movement. Even rarer, he has been able to shed the usual bias that dooms this line of research to a very jaundiced view and to laughter among future generations. He shows how “nationalism is a misstatement of Hindu concerns”.
The Saffron Swastika. On the Notion of “Hindu Fascism” (Voice of India 2001): A very ambitious 2-volume book, of which the only shortcoming is that it could have been even more complete. It dissects processes of slander and its application to the media’s hostile treatment of the organized Hindu movement. It is the only publication in the world (except for its sequel, Return of the Swastika) to analyze and refute the now-common allegation that Guru Golwalkar in his book We (1939) proves to be some sort of Nazi.
Gandhi and Godse, a Review and a Critique (Voice of India 2001): Worldwide the only complete analysis of the stated reasons why Mahatma Gandhi was murdered. It proves that by his act, assassin Nathuram Godse was an extremist, but in his criticism of the Mahatma, he expressed opinions uttered by many. Against common Hindu diatribes blaming Gandhi, however, it shows that Gandhi’s failure vis-à-vis Islam was really Hindu society’s failure. Also published in Dutch (Davidsfonds 1998, Aspekt 2009) and French (Les Belles Lettres 2004).
Who Is a Hindu? Hindu Revivalist Views of Animism, Buddhism, Sikhism and Other Offshoots of Hinduism (Voice of India 2002): Historically, the word “Hindu” means: an Indian Pagan, nothing more, nothing less. The Muslim invaders who brought this word into India and first used it in a religious sense (in Pagan Iran it had simple meant “Indian”), saw no fundamental difference between Brahmins and Buddhists, Tribals and Jains, Rajputs and Other Backward Castes, Lingayats and Sikhs. To them, all these groups had this in common, that they were bound for hell. So, it is not difficult to answer the question who is a Hindu straightforwardly. But because the “secularists” and other anti-Hindu agitators like to make simple things difficult, questions like “are neo-Buddhists Hindus?” have become politically meaningful, so a painstaking answer is provided.
Ayodhya: the Case against the Temple (Voice of India 2002). A very good collection of papers on the Ayodhya contention and on various topics that have come up in the Ayodhya debate: Ashoka vs. Pushyamitra, Harsha of Kashmir, the secularist whitewash of Aurangzeb, or the Bodh Gaya temple controversy. It also contains rebuttals of Romila Thapar, Sanjay Subramaniam, Richard Eaton, Yoginder Sikand, Amber Habib and of the first scholarly criticism of Sita Ram Goel, viz. by Mitsuhiro Kondō, a Japanese woman toeing the Indian “secularist” line.
Ayodhya, the Finale: Science versus Secularism in the Excavations Debate (Voice of India 2003): A survey of the “secularist” reactions to the Court-mandated excavations at the contentious site in Ayodhya, carried out by the Archaeological Survey of India and of which the findings favoured the Hindu claim. While the truth of the scientific findings is of one piece, it was fascinating to see how many different and contradictory lies were thought up by “secularists” unwilling to face the facts.
Return of the Swastika (Voice of India 2006): The author takes up some further issues raised by the “RSS = Nazi” slander campaign, such as the common but wholly mendacious claim that Narendra Modi had the history textbooks in Gujarat whitewash Hitler’s record. He analyzes various exaggerations and pure myths pertaining to the Nazi connections to Hinduism. Developing the Golwalkar argument further, he also criticizes the RSS policy of falsely omitting We from Golwalkar’s “Complete” Works. Following an oft-repeated pattern, two leading secularists criticized in this book, Meera Nanda and Sanjay Subramaniam, have struck back with campaigns of slander, since they found themselves unable to reply on contents.
Asterisk in Bhāropīyasthān. Minor Writings on the Aryan Invasion Debate (2007): A collection of scholarly papers on the evolving Aryan homeland debate. One of them exposes the petty professorial politicking by leading Aryan Invasion champion Michael Witzel. For the rest, the author remains aware that most scholars simply don’t know the arguments for an alternative homeland, so he develops these further, esp. the linguistic argument and the argument from the astronomical data. He sets the record straight on the political use of the different positions in the debate.
The Problem with Secularism (Voice of India 2007): A collection of papers on Indian “secularism”. It contains rebuttals of cases made by Robert Hathaway, Mira Kamdar, Thomas Hansen, Ayub Khan and implicitly by the artist M.F. Husain. It contains a remarkable psychological analysis of Mohammed’s Quranic trance.
The Argumentative Hindu. Essays by an Unaffiliated Orientalist (Aditya Prakashan 2012): A collection of numerous recent book reviews, scholarly papers as well as reports on the modus operandi of various “secularists” in India and in the Hindu-born diaspora. The title is an allusion to (and correction of) a book title by Amartya Sen, the subtitle to the description the author gave himself when participating in on-line discussions. The book contains veritable classics such as his paper setting the record straight on Thomas Babington Macaulay and his paper broadening the study of the Hindu movement to new non-Sangh groups. He also thoroughly analyzes several cases of “secularist” slander and censorship.
