Friday, December 2, 2011

Guru Tegh Bahadur’s martyrdom

Guru Tegh Bahadur’s martyrdom is usually interpreted as an act of self-sacrifice for the sake of the Kashmiri Pandits threatened with forced conversion. As such, it is a classic Hindutva proof of the Hinduness of Sikhism, though it is also a classic neo-Sikh proof of the “secularism” of Sikhism (“showing concern even for people of a different religion, viz. Hinduism”). However, this whole debate may well rest upon a simple misunderstanding.

In most Indo-Aryan languages, the oft-used honorific mode of the singular is expressed by the same pronoun as the plural (e.g. Hindi unkâ, “his” or “their”, as opposed to the non-honorific singular uskâ), and vice-versa; by contrast, the singular form only indicates a singular subject. The phrase commonly translated as “the Lord preserved their tilak and sacred thread” (tilak-janjû râkhâ Prabh tâ-kâ), referring to unnamed outsiders assumed to be the Kashmiri Pandits, literally means that He “preserved his tilak and sacred thread”, meaning Tegh Bahadur’s. It would already be unusual poetic liberty to render “their tilak and sacred thread” this way, and even if that were intended, there is still no mention of the Kashmiri Pandits in the story.

This is confirmed by one of the following lines in Govind’s poem about his father’s martyrdom: “He suffered martyrdom for the sake of his faith.” In any case, the story of forced mass conversions in Kashmir by the Moghul emperor Aurangzeb is not supported by the detailed record of his reign by Muslim chronicles who narrate many accounts of his bigotry.

Tegh Bahadur’s martyrdom in 1675 was of course in the service of Hinduism, in that it was an act of opposing Aurangzeb’s policy of forcible conversion. An arrest warrant against him had been issued on non-religious and non-political charges, and he was found out after having gone into hiding; Aurangzeb gave him a chance to escape his punishment by converting to Islam. Being a devout Muslim, Aurangzeb calculated that the conversion of this Hindu sect leader would encourage his followers to convert along with him. The Guru was tortured and beheaded when he refused the offer to accept Islam, and one of his companions was sawed in two for having said that Islam should be destroyed.

At any rate, he stood firm as a Hindu, telling Aurangzeb that he loved his Hindu Dharma and that Hindu Dharma would never die,-- a statement conveniently overlooked in most neo-Sikh accounts. He was not a Sikh defending Hinduism, but a Hindu of the Nanakpanth defending his own Hindu religion. However, even Tegh Bahadur never was a warrior against the Moghul empire; indeed, the birth of his son Govind in the eastern city of Patna was a souvenir of his own enlistment in the party of a Moghul general on a military expedition to Assam.

Though Govind Singh is considered as the founder of the Khalsa order (1699) who “gave his Sikhs an outward form distinct from the Hindus” he too did things which Sikh separatists would dismiss as “brahminical”. As Khushwant Singh notes, “Gobind selected five of the most scholarly of his disciples and sent them to Benares to learn Sanskrit and the Hindu religious texts, to be better able to interpret the writings of the gurus, which were full of allusions to Hindu mythology and philosophy". Arun Shourie quotes Govind Singh as declaring: “Let the path of the pure [khâlsâ panth] prevail all over the world, let the Hindu dharma dawn and all delusion disappear. (…) May I spread dharma and prestige of the Veda in the world and erase from it the sin of cow-slaughter.”

Ram Swarup adds a psychological reason for the recent Sikh attempt to sever the ties with Hindu society and the Indian state: “‘You have been our defenders’, Hindus tell the Sikhs. But in the present psychology, the compliment wins only contempt -- and I believe rightly. For self-despisement is the surest way of losing a friend or even a brother. It also gives the Sikhs an exaggerated self-assessment."

Ram Swarup hints at the question of the historicity of the belief that “Sikhism is the sword-arm of Hinduism”, widespread among Hindus. It is well-known that the Sikhs were the most combative in fighting Muslims during the Partition massacres, and that they were also singled out by Muslims for slaughter. The image of Sikhs as the most fearsome among the Infidels still lingers in the Muslim mind; it is apparently for this reason that Saudi Arabia excludes Sikhs (like Jews) from employment within its borders. Yet, the story for the earlier period is not that clear-cut. Given the centrality of the image of Sikhism as the “sword-arm of Hinduism”, it is well worth our while to verify the record of Sikh struggles against Islam.

In the Guru lineage, we don’t see much physical fighting for Hinduism. Guru Nanak was a poet and a genuine saint, but not a warrior. His successors were poets, not all of them saintly, and made a living with regular occupations such as horse-trading. Guru Arjun’s martyrdom was not due to any anti-Muslim rebellion but to the suspicion by Moghul Emperor Jahangir that he had supported a failed rebellion by Jahangir’s son Khusrau, i.e. a Muslim palace revolution aimed at continuing the Moghul Empire but with someone else sitting on the throne. Arjun refused to pay the fine which Jahangir imposed on him, not as an act of defiance against Moghul sovereignty but because he denied the charges (which amounted to pleading his loyalty to Jahangir); it was then that Jahangir ordered a tougher punishment. At any rate, Arjun was never accused of raising the sword against Jahangir, merely of giving temporary shelter to Khusrau.

Tegh Bahadur’s son and successor, Govind Singh, only fought the Moghul army when he was forced to, and it was hardly to protect Hinduism. His men had been plundering the domains of the semi-independent Hindu Rajas in the hills of northeastern Panjab, who had given him asylum after his father’s execution. Pro-Govind accounts in the Hindutva camp equate Govind’s plundering with the Chauth tax which Shivaji imposed to finance his fight against the Moghuls; they allege that the Rajas were selfishly attached to their wealth while Govind was risking his life for the Hindu cause.

The Rajas, after failed attempts to restore law and order, appealed to their Moghul suzerain for help, or at least to the nearest Moghul governor. So, a confrontation ensued, not because Govind Singh had defied the mighty Moghul Empire, but because the Moghul Empire discharged its feudal duties toward its vassals, i.c. to punish what to them was an ungrateful guest turned robber.

Govind was defeated and his two eldest sons killed in battle; many Sikhs left him in anger at his foolhardy tactics. During Govind Singh’s flight, a Brahmin family concealed Govind’s two remaining sons (Hindus protecting Sikhs, not the other way around), but they were found out and the boys were killed.

The death of Govind’s sons provides yet another demythologizing insight about Govind Singh through its obvious connection with his abolition of the Guru lineage. A believer may, of course, assume that it was because of some divine instruction that Govind replaced the living Guru lineage with the Granth, a mere book (a replacement of the Hindu institution of gurudom with the Book-centred model of Islam). However, a more down-to-earth hypothesis which takes care of all the facts is that after the death of all his sons, Govind Singh simply could not conceive of the Guru lineage as not continuing within his own family.

After his defeat and escape (made possible by the self-sacrifice of a disciple who impersonated the Guru), Govind Singh in his turn became a loyal subject of the Moghul Empire. He felt he had been treated unfairly by the local governor, Wazir Khan, so he did what aggrieved vassals do: he wrote a letter of complaint to his suzerain, not through the hierarchical channels but straight to the Padeshah. In spite of its title and its sometimes defiant wording, this “victory letter” (Zafar Nâma) to Aurangzeb is fundamentally submissive. Among other things, Govind assures Aurangzeb that he is just as much an idol-breaker as the Padeshah himself: “I am the destroyer of turbulent hillmen, since they are idolators and I am the breaker of idols.” Aurangzeb was sufficiently pleased with the correspondence (possibly several letters) he received from the Guru, for he ordered Wazir Khan not to trouble Govind any longer.

After Aurangzeb’s death in 1707, Govind tried to curry favour with the heir-apparent and effective successor, Bahadur Shah, and supported him militarily in the war of succession. His fight was for one of the Moghul factions and against the rival Moghul faction, not for Hinduism and against the Moghul Empire as such. In fact, one of the battles he fought on Bahadur Shah’s side was against rebellious Rajputs. As a reward for his services, the new Padeshah gave Govind a fief in Nanded on the Godavari river in the south, far from his natural constituency in Panjab. To acquaint himself with his new property, he followed Bahadur Shah on an expedition to the south (leaving his wives in Delhi under Moghul protection), but there he himself was stabbed by two Pathan assassins (possibly sent by Wazir Khan, who feared Govind Singh’s influence on Bahadur Shah) in 1708. His death had nothing to do with any fight against the Moghuls or for Hinduism.

So far, it is hard to see where the Sikhs have acted as the sword-arm of Hinduism against Islam. If secularism means staying on reasonable terms with both Hindus and Muslims, we could concede that the Gurus generally did steer a “secular” course. Not that this is shameful: in the circumstances, taking on the Moghul Empire would have been suicidal.

In his last months, Govind Singh had become friends with the Hindu renunciate Banda Bairagi. This Banda went to Panjab and rallied the Sikhs around himself. At long last, it was he as a non-Sikh who took the initiative to wage an all-out offensive against the Moghul Empire. It was a long-drawn-out and no-holds-barred confrontation which ended in general defeat and the execution of Banda and his lieutenants (1716). Once more, the Sikhs became vassals of the Moghuls for several decades until the Marathas broke the back of the Moghul empire in the mid-18th century. Only then, in the wake of the Maratha expansion, did the Sikhs score some lasting victories against Moghul and Pathan power.

We may conclude that Ram Swarup has a point when he questions the Hindu attitude of self-depreciation and gratefulness towards the Sikh “sword-arm”. Sikh history has its moments of heroism, but not particularly more than that of the Marathas or Rajputs. And like the Rajputs and Marathas, Sikhism also has a history of collaboration with the Moghul throne.

Read more!

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Against Hindu identity

Among Indologists, it is now advised to avoid or at least problematize the word “Hindu”. Among the reasons for this wariness: Hindus themselves have only been using it for a few centuries, it is not mentioned in scripture but was tagged onto them by outsiders, it blurs important inter-Hindu distinctions and conflicts, and most objectionably, it is now the badge claimed by Hindu nationalists. Retired Delhi University historian Dwijendra Narayan Jha has continued the process of “Deconstructing Hindu identity” in an essay for the general public with that title, and it has now been published in a booklet, Rethinking Hindu Identity, along with essays on the “myth” of Hindu tolerance and on the sacred cow.

