Sunday, April 29, 2012

George Thompson as a case study in racist Invasionism

On the internet discussion list of the Religion in South Asia (RISA) chapter of the American Academy of Religion (AAR), September 2011 saw a debate on racial concepts in Vedic India. The thread’s header was: “Why is Krishna blue?” My participation in it was probably a factor in my subsequent sudden and unexplained expulsion from the list. This expulsion frees me from the commitment to secrecy about what is being said and done on the list. So now, we can give a little overview of that debate.

Early on, Prof. George Thompson put his cards on the table: “I've been telling students for 25 years that Krishna is blue because he is a non-Vedic tribal god.” (8 Sep.)

A UK-based Indian Professor was not so sure: “Well, the non-Vedic nature of the god might not ensure the colour! Indeed Krsna (but perhaps Visnu too) is identified with Mayon - the dark one - in Cankam Tamil, and it is not clear which way the influence went. But on the other hand, another colour-coded non-Vedic Tamil god is Seyyon - the red one - who came to be called Subrahmanya...”

Thompson replies: “Well, the color is ensured by the etymology of the word 'krsna'. As for Visnu, he is of course an early Vedic god, though not yet a prominent one in the RV, and there is no mention of Visnu's color in early Vedic, as far as I know.” (8 Sep.)

To a Chicago-based Professor who is not convinced that the dark colour of Krishna’s idols refers to historical skin colour, Thompson replies: “It is clear that Krsna is a black god. There is no shame in that. And there is no shame in the view that he was a tribal god. Or an aboriginal one. Where is there lack of respect in the suggestion that Krsna was originally a non-Vedic tribal god? I think that Krsna is more interesting than his white Vedic colleagues.” (9 Sep)

The professor from Chicago did not take this veiled imputation of anti-aboriginal racism lying down: “You seem to entirely misconstrue my meaning. As I took some minor pains to suggest, my issue was with evidence, not conclusion. I have no trouble with black. Black is beautiful, as they used to say. Nor, were it remotely possible to establish that Krishna was ‘originally’ a ‘tribal god’ or ‘aboriginal god’, would there be any shame for him or his devotees.

“My concern is not with theological shame, but with what might be called methodological shame (or its lack). Empirically speaking, of course, (that is, de facto) you are entirely correct that ‘there is no shame in the view that he was a tribal god’. On the other hand, de jure, I think there ought to be rather more shame in the community of scholars who study Indian religions (and this goes for the vast majority of references in historical works to Indian ‘tribes’ or ‘aborigines’).

“Whether or not one is a ‘tribal god’ (whatever that might be -- and I think this is not at all clear, however people might bandy the concept about) is (ideally) normatively neutral. However, making claims about tribal this and tribal that based on fragments of ambiguous evidence, half-formed ideas about what the native communities of India might have been in the historical periods under discussion, and a healthy dose of lazy historical fantasy (in respectable circles, this is called ‘historical retrodiction’ or ‘synthesis’), should be a matter of some shame indeed.”

“There is some little evidence for communities one might call ‘aboriginal’ or ‘tribal’ in India in the ancient period. However, most of it either requires serious interpretative caution (being, after all, literary representations of marginal communities that bear marked connotations in mainstream discourses) or contradicts the typical Indological fantasy of what characterizes ‘aboriginal, tribal’ societies and religions.”

So, this Professor imputes to Prof. Thompson an eagerness to bandy “racism” about, as well as the methodologically sloppy readiness to assume “tribal” origins. I am not the only one to suspect that George Thompson is a race hustler. A Professor from Buffalo NY dedramatizes the race issue in the Hindu context:

“I recall, many years ago, H. Daniel Smith, the Sanskrit scholar who had by then turned his focus to Hindu poster art, telling a class that the reason that Kali was represented in poster art as blue rather than black was because they couldn't use that much black in early chromolithography -- I don't recall exactly why; perhaps it seeped into neighboring colors? And the technical limitations of the poster art changed the way many people visualized Kali (as blue as well as black). Perhaps something similar is the case with Krishna?” (9 Sep.)

Thompson to the Chicago professor, 9 Sep.:

“I suppose that I have misunderstood your original post, because in fact I do agree that there is little evidence -- either positive or negative – for any claim about Krsna's origins. When we are dealing with texts that are at least 2000 years old (and in my case at least 3000), we are all, in my view, in the dark ages. I probably am more aware of this than most list members because I spend most of my time on the Rgveda. One of my little projects is to translate the cycle of hymns attributed to the rsi Diirghatamas, so I know a lot about darkness, intentional, riddling darkness.

“Color symbolism is an interesting matter but it does not lead us to the light of history. By the way, my reference to white Vedic gods was facetious (I was vaguely alluding to our White Aryan Brotherhood friends). I don't think that any of us is ‘white’. ‘Whiteness’ is a racist concept, in my view. I will close by pointing out that the Vedic clans were not only not white; they were tribal, intensely macho, and virulently xenophobic. I've been reading Jarrod Whitaker's new book Strong Arms and Drinking Strength: Masculinity, Violence and the Body in Ancient India (I've been asked to review it). He points out that nowhere in the RV is nrmna, 'manliness,' ever ascribed to any indigenous peoples (p. 53).”

Nobody in his right mind was referring to “our White Aryan Brotherhood friends”, except for George Thompson. It is only he who links the Indo-Aryans with the unrelated White Aryan Brotherhood. He wrote back on 10 September:

“[The Chicago professor] and I have gotten clearance from Deepak to continue this discussion for a bit longer. Several misunderstandings have been cleared up.

“In the introduction to my Gita translation, I claimed, on the basis of my reading of the text alone, that the doctrine that Krsna as an avatar of Visnu was not yet a settled doctrine in the Gita. Somewhat later after making this assertion, I was asked to review Angelika Malinar's book The Bhagavadgiitaa: Doctrines and Contexts published in 2007 (which is the year in which I had finished my Gita book), and she made the case for this claim at much greater length than I did, and she persuasively argued that her very learned view, and my not very learned but intuitive view, represented the current consensus.

“So, I think that it is fair to say that there was initially significant resistance to the idea that Krsna was an avater of Visnu. In most of the text of the MBh, Krsna is usually considered a mere mortal King of the Vrsnis. While the term vrsni is a good old Vedic word, it isn't used to refer to a particular tribe. The clan of the Vrsnis do not appear on the scene until epic [MBh] Sanskrit. Since I am a Vedicist most of all, I claim no expertise on the ethnography of this Vrsni clan. It might be worthwhile to pursue this, though. It may help us to learn something historically significant about Krsna's origins. But I'll leave this for those who would know more than I do.

“Through this sort of ethnographical research we may be able to get some historical insights into the origins of Krsna. In any case, I think that this kind of approach may prove to be more fruitful than color symbolism.”

A very Christian Professor intervened on 9 September under the header: The Indo-European Immigrants' Self Consciousness:

“Sisters and brothers, A recent mention of Jarrod Whitaker's new book reminded me of something that I have been meaning to ask the list. I know from Ed Bryant's The Quest for the Origins of Vedic Culture, that the evidence that the Indo-Europeans characterized the indigenes in South Asia as ‘snub nosed’ is exceedingly thin. This prompts a more basic question: Assuming that the Indo-Europeans migrated into South Asia, but assuming that it was not a catastrophic invasion, that it was a movement over several centuries, etc., is there solid evidence in early Vedic literature that the migrating Indo-Europeans thought of themselves as a separate people? That they spoke a different language. Or had a different religion and mythology. Or that they were somehow ethnically distinct (if not with longer noses, than with lighter skin, or is even that too much a product of modern racism). That the immigrants labeled themselves ‘Aryans’ and the indigenes were labeled ‘Dasyus’ or ‘Dasas’, of something of the sort. Is the evidence good for this?”

