Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Meera Nanda against Hinduism and its friends: (4) The new Hindu Right

Meera Nanda’s main target, the “new Hindu Right”, is introduced as follows: “The new Hindu Right has been honing its radical critique of Islam and Christianity from the perspective of ‘yogic spirituality’ largely through books published by the Delhi-based publishing house Voice of India (VoI), which was founded in 1981 by two ardent Hindu revivalists and anti-Communists, Ram Swarup and his friend, Sita Ram Goel (both now deceased). Voice of India’s goal is to produce ‘bauddhik kshatriyas’ (intellectual warriors), who will defend Hindu society against the triple ‘threat’ of Islam, Westernisation and Marxism. The signature theme of Voice of India thinkers is to attribute these three ‘evils’ to ‘Semitic’ or monotheistic religions that are ‘inherently intolerant’ because they believe in One True God, One Truth and One Book. In recent years, Voice of India has emerged as the hub where ‘Sanatan Dharma movements’ make common cause with Islam-bashers, anti-Christian pagans, New Age seekers, deep-ecologists/eco-feminists and other disaffected right-wingers from Europe and the US.”

To get a confusing side issue out of the way first, we have to admit that many Hindu authors, including even the great Ram Swarup, have indeed used the term “Semitic” as a common denominator for “Christian and Muslim”. In certain theoretical contexts, the term may also include Judaism, but often it does not, especially because in the real world, this religion never posed a problem for the Hindus. Judaism practises ”live and let live”, it doesn’t try to convert Hindus by means of missionary propaganda or forceful imposition, unlike Christianity and Islam. Numerous times have I tried to convince Hindus to drop this usage of “Semitic religions” where they mean “aggressive prophetic monotheism”, but to no avail. (If Meera Nanda thinks I have influence on my Hindu contacts, she is mistaken.) Precisely because they don’t mean any harm with it, they don’t see a need to change it.

My oft-stated reasons for avoiding this usage are briefly these: (1) It creates all the wrong connotations among an English-speaking audience accustomed to the synonymy of “Semitic” with “Jewish”, particularly confusing since most Hindu nationalists are outspokenly pro-Zionist; and (2) it is completely inaccurate. There is nothing intrinsically prophetic-monotheistic about Semitic-speaking people: the first known propagator of monotheism was the non-Semitic Pharaoh Akhenaten, while the first mortal victims of prophetic-monotheistic intolerance were Semitic Israelites, viz. the 3,000 worshippers of the Golden Calf lured into the open by Moses’ brother Aaron and killed on Moses’ orders. The priests of the stellar temples in Babylon and Harran, paragons of Pagan polytheism, were Akkadian- or Aramaic-speaking Semites, while the monotheistic fanatics who started a genocide on the Hindu idolaters in 1947and 1971 were Panjabi and Bengali Indo-Aryans.

Though few in the West would characterize “New Age seekers” and “eco-feminists” as “right-wingers”, the latter term has such a potential for conditioning Meera Nanda’s target audience to hold them in contempt that she has given in to the temptation of misusing it. Some “Islam-bashers” may be right-wing, but others are not, and there is no intrinsic relation between Islam criticism and the Right. Many in the Old Right, especially its anti-Semitic section following the elad given by Heinrich Himmler, tend to have a lot of sympathy for Islam, the martial and natalist religion that keeps people in their proper places. In the Muslim world itself, Islam criticism mostly has left-wing roots, e.g. the late Aziz Nesin in Turkey, or closer to India: Salman Rushdie and Taslima Nasreen.

According to Dr. Nanda: “Evidence of the global reach of the VoI school of Hindutva can be found in the 1,518-page-long manifesto titled 2083: European Declaration of Independence that the Norway killer posted on the internet just hours before he went on his rampage.”

The Voice of India authors deliberately avoid the term “Hindutva”, a clumsy neologism combining the Persian root Hindu with the Sanskrit suffix –tva, and properly designating only the specific Hindu nationalist line embodied in the Hindu Mahasabha (HMS, Hindu Great-Assembly) and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS, National Volunteer Corps). They were never too enamoured of the brainless nationalism of the organizations properly described and self-described as championing Hindutva. Calling them a “school of Hindutva” is part of a widely-used terminological strategy of prejudicing the audience against anyone taking any pro-Hindu position, along with older Procrustean misnomers like “Hindu Right”, “Hindu fundamentalism” and “Hindu fascism”. In many cases it is not even a “strategy” but an instance of intellectual laziness: being on top of the world in an all too comfortable power position, the secularists don’t even take the trouble of using or coining an appropriate terminology specific to the Hindu revivalist phenomenon. At any rate, Voice of India is not a “school of Hindutva”.

The influence of the Voice of India school of thought is, at present, extremely limited. Among Westerners, you can count its readers on your fingers. To my knowledge, only one of its books was ever translated into a European language (Ram Swarup's Hindu View of Christianity and Islam, into French). Some influence is visible in the written output of NRI/PIO groups in London and Houston, i.e. among people who have a foot in both Indian and Western culture, just like Ram Swarup and Sita Ram Goel themselves had. No major political party or organization has incorporated any specific Voice of India ideas in its manifestoes or policies. Few if any new writers have developed them further.

Only time will tell how far its influence will ever reach, but for now, the attention paid by Meera Nanda to Voice of India is far out of proportion to its impact in the real world. Then again, since she is an intellectual of high calibre (a far worthier opponent than the more famous secularists), her focus on Voice of India should be read as a compliment: though vastly outnumbered by mainstream Hindutva, the quality and potential of its ideas is far superior to the dumb and repetitive nationalism of the Sangh.

[to be continued]


Apuleius Platonicus said...

I had no idea Voice Of India was so powerful and influential! This is wonderful news. And thank you for taking the time to delve into the whole "semitic" thing, and especially for clearly distinguishing between Judaism, on the one hand, and Christianity and Islam, on the other hand. Considering the fact that these later two religions have exerted so much effort in their quest to eradicate Judaism, it has always struck me as supremely unjust to lump the three together!

anand said...

If not 'semitic' which word can be used to denote Christianity and Islam?

sandalwood said...

anand, I have been using "evangelizing monotheisms' which leaves out Judaism.

Karthikrajan said...

call them 'CMM' religions [Criminal-monotheisti-muddle headed]

isasank said...

Excellent work as usual, Dr. Elst. It would be great to know your opinions on the work of M.R. Pirbhai and Jose Kuruvachira who have not only scathingly criticized Shri Sita Ram Goel but also your good self.

Phillip said...

"If not 'semitic' which word can be used to denote Christianity and Islam?"

Last I heard, the current convention is to call Judaism, Christianity, and Islam the "Abrahamic" religions.