Regarding the latter point, his case is convincing enough. A good handful of passages in ancient texts are shown to confirm that the Vedic cattle-herders considered beef a normal part of their diet. In the pre-Buddhist age, the cow’s (like the horse’s) very aura of sacredness sometimes caused it to be ritually eaten. Her inviolability is among the sclerotic-eccentric traits typical only of the Puranic-Shastric phase of Hinduism crystallized from the Shunga era (2nd BCE) onwards.

On Hindu identity too, he doesn’t find it difficult to show that the term “Hindu” is fairly recent and introduced by Muslims in the catch-all sense of “any Indian non-Muslim”. Even in modern legislation, “Hindu” is only a “negative appellation” comprising “all non-Abrahamic religions” of India (p.65). The term Sanâtana Dharma, by contrast, is already “mentioned frequently in the Brahmanical texts”, though in varied meanings, but it too only acquired its value of indigenous synonym for the exonym “Hinduism” in the 19th century (p.20-21). Likewise, the notion of Bhâratvarsha, far from being eternal in its classical sense of “the Subcontinent”, is documented to have originally referred to smaller territories, not including Magadha and the Deccan. Alas, this paper is marred by an unsubstantiated accusation against colleague Prof. B.B. Lal, dean of Indian archaeology, for “systematic abuse of archaeology” (p.14), viz. for seeing continuities between Harappan and Hindu material culture.

Prof. Jha’s bias is showing badly in his paper on tolerance, which attacks the received wisdom that Hinduism is comparatively tolerant of other religions and of dissent in its own ranks. Here, he casts his net for instances of “Hindu intolerance” very wide. Mere doctrinal disputes, the very life-blood of intellectual culture, are cited as proving “inherent intolerance”, e.g. the denunciation of the Buddha as a false prophet incarnated merely to “brainwash” the demons (p.45). So is the principle that non-Hindus were welcome to convert, and ex-Hindus to reconvert, to Hinduism (p.47); or that the Virashaivas “engaged in conversion activities in a systematic manner” (p.44). Perhaps he doesn’t realize the implication of his own position, viz. that by these standards, proselytising religions like Christianity and Islam, even without counting crusades and jihad, are ipso facto intrinsically “intolerant”. That point has indeed been made often enough by apostate Christians and Muslims, but in India it is usually vetoed as “Hindu communalist propaganda”.

His eagerness to accumulate incriminating testimony makes him include allegations made by modern and arguably partisan sources as if they were actual evidence, e.g. a colleague is cited as claiming a Tibetan chronicle Pag-sam-jon-zang for “the burning of the library of Nalanda by some ‘Hindu fanatics’, not by Bakhtiyar Khilji as is commonly believed” (p.35). This Tibetan chronicle can be consulted online, and we haven’t found anything about “Hindu fanatics” there. This allegation is a 20th-century “interpretation” at best, far from the primary testimony a historian should prefer. It is also highly implausible.

It says, after all, that mostly Hindu kings of the Ganga plain had patronized Buddhist institutions for 16 centuries (-5th to +12th), letting them flourish mightily according to Chinese and Tibetan visitors, then suddenly destroyed them in the nick of time before the arrival of the Muslim conquerors, who boast in their records of having destroyed the Buddhist institutions of which they had only found the smoking ruins. Khilji’s starring role in the destruction of Indian Buddhism is well-documented in contemporaneous Muslim sources and cannot be shifted to unnamed Hindu bogeys so cavalierly.

During the Government-sponsored scholars’ debate on the evidence for the demolished Ayodhya temple in 1990-91, Jha was a member of the Babri Masjid Action Committee’s delegation against the Vishva Hindu Parishad. Like then, his intervention now in the debate on the purported tolerance and the very existence of “Hinduism” is not an impartisan source from which debaters could borrow authoritative arguments; it is itself one side of the polemic. Which is permitted, but should be kept in mind by the reader.

Review of D.N. Jha: Rethinking Hindu Identity, London/Oakville: Equinox, 2009. 100 pp., $85 HB, $28,95 PB. Published in Journal of Asian Studies, Cambridge University Press, August 2011, p.872-874.

Read more!

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

The Greek referendum

All Saints' Day 2011. After the EU leaders have cobbled together a financial arrangement intended to save the Greek exchequer and economy at huge expense to the North-European taxpayers as well as to the Greek workers and pensioners, Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou now risks exploding the whole operation by calling a referendum. The Greek electorate, less than enthusiastic about the sternly conditional "aid package", may well abort it. Some first thoughts on the Greek referendum.

(1) The decision to decide by referendum is in itself excellent. The problem is that, like most referendums under parliamentary regimes and dictatorships, it is just a one-off referendum, not one embedded in a stable political culture based on regular lawmaking by referendum. True to type, it is called by the executive, not by the citizens themselves. This way, governments call referendums when they expect the popular preference to coincide with their own, all while avoiding or suppressing them in the opposite case. So, as an exercise in democracy, this promises to be a tainted referendum.

(2) Nevertheless, for most Eurocrats and their pall-bearers in the media, the Greek referendum is already far too democratic. Just last week, they already clamoured that Europe and her future were being "taken hostage" by the German Parliament when it insisted on exercising its constitutional right to decide on Chancellor Merkel's plan for saving Greece and the euro. In the Eurocratic view, echoing the rhetoric of all despots and anti-democratic ideologues throughout history, unelected Eurocratic committees should have their hands free to make the policy of their choosing,
unencumbered with democratic procedures. In fact, the expected conflict between the EU-charted course and the will of the people (not just the Greek people, for in this case, the Dutch or Finnish voters may well be on the same wavelength, viz. unenthusiastic) would have been avoided if earlier phases of the financial and economic policies affected had already been subjected to referendums. There was no need to fear a democratic vote on the Greek bail-out if a democratic mandate had earlier been secured for the steps that got us to this impasse, such as the introduction of the euro.

(3) In the expected and much-feared event of a "No" vote, the EU leaders have the option of taking the Greeks at their word and withdrawing the whole operation. That would mean: letting the Greek state go bankrupt. Considering contemporary citizens' dependence on the state, most observers will take that eventuality as too horrible to contemplate. But perhaps we just ought to take the wager. If Greek society collapses along with the state and cries for help, we can still send food aid, an ad hoc police force and all that. But possibly the Greek citizenry will prove more resourceful than to let it come to that point. Should be an interesting experiment.

(4) Since Eurocrats don't like experimentation, they can be counted on to unleash every trick in the book in order to prevent the Greeks from voting or, if that goes through somehow, from voting "wrongly". A multiple of the intimidation used on the Irish when they were forced to re-vote on the Lisbon Treaty (the renamed European Constitution draft) will now be rained down on the Greeks. To be sure, the Eurocrats may be right to this extent that in economic terms, their plan is perhaps a lesser evil compared with the prospect of Greek bankruptcy. But because present policies have never had a serious democratic basis, they will now resort to subverting or overruling democracy in order to force their solution on the people.

(5) Greece is now accused of being ungrateful. Of course, the EU powers-that-be are really trying to save the banks that have partly caused this mess and entangled themselves in it because the fall of those banks would in turn badly affect the whole other European economy; it is not like as if they are being altruistic towards Greece. Yet some tough questions do indeed deserve to be asked. Have any Greeks protested when their politicians were lying their way into the Eurozone by giving their EU partners false data about Greek state finance? Who among them has tried to stop their public spending from running wild? (Likewise, the Icelanders could be asked whether they reined in their banks when these were bringing in the money of duped investors who later demanded their money back from the Icelandic taxpayer.) Granted that the banks are selfish and irresponsible and thieves, and that it is an ugly sight to see taxpayers forced to bail them out, but the politicians and the common people also share in the responsibility.

(6) In an undemocratic system, such as the present parliamentary system with its delegation of powers to unelected levels of decision-making such as the EU, the temptation is very strong to contrast "the people", those innocent sheep, with "the politicians", that band of robbers. On many issues, the interests of the political class and of the citizenry diverge; but in the case of Greek financial irresponsibility, they may have converged. When it came to over-spending on social security and civil servants' wages, and to cheating the EU partners into facilitating this over-spending by allowing Greece prematurely into the Eurozone, the impression exists that Greek commoners and Greek politicians were on the same wavelength. Democratic-minded people should get out of this mindset of blaming a political class placed above them and washing their own hands off all responsibility.

(7) The great virtue of direct democracy is that decisions are made by those who bear the consequences of these decisions. Some commentators are sure to protest that the consequences of the Greek referendum will affect all Eurozone and even all EU citizens, most of whom are not entitled to cast a vote in Greece: "The Greeks are holding hundreds of millions of Europeans hostage!" They said the same thing about the Irish when they were delaying the Lisbon Treaty, when in fact the Eurocrats and these commentators did what they could to prevent all those other Europeans from voting, knowing fully well that the far more numerous German or British electorate would likewise vote it down if given a chance. As said here at the outset, the Greek referendum is tainted because it is held in the context of a non-referendum-based system. But if we ever want to make a start with European democracy, we should not postpone the opportunity and make the most of it. Even the certainty that the anti-democratic forces are going the use any problems accompanying the outcome as trump arguments to criminalize the very idea of popular sovereignty should not be accepted as an excuse. Let Greece be the trailblazer of direct democracy once more.

Read more!

Friday, October 7, 2011

Clash of civilizations cancelled

After the collapse of the Soviet bloc, the attention of the public intellectuals was drawn by two influential books spelling out the post-Cold-War world situation. Francis Fukuyama’s The End of History claimed that utopia had started with the definitive victory of liberal-democratic capitalism, which would soon turn the whole world into a US suburb. Samuel Huntington’s The Clash of Civilizations provided a dystopian counterpoint, predicting that all civilizational identities would reassert themselves and provide the grounds for new worldwide conflicts, especially between the still-dominant West and two challengers, the Islamic world and the “Confucian” civilization of China.

However, no one has really gone on to theorize the conflict of interests between the West and China in civilizational terms, framing it rather as old-style Great-Power politics. So, the “clash of civilizations” effectively means the conflict between the West and Islam. Incidentally, Huntington was not aware that already in the 1980s, Times of India editor Girilal Jain discussed the triangular Hindu-Islamic-Western conflicts of interest in civilisational terms. Apart from the clash’s Western and westernized-Indian theorists, the vast majority of adherents to the doctrine of civilizational conflict are militant Muslims, who see this as merely a continuation of the religious war declared by Mohammed against the Infidels.