Another Professor added on 11 september under the same header: The Indo-European Immigrants' Self Consciousness:

“In all of our excitement to discuss why Krishna is blue (from the serious to the silly), I fear this excellent question posed by [the Christian Professor] may have gotten lost in the barrage of emails. I am very interested in this topic as well, and would also appreciate some insight from our Vedic scholars.”

That’s when, 11 september, I intervened under this same header: The Indo-European Immigrants' Self Consciousness:

“Dear listfolk,

“The debate over whether there ever was an Aryan invasion has raged (and I mean raged) for two decades, and if there had been such evidence for the Vedic people seeing themselves as invaders and others as natives, it would have been plastered all over the affected discussion forums including this one. So no, there is no such evidence.

“Françoise Bader in her textbook of Indo-European linguistics tries to derive ‘Arya’ (the self-reference term of both Iranians and Vedic Indo-Aryans) from ‘alia’, related to Latin/English ‘alien’, in the sense of ‘the foreigners, the invaders’. But even among the Aryan Invasion believers, she never found many takers for this rather oxymoronic explanation of a self-referential term as meaning ‘the others’.

“In the Rg-Veda, the terms ‘Dasa’ and ‘Dasyu’, which are also known in ethnic meanings in Iranian languages, refer without any doubt to Iranians, i.e. fellow Indo-Europeans, whiter than or at least as white as the Vedic people. Not to Mundas or Dravidians. The Rg-Vedic Battle of the Ten Kings and Varshagira Battle (the first on the Ravi banks in West Panjab, the second beyond the Bolan Pass in southern Afghanistan, after the westward expansion rendered possible by Vedic kind Sudas's victory in the first battle), were very definitely between Iranians and Vedic Indo-Aryans. The second of these battles is also alluded to in the younger Avesta, where the same battle leaders are mentioned: Rjashva/Arjasp and Somaka/Humayaka on the Indian side, Vishtaspa/Ishtashva on the Iranian side. RV 1:122:13 mentions Ishtâshva, the Sanskrit form of Iranian 'Vishtâspa', well-known as Zarathustra's royal patron: 'What can Ishtâshva, Ishtarashmi or any other princes do against those who enjoy the protection (of Mitra and Varuna)?' Thus the interpretation of Sayana and SK Hodiwala, as reported by Shrikant Talageri, The Rigveda, a Historical Analysis, p.215-221, and also followed, at least in the names given, by HH Wilson and KF Geldner in their RV translations. It is a rare treat in studies of ancient literature when a single event is reported in two independent sources, which moreover represent the two opposing parties in the event.

“[Dear Chistian Professor], your question for evidence is an eminently good one. When people say, for example, that Krishna, though described as belonging to one of the Vedic ‘five nations’, is called ‘black because he was a non-Aryan indigenous tribal leader’, it is indeed right and necessary to ask them for their evidence.

“Kind regards,

“Dr. Koenraad Elst, non-affiliated Orientalist”

This argumentation of mine contains one non-essential mistake, viz. the Vârshâgira Battle took place on the eastern, Indian side of the Bolan pass, not on the Western, Afghan side. But it was a battle between Vedic Indians and Avestan Iranians. Terms like Dâsa, Dasyu and Asura are well-attested in Iranian but nowhere attested  in “tribal” languages.

Nonetheless, George Thompson replied on 12 september, now under the header: The Indo-European Immigrants' Self Consciousness. He clearly was very angry for my accusing him of building a far-reaching thesis on no evidence at all:

“Dear List,

“We have had this argument with Mr Elst many, many times already, and I am not going to waste much time on running in circles with him again. He is a virulent Hindutvavadin. Frankly, I don't think that he has earned a place on this list.

“Bader's etymology for the term ‘arya’ is in fact widely accepted by competent linguists. Actually, it isn't her etymology. It is much older than she is. It has been common knowledge for several generations. Elst is not a competent linguist.

“Let me point out also another mistake that Elst makes, along with [yet another Professor]. No Indo-Europeans ever invaded India. Indo-Europeans, by the third millennium, had already fragmented into a dozen or more distinct linguistic families. Indo-Europeans weren't a race! They were a group of linguistic families, speakers of various related languages! This is linguistics 101, my friends! I can't believe that I have to give this lecture yet again on a scholarly list!

“The clans that migrated into India some 3000 plus years ago were Vedic clans, who had very close ties to the Iranian clans that migrated westward into Iran at about the same time that the Vedic clans were approaching the Indian subcontinent. They fought constantly with their Iranian cousins, just as they fought constantly with the indigenous clans of India when they finally reached the Panjab.

“Look, we have significant evidence, linguistic evidence, that clearly demonstrates that the Vedic tribes did in fact migrate into India over the course of many centuries. We have good linguistic evidence that Indra fought against tribes who had no eth[n]ic ties whatsoever with Indo-Iranian tribes (see Kuiper's list of terms that have no cognates either in IE or in Indo-Iranian). These would have to have been tribes indigenous to India.

“Elst continues to think that early Iranian and early Vedic clans thought in terms of their ‘whiteness’ Well, what evidence is there for that? Elst, in my view, clearly operates from a racist ideology. Look again at him.

“If you all want to explore the scholarly dark ages: this is where to look.
He is not competent to talk about Avestan. I am.”

Well, well. In a context where the difference between a and â, between arya and ârya, gets confused by the occasional non-use of the â, it seems that George Thompson hasn’t understood the import of Françoise Bader’s use of arya. Unlike Paul Thieme and other “competent linguists” who are “older than she is”, and who interpreted ârya as a derivative of arya, “other” , viz. as “inclined towards the other, hospitable, altruistic”, Bader interprets ârya as a synonym of arya, viz. as “the other, the stranger” through the semantic conduit “coming from another country = ârya”. (Langues Indo-Européennes, p.66) There is no evidence for this at all, except that it falls in line with the Aryan Invasion Theory; but even all the other AIT champions never thought of it, until George Thompson gave his support to it.

Then we have the champion of the racial interpretation of ancient Vedic terms slamming the open non-racial door: “Indo-Europeans weren't a race! They were a group of linguistic families, speakers of various related languages! This is linguistics 101, my friends! I can't believe that I have to give this lecture yet again on a scholarly list!” Most members even of the RISA list were perfectly aware of the non-racial import of the Rg-Veda, it is only George Thompson who opened the debate by saying in so many words that for 25 years he has been teaching that Krishna’s imputed racial traits are significant for his ethnic background.

What is simply unacceptable is that the avowed racist George Thompson, once he feels the anti-racist mood on the RISA-list, accuses me of all people of racism. Ever since my first writing on the Aryan Invasion Theory, the book Indigenous Indians in 1993, I have consistently lambasted the 19th-century racial interpretation of Vedic terms. George Thompson, by contrast, has espoused that interpretation all along.

It remains a fact that Iranian refers a hundred times in  a self-referential or at least partially Iranian sense to the terms which the Vedas use to name their enemies. None of the tribal languages, not even the Dravidian languages, do so. They also do not have the so-called deshi (vernacular but not attested in Sanskrit) words for Hindi plant names, which are non-existent in the non-Indian Indo-European languages only because it is no use retaining a word for a (in Europe) non-existent plant. All the Kuipers of this world cannot change that.

As a parting shot, Thompson gives this along: “If you all want to explore the scholarly dark ages: this is where to look.” Just the opposite: in the Middle Ages, scholarship reputedly went by authority, which is George Thompson’s method, and the Aryan Invasion method. After the Enlightenment, the scholarly method required evidence, which is my method.

Meanwhile, the list master implored me at once to let it all pass. On 12 September, he sent me a message under the all too clear header: “pls do not respond to that RISA msg”:

“Dear Koenraad:

            "Out of the best interest of the RISA-L listserve, please do not respond to that msg, acrimonious as it was. You are, of course, more than welcome respond off list.

"yours, Deepak, RISA-L admin”

I complied, but must say I have not been rewarded. Though I didn’t react at all, I was shown the door somewhat later. By contrast, I have no information that the offending list member, George Thompson, was reprimanded in any meaningful way. He didn’t apologize on- or off-list. So now, at least, I am at liberty to divulge what happened.