Books in which Dr. Elst had a hand
He has also co-authored or edited or co-edited a number of books, published in Belgium, the USA and India. Most important for the Hindu cause are these three:
Editor of The Prolonged Partition and Its Pogroms. Testimonies on Violence against Hindus in East Bengal 1946-64 by A.J. Kamra (Voice of India 2000): Details the massacres in the erstwhile East Pakistan. Even discounting the Partition massacres and the attempted genocide of 1971, the Muslim massacres of the Hindus in East Pakistan already surpass all communal massacres in India combined (while 1971 simply dwarfs them), yet were or are never referred to in the world media.
Co-editor of Gujarat after Godhra. Real Violence, Selective Outrage (Har-Anand Publications 2003, with Prof. Ramesh Rao): Collection of papers on the Hindu, Muslim and “secularist” reactions to the Gujarat riots (early 2002) provoked by the Godhra train massacre, and prematurely blamed on Narendra Modi and the Hindu movement.
Editor of India’s Only Communalist. In Commemoration of Sita Ram Goel (Voice of India 2005): Collection of a number of comments on or inspired by the historian-publisher Sita Ram Goel.
Contributions to others’ books
Among the contributions to books edited by others, note these:
Several articles in the second edition of Ishwar Sharan’s The Myth of Saint Thomas and the Mylapore Shiva Temple (Voice of India 1997).
An article on an attempt to ban a book by Ram Swarup, in Sita Ram Goel, ed.: Freedom of Expression (Voice of India 1998).
Postscript to the Indian (Voice of India 1998) and the second American edition (Transaction, New Brunswick 2003) of Daniel Pipes’s The Rushdie Affair.
An introduction to Sita Ram Goel’s work, in Arvind Sharma, ed.: Hinduism and Secularism after Ayodhya (Palgrave, New York 2001).
A paper on the linguistics pertinent to the Indo-European homeland question, in Edwin Bryant & Laurie Patton, eds.: The Indo-Aryan Controversy. Evidence and Inference in Indian History (Routledge, New York 2005).
An paper on Christianity’s indebtedness to India, in P. Paramesvaran, ed.: Expressions of Christianity, with a focus on India (Vivekananda Kendra Prakashan, Chennai 2007).
A paper of Friedrich Nietzsche’s use of the Manu Smṛti and his defective comprehension of Hindu thought and society, in Herman Siemens & Vasti Roodt, eds.: Nietzsche, Power and Politics (Walter de Gruyter, Berlin 2008).
A paper on humour in Hinduism, in Hans Geybels & Walter Van Herck, eds.: Humour and Religion, Challenges and Ambiguities (Continuum, London 2011).
A paper on recent linguistic developments pertinent to the Indo-European homeland question, in Angela Marcantonio & Girish Nath Jha, eds.: Perspectives on the Origin of Indian Civilization (DK Printworld, Delhi 2013).
Papers in periodicals
Among published papers, note especially:
“Ayodhya’s three history debates”, in Journal of Indian History and Culture (Chennai), September 2011.
“The gatherings of the elders: the beginnings of a Pagan international”, Pomegranate (Equinox, Sheffield UK) 2012/1.
Among his Dutch publications, the following are worth mentioning here:
Het boek bij het Boek (“The companion book to the Book”, Waregem 2009), one of his three Dutch books on Islam, consists of a number of reviews of books, films and public debates about Islam, and specifically about the Qur’an, collected from his journalistic output in 1992-2008. It is very lively and casts a candid look on unexpected angles of Islam, while laying bare the biases conditioning the mainstream commentators’ views of Mohammed’s religion.
The India chapter in Wim Van Rooy & Sam Van Rooy, eds.: De islam. Kritische essays over een politieke religie (“Islam: Critical Essays on a Political Edition”), ASP, Brussels 2010.
De donkere zijde van het boeddhisme (“The Dark Side of Buddhism”, Mens & Cultuur, Ghent 2010) notes that all religions are being criticized except Buddhism, which is only being idealized. So he asks a number of critical questions and goes over the Buddhist doctrines as well as over Buddhism’s historical record. His conclusion: in spite of some flaws, the over-all picture of Buddhism is not so dark at all. This book will be translated.
Heidendom in India: hindoeïsme en christendom, dialoog tussen vreemden (“Paganism in India: Hindus and Christians, Dialogue between Strangers”, Mens & Cultuur, Ghent 2014): about the ongoing relations between Hinduism and Christianity. The author shows that, despite diplomatic moves and a façade of dialogue efforts, the relation is essentially conflictual, with Christianity partly attacking and partly (to apply Rajiv Malhotra’s important concept: ) digesting Hinduism. In this conflict, Hindus are the weaker party because of lack of awareness and of strategy.