Now two French intellectuals, demographer Youssef Courbage and historian-anthropologist Emmanuel Todd, have come out with a presentation of demographic and anthropological data that should undermine the whole notion of the fabled clash. It is titled Le Rendez-Vous des Civilisations (Le Seuil, Paris), i.e. “the meeting of civilizations”. In the main, they develop two theses. One, the demographic explosion of the Muslim world so feared by Westerners (and Hindus) is largely a thing of the past. Two, Islam is highly insufficient as explanation for the conduct and the policies of “Muslim” societies, because they preserve many local pre-Islamic customs and sensibilities, often sharing these with societies on the other side of the “civilizational” border, as well as adopting post-Islamic ideologies, most of all nationalism.

Muslims no different

The authors give a detailed overview of demographic evolutions worldwide of the past few centuries and identify the factors of a decline in birth figures. Exceptions notwithstanding, the best predictor of a decline in fertility is female literacy, with 50% female literacy typically coinciding within a decade or so with a sharp downturn in fertility. This trend is as visible among Muslim as among Christian and Hindu populations. But truth to tell, the authors’ own data, while confirming a similar trend among Muslims, also show that by and large, the resultant fertility level among educated and affluent Muslim populations is still sizably higher than among non-Muslims, even remaining very high in wealthy Saudi Arabia, so that they continue to gain demographic ground over the non-Muslim populations.

And in cases where Muslims do follow Christians (or, most ahead, the Japanese) to a fertility figure below replacement level, a threshold recently crossed in Iran and in Bosnia, the fact that it happened much later among Muslims assures further comparative demographic gains before a net population decline sets in. Thus, in Iran the number of children including girls has grown rapidly in the preceding decades, so now the number of young mothers is still rising and even with fewer than 2.1 births per woman, the number of births also continues to rise. And when that number finally starts to decline, it will still for many years be higher than that of elderly Iranians dying, so in the authors’ estimate, Iran’s population will still rise another 20 million or so before levelling off. Even if the reproductive conduct of Muslim societies cannot be described as “demographic aggression”, it does lead to a steady rise in Muslim percentage in practically every country concerned.

For South Asia, the authors’ data, based on many surveys and sources beside the official census reports, confirm the picture given by A.P. Joshi, M.D. Srinivas and J.K. Bajaj in their detailed study Religious Demography of India (Centre for Policy Studies, Chennai 2003). In every state in India without exception, including the economically and educationally most advanced, the Muslim growth rate is far above replacement level and far above the figures for the Hindu majority and for other minorities. If stated by a Hindu, Indian secularists usually dismiss this finding as mere “hate propaganda”. In 1993, Mani Shankar Aiyar claimed that the Muslim percentage in India would forever remain at 11%; but only 15 years later, it is easily 14%. And on top of this, India is outpaced by her Muslim neighbours Pakistan and Bangladesh, whence millions more are bound to seek living space in India.

With 4,6 children per woman in 2005, Pakistan grows faster than the Arab countries (except for Yemen and the Palestinians) and much faster than India. Indeed, it is on course to overtaking the US as third most populous country in the world well before the end of the century. Bangladesh used to be praised by demographers because it realised a downturn in birth rate in 1970, decades before reaching 50% female literacy (simply due to the physical pressures of overpopulation), but now disappoints them with a continually low marriage age and with a birth rate steady at ca. 3 per woman. According to Courbage and Todd, “the Muslim population of the Indian subcontinent would reach 820 million by 2050 against 1200 million non-Muslims. Equal numbers with and even bypassing of the non-Muslim would be possible by century’s end.” (p.103)

Mind you, these are the findings of two scholars who have set out to counter the current anti-Muslim alarmist feelings in Europe and, by extension, in India. If any bias could be detected here, it would be on the slightly pro-Muslim side. Thus, they claim that the stagnation in Bangladesh’s population control policies is due to low literacy rather than to the impact of Islam, overlooking the fact that religion does have an impact on a society’s enthusiasm for literacy. They relay, doubtlessly in good faith, the Pakistani-cum-secularist story that the “Urdu-speaking Mohajirs” were “expelled from India after the Partition in 1947”, when in fact the Mohajirs migrated by choice to Pakistan, the promised land they themselves had created by campaigning for Partition in the preceding years. The “symmetry fallacy” of evenly distributing guilt between two warring parties, in this case by pretending that Muslims in India had been given the same eliminationist treatment as Hindus and Sikhs in Pakistan, is one of the cheapest disinformation techniques around, because it resonates with the public’s mental laziness so averse to making distinctions.

The “Islamophobic” image of the Muslims as a phalanx united and mobilized for demographic warfare is successfully deconstructed here, yet the hard data keep on showing a Muslim advance. While rising Muslim percentages may not stem from a conspiracy, Muslim leaders do read strategic implications into the trend. Thus, Algeria’s Houari Boumédienne and Libya’s Moammar al-Kadhafi have openly said that they expect to take over Europe by breeding a Muslim majority there. They certainly believe in a clash of civilizations and expect to come out victorious.

If there need not be much of a clash, as I am inclined to think, the reasons are other than demographical. It is simply that born Muslims may lose their commitment to Islam, and in many places are indeed leaving Islam, either formally or at least mentally. Even Islamic militants are interiorizing modern “Western” values and modes of thinking faster than they realize. Thus, the Islamic Republic of Iran has a flourishing film industry. Even if films are made glorifying Muslim heroes in order to instil Islamic enthusiasm in the audience, the very use of the medium of cinema is already intrinsically un-Islamic. Apart from breaking the taboo on the depiction of human beings, it brings in all kinds of ideas and attitudes typical of Infidel centres of soft power like Jewish-dominated Hollywood and Hindu-tainted Bollywood.

In Holland, two competing Muslim media corporations are doing a good job of presenting the Muslim angle of current developments, and here again the medium proves to be the message that overrules the Islamic message. Smartly dressed and camera-savvy Muslims with a fine Dutch accent conduct group discussions or interviews brimful of borrowed Western values, e.g. invoking principles of free speech or freedom of religion while defending Muslim interests against the ambient Infidel society. They (like the “Islamophobes”) think they are making clever use of Western values as weapons in the service of Islam, but in the process they themselves are getting transformed.

Pre-Islamic customs

Courbage and Todd also develop another line of argument against the black-and-white view of civilizations in confrontation. Deep social and cultural structures exist underneath people’s surface adherence to historical religions. Often these constitute a common heritage of different societies now seemingly living in conflict. Thus, a common Mediterranean attitude to marriage and sexuality, e.g. emphasizing a bride’s virginity and threatening honour vengeance, exist both in Arab and (at least until recently) in Latin countries, contrasting jointly with Nordic or African mores.

In particular, the pre-Islamic layer in Muslim society may explain some unexpected or otherwise puzzling data. Islam is reputedly harsh to women, so why is it that the Arab countries don’t have the problem of massive female foeticide that afflicts Korea, China and India? The authors don’t explain this, as Muslim preachers would, with reference to Mohammed’s condemnation of female infanticide. They point out the ancient difference in family structure.

In patriarchal societies like Confucian China and Hindu India, a daughter leaves her family upon getting married. This affects the status of the girl child negatively, making her education into a burden on the family that will only profit another family. Arab society, pre-Islamic as well as Islamic, is no less patriarchal, but there the girl child benefits of an idiosyncratic factor: tribal inbreeding. Hindu society is thoroughly familiar with endogamy, but this inbreeding within castes was counterbalanced by gotra (clan) exogamy. Brahmanical tradition, like the Roman Catholic Church, frowned upon inbreeding and imposed forbidden degrees of consanguinity. This taboo does not exist in most West-Asian and North-African countries. More often than not, a young man will marry his first or second cousin; or a slightly older man, his niece. (A similar system prevailed in Dravidian societies until the penetration of the North-Indian marriage rules.)

One consequence is that a newborn girl is expected later to marry a young man who is now already known to her parents, viz. their young nephew living in the same home or at least growing up nearby in their brother’s house. Conversely, the bride joining her husband in his parents’ home is not a stranger on whom a frustrated mother-in-law can avenge her dissatisfactions. No, since birth she was known to her in-laws, a member of their extended family, and is treated accordingly. (One objection often raised against Western society by Muslims in e.g. the Dutch TV talk shows mentioned, is that it is lacking in the human warmth which they have experienced in their home families.) There is no occasion then for the Indian attitude that “raising a daughter is like tilling your neighbour’s land”, since that neighbour is a close relative and your daughter remains a member of your extended family even after being married off. This way, these Muslim societies have less of an incentive to treat girls like a wasted effort or to pre-emptively abort them.

So, that’s a point worth pondering, especially for certain wealthy communities in India who can easily afford a daughter’s dowry yet set records in female foeticide. But the deep pre-Islamic structures of Muslim societies also have entirely different consequences relevant to the “clash of civilizations” debate.

Consider the situation in Iraq. The Americans’ stated goal was to introduce Western democracy there, a post-Islamic system presupposing a new post-Islamic mindset. That was not a big success. Yet, recently major progress has been made in containing Al-Qaida and mobilizing Iraqis on the American side. The secret was not to insist on establishing post-Islamic institutions anymore, but to return to a pre-Islamic structure and mentality silently underlying the Islamic institutions that have held sway there for some 13 centuries: the tribe and its tribal loyalty. While only highly ideologized young men will take to arms to fight for a cause dictated by a shady leader living (or dead) in a cave on the Pak-Afghan border, it is easy to recruit fighters for the militia led by their own tribal leader whom they have known and learned to respect since infancy. This is not typically Islamic, it would be true anywhere, and it can be turned against those who wage the holy war of Islam.

In conclusion, this book is a welcome antidote to the narrow focus on the religious factor now common in analyses of the world situation. Especially because it is never sweeping and exaggerated nor dishonest, as “secularist” attempts at arguing the same point often are. The authors don’t deny the importance of religion in motivating societies, but keep it in perspective.

(VijayVaani, October 2008)

Read more!

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Holiday in the Lake District

As a confirmed workaholic, I never ever go on holiday. On work trips, my hosts sometimes take me out to the usual places for sight-seeing, if not too far out of the way, but that's it. In all my stays in India, I have never seen the Taj Mahal or the Khajuraho temples. Outdoors ventures are even rarer, because my legs are slightly crippled by various ailments, nothing truly prohibitive but quite hindersome nonetheless. Why bother taking the obligatory holiday when I can have a more productive and cheaper time at home? And yet, in the spring of 2011, in spite of sore knees and a gout attack on my right foot, I had a very good week walking on hills in the Lake District, in good company.