Read more!

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Meera Nanda against Hinduism and its friends: (6) Koenraad Elst's real identity

As a bad loser, Meera Nanda tries to score points on the side. She avoids the main fight, which is the irrational basis of Christianity and Islam. No, not the sorry record of these religions in India and in all Pagan lands, which is only secondary, but the fact that they are based on a truth claim which isn’t true. Christianity has incorporated a lot of things that make sense, but its basic belief as laid down in the Nicene creed is nonsense. We don’t even know whether Jesus existed, but at any rate he wasn’t the son or incarnation of God. We are not sure Mohammed existed, but we are very sure that he didn’t hear God’s voice to dictate to him the Quran. As a scientist, Meera Nanda ought to realize this. But she is in a contradictory situation: she is scientist enough not to believe all this nonsense, but her employers (and possibly her convictions) force her to uphold Christianity and Islam as at least superior to Hinduism. So, to do something about the effect of people (viz. myself) pointing out this contradiction, she doesn’t face them head-on but tries to hit them sideways, as by hiding behind Breivik or by the tested tactic of “guilt by association”.

Ever since I have been writing on secularism and religious conflict, and particularly about Islam, I have had plenty of mud thrown at me. What I have never seen so far is an actual refutation of my central theses. A few non-academic bloggers have tried to muster some arguments, and I have given them a reply in return in my books. So, those who try to take me on mostly do so with “guilt by association”. This rhetorical tactic is used by polemicists of all stripes, everywhere,  and for thousands of years. In itself, it is not tied up with an ideology. Its greatest pioneers are the fishwife types, people who give colour to their humdrum existence by telling sensational tales, true or somewhat less true, about other people. When a fishwife sees how an unknown man rings the bell at the neighbouring woman’s door, and is welcomed in, she doesn’t need to go and listen at the door about what exactly is being said and done between the two of them. The mere fact that a man and a woman are together behind closed door is basis enough for a good story, the details can be filled in by the imagination.

However, on top of the universal dimension of this fishwife tactic, we do notice its popularity among Leftists. I have been a Leftist myself, I know the mentality. In a typically Leftist superstition, it is thought that opinions are contagious. They don’t hang out with people suspected of different opinions for fear of being contaminated. And this is really possible in their case, as their doctrine may not be very strong. Why, I myself lost my Leftist convictions after (apart from negative experiences) sufficient exposure to alternatives. So when they see someone speak with a Rightist party, they genuinely believe that he must be of the same opinion. The idea that different-minded people might have something to tell each other, just doesn’t occur to Leftists.

In my case, Meera Nanda avoids a head-on confrontation with the points I made and instead tries to couple me with less-than-respected political parties and movements: the Vlaams Belang party (Flemish Interest, formerly Vlaams Blok, i.e. Flemish Bloc), Flemish nationalism in general, and the New Right: “It so happens that Koenraad Elst has one foot firmly in the European New Right and the other foot in the Hindu New Right spawned by the VoI school. In Europe, he is considered a ‘leading Orientalist’, and writes frequently for The Brussels Journal, a European nationalist anti-Islamic blog, cited repeatedly by Breivik in his manifesto. Elst has also worked with think-tanks and publications suspected of links with Belgium’s far right, anti-Islamic, anti-immigrant party, Vlaams Belang.”

So, last but not least, she “links” me to the “far-right, anti-Islamic and anti-immigrant party, Vlaams Belang”, though not directly. That is of course the safest: she knows that she can easily be found out as a liar if she links me directly to a political party, so she does it indirectly. Well, I can put the same thing more charitably, and thank her for not directly linking me to a political party. After all, she could easily have gotten away with one more false statement, she has far more institutional support than I do.

The basis in reality of the allegation is this: in 1992 I spoke on Islam before a Vlaams Blok audience. This went by unconspicuously, but one year later it was reported in the tabloid De Morgen, where I was called an “ideologist” of the party. All claims linking me to the party go back to this one article. In reality, my ideology and the party’s were at loggerheads, even on the issue of Islam. Thus, I pleaded for an  immersion of Islamic pupils in the European school system and culture, whereas the party at the time wanted to keep Islamic pupils in a separate school system (just as the Mullahs wanted) in preparation of their return. VB-watchers logically made fun of the party’s intellectual poverty, that they could not find better guests than such as would explicitate their dissident opinions; in my case even a long-haired hippy known to frequent coloured types.

With my appearance at a Vlaams Blok gathering, I had breached the cordon sanitaire. Strictly, the cordon pertained to politicians making (non-existent) coalitions with the Vlaams Blok, but in effect it also counted for intellectuals merely talking with them. And that is the very reason why I did what I did. When  I look back those twenty years now, I am not sure I would speak to a Vlaams Blok gathering, because I would not want to make it so easy for the Meera Nanda’s of this world to avoid the real issue through guilt by association. At that time, I thought that there was no way my own position could be confused with the party’s, my writing was after all clear enough. Now I know better: nobody cares about what you write (few people read it in the first place), not even intellectuals like Meera Nanda, but they will remember all the better before what audience you read it out; that  is the way of the world. But back then, what disturbed me was that Communists forgetful about their own crimes  had decreed the cordon, which was a clear breach of freedom of opinion. They had even hijacked the name of the anti-Communist Czech platform Charta 77 as Charta 91. That is why I just had to accept the Vlaams Blok invitation: to make a gesture against this neo-Communist attack on the democratic polity. Of course the slander that befell me as a consequence will never happen to a conformist like Meera Nanda; indeed it is committed by her kind.

After that, many leftists and middle-of-the-road people broke off relations with me, and I lost a lot of job opportunities. Some people saw they had been duped but continued to avoid me, this time out of shame, but the result was the same: my social life became so much the poorer. Association with the wrong party comes at a price, which is one of the reasons I treat Meera Nanda as a debtor. But when the same paper, through the pen of a practicing neo-Pagan priest and Socialist Party activist repeated its allegation in 1999 (with nothing as his source but the paper’s own reporting from 1993), the reaction was zero or positive. By that time, everybody knew the paper was lying. And more recent references to me have not repeated the allegation either. For instance, when Russian TV interviewed me on Belgian affairs, coincidentally a day after the Breivik affair, De Morgen described me as a “new-rightist separatist”: that is not true either, but it is vague and I can live with it. When Belgian nationalists tried to exploit the mentioning of my name by Breivik, they called me a Flemish separatist or so, but the link to that party was absent. So, the imputed connection between myself and this party is dead for more than a decade among all people in the know, including my enemies.

The English Wikipedia, however, contains, thanks  to Sanjay Subramaniam, a false statement: “According to Sanjay Subrahmanyam, he has connections to the far-right Vlaams Blok”. I have no such connections, nor half-connections or part-connections. But the blot on the encyclopedia’s fair name is not just in the wrongness of the statement, but in its partisan and non-encyclopedic nature. Among other things, Sanjay Subramaniam is neither an expert on me nor on Belgian politics, so he should not have been quoted in an encyclopedia at any rate.

Who is this Sanjay Subramaniam? He was exposed in my book Ayodhya, the Case against the Temple, ch.4.3. as just another Nehruvian academic who does what his kind does best, viz. bluffing and lying: “So, practically every word in Subramaniam’s evaluation [of Arun Shourie’s book Eminent Historians] is malicious and untrue.” (p.46) He was also nominated by the BJP in 2002-04 when they set up a chair for Indian Studies in Oxford. As I had predicted, the BJP did not pursue “saffronization”, the way its enemies alleged, but a pat on the shoulder by its enemies. Of course this never materialized, but the prospect was enough to make the BJP nominate one of its known critics. At any rate, Sanjay Subramaniam was the face of saffronization, and of the BJP’s stupidity. Then I exposed him again in my book The Saffron Swastika, ch.7.2-7 for his slanderous attacks on Leftist Islam critics like Ayaan Hirsi Ali and the murdered Theo Van Gogh. Exposed as a liar, he saw no other way out than Meera Nanda, viz. to shoot at the messenger. 

But no matter what he says, I have never been a member or employee of the VB. Repeat: never. I have been a member of the Christian-Democratic party in 2000-2010 and have been a member of Christian-Democratic social organizations since the 1970s. In 1999, the Christian-Democrats narrowly lost the elections and were thrown out of government after more than four decades; I thought it was finally a good time for reform. Unfortuntely I took ill right after becoming a party member, and the party was never far enough from power to allow for real reform, so nothing came of my quixotic reform plan. But if you want my real political affinity, there it is.  

If Wikipedia wants to live up to its promise of being a reliable encyclopedic source, it will strike this and all sentences resembling it from its article on me. At most, it can use me as an example of how it was fooled by some of its all-too-partisan collaborators. Speaking of whom: the history page accompanying my page proves forever that some Wikipedia collaborators wanted to inflict on me the maximum harm possible, an attitude incompatible with work for an encyclopedia. Shouldn’t Wikipedia fire them and wipe out everything they wrote? Of course they can still contribute blogs and columns, by preference under their own full names, but they have proven themselves not to be encyclopedic authorities.

Incidentally, other Wikipedia entries refute the said allegation. The English Wikipedia, entry Anders Behring Breivik, mentions me among his host of “sources of inspiration”, but refrains from linking me to any political party or movement. It would have liked to if it could, but it could not. So to put me down in a different manner, it calls me a “neo-Pagan writer”. That too is an insult and meant as one; it does not call the Islamic scholar Daniel Pipes “the Jew Daniel  Pipes” and rightly so: Breivik or his sources quote us for we for what we authoritatively say on Islam, not for our real or imagined religious beliefs.

The Dutch Wikipedia, entry Brussels Journal, relying on better-informed sources than a Sanjay Subramaniam, has a chapter on relations with political parties. It notes that the press tends to associate BJ with the VB because founder Paul Beliën’s wife is an MP for the VB and because “there is also a strong similarity between Beliën’s and the VB’s thinking, though in the last few years, the relation between the VB and Beliën has been rather tense.” And then it adds: “There are also writers and contributors, like Flemish law scholar Matthias Storme, who is a member of the N-VA [a rival party], orientalist Koenraad Elst, former VRT [Flemish TV] reporter Jan Neckers, libertarian VLD [another rivaling party] blogger Luc Van Braekel and others who are not VB members and express other opinions.” Incidentally, Paul Beliën left the Brussels Journal well before the Breivik affair; the paper is now managed by Luk Van Braekel.

But my own entry, while rather silent about the main things I have done, starts out by associating me with yet another political movement, the Nouvelle Droite, viz. by the factual observation that I had been a board member of TeKoS, a Flemish Nouvelle Droite quarterly, in 1992-95. So Meera Nanda adds that I have “one foot firmly in the European New Right”.

The wrongest word there is “firmly”. Those who know me, acknowledge that I am not so firm in my engagement with groups and movements; I am only firm in being an Orientalist. In this case too, the years mentioned should already have alerted readers to my not-so-firm beliefs in the Nouvelle Droite (which Meera Nanda translates as New Right). Also, there were only two board meetings yearly, which were merely social occasions, because the owner took all the decisions.

Apart from TeKoS, I only contributed a single article to any Nouvelle Droite publication, viz. to their flagship publication Nouvelle Ecole, where in 2001 I contributed a defence of the Out-of-IndiaTheory, directly flying in the face of the Nouvelle Droite position (which is very pro-AIT) and answered on the spot by both Alain de Benoist, their mastermind, and Jean Haudry, their specialist on Indo-European matters. It is a good thing that they are more open-minded than the Indian secularists, but that shouldn’t obscure our differences.

That can be generalized: though I published in the Nouvelle Droite publication TeKoS, Meera Nanda and her friends will have a hard time finding articles of mine where I develop the typical Nouvelle Droite themes, such as identity. There are even articles where I lambast the Nouvelle Droite (or the Vlaams Belang, for that matter), but they are in Dutch, which I surmise Meera Nanda does not read. Note however that it is her own unsolicited conceit that she is a specialist on the thoughts of Koenraad Elst.

Remark that Meera Nanda is silent about the leftist Islam critics. Yet, they have everything to do with it. My first article on and against Islam was in 1989 in Toestanden, a Communist weekly. My first lectures about and against Islam were for several departments of the Masereelfonds, a Communist cultural foundation. You won’t find it in my Wikipedia entry, of course, but I have the evidence. In the 1990s, the Left didn’t know what to do with Islam and looked the other way, but in recent years, leftist intellectuals have come out in large numbers to say out loud that there is something wrong with Islam.  Thus, in my country, people like Etienne Vermeersch, Geert Van Istendael, Benno Barnard, Luckas Vander Taelen,  Patrick De Witte, and many others have published articles critical of Islam, initially against their friends’ circle, but increasingly with approval. Meera Nanda might not know this, but even and especially if she did, she would not mention it because it doesn’t fit her story of a vast right-wing conspiracy.

Let us conclude with a final example of how wrong she can be. From here, we will also use Meera Nanda’s article “Hindu triumphalism”, published in the Economic and Political Weekly, July 2009, distinguishing between (Nanda 2011) and (Nanda 2009). In it, she tries to prove her accusation of my “links” with both the VB and the Nouvelle Droite by writing: “Indeed, the editor-in-chief of TeKoS, Luc Pauwels, was one of the founders of the Vlaams Belang”.

Luc Pauwels, whose father spent the war as a prisoner in Buchenwald, was the editor of TeKoS till about 2001 and volunteered to be the Secretary of the Vlaamse Volkspartij (Flemish People’s Party), one of the splinters after the Volksunie (People’s Union) compromised itself in 1978. After the party’s President, Lode Claes, failed to get elected, the party died out and some of its members joined the Vlaams-Nationale Partij (Flemish National Party), the other splinter with whom the Vlaamse Volkspartij had contracted an electoral agreement known as the Vlaams Blok (Flemish Bloc). Now, during the vote on this alliance, arguably the basis of the Vlaams Blok, the Vlaamse Volkspartij was split roughly in half: the bigger half, in favour of the bloc, was led by the Party President, Lode Claes, while the smaller half, voting against the bloc, was led by the Party Secretary, Luc Pauwels. So, when making the point that Luc Pauwels had co-founded the Vlaams Blok, Meera Nanda is as mistaken as she can be. She could still have said that Luc Pauwels was a known rightst or so, but she chose to link him to the wrong party. I don’t hold it against her that she is ignorant about something as unimportant as Belgian politics, only that she pretends to be a specialist in the matter.
As for myself, I am my own man, not a party man. I deserve to have my viewpoints examined not on their real or imagined associations but on their merits. I want my real and stated positions attacked, not those at my declared enemies' convenience.

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Thursday, April 26, 2012

Another secularist whitewash of Islam

A Professor of South Asian History at Trinity College Hartford, Connecticut, Vijay Prashad, commented on French India-based journalist François Gautier. He wrote “Hindu Holocaust?”, published on (25 Sep. 2009), in reaction to Gautier’s opening of a “Hindu Holocaust” museum in Pune. Actually it got a more positive name, referring to the successful freedom struggle by Shivaji, which in turn drew a lot of flak from the Hindu nationalist side. Hindus unaware of the Jewish touchiness regarding the alleged misuse of the term “Holocaust” (in fact first used for the Armenian genocide by the Turks, which took the form of the destruction by fire of the Armenian-held town of Urfa), and of how the reference to the Holocaust would obviously put the Jewish suffering in the centre instead of the Hindu suffering that is the object of the museum, held it against Gautier that he seemingly went soft on what happened to the Hindus. At any rate, a museum was devoted  to the Hindu-Muslim struggle, and Vijay Prashad didn’t like that.