"To walk on hills is to employ legs as porters of the head and heart, jointly adventuring towards perhaps true equanimity", as Robert Graves put it in his poem on hilltop walking. That was indeed the effect of walking on wind-swept hillslopes, with the help of "Nordic" walking-sticks. As Graves continues: "To walk on hills is to see sights and to hear sounds unfamiliar. When in wind the pine-tree roars, when crags with bleatings echo, when water foams below the fall; heart records that journey as memorable indeed; head reserves opinion, confused by the wind."

In my case the walking also took some gnashing of teeth, but the gout wore off as the miles passed away under my feet. I also spared myself the toughest excursion, the climb of the Old Man of Coniston. Those who reached the top, afterwards bought a cup proudly announding: "I climbed the Old Man of Coniston".

That hill overlooks Coniston, the town where we stayed, close to the house of 19th-century art historian and social thinker John Ruskin. His gravestone in the churchyard is quite a sight. The nearby town of Ambleside was the home of William Wordsworth, the Romantic poet. Fellow poets came to spend time here to get some inspiration from the wild.

It was an exceptional week in that it hardly rained. The waterfalls were smaller than normal, to the despair of the National Trust people who do so much to tend all the numerous heritage sites. Well, for a total amateur it was just as well that we weren't exposed to the full force of the elements. Contrary to what local postcards promise, we didn't get wet, nor did we get lost.

My lady-love (I don't do "girlfriends") had dragged me into this. She's a tour guide for heritage sites, both in Belgium and in Britain. We were in a group of 18, the Hindu lucky number, mostly from her native Limburg, our easterly province known for its meek and slow people with their sing-song dialect. The group is vaguely spiritual-oriented, with a whiff of Druidry and Shamanism but not too seriously, so we honoured the places we visited with a bit of appropriate ritual.

On the way, we dropped into a Mithras temple near Hadrian's Wall where Roman soldiers once celebrated the Invincible Sun. The sites that most interested us were the stone circles and other megalith formations. For the large circles Swinside and Long Meg and her Daughters, we had to do some serious uphill walking outside the trodden paths. Catlerigg, by contrast, is just next to a main road. Two centuries ago already, it was the first stone circle to attract mass tourism. Samuel Coleridge, who had been invited there by his friend Wordworth, was disappointed by all the unromantic human presence. But we did get our silent moment there.

In the Lake District, we met thousands of native Britons walking and trekking, and big handfuls of visiting Dutchmen and Germans, but altogether only four "new Britons": one African who was there in the company of his native partner, one Hindu couple and one Pakistani. A few years back, the New Labour authorities even scrapped the option of free guided tours because these only attracted a "hideously white" public,-- as if the people who do show up are to blame for the absence of immigrant visitors. This absence is strange, considering that not far to the south, there is a string of cities with a large Hindu and especially Paki population. What is keeping them from integrating into their adopted country by exposing themselves to the landscapes that shaped the British character? Hindus in particular, who like to pride themselves on being naturally devoted to care for the environment and on continuing the pre-Christian culture that once spanned the whole world: what is keeping you from exploring Britain's mountains and heath and paying your respects to the pre-Christian sacred sites of the local ancestors?

Read more!

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Hindu activism outside the Sangh

"An RSS man", that is how the Indian media and the Western South Asia scholars label anyone known as or suspected of standing up for Hindu interests. In fact, there have always been Hindu activists outside the RSS Sangh, working as individuals or in smaller organizations. Today, the modernization of Indian society and especially the spread of the internet has facilitated the mushroom growth of new forms and networks of Hindu activism.

Most supposed experts refuse to see the existence of Hindu activism outside the Sangh and instead reduce any Hindu sign of life to "Hindutva" (thus incidentally flattering the Sangh). One reason is purely political: in the struggle against Hindu activism as a whole, it is simply more useful to extend all prevalent criticism of the Sangh, e.g. that it murdered Mahatma Gandhi or committed "genocide" in Gujarat 2002, to any and every form of Hindu resistance. It implies that if you hear a Hindu complain about, say, Christian missionary demonization of Hinduism, you must stop him for he is about to commit murder if not genocide. In the Indian media, this kind of innuendo is frequent enough.

The main reason, however, seems to be that India-watchers have settled for a conspiratorial explanation of the existence of Hindu activism. In their construction, you first have the Sangh, or its historic core, then you get Sangh propaganda, and as a result of this, you get a belief among large numbers of Hindus that they are suffering various injustices, historical and contemporary. This is the dominant paradigm in Hindutva studies: a Hindutva conspiracy has created for itself a large constituency by means of mendacious propaganda.

The existence of multiple independent sources of Hindu activism makes this Hindutva conspiracy theory harder to sustain. It becomes more likely that they had independently noticed a really existing state of affairs, which then aroused their indignation.

For example, in numerous media and academic accounts, the Ayodhya controversy is introduced with the explanation: "Hindu nationalists claim that the Babri mosque had been built in forcible replacement of a Hindu temple", or something to that effect. While the Hindu nationalists do indeed assert as much, the formulation falsely insinuates that this "claim" is of the Hindu nationalists' making. In fact, that "claim" has been made in all the historic sources that speak out on the matter: Muslim, Hindu and European. Before the controversy became politically important in the 1980s, it was accepted by all competent authorities, e.g. the 1989 edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica. So, the temple vandalization scenario was not a piece of propaganda deliberately floated to plant false consciousness in the minds of the Hindu masses. It had very solid historic credentials, and consequently, divergent people with no mutual organizational connection or common ideological allegiance could independently act upon it.

For another example, the "Hindutva claim" that the Indian state imposes some and tolerates other injustices against the Hindus, can simply be verified. Thus, when I asked Hindu activists of any stripe in the 1990s what motivated them, practically everyone of them would mention the constitutional exception for the non-Hindu majority state of Jammu & Kashmir (and likewise Nagaland and Mizoram) and the related expulsion of the near-total Hindu community from Kashmir in 1990. Well, has this expulsion taken place or not? From most Western studies of Hindu nationalism, you wouldn't learn about it, and yet, the answer is that it really has. Moreover, no Indian or Kashmiri government has seriously attempted to resettle the expelled Hindus in their homeland. One need not be duped by a Hindutva conspiracy to notice this fact as well as the injustice of this fact. Consequently, non-Sangh Hindus as well as Sanghis have spoken out against this injustice. If the Sangh had not existed, Hindus would still speak out against this injustice.

When the Pope came to India in 1999, the Indian media loudly denounced as "Hindutva paranoia" the assertion that the Church was out to destroy the Indian religions by converting their adherents to Christianity. But of course it is official Church doctrine that only Christians are saved and that out of charity, all Pagans must be converted. Having gone through the Catholic school system myself, that is what I learned from the horse's mouth. And when the Pope finally opened his mouth in Delhi, he said in so many words that the Church was in Asia in order to "reap a rich harvest of faith", modern Church parlance for the harvesting of Pagan souls. He merely restated a generally known fact, one from which any Hindu could draw his own conclusions without anyhow being compromised with "Hindutva paranoia".

For yet another example, the "Hindutva claim" that the absence of a Common Civil Code amounts to "pseudo-secularism", or indeed to a simple absence of secularism in the Personal Law dimension of the Indian state, would have to be acknowledged as more than just a Hindutva claim. It is something that Hindus of all kinds including those hostile to the Sangh, and people of all denominations, can see. Indeed, were it not for the widespread assumption that anything coming from the RSS-BJP must be "Hindu fundamentalist" or "Hindu fascist", all international observers would readily concede this point. By definition, a secular state is one that has laws applying to its citizens regardless of their religion. The usual insistence that "Hindu nationalists want to abolish secularism" and its implication that the Indian state is indeed secular, cannot stand scrutiny on this score. But admitting this much would upset the entire conceptual framework of Hindutva studies.

Anyone desiring to uphold the dominant construction of Hindu nationalism, viz. the Hindutva conspiracy paradigm, logically has an interest in denying or minimizing the existence of independent non-Sangh Hindu activism. But the facts on the ground show increasingly that concerned Hindus are emancipating themselves from this identification of their own work with Hindutva.

Some of these start from philosophies different from the nationalistic RSS narrative, others are not ideologically different but want to provide an alternative mode of action to complement or replace an RSS working-style in which they have become disappointed. For indeed, the BJP election defeats in 2004 and 2009 and the steady decline in RSS shakha attendance since 1998 highlight a longer-standing disappointment in Hindu revivalist circles with the Sangh Parivar and its version of Hindu nationalism. The media construed the BJP defeats as "proof that the Indina masses are turning away from Hindu nationalism", when in reality, the former BJP voters have only turned their backs on the betrayers of Hindu nationalism. This disappointment continues to be nurtured by Sangh displays of incompetence, such as the failed textbook rewriting initiatives in India 2000-04 and California 2005-09; and acts of "treason" such as the NDA government's passivity regarding the Ayodhya temple and the Kashmiri refugees, or its permission of foreign media ownership. Far from abolishing the Hajj subsidies, a financially marginal but highly symbolic instance of "Muslim appeasement", the Vajpayee government actually increased the Hajj subsidy (hence the nickname given him by his Hindu critics, "Hajpayee"). On each of its distinctive old campaign themes, they had acted just like non-BJP governments had done before and have done since.

As former swayamsevak Shrikant Talageri argued in 2000 already, the BJP has proven that "more foreign agency, anti-nationalism and injustice are possible in India in the name of Hinduism and Hindutva than in the name of Islam and Christianity or Secularism and Leftism. And more dangerous since it is cloaked in the garb of Nationalism". Talageri notes that this government policy was rooted in long-standing RSS mores, viz. a radical non-interest in Indian culture as such, in Indian wildlife, environment, handicrafts etc. (see the RSS's Western uniform and marching band music), and a mindless reliance on slogans and rumours rather than on serious analysis and principled ideology. While the RSS undoubtedly started out as politically nationalist, its occasional self-description as "cultural nationalism" implies a claim on cultural awareness that proves hollow.