Vijay Prashad is a familiar type: a Nehruvian secularist, i.e. an institutional winner but a loser on contents. He was one of the people who clamoured, after my Ayodhya lecture in Madison WI 1996, that “a scholarly rebuttal should be given”, but whose scholarly rebuttal is still awaited. For a while he took part in a debate with Rajiv Malhotra, for which a whole yahoo list was  created, but he wimped out. On the Hindu Holocaust too, he takes comfortable conformistic positions but he has never written a serious rebuttal of the “Hindu nationalist” (actually purely historical) theory that Muslims killed millions of Hindus.

So, let’s see what he got worked up about. In the main, it is money: “A fundraiser in New Jersey on Aug. 16 raised $50,000 for a ‘Hindu Holocaust’ museum to be built in Pune. The museum is the brainchild of a Frenchman, Francois Gautier, and is under the auspices of the Viraat Hindu Sabha (VHS). They claim that over the past thousand years, millions of Hindus were killed, with the intention to wipe Hindus off the map.”

The intention is mostly in the eye of the beholder, though I cannot exclude that there are genuinely are some Hindus in America who believe that the Muslims had the intention to “wipe Hindus off the map”. Some of course had that intention, but by and large, Muslims are satisfied if Hindus convert. They can stay on the map, but as Musllims. However, no song need be made about Hindus dying, sometimes war is an Allah-ordained necessity, and so, Hindus have died by the millions. We need not even look very far: of the one to three million victims of the Bangladesh war in 1971, most were Hindus, totally dwarfing those who were killed in religious riots in remainder-India since 1947. In 1947 too, the Hindu refugees from West Panjab killed by their Muslim neighbours far outnumbered the East Panjabi Muslims who didn’t make it to the Promised Land they themselves had created.

According to vijay Prashad, “The numbers are vague, as one might expect, but the culprit is precisely defined: Islam. (…) It reduces the complexity of the subcontinent's rich history into a simple morality play that has only two characters: the Hindu and the Muslim. The latter is the invader who has come and killed the former. Nothing else matters.”

Many other things matter to the Hindu revivalists, as the array of Sangh Parivar and other Hindu organizations testify. The hyperfocus on the Hindu-Muslim conflict exists only in the eye of the Nehruvian beholder. But the focus of this one lone museum is indeed the Hindu-Muslim conflict. That is as it should be: a conflict spanning more than a millennium and a whole Subcontinent deserves a museum.  

And there’s even more in the eye of the beholder: “The idea of the Hindu Holocaust casts the Hindu as history's victim, who should now become history's aggressor to avenge the past.” A leftist and revolutionary like Vijay Prashad cannot countenance a straight summary of facts, he has to imagine a violent “revenge”. Well, the museum’s object is just to show factual history, and the viewer is then free to decide on his own reaction.

Speaking of imagination, Viyay Prashad’s runs wild: “But the Hindu was not always the victim. If you read the historical records carefully, you will find that many Hindus participated in the slaughter of other Hindus, and that the Hindu-Buddhist battles of the ancient world were perhaps more bloody than anything that comes afterward.” Which battles were those? As Sita Ram Goel once said in this same context: I am asking for one example, not two.” But the battles in which Islam wiped out Buddhism, in the 10th century in Afghanistan and then in North India at the end of the 12th, are well-attested.

With reference to Romila Thapar’s book on Somnath, Vijay Prashad asserts: “There was killing, but that was as much for reasons of warfare and plunder as for reasons of God and tradition.” He hasn’t studied Islamic history at all, else he would know that Mohammed himself commanded ca. 82 raids on caravans, purely “for reasons of warfare and plunder”, and that these very raids were the occasion to launch the term jihâd. In Islam, there is no antagonism between plunder and God.

Of course, he lists cases of Hindu magnanimity as cases of Hindu-Muslim coexistence, e.g.: “In the 13th century, a local raja, Sri Chada, granted a merchant from Hormuz the right to build a mosque on temple land. He also provided the mosque with a disbursement for teachers and preachers, for the daily reading of the Quran and for the celebration of festivals. The Veraval-Somanatha inscription of 1264 shows us that even orthodox Shaivite priests cooperated in the building of the mosques.” He ought to have mentioned the Vijayanagar king who employed Muslim generals, only to be betrayed by them during the momentous Battle of Talikota, when they joined the Muslim Army and inflicted defeat and destruction on Vijayanagar.

Of course Vijay Prashad cannot stand it when foreigners who defy the description as “Hindu nationalists” agree with the “Hindu Holocaust” scenario: “Gautier’s (…) work reads like another European apologist for extreme Hindutva, Koenraad Elst. Both went to strict Catholic schools and now hold a deep animus against Christian missionaries, but seem to take their venom out mainly against Islam. Gautier and Elst want to make plain the ‘Muslim genocide against Hindus’. But neither is a serious student of history, with little idea of how to read historical texts. They draw more from a misplaced passion than from a real, sober scientific exploration of the facts. That they are taken seriously is a sign of the degradation of reason in the world of Hindutva.”
            Well well, the loser Vijay Prashad who negates history but has never been able to produce a single paper establishing his conformistic whitewash of Islam, is now berating the museum-opener and writer of factual Hindu-Muslim history as having ‘little idea of how to read historical texts’. Texts of which he himself leaves the reading to Romila Thapar. As long as the power equations remain as they are, he will have more success with his lies than we with the facts, that cannot be helped; but eternity will know Vijay Prashad as a liar.

Meanwhile, he is mistaken in alleging that Gautier and I “have a deep animus against Christian missionaries”. Both of us have gone out of our way to explicitate that we have Catholic priests among our relatives and that we have fond memories of them. At the same time, we have perfectly rational reasons for having our doubts about the missionary enterprise among the Hindus. But for those reasons, Vijay Prashad has to substitute an emotional”animus”, because the eye of the beholder cannot face a rational critique of his favoured religions.  

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Sunday, April 22, 2012

The Huffington Post debate on A.K. Ramanujan

A.K. Ramanujan's essay Three Hundred Ramayanas has elicited a debate misstating the issues. The problem with the essay is not that it is blasphemous, but that it is flawed. It is just unscholarly.
A Hindu writing under the pen name Artboxone (5-12) and thinking he was being helpful referred to an article about past affairs of Hindu anger over Hinduism’s academic misrepresentation:

“An excellent summation contextualizing the RISA-L chronology has appeared in the academic forum (!!!), as described below: McComas Taylor: ‘Mythology Wars: The Indian Diaspora, ‘Wendy's Children’ and the Struggle for the Hindu Past’, Asian Studies Review [1035-7823] yr:2011 vol:35 iss:2 pg:149-168.”

Vishal Agarwal replied (5-12):

“The paper by McComas Taylor is another example of deception. For example, it completely omits to mention Swami Tyagananda's published book (by Motilal Banarsidass) on Jeffrey Kripal's work. Likewise, it totally misrepresents my own criticism of Paul Courtright's book on Ganesha calling it nitpicking and point to spelling errors. In fact, in our rebuttal extending over 80 pages, only half a page deals with spelling errors and so on. Now is this because Taylor did not understand our critique, or was he being dishonest? I leave it to the reader to decide.”

Vishal Agarwal added (2-12 to 5-12) more observations:

“Whether people like it or not, the fact is that there is no credible proof that Valmiki's Ramayana post-dates the Buddha. There is a complete absence of mention of Buddha or Mahavira or their followers or of Nandas, Mauryas or Shungas and so on. There is no mention of Pataliputra or Rajagriha. Rather, the latter's predecessor Girivraja is mentioned. Even if there were additions to the text in subsequent centuries, the data in the text itself is clear that it belongs to a much older era. In a country of 1.2 billion people, you will find all sorts of interpretations and retellings. The secularists and leftists like Ramanujan use this diversity as a weapon against Hinduism, and argue that there is no normative Dharma or no ‘highest common factor’. Ipso fact, Hinduism is a 'myth'. This is the subtext of Ramanujan's essay. And it is for this reason, it was prescribed by the leftist faculty of Delhi University. Otherwise, there is not much merit in the essay. Asuras can read the Mohashastras but there is no need to prescribe it in the DU reading list when there are dozens of better things to chose from.

“Where Ramanujan got it wrong, driven by his ideological agendas, is to to place all the diverse renderings of Ramayana at par with the Valmiki Ramayana. Let us get one thing VERY CLEAR - All these different versions of Ramayana (Dasharatha Jataka included) have the Ramayana of Valmiki as their basis and draw their storyline to it. It is another matter that they adapt it to their own purposes. Even Ashvaghosha, the author of Buddhacharita, salutes Valmiki as the Adikavi. The Shakya lineage was derided for having descended from a brother sister union. The Buddhists therefore created the Jataka in which Rama and Sita married, and linked the Shakyas with the Ikshavakus. So, their agenda was obvious. To claim, despite this obvious explanation, that in the 'most ancient version of the Ramayana, Rama and Sita are siblings' is to distort stuff with the deliberate intent of deriding Hindu beliefs. Likewise, the Paumicharyam clearly seeks to create an alternative Jain version. This phenomenon so rampant in Jainism that there is no need to detail it. The Jains created alternatives for everything Hindu (which pre-supposes the prior existence of Hindu originals).

“Ramanujan was 'mohita'. His agenda was Hinduphobic and Leftist. He may have done some good work but it has to be taken with a pinch of salt. In any case, let us not deviate from the issue. The question was whether it was appropriate for AKRs essay to be in the prescribed reading list in DU. And my answer is a firm no. It is academically flawed and ideologically driven and was prescribed precisely because of the Hinduphobic arguments that it inadvertently proposes. When even early Buddhist authors can claim (e.g., the Spitzer Manuscript, dated to 200 AD or earlier on palaeographic grounds) that the omniscience of Buddha is proven because he had studied the Ramayana and Mahabharata, the obvious conclusion is that these texts were considered pre-Buddha even by Buddhist writers at that time. Otherwise, they would not fool their readers. For that matter Jatakas etc. have their own versions of Krishna's life too. But it is obvious which one is older and which is a recast.

Artboxone added (2-12):

“AK Ramanujan was not a historian or mythologist. His scholarship was primarily in English literature with a smattering of Kannada and Tamil folklore. He didn’t have the kind of knowledge of Sanskrit that an essay, which dismisses the authorship of Ramayana, demands...

"The fact is that over 5000/6000 years, every single tradition, author, poet, or folktale takes Valmiki’s name with the utmost reverence as the original author of Ramayana. Not one other person is mentioned as the author. Yet, AK Ramanujan’s opium-filled pen includes Valmiki’s original as ‘one of the tellings’ on the basis of… absolutely no evidence. He simply assumes...

"The claim that this puerile essay provides ‘alternative viewpoints’ is absurd. Alternative viewpoints must be based on the original epic, on the original story and not on fantasy. You can’t alter the original dramatically — like making Ravana Sita’s father — and then claim that it’s an ‘alternative viewpoint’. That’s distortion, not an alternative viewpoint. And 300 Ramayanas does precisely that — it legitimizes such distortions...

"The behaviour and character of academic mullahs is once again consistent with their sorry record of misdeeds. The way — the civilized way to go about protesting an issue like this is to call for an academic debate. Call experts on both sides, have a debate and then come to a conclusion. But then that’s how academics do it...”

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US academics for and against censorship

The internet discussion list of the Religion In South Asia (RISA) section of the American Academy of Religion (AAR) invites to its membership all scholars with a terminal degree related to the field of religion in South Asia and who are dues-paying AAR members. For several years, I was an active participant in the RISA conversation. I was merely tolerated, though, for the dominant circle there tended to dislike my position, deemed too pro-Hindu. And even that toleration came to an end shortly after the AAR meeting of November 2011.

In an attempt to comprehend listmaster Deepak Sarma’s lie that I had violated list rules, an allegation which he failed to specify both to me and to an enquiry by Prof. Francis Clooney s.j., I venture to link it to two incidents on the RISA list in the preceding months. One is an incident with prof. George Thompson, the other was an incident on the notion of interreligious dialogue, where my critics violated list rules but which will form the material for separate posts. For now, we will discuss the contradiction between the RISA scholars’ defence of freedom of speech elsewhere and their approval of censorship on their own platform.

Quite a few RISA (Religion in South Asia) scholars are inveterate enemies of freedom of speech. When I spoke on the Aryan Invasion Theory in Prof. Andrew Sihler’s Department at the University of Wisconsin in 1996, Biju Mathew and Vijay Prashad of the Forum Of Inqilabi (= Revolutionary) Leftists distributed a leaflet demanding that I be denied a platform to speak at American Universities. This leaflet was subsequently condoned explicitly by Prof. Michael Witzel (7-2-2003) and Prof. Robert Zydenbos (10-2-2003) on the secretive Scholarly Services list. So we know where the enemies of liberty are.

Fortunately, some scholars are also in favour of freedom of speech. Or to put that more precisely, the very same scholars are in favour of or against freedom of speech depending on whether it is one of their friends or one of their enemies whose right to freedom of speech is being challenged. We don’t know exactly which ones are for freedom of speech in general and which ones want to limit freedom of speech to their friends, but we know that a lot of them want to safeguard the freedom of speech of the late A.K. Ramanujan.

Not that his freedom is really threatened by censorship, i.e. by a state’s intervention to have his books or articles censored. What happened is that his publisher, the private company Oxford University Press, refused to republish his essay Three Hundred Ramayanas in 2011. The Delhi University refused to include this essay among its mandatory reading. Immediately an online petition was started to protest against this act of “censorship”. I signed it too, because of course I don’t believe in hampering the spread of ideas, not even when it has the lofty goal of preventing the spread of a fundamentally flawed perception of the Ramayana. Hindus had better learn to hold their own in the marketplace of ideas; clamouring for censorship is a weakness bid. But that shouldn’t foster any illusions about the rightness of A.K. Ramanujan’s thesis, nor about the motives of the Professors who suddenly discovered the value of his freedom of speech.

Meanwhile, an act of censorship at RISA

On 27 November 2011, shortly after my return from the annual session of the American Academy of Religion (of which RISA is a subsection), I sent to listmaster Dr. Deepak Sarma the following mail: “Dear Deepak, “could you please change my RISA address from […] to “Thanks, “KE”

This was because my old address did not match my RISA address anymore, so that for every intervention I had to trouble the listmaster to give me access. It was just a technical matter.

But much to my surprise, this is the reply I got on 28 November: “Subject: your RISA-L membership status

“Dr. Elst:

“The RISA-L Advisory Committee has decided not to renew your membership to RISA-L. The decision was made based on both the eligibility criteria as well as the list rules ( It was determined that you are not eligible and have violated list rules. Yours, Deepak”

I asked Deepak for the coordinates of the members of this mysterious “advisory committee”, not mentioned on the RISA instructions, so that I could contact them, but he didn’t reply.

So, cut off from the list archives and its addresses, I sent a mail to three scholars whose addresses I did have and who just made themselves remarkable by opposing the act of censorship in Delhi to A.K. Ramanujan’s disadvantage. It went like this:

“To:,, “Subject: Fw: your RISA-L membership status."

“Dear Professors,

“During the AAR annual conference of 2006 in Washington DC, I attended a ‘debate’ on the Danish Mohammed cartoons, then the target of both a campaign of violence and another campaign in favour of censorship. Not a single one of the six or so panelists took a stand for unfettered freedom of expression as guaranteed in the US Constitution's First Amendment. Each one started out with: ‘Of course freedom of expression is important, BUT...’ Since the organizers must have known the invited panelists and their positions in the matter, it seemed to be AAR policy to support certain higher values against the secular value of freedom of expression. In question time too, not one of the religion scholars in the audience challenged this consensus. I concluded that freedom of expression doesn't count for much in the guild of religion scholars, not even in the Land of the Free.