The RSS has never abandoned the working style introduced by its founder Dr. Keshav Baliram Hedgewar, who had been formed by the Revolutionary movement and adopted its secretiveness, discouraging written communication in favour of personal communication through travelling office-bearers. A lot of physical locomotion is a status symbol in the RSS hierarchy, but motion is not action. The numerous RSS self-praise brochures boast about mass campaigns with millions marching, but these have rarely translated into the realization of their stated goals. Thus, the anti-cow-slaughter campaign of the late 1960s achieved nothing, and the Ayodhya campaign in spite of its unprecedented magnitude has not realized the construction of the projected temple even twenty years later. Though it is part of Hindutva culture to deny failure (vide the way the California Hindu parents tried to present the disappointing court verdict in the textbook case as a victory), inevitably at least some people had to draw the logical conclusion from these failures and try something new.

This disillusionment with the Sangh is triggering the emergence of new independent centres of Hindu activism. Between such non-Sangh foci in India and similar-minded NRI initiatives, there is little structural connection except for exchanges on internet forums: the loose network is their more modern alternative to the organizational rigidity typical of the Sangh.

It must be stated at this point that there has always been a wide array of Hindu activism outside of the Sangh, though often overlapping with the Sangh's work, and at any rate not standing in the way of cooperation or friendly personal relations. In my experience, Western observers who have started believing their own shrill rhetoric of "Hindu fascism" tend to be surprised and shocked and indignant when they see apolitical Hindu dignitaries, praised in East and West for their spiritual qualities and leadership, interact on a friendly basis with the Sangh. Thus, when RSS Sarsanghchalak Rajendra Singh (Rajju Bhaiyya) visited the Netherlands, he first of all went to see the Maharshi Mahesh Yogi in his castle in Vlodrop, to the consternation of reporters for the New Age media, who had lapped up horror stories about the RSS. Likewise, Edward Luce in his book In Spite of the Gods, notes the close cooperation between peacenik celebrity guru Sri Sri Ravi Shankar and the RSS as if it were a dirty secret and a blot on the Guru's name.

One reason for the Sangh's respectability among the Hindu masses, though you might not know of it if you only read the expert studies on Hindutva, is its massive presence in social and relief work. After an earthquake, Sangh relief workers are the first to arrive in the disaster area. That doesn's prove anything about its politics, and could be likened to the motivated social and relief work of the Christian Missions or the Hamas; but at least it ought to be noticed and reported. It helps explain why most criticisms of the Sangh among Hindus are restrained by an acknowledgment of its undeniable merits. But now it is dawning upon an increasing number of Hindu activists that all this charity is no substitute for ideological clarity. Therefore, while they may maintain contact with the Sangh, their initiatives and inspiration are clearly separate and distinct from the Sangh and its ideological line. Many Hindu activists who criticize the Sangh accept the intention of Sangh workers to serve Hindu society, and leave them to pursue this goal by their own lights. Also, sometimes they cannot bypass the relative omnipresence of the Sangh network. And finally, there is no definitive reason why Sangh workers shouldn't be amenable to developing their understanding beyond the elementary level inculcated by the Sangh.

Some Hindu activists, however, have totally given up on the Sangh. Thus, when Muslim groups pressured the Jammu & Kashmir government into reneging on its promise to provide facilities for Hindu pilgrims to Amarnath in 2008, local Hindus in Jammu organised a non-violent protest campaign but purposely kept the Sangh at arm's length. They feared that the RSS with its penchant for control would take the movement over, then with its equally typical craving for certificates of good conduct would abandon and dissolve the campaign in an attempt to prove its "secularism" and "reasonableness". In the event, the Amarnath campaign, in contrast with so many Sangh campaigns, was successful: the original plan for pilgrim facilities was implemented overruling the Muslim objections.

The most pressing occasion for Hindu self-organization cocnsists in threats to their physical security. For quite a while groups have been sprouting here and there that promised to fill the void allegedly created by the Sangh's insufficient militancy. During the Khalistani terror campaign, Hindus in Panjab started a local "Shiv Sena", disappointed in the way the RSS failed to react in kind when its cadres were targeted for murder by the Khalistanis.

On internet forums, you frequently hear Hindus fumble that "if Muslims can get away with terrorism, why don't we take to the gun, and the bomb?" Thus, a Delhi-based group calling itself the Aryavrt Government and a related outfit called Abhinava Bharat (after an armed revolutionary group in the independence struggle) does advocate paying the enemy back in the same coin. On its website its request for donations is strengthened with this warning: "Else keep ready for your doom. Remember! Whoever you are, you won't be able to save your properties, women, motherland, Vedic culture & even your infants. Choice is yours, whether you stick to dreaded usurper Democracy & get eradicated or survive with your rights upon your property, freedom of faith & life with dignity?"

Mostly this is impotent rage by middle-class Hindus who have never seen or touched a gun, but of course the possibility exists that some young lads may act upon it. It has been alleged that the Malegaon bomb attacks in 2006 were committed by such an ad hoc Hindu terrorist group.

However, these rare cases of erratic and counterproductive Hindu violence should not obscure the actual need for self-protection in areas where Hindus are indeed prey for anti-Hindu mobs and militias, such as the Bengal border, where illegal Bangladeshi immigrants are trying to push out the Hindu villagers. That is where one sane and disciplined Hindu group for self-protection has come into being: the Hindu Samhati, founded in February 2008 by Tapan Ghosh. Until November 2007, and ever since graduating in Physics and spending three months in jail as a pro-democracy activist during the Emergency, he had been an RSS whole-timer for 31 years. But not seeing the desired results from RSS work, who started out on his own and soon attarcted a following.The group's thrid anniversary celebration was attened by 14,000 people. It can already claim many successes on its local scale, such as protecting young couples where one of the partners is a Muslim joining a Hindu family, or ensuring the safety of Hindu festivals, which had become difficult to celebrate due to increasing Muslim harassment.

The one name towering over the whole field of non-Sangh Hindu activism is that of historian and publisher Sita Ram Goel (1921-2003), Gandhian then Marxist in his young days, later anti-Communist and finally reborn Hindu. In 1957 he stood unsuccessfully as a candidate for the embryonic Swatantra Party (with whose founder Minoo Masani he cooperated in anti-Communist activism) on a Jana Sangh ticket for the Khajuraho seat. He subsequently contributed some articles to the RSS mouthpiece Organiser, until the RSS leadership intervened to have him expelled from its pages for being too unkind to Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru. The stated reason was that if Nehru were ever murdered, criticism of Nehru in their own pages would cause them to get the blame. In the 1980s Goel was re-invited to contribute, until he was again expelled, this time for being too unkind to Islam. (It is routinely assumed that the RSS preaches hatred of Islam; but I award my bottom dollar to anyone who can show me an instance from the editorials of Organiser. And I will award it again for an authentic quotation from a Sangh leader that is more anti-Muslim than the revered Dr. Ambedkar's book Pakistan or the Partition of India.) As a book author and publisher, he also had to deal with the Sangh, e.g. when he had to straighten out the BJP's initially very muddled White Paper on Ayodhya. So, it is not as if he boycotted the Sangh, in spite of their treatment of him.

Yet his judgment of them was merciless. In writing, he diplomatically limited himself to intimating that "in the history of an organization, there comes a point when its original goal gets overshadowed by its concerns for itself". But when speaking, he was much blunter. In the presence of myself and of prominent witnesses, he said for example: "The RSS is the biggest collection of duffers that ever came together in world history" (1989), "The RSS is leading Hindu society into a trap from which it may not recover" (1994), "Hindu society is doomed unless this RSS-BJP movement perishes" (2003).

Goel's main criticism of the Sangh concerns its anti-intellectual prejudice, its refusal to analyze hostile ideologies, hence its lapse into emotionalism and erratic policies. Thus, instead of reactive anti-Muslim outbursts after every act of Islamic terrorism, he posits the need for an ideological critique of the Islamic belief system, equipped with all the methods and findings of modern scholarship: "The problem is not Muslims but Islam." The difference is that those who refuse such critique (and that is the case of the RSS) has no one but the physical Muslim population to vent its anger on whenever another act of Islamic violence occurs. This way, a more incisive deconstruction of Islamic belief translates into less violence against actual Muslims. (The converse is also true: George W. Bush and Tony Blair have spoken out in praise of Islam but killed a great many Muslims.)

Goel and his mentor Ram Swarup (1920-98) took inspiration from the British liberal tradition of Bertrand Russell, George Bernard Shaw and George Orwell, even before rediscovering the Hindu debating tradition of Yajnavalkya and Shankara. For them, free debate was a matter of course. Hindutva organizations, by contrast, in the Sangh as well as some new ones like the Hindu Jagruti Samiti, react to every insulting book or film or painting with calls for a ban, perfectly echoing Islamic organizations demanding a ban on the Danish cartoons or The Satanic Verses. Calls for banning unpalatable opinions stem from an inability to meet the challenge intellectually, which was never Shankara's problem but is very much the Sangh's.

Some NRI-PIO organizations created in the 21st century explicitly adopt their line. One is the Hindu Human Rights group in London, founded by Ranbir Singh. His answer to the humourless RSS and its equally humourless secularist critics is to "put the fun back into fundamentalism". The HRR publishes an on-line paper and occasionally stages demonstrations on matters of Hindu concern, such as human rights in Bangladesh. Interestingly, it has also joined hands several times with Muslim groups on matters of common interests or against common enemies. On the challenge of the Christian missions, it has monitored and promoted scholarly studies, outgrowing the simplistic Hindutva positions current in India and the diaspora, which tend to confuse "Christian" with "white", as if the world and the Churches hadn't changed since decolonization. It interacts critically with the official pan-Hindu platforms and with the British multiculturalism authorities. These sometimes solicit its views, knowing that it represents a really existing and growing segment of opinion in the British Hindu community. Typically, the HHR sometimes cooperates with Muslim organizations on matters of common concern, all while staying away from the usual Hindu platitude that "all religions essentially say the same thing". Human understanding does not require suspension of the mental power of discrimination.

The second similarly inspired initiative in the diaspora is based in Houston. Like the HHR, it also explores contacts with post-Christian spiritual tendencies in Western society and encourages Hindus to transcend the "racism" many of them display vis-à-vis Black, White and East-Asian population they encounter abroad. Quite a few Hindu individuals and local Hindu temple associations in North America also evince or acknowledge some influence from this line of thought.