“Consequently, I was pleasantly surprised to see how last week, a clear stand for freedom of expression and opposing the ‘non-governmental censorship’ exercised by OUP-India against AK Ramanujan's essay Three Hundred Ramayanas was taken by you three on the RISA list. And by some others, but their posts are no longer in my inbox and I don't have access to the list archive for reasons discussed below, so I cannot address them here. But three voices for freedom should be enough to defeat the dark forces of censorship.

“Not every stand for freedom and against suppression of speech by state authority or by non-governmental agencies is equally demanding. Thus, it is easier to stand up against censorship exercised by a foreign body in distant Oxford and Delhi than against censorship exercised by a body of which one is a prominent and esteemed member oneself. And it is far more attractive to show solidarity with a censored author whose opinions one shares than with one whose positions one opposes. Yet, the latter instance is the true test of what side one is on in the struggle between liberty and oppression. Stalin and Hitler were all for the freedom of expression of those whose opinions they shared. What distinguishes democrats from those dictators is that they grant freedom to all without discrimination by status or opinion.

“Today, I am appealing to you to take a stand against censorship exercised by your own RISA list against someone whose opinions you may very well disapprove of, viz. myself.

“Shortly after returning home from the AAR conference in San Francisco, where I had read a paper on the Buddha's social conservatism (and another one on Buddhism's martial roots at the DANAM conference), to considerable acclaim, I found an e-mail in my inbox from the RISA listmaster, Prof. Deepak Sharma. After he had been conspicuously avoiding me at the conference as if held back by a troubled conscience, I considered it possible that he was at last sending me his apologies for his less than impartisan handling of several recent attacks against my person on the list. Instead, what I found was the following:

"From: Deepak Sarma to Dr. Elst:

"The RISA-L Advisory Committee has decided not to renew your membership to RISA-L. The decision was made based on both the eligibility criteria as well as the list rules ( It was determined that you are not eligible and have violated list rules. Yours, Deepak"

“From someone who hasn't even issued a mere reprimand against gross violations of list rules when these were targeted against Hindu list members or myself, this sudden concern for list rules seemed disingenuous. The step of excluding someone without first taking less extreme steps is also strange. Having served in a number of organizations myself, I was also surprised that there still exist organizations where such a step can be taken behind someone's back without even giving him a hearing. Finally, the stated reasons are obviously false. I satisfy the eligibility criteria just as much as (or even more than) the day when I was admitted to the list, being an AAR member with wide experience of teaching and research in the field of South-Asian religion and with a related terminal academic degree (actually three of them). And no, I have not violated list rules, on the contrary.

“When a list member, while stating his firm belief in the racialist interpretation of the ethnic data in the Rg-Veda and of the scriptural descriptions of Krishna, recently launched against me the grossest personal attack in the history of the list (if you know of a worse instance, I'd like to hear it, and also what punishment was administered to the offender), Deepak shot off a hurried request to me not to reply to it. Though my expectation that he would do the right thing and publicly reprimand the offender was in vain, I assured him that I would not make matters worse by reacting. Possibly that was poor judgment of mine, but it served the cause of relative peace on the list and a constructive atmosphere, already damaged badly enough by the offender. But now my cooperative attitude is rewarded with a consilium abeundi. It seems that this mysterious "advisory committee" cares less about the good atmosphere on the list than about ideological conformity.

“Fortunately, having witnessed your commitment to the cause of academic freedom and freedom of expression, I can be confident that at least one of you will take an initiative to remedy this injustice. I am looking forward to it.

“Yours sincerely, Dr. Koenraad Elst”

I received no reply to this mail. Since there is nothing that Gunga Dins like Deepak Sarma admire more than White Missionary Professors, I decided finally to ask Harvard Professor Francis Clooney S.J. for help. He asked Deepak for an explanation of his behavior, but all he got for a reply was the same mendacious affirmation that I had trespassed against list rules. The reality was that list rules had only been trespassed against when addressing me. But clearly, pressures on the listmaster from those conformists who wanted me out was stronger.

The Huffington Post debate on the censorship by Deepak Sarma

Under the title “Censoring Ramanujan's Essay On Ramayana: Intolerant Hindus And Confusing Texts”, Deepak Sarma pontificated in Huffington Post (30-11-2011) on freedom of speech in Hinduism. He argued that his mentor, Mâdhva, had nothing against adverse comments, which he qualified as Mohashâstra, “Deluded scripture”, and freely answered them. Among those who replied was Vishal Agarwal:

“But you can hardly expect Sarmas and Donigers to support lifting of these other bans, or the large scale censoring of History in India by 'secularist' historians in West Bengal, Kerala and so on. Their hatred is reserved for Hindus and Hinduism. The sarcasm in Sarma's email shows his pettiness. If he is serious and honest about free speech, he should reinstate dissenting scholars in the RISA-L list that he manages.”

My own reply was this (2-12):

“The ‘intolerant Hindus’ of your title may not be coterminous with the entire Hindu society, but they certainly include your esteemed self, Deepak. Your own record of partisan censorship as listmaster on the RISA-list is well-known to all insiders. In your case, the aim is not to humour any Hindu constituency but to please your American paymasters. And these tend to support your censorship, of course, because academics have ideological agendas too, and are more attached to those than to the First Amendment principle of freedom of expression. Approval of censorship exists also among those who, along with yourself and myself, have signed the petition against OUP's censoring Ramanujan. For many of them this is not a matter of principle, of standing up for freedom of expression. Instead, they are using Ramanujan as a tool in their own crusade against Hinduism in general (e.g. the Christian missionary lobby, a palpable presence in US Indology) or against specific schools of thought within Hinduism. The proof of being on the side of freedom of expression is defending it even and especially in the case of those you disagree with. As Rosa Luxemburg put it, ‘freedom is always the freedom of those who hold dissenting views’. You have failed that test.”

Deepak Sarma tried to justify his act of censorship as follows (4-12):

"In this connection, the rules for debate in the academic realm differ significantly from other realms, such as this virtual one. There are, for example, rules about evidence, and about how evidence is presented. If a participant violates these rules then s/he may be excluded from further conversations. In this sense, in the academic world, there is an intolerance of those who do not follow the rules for debate. These rules of rhetoric are themselves debatable. Lest there be an infinite regress of sorts (that is, how do we argue about how we argue?) they ought to be upheld stipulatively.”

But by the time I sent in my reply (5-12), Deepak Sarma’s allies at the Huffington Post had got into their usual act and censored it, i.e. it was not published. Still, here it is:

“Because most readers don't have access to the RISA list where Deepak exercises his censorship, he expects to get away with misrepresenting his own record there. His contentious interventions had nothing to do with ‘rules about evidence’ but with ideological conformity. Nobody has ever been muzzled or excluded there for being loose with evidence, nor for violating general rules of conduct (such as calling dissenting fellow list members ‘the scum of the earth’), as long as the offender belonged to the right ideological camp, i.e. the anti-Hindu side. And some contributions have been suppressed precisely because they did contain evidence, but of the ideologically unwelcome kind. However, we must welcome Deepak's honest admission that his own conduct is an instance of ‘intolerance’.

“That he adds an improvised justification for his intolerance of free debate, merely follows the pattern heard after every act of censorship. Hitler and Stalin were never short of reasons to deny freedom of speech to dissenters and other spoilsports of their utopian schemes. After the violent reactions to the Danish Mohammed cartoons, the leading American editorialists and all members of an American Academy of Religion panel discussing the incident came up with a variation on: "Of course freedom of expression is dear to us, BUT..." No ifs and buts on such a fundamental principle, please.