Ram Swarup's idea of a common inspiration and interest between all traditional religions, jointly targeted for conversion by the "predatory" religions Christianity and Islam, has also gained a following mainly through Hindu leaders based outside India. Swami Dayananda Saraswati (based in Coimbatore and in Saylorsburg PA) has been building bridges with the Jewish community, culminating in a joint Jerusalem Declaration with the Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi Yona Metzger. It also has penetrated the Sangh in the initiative for cooperation with Native American, Yoruba, Maori and other traditional religionists, the World Council for the Elders of Ancient Traditions and Cultures founded by US-based pracharak Dr. Yashwant Pathak.

In India too, these ideas have been picked up in independent as well as in Sangh-related centres of Hindu awareness and activism. The influence is palpable in some publications of the Vigil Public Opinion Forum and of the Centre for Policy Studies, both in Chennai. Then again, in India the strictly nationalist viewpoint, with increasing anti-Western overtones, still seems to prevail against the universalistic critique of hostile religions and ideologies as pioneered by Ram Swarup and S.R. Goel. Thus, consider the title of an otherwise well-crafted study of NGO activities and financing by Vigil authors Radha Rajan and Krishan Kak: NGOs, Activists and Foreign Funds: Anti-Nation Industry (2006). Its main stated focus is on anti-national rather than anti-Hindu activities, in the mould of the RSS rhetoric about Babar as a "foreign" (rather than Muslim) invader and Rama as a "national" (rather than a Hindu) hero. In some cases, as in Sandhya Jain's online medium Vijayvaani, this goes as far as supporting Muslim causes against the West, not too different from the traditional Congressite line exemplified by Nehru's support to Nasser.

In the case of Hindutva, nationalism is proving to be the last resort of blockheads unable to construe conflicts and power equations in ideological terms. While Christianity has changed race several times in its history (from Levantine to North-African and South-European to North-European to non-white), and while most missionaries in India are now non-white and generally Indian-born, Hindutva polemicists keep on ranting against "white racist Christian missions". This saves them the trouble of studying the scholarly critique of Biblical truth claims and the challenge of arguing the religious case for Hinduism and against Christianity with fellow Indians who happen to be Christian. One very useful experience of NRIs and PIOs in their non-Indic surroundings is that religious issues exist in their own right, by virtue of the distinctive mores inculcated and the truth claims of religions, and regardless of the ethnic origin of a religion's followers. The modern identification of Sanatana Dharma with the geographical entity India, explicitly proposed by Hindutva ideologues, is negated by the NRI-PIOs' experience, where Hindu traditions turn out to remain meaningful even after being severed from their geographical cradle. This makes them more receptive to the universalistic understanding of Hindu tradition as expounded by Goel's mentor Ram Swarup and by some globe-trotting Gurus.

Most post-Sangh centres of Hindu activism avoid overdoing their quarrel with the Sangh. It just happens to be there, to be very large, and to attract the loyalty of numerous well-meaning fellow-Hindus. Also, its effectiveness in the many local centres of activity is highly dependent upon the individual qualities of the local Sangh workers. So, inter-Hinduinfighting among activists is largely avoided. One prozaic reason is that criticismhas never had a noticeable effect on the Sangh leadership, another is the common-sense realization that darkness is best fought not by decrying it but by lighting a lamp of your own. Extrapolating from present trends, the future is probably that alternative centres of Hindu activism will grow and prove successful in their respective fields of activity, and that the Sangh will transform itself and correct its course under the impact of their example.

Read more!

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

If only Anders Breivik had read the Brussels Journal

On contents, the so-called multiculturalists have lost the Islam debate. They have never been able to make a dent in the case against Mohammed and his religion presented by Islam scholars and ex-Muslims. In the courts, they lost it again with Geert Wilders’ recent acquittal on charges of sowing hate against Muslims. In politics, they have had to suffer the rejection of so-called multiculturalism with its Islam-favouring policies by leading public figures including the Prime Ministers of Germany, Belgium, France and Great Britain, and the adoption of more realistic integration policies by various European countries. So, what to do?

They were at the end of their wits, but fortunately for them, Anders Breivik went into action and killed 76 fellow-countrymen, mostly young activists of Norway’s ruling Labour Party. Breivik acted from anger about an imminent Islamization of Europe and was apparently unaware of the changing tide in European (including Norwegian) policies. We will discount as silly conspiracy thinking that the so-called multiculturalists made him do it; but fact remains that they never had a better friend than the lone Norwegian terrorist. They were elated when they heard the news that not Muslims angry over Norway’s NATO involvement in military missions to Muslim countries had perpetrated the killings in Oslo on 22 July, but a native Norwegian. Though they tried not to make it too conspicuous, the euphoria simply oozed out of their background comments on Breivik’s massacre.

Breivik’s manifesto contained the reproduction in full of some articles from the Brussels Journal, a libertarian-conservative blog website. Predictably, the Belgian and some international media, which never liked the website’s consistent stand for freedom of speech in the face of Islamic attempts at muzzling it, have tried to impute responsibility for Beirvik’s hideous act to this defender of freedom of expression. But in reality, the Brussels Journal never ever carried calls to counter Islam by means of bombs or shoot-outs, whether of Muslims or non-Muslims. It carried criticism of Islam, but that is a perfectly legitimate exercise. As Karl Marx put it, criticism of religion is the start of all proper criticism. Enemies of the freedom to criticize religion are simply enemies of freedom.

As an occasional but frequent contributor to the Brussels Journal, I find my own name (along with that of numerous lucid observers, from Winston Churchill on down) mentioned a few times in Breivik’s manifesto, not in the parts written by him but in two articles from elsewhere which he reproduced. On p.140, an article by Srinandan Vyas quotes me as explaining that Hindu Kush, the name of a mountain range in Afghanistan forming the border of historic India, is Persian for “slaughter of Hindus”. Originally Hindu Koh, “Indian mountain”, it was amended to Hindu Kush because, as Moroccan traveller Ibn Battuta explained, numerous Hindu slaves on transport would die there from the cold. So the name does not refer to the mass killings of Hindus by the Muslim invaders, of which there have been many, but to another factor of the bleeding of India by Islam, viz. mass enslavement. This is a historical fact, as is the larger context of Islamic destruction in India from AD 636 onwards.

On p.339, an article by Fjordman on Brussels Journal quotes me as predicting the impending implosion of Islam, then paraphrasing me as warning that before the end comes, Islam can still come to dominate Europe. Islam’s intention to take over Europe is well-documented, and like other historical facts it is not susceptible to being altered by Breivik’s irrational crime. As it happens, my thinking about the magnitude of the risk of Islam succeeding in taking over Europe has evolved, I am now less pessimistic about it than in the 1990s. But either way, it is perfectly legitimate to think about these serious matters. So no, I do not feel embarrassed in any way by seeing these observations of mine reproduced by any of Vyas’s or Fjordman’s readers. As the French saying goes, la vérité est bonne, “truth is a good thing”. It never causes harm by being known.

On the contrary, if I could turn the clock back, I would try to save Breivik’s victims by advising Breivik to read the Brussels Journal. There he would have learned that the threat is not quite as dramatic as he imagined, indeed quite manageable by normal democratic means; and that killing Muslims (let alone non-Muslims) is not the way to counter the expansion of Islam.

For example, he should have read the article “Swat and the Prospects of Islamic Conquest” by Koenraad Elst, posted on Monday, 2009-08-03 ( There he would have read:

“Nevertheless, the spearheads of the Islamic revolution have miscalculated and been defeated in their specific local objectives. What is wrong with Muslims that they waste such golden opportunities? (...) Meanwhile, it confirms my long-standing position that if ever we lose against the Islamic plans of conquest, it can only be due to slackness in mobilizing our brains against this not-so-talented enemy. I don't do ‘Islamophobia’, I don't fear an impending Islamic world conquest. Not because of the rosy dogma that the whole idea of Islamic world conquest is a farcical and fanciful invention (for there are enough Muslim leaders who have affirmed just such a vision), but because the Muslim world rarely lives up to its potential. Neither economically nor in cultural production. But not even in political and military confrontations either. Their threatening postures should not intimidate us. We are capable of outwitting them.”

Again, in the article “Clenardus and the Way Out of Islam” by Koenraad Elst, posted on Friday, 2009-08-07 (, he would have read:

“When I write that we don’t have much to fear from the Islamic aggressor, one reaction I often get is that I am overly and unduly optimistic, making light of a massive threat. (...) At any rate, I am not at all saying that Europeans should go to sleep. On the contrary, my position is that we should be alert and outwit the Islamic aggressor. In this endeavour, we may take inspiration from some of our ancestors, who faced the same problem. (...) They had at least got the basics right: the solution for the Islam problem is to liberate the Muslims from the mental prison-house of Islam.

“An example (...) was Nicolaas Beken Cleynaerts, better known as Nicolaus Clenardus (1495-1542). He grew up in Diest, a town in the eastern corner of Flemish Brabant, now called ‘Diestanbul’ by its fast-growing Turkish community. (...) A statue in Diest commemorates him: ‘Verbo non gladio gentes Arabas convertere ad Christianam fidem nisus est’, ‘He made the effort to convert the Arabs to the Christian faith with the word, not the sword.’

“Preaching on a town square in Tunis or Fez proved to be less than effective as a method to free the Muslims from Islam. (...) So in that respect, the past does not offer us much guidance. It is our own job to find better ways of reaching out to the prisoners of Islam. If this lack of alternatives for self-reliance is a reason for pessimism, then please consider that we may not be all that important.

“Can’t you feel the impact of knowledge and its novel ways of direct availability in colleges and private homes throughout the Muslim world? The phenomenon of ex-Muslims speaking out openly and informing their stay-behind relatives is slowly but surely changing the ideological landscape of the Muslim world. The attempts by Muslims to present their religion as tolerant and pro-woman are admittedly untruthful but do nonetheless show an impact of non-Islamic values and sensibilities that is bound to increase and hollow out the attachment to Islam.(...) In the postcolonial age, de-islamization can no longer be imposed from above even if we had wanted to, but it is now growing from inside. It is up to us to find inconspicuous but effective ways of strengthening this tendency. This is an appeal to European alertness and resourcefulness.”

So there you have a radical and peaceful solution for the Islam problem. Given the findings of modern scholarship about religion, and given today’s possibilities of mass education through information and communication technology, there is no reason to let our Muslim fellow-men continue as prisoners of the deluded belief system imposed by Mohammed. We should not see them as enemies per se, even if they declare war on us, because they are only acting on beliefs instilled in them and from which they can free themselves. In this global age, an enduring solution can no longer be territorial, such as keeping or pushing Islam out of our continent. It has to go to the root of the problem, which is the sincere devotion of otherwise good people to a divisive and hate-fomenting belief system. Policy decisions at other levels, regarding immigration or burqas or other aspects of Islam’s presence may play an auxiliary and temporary role, but the most humane and most secure approach is and remains the liberation of the Muslims from the mental prison-house of Islam.

Read more!

Sunday, July 24, 2011

The Danish cartoon affair revisited

For the record, a post of mine on the Indo-Eurasian Research yahoolist from August 2009 is reproduced, concerning the Danish cartoon affair, the hypotheses proposing to "explain" it, and my own role in it.

--- In, Michel Tavir wrote:
> [Mod. note. The terms "party line" and "party liners" are really loaded,
> Michel. What supposed party are you talking about? When you say that
> "Denmark was chosen because, more than anywhere else in Europe, the
> anti-muslim ultra-right had (and still has) a defacto grip on political
> power...", who was supposedly doing the choosing? Without naming
> names it sounds more than a bit conspiratorial. - SF.]

There was no need for Michel to withdraw into a figurative reading of the expression he used. In Denmark, an "anti-Muslim" political party (Pia Kjaersgaard's) did have a "grip" on power, in the sense that it gave indispensible outside support to Rasmussen's minority government.

But I wouldn't call it "ultra-right". When moving rightward from the centre, the farther right you go, the less likely that you will meet "anti-Muslim" people, who are usually also anti-democratic, anti-American and anti-Zionist. Neo-Nazis in their demonstrations nowadays carry pictures of the Hezbollah sheikh and of Iran's president Ahmadinejad, comrades at arms in the struggle against the Zionist World Conspiracy. Recently the leader of the Dutch neo-Nazi group said on TV that Bosnian and Albanian Muslims were fully part of Europe, because they are white and also because of their numerous volunteers in the Waffen-SS, but African Muslims were not, and nor were African Christians or native religionists, because of their race. From the Nazi viewpoint, not religion but race is important: history shows that religions come and go, but race is forever, at least if we do the demographically right thing. And that's where religion may play an auxiliary role: in Himmler's footsteps, some neo-Nazis theorize that the white race would be better off by converting to Islam, a martial and pro-natalist religions that leaves no womb unused. Some neo-Nazis have put this advice into practice and converted to Islam.

"Anti-Muslim" positions are more common in a more moderate segment of the right, viz. libertarian, pro-democratic, generally also pro-American and (pragmatically rather than religiously) pro-Zionist. And are now reviving among the Left. Increasingly, leftist intellectuals on the European continent are realizing that the instrumentalization of postmodern "cultural relativism" as a shield against criticism of Islam's treatment of women and of non-Muslims just can't be reconciled with their basic commitment to equality and emancipation.

> > It was, in short, scholarship, not sensationalism.
> That's also how I viewed Jytte Klausen; (...) yet, if she is quoted properly:
> > Ms. Klausen, who is also the author of "The Islamic Challenge: Politics and
> > Religion in Western Europe," argued that the cartoon protests were not
> > spontaneous but rather orchestrated demonstrations by extremists in Denmark
> > and Egypt who were trying to influence elections there and by others hoping to
> > destabilize governments in Pakistan, Lebanon, Libya and Nigeria. The cartoons,
> > she maintained, were a pretext, a way to mobilize dissent in the Muslim world.
> it appears that she is [toeing] the "party line" that was propagated around
> the world by the West's willing media.<

That was indeed the line taken by the hegemonic media, but for a different reason than the one your propose. It was to abort the rising impression of Muslim hatred for liberty that they shifted responsibility for the anti-cartoon riots away from "ordinary Muslims" and into the hands of fringe movement leaders or impersonal state actors.

> For those who like myself were on the
> front line at the time and refused to be blinded by ideology or prejudice,
> it was obvious from the start that we were witnesses to an orchestrated (not
> a "well-orchestrated", as the cliché goes) provocation that fit all too
> nicely into one of the neo-cons favorite paradigms, Huntington's so-called
> clash of the civilizations.<

That's exactly what Ayatollah Khamenei said at the time. It was also said by the editor of the Flemish weekly Knack, who argued that Jyllands-Posten's Jewish editor Flemming Rose, the American alleged Likudnik Daniel Pipes with his Middle East Forum, and also the Flemish website Brussels Journal, then the main clearing-house for news about the cartoon affair, had concocted the cartoon scenario with the aim of provoking the Muslim masses in Syria and Iran into vandalism and other ugly scenes for the TV news in order to prepare the ground for an Israeli military attack. Pen-pushers and pencil-pushers conspiring for world war, no less! Considering that i have written for both the Middle East Quarterly (about a similar affair, Rushdie's The Satanic Verses) and Brussels Journal, I suddenly found myself in the middle of a truly ambitious conspiracy. At least I can say I was "on the front line at the time and refused to be blinded by ideology or prejudice".

(You may notice that, extensively elsewhere but also on BJ, I have repeatedly written *against* the interventions in Afghanistan, Iraq and possibly Iran; war polarizes opinion and only hardens the existing beliefs, whereas what the Muslim world needs is a thaw that makes their beliefs melt and give way to Enlightenment.)

Well, after that promotion to crown witness, it is my testimony that to my knowledge, there was no such pre-planning involved. A journalist simply wanted to know if you can make as much fun of Mohammed as is routinely done with Jesus and Yahweh in European papers. And he found out.

> The most serious, comprehensive and trustworthy book published on the
> Mohammed cartoons affair is "Karikaturkrisen - En undersøgelse af baggrund
> og ansvar" ("The Danish Caricature Crisis - an Investigation of Background
> and Responsibilities"), published in 2006 by Tøge Seidenfaden, the
> editor-in-chief of Politiken, Denmark's second largest newspaper, and
> renowned analyst and commentator Rune Engelbreth Larsen, whose outlook on
> current affairs is rooted in the traditions of humanistic Renaissance and
> the Enlightenment:

Strange what positions these "humanists" take: shielding obscurantism from scrutiny and attacking secularism and freedom of speech. I know a different breed of humanists who swear by the Enlightenment. Or knew, for quite a few have been murdered, such as Pim Fortuyn and Theo Van Gogh. Others are absconding, like Ayaan Hirsi Ali, the Somali ex-Muslim politician, or have been smashed out of court, like Mohamed Rasoel, the Pakistani ex-Muslim who was sentenced by a white judge in Amsterdam for "anti-Muslim racism" after writing critically about Islam and its view of non-Muslims. He hadn't written anything about islam that hadn't been written in essence already by Ernest Renan or Winston Churchill or Bhimrao Ambedkar, or has since been written by Henryk Broder and other respected mainstream intellectuals. Anything held against the cartoonists also counts against those big names.

The lead in criticism of Islam now rests with pro-Enlightenment ex-Muslims like Ibn Warraq or Ali Sina or Taslima Nasreen. They put their lives at risk, they are the vanguard in the struggle for secular modernity against religious obscurantism. Another reason for genuine secularists too support them and the cartoonists is the worldwide anti-freedom alliance that soon materialized between different religions. In India, the Hindu-nationalist BJP supported a resolution (in the Andhra Pradesh assembly) condemning the cartoons. In the Netherlands, Christian parties surprised everyone with a proposal to reinvigorate the dormant law against blasphemy, now explicitly to include "blasphemy" of Allah and Mohammed. And did you ever hear GW Bush, the reborn Christian and neocon par excellence, applaud the cartoons?

> It doesn't seem that their book was ever translated into English, most
> likely because what it had to say wasn't very popular among party liners.

Strange, for the same things have been said in English by well-published writers like Karen Armstrong. It was also supported by every single member of the panel at the 2006 AAR conference (I was there in the audience); they had not cared to invite a single expert or participant willing to defend the cartoonists.

> Sorry if I come across with a certain sense of frustration, but this remains
> a very sensitive subject for some of us, considering where the swamp of
> intolerance the world, and Europe in particular, has increasingly got itself
> mired in since those events took place.<

Every one of the Islam critics I mentioned, including the tenors of the cartoons affair, have stated as their reason (or at least one of their reasons) to hold Islam up for criticism that Islam is intolerant. Their stated intention is to do something about intolerance. Shouldn't that make you happy?

> Needless to say, I'm not taking
> issue with the freedom to publish controversial material, anymore than
> Seidenfaden or Engelbreth would.

That's at least one thing we can agree on. As Jawaharlal Nehru said: "Freedom is in peril, defend it with all your might." That's what the cartoonists intended to do.

Steve Farmer wrote:

> > Note that the NY Times article doesn't give a link to
> > the cartoons either.
> >

In the case of the US and UK press, I could understand why, at the height of the Iraq war, and with many other entanglements in the Muslim world, they would choose to avoid hurting Muslim sensibilities. In case an al-Qaeda operative were to cite the publication of the cartoons as justification for the killing of their soldiers in Iraq, the newspaper editors might feel morally implicated. But to continue this prudishness about the cartoons today is no longer justifiable.

> >
> >
> >

Sometimes Mohammed shows his face in these pictures, sometimes he is veiled. When the Dutch-Pakistani Islam critic Mohamed Rasoel, when he still an unknown name behind his book, was invited by the press, he appeared on TV (there to be grossly insulted) with his face covered.

Incidentally, his name was a pen name, meaning "Mohammed Prophet". After he had seen Muslims demonstrate in Britain and also in Rotteram with slogans like: "We will kill Salman Rushdie", he calculated that they would think twice before shouting "We will kill Mohammed the Prophet".

> > Please note that I'm not "anti-Islam": I'm against all pre-Enlightenment-
> > style political/religious extremism: Islamic, Zionist, Hindutva,
> > Christian, Mormon, Dravidian, general-American, whatever. They are
> > all hangovers from pre-modern states of culture.
> >

Another point of agreement! Good to see how this painful affair, viz. the violence by obscurantists against cartoonists exercising their freedom of expression, gives rise to such a chummy situation on this forum.

Kind regards,

Koenraad Elst

Read more!

Saturday, May 28, 2011

The concocted Mahatma formula for Ayodhya

Some Hindu activists claim that truth is not that important, that you have to give any particular audience the kind of narrative most likely to convince them, regardless of truth. My position is that the short-term gains from this tactic are more than offset by the damage you will incur from it in the long run. Here is one example.

Some years ago, I was attacked on the list for having mentioned the fact that in 1990, BJP general secretary Krishan Lal Sharma had proposed a "Mahatma Gandhi formula" for amicable settlement of temple disputes. He claimed that Gandhi had written in his papers Navjivan and Young India that Hindus and Muslims should give back any places of worship they had taken from one another. When I brought that apisode to the list's attention, someone challenged me to produce the evidence. But the event had taken place well before newspapers had internet archives; and my original clippings had gone into my pile where it would be too time-consuyming to look them up.

Of course, for a defender of the BJP spokesman, it would have been proper to settle the dispute for good by producing the evidence that KL Sharma had failed to provide, viz. a copy of the claimed Mahatma article.

But now, we owe it to Babri Masjid advocate AG Noorani that the documents are available. He has edited a two-volume book The Babri Masjid Question 1528-2003 with a selection of documents. On the RISA list it was falsely praised as the most complete source, when in fact it is complete only on the pro-Babri side and leaves out most (and at any rate all the strongest) pro-temple documents. But then Noorani is a lawyer, whose job it is to present and manipulate the data so as to serve his client's interests, and truth be damned. However, he is meticulous in presenting the data likely to embarrass the pro-temple side.

On p.61-65 of vol.1, we get the story on how "concocted 'Gandhi formula' for Ayodhya dispute backfires". It transpires that Sharma, whose claim was reported in the Indian media on 5 December 1990 (the article from The Statesman is reproduced), had his information from one of the propellors of the dispute, Ramgopal Pandey Sharad, involved in the "miraculous appearance" of the murti-s in the Babri Masjid in 1949. In his book Sri Ramjanmabhumi Virodhiyon ke Kala Karname (Black Deeds of the RJB opponents), Pandey claims to have written to Gandhi in Wardha about the Ayodhya dispute and received from Gandhi's secretary Mahadev Desai a letter assuring him that Gandhi would write an article on the matter in the Hindi Navjivan. He also reproduces the article, purportedly published in Navjivan on 17 July 1937, in which Gandhi acknowledges the numerous Islamic temple demolitions and advises that Hindus and Muslims voluntarily return the places of worship taken from the other.

Pandey's forgery had already been exposed by Gandhi acolyte Jivanji Desai in the Harijan Sewak of 13 July 1950. He pointed out, among other things, that the Navjivan had ceased publication in 1932 and that Mahadev Desai never signed his letters in the way "reproduced" by Pandey. I would add that Pandey's version has some mistakes against the use of the English article (the/a), very common among Hindi-provincialist Hindu activists (check the Organiser even today) whereas Gandhiji's English was up to standard.

And yet, KL Sharma went ahead and repeated Pandey's forgery, probably in good faith, having assumed that he could trust such a formidable champion of Hindu interests. So Pandey thought he was being clever with his concoction, but all he achieved was that his own followers were misinformed, not his opponents; and that one of these followers, in a high position where his failures would impact the Hindu interest in general, ended up repeating the concoction in good faith and getting rubbished as a forger and liar. A fine lesson for those Hindutva activists who think that accuracy is but a luxury for intellectuals and that lies can be a shortcut to political success.

Read more!

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Questioning the Mahatma (book review)

Mahatma Gandhi was a heartless and manipulative tyrant without the redeeming feature of political merit. On the contrary, his vision for India was confused, he twisted the meaning of straightforward terms like Swarajya (independence) to suit his own eccentric fancies, he never overcame his basic loyalty to the British Empire, and he didn't have the courage of his conviction when it was needed to avert the Partition of India. While playing the part of a Hindu sage in sufficient measure to keep the Hindu masses with him, he never championed and frequently harmed Hindu interests. Finally, his sexual experiments with young women were not a private matter but had an impact on his politics. Thus says a new study of Gandhi's political record by Hindu scholar Mrs. Radha Rajan.

The latest American book on Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, Joseph Lelyveld’s Great Soul, has drawn a lot of attention. This was mainly because of its allegations about yet more eccentric sexual aspects of his Mahatmahood on top of those already known. In particular, Lelyveld overinterprets Gandhi’s correspondence with German-Jewish architect Hermann Kallenbach as evidence of a homosexual relationship. Bapu’s fans intoned the same mantra as the burners of Salman Rushdie’s book The Satanic Verses: “Freedom of expression doesn’t mean the right to insult revered figures.” Well, if it doesn’t mean that, it doesn’t mean much.

In particular, Lelyveld has all the more right to disclose what he found in the Mahatma’s bedroom because the latter was quite an exhibitionist himself, detailing every straying thought and nocturnal emission in his sermons and editorials. But do these tickling insinuations carry any weight? Other, more troubling aspects of Gandhi’s résumé are far more deserving of closer scrutiny. Some unpleasant instances of his impact on India and Hinduism have been discussed thoroughly in a new book, Eclipse of the Hindu Nation: Gandhi and His Freedom Struggle (New Age Publ., Kolkata), by Mrs. Radha Rajan, editor of the Chennai-based nationalist website, .

Radha Rajan was already the author, with Krishen Kak, of NGOs, Activists and Foreign Funds: Anti-Nation Industry (2006), a scholarly X-ray of the NGO scene, exposing this holier-than-thou cover for both corruption and anti-India machinations. The present book likewise takes a very close look at a subject mostly presented only in the broad strokes of hagiography. In particular, she dissects the Hindu and anti-Hindu content of Gandhi’s policies. Both were present, the author acknowledges his complexity, but there was a lot less Hindu in him than mostly assumed.

Rama had Vasishtha, Chandragupta had Chanakya, Shivaji had Ramdas, but Gandhi never solicited the guidance of any Hindu rajguru. By contrast, every step of the way in his long formative years, he read Christian authors and welcomed the advice of Christian clergymen. This way, he imbibed many monotheistic prejudices against heathen Hinduism, to the point that in 1946 he insisted for the new temple on the BHU campus not to contain an “idol”. (p.466)

Gandhi took his Hindu constituents for granted but never showed any concern for specific Hindu interests. The story that he staked his life to quell the massacres of Hindus in Noakhali in 1947, turns out to be untrue: his trip to East Bengal took place under security cover and well after the worst violence had subsided. There and wherever Hindus were getting butchered en masse in 1947-48, he advised them to get killed willingly rather than fight back or flee. It is breathtaking how often his writings and speeches contain expressions like: “I don’t care if many die.” And it was the first time in Hindu history that anyone qualified going down without a fight against a murderous aggressor as “brave”.

All his fasts unto death proved to be empty play when he refused to use this weapon to avert the Partition, in spite of promises given. It was the only time when he ran a real risk of being faced with an opponent willing to let him die rather than give in. Radha Rajan documents how unpopular he had become by then, not only among fellow politicians who were exasperated at his irrationality, but also among the masses suffering the effects of his confused policies. Had Gandhi not been murdered, his star would have continued to fall and he would have been consigned to the dustbin of history.

Gandhi made a caricature of Hinduism by presenting his own whimsical and eccentric conduct as quintessentially Hindu, such as the rejection of technological progress, maintaining sexual abstinence even within marriage, and most consequentially, extreme non-violence under all circumstances. This concept owed more to Jesus’ “turning the other cheek” than to Hindu-Buddhist ahimsa. He managed to read his own version of non-violence into the Bhagavad Gita, which in fact centres on Krishna’s rebuking Arjuna’s plea for Gandhian passivity. He never invoked any of India’s warrior heroes and denounced the freedom fighters who opted for armed struggle, under the quiet applause of the British rulers whose lives became a lot more comfortable with such a toothless opponent.

The author acknowledges Gandhiji’s sterling contribution to the weakening of caste prejudice among the upper castes. His patronizing attitude towards the Harijans will remain controversial, but the change of heart he effected among the rest of Hindu society vis-à-vis the Scheduled Castes was revolutionary. However, once educated SC people started coming up and speaking for themselves, his response was heartless and insulting. Thus, a letter is reproduced in which the Mahatma with chilling pedantry belittles an admiring Constituent Assembly candidate from the scavengers’ caste for his “bookish English” and because: “The writer is a discontented graduate. (…) I fear he does no scavenging himself” and thus “he sets a bad example” to other scavengers. In conclusion, he advises the educated scavenger to stay out of politics.(p.480) Few readers will have expected the sheer nastiness of this saint’s temper tantrums.

Likewise, his supposed saintliness is incompatible with his well-documented mistreatment of his sons and especially of his faithful wife, whom he repeatedly subjected to public humiliation. Here too, Gandhi’s sexual antics receive some attention. The whole idea of an old man seeking to strengthen his brahmacharya (chastity) by sleeping with naked young women, is bad enough. Perhaps we had to wait for a lady author to give these victims a proper hearing. Radha Rajan documents the fear with which these women received Gandhi’s call to keep him company, as well as their attempts to avoid or escape this special treatment and the misgivings of their families. She praises the self-control of Gandhi’s confidants who, though horrified, kept the lid on this information out of concern for its likely demoralizing effect on the Congress movement. The Mahatma himself wasn’t equally discreet, he revealed the names of the women he had used in his chastity experiments, unmindful of what it would do to their social standing.

When Sardar Patel expressed his stern disapproval of these experiments, Gandhi reacted with a list of cheap allegations, which Patel promptly and convincingly refuted. Lowly insinuations turn out to be a frequent presence in the Mahatma’s correspondence. As the author observes: “Reputed historians and other eminent academicians have not undertaken so far any honest study of Gandhi’s character. Just as little is known of his perverse experiments with women, as little is known of his vicious anger and lacerating speech that he routinely spewed at people who opposed him or rejected him.” While careful not to offend the powerful among his occasional critics, like his sponsor G.D. Birla, “he treated those whom he considered inferior to him in status with contempt and in wounding language”. (p.389)

Unlike in Lelyveld’s account, the references to Gandhi’s sexual gimmicks here have political relevance. More importantly, Gandhi’s discomfort with Patel’s disapproval was a major reason for his overruling the Congress workers’ preference for Patel and foisting his flatterer Jawaharlal Nehru as Prime Minister on India instead. Thus, argues Radha Rajan, he handed India’s destiny over to an emergent coalition of anti-Hindu forces. To replace Nehru as party leader, he had his yes-man J.B. Kripalani selected, not coincidentally the one among those in the know who had explicitly okayed the chastity experiments. The Mahatma’s private vices spilled over into his public choices with grave political consequences.

(book review published in The Sunday Pioneer, 15 May 2011)

Read more!