“In this case, it is particularly misplaced for Deepak to invoke academic standards as justifying censorship. In the most conspicuous recent incidents involving book-banning and Hinduism, the impression of a hot-headed Hindu opposition against objective scholarship has been created in the media, when the objection against the contentious publications was precisely that they were unobjective and academically sub-standard. Courtright's Freudian claims about Ganesha betray gross ignorance about Ganesha's many literary appearances in roles different from the stereotype on which he bases his theory. Wendy Doniger's book is not malicious, as Hindu critics have alleged, but it is flippant and full of inaccuracies, apparently because the author just doesn't take her subject seriously. As Vishal has briefly argued here, Ramanujan's essay too is substandard because its central claim simply conflicts with the data. But that is no reason to ban it, of course. Demands for censorship allow partisan writers to deflect attention from the contents of their publications and to pose as martyrs. They allow the Deepak Sarmas of this world to misrepresent the debate as one between scholarship and fanaticism, when in fact it is one between partisan writing and proper scholarship. Instead of clamouring for censorship, Hindus should publish and publicize well-prepared rebuttals. Open debate, as Deepak has correctly affirmed, is the Hindu way.”

A certain Sandalwood reminded us of some Hindu American Foundation remarks on the previous RISA debate:

"In the early moments of the RISA debate, an earnest minority of scholars courageously posted opinions that compelled their fellow intellectuals to understand the dimensions of the debate beyond the clear damage to the Hindu psyche — they realized the need to begin a meta analysis of what Dr. Courtright had elicited. Behold the audacity of Antonio de Nicolas, Professor Emeritus of Philosophy at SUNY-Stony Brook (Stony Brook, New York, U.S.A), who resolutely declared, ‘A scholar who does not know how to present other cultures by their own criteria should not be allowed to teach those cultures. His freedom of speech is not guaranteed by his ignorance.’ Perhaps, most disturbing was the failure of the moderator of the RISA listserv, Deepak Sarma (Lecturer of Religious Studies at Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut, U.S.A.), to prevent such outrages while censuring Dr. de Nicolas for voicing his support for Hindu sensibilities."

In Vishal Agarwal’s posts on 2 to 5 December was also this comment on Deepak Sarma’s censorship:


“In your articles, you have continuously harped on the diversity of Hinduism as if your critics do not celebrate the same. What you and your ilk do not understand is the fact that in most courses, the student population has zero or very little background in Hindu traditions. It makes zero pedagogical sense to start these classes on the note – ‘OK, you have taken a class on Hinduism. But let me tell you that Hinduism does not exist. It is just a modern construct. And its internal diversity makes it impossible to be even classified as a religion.’ The sentences within quotes are repeated ad-nauseum to us Hindus, nay, parroted by ignorant people posing as scholars. They reflect merely a lack of imagination or a lack of academic brilliance or a lack of above average intelligence - and are just a toeing of the party-line you and your ilk.

“The reader of these forums will recall that you have ridiculed the Sunday schools for teaching a fake version of Hinduism that is make believe because it does not capture a diversity. Now, I actually help run a Sunday school with 260 kids, and have taught in various other Sunday schools (in addition to teaching in elementary, middle and high schools, or addressing interfaith adult forums all over) for over six years. Perhaps, I have done like 250 or more lectures on Hinduism and India. We teach the Ramayana to grade II-III students. (contd...)

“Those who defend the prescription of his essay at DU should show their respect for the same in RISA-L, where dissenting scholars are summarily expelled without a chance to defend themselves. The archives are similarly hidden from public view, so much for open-mindedness.

“If you want to celebrate diversity, first practice what you preach on the RISA-L that you manage! Instead of protecting the old boys' club brigade, treat dissenters fairly. (…) Get out of your own Hinduphobia that has resulted in your congitive dissonance. Instead of relying upon leftist and Hinduphobic tropes of Indologists, use your own prajna.”

A certain Rao123 wrote in (3-12):

“It is good that Prof. Sarma has begun to write for the Huffington Post, and now that he is willing to share his thoughts about matters Hindu and Hinduism he should have the courage of his convictions to respond to readers who have challenged both his command over the Shâstras as well as his ability to think critically through modern political, social, and religious issues confronting India. That he has not bothered to respond to the comments by Mr. Vishal Agarwal and Dr. Koenraad Elst while taking the time to respond to some little asides shows that he has neither the courage of his convictions nor is he the expert that he claims to be. (…) With all his parroting about a single stanza from Madhwacharya, I wonder if Prof. Sarma is not snared by the paradox of that parroting: he is steadfastly refusing to engage Prof. Elst and Mr. Agarwal, and by doing so he is not doing what Madhwa did -- engage the critics and the ‘moha-shastra-vadins’!”

Deepak Sarma’s reputation for exercising censorship on behalf of the anti-Hindu brigade is well-established. I was at first warned about him but refused to believe my US-based contacts. I should have known better, and now I do.

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Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Meera Nanda against Hinduism and its friends: (5) The case of Koenraad Elst

The connection between Breivik’s manifesto and Voice of India doesn’t amount to much. The main “connection” between Voice of India and Breivik appears to be a non-Indian non-Hindu individual, viz. the undersigned, Dr. Koenraad Elst: “The manifesto makes two references to a Belgian writer, Koenraad Elst. The first time Elst is mentioned is as the authority behind the highly contested claim that Muslims enslaved Hindus and drove them to their death in the Hindu Kush mountain ranges, now in Afghanistan. (This reference appears in an article by Srinandan Vyas, which is reproduced in the manifesto.) The second reference to Elst appears in his ‘recommendations to the West’ on how to make the life of Muslim minorities in Europe so difficult that they will either give up Islam or leave. Elst is quoted here to suggest that though Islam is in decline, it can still take over Europe before it collapses. (Here Elst is quoted in an article by Fjordman, the anonymous Norwegian blogger well known for his anti-Islamic views and greatly admired by Breivik).”

If you read that closely, you will find that Breivik himself never quotes me at all, he has merely included a pile of existing articles by others, and of those, two do quote me. I must acknowledge Nanda’s scholarly propriety here: to magnify the “connection”, less scrupulous pamphleteers (Le Soir, Belgische Unie/Union des Belges) have counted five mentions of my name, counting the three footnotes accompanying those two mentions as separate instances, whereas Nanda accurately counts one mention in the text and its references in footnote as a single mention.

Regardless of who quotes them, I stand by the statements which Vyas and Fjordman have discussed in their articles. That Muslims enslaved Hindus and drove them to their death in the Hindu Kush is a solidly documented historical fact, never refuted, and only a “highly contested claim” in the Nehruvian-secularist world of fact-free political polemic. Note that Dr. Nanda explicitates what Vyas has quoted from me, knowing that in India, the prevailing orthodoxy is to deny, demonize and ridicule my view; but that she passes silently over Fjordman’s quotation. It happens not to fit her narrative.

I will not deny that I see Islam as a problem, and that Breivik did likewise. That is why Breivik quotes Nandan Yyas who in turn quotes me as citing the facts on the Islamic enslavement of Hindus. But unlike Breivik, I have long outgrown the alarmist view of Islam in Europe: whether Europe will be overrun by Islam, as announced by many Islamic worthies, depends on the Europeans themselves. That is why Fjordman could quote me in the very paper quoted itself by Breivik, in an adversative sense. I think that Islam just doesn’t have the brains, that we can outwit them if we apply our minds to it, and that this is already happening. The best testimony is the growing presence of ex-Muslims in our midst, the greatest spokesmen of the case against Islam.

According to Meera Nanda: “Now that Breivik’s manifesto has revealed the names of anti-Islamic authors, bloggers, websites and groups that shaped his thinking, the great washing off of hands has begun. Just about everyone named by Breivik has issued stern statements distancing him/herself from his violent deeds. Elst himself posted a statement stating that ‘The Brussels Journal never ever carried calls to counter Islam by means of bombs and shoot-outs… It only carried criticism of Islam, but that is a perfectly legitimate exercise.’”

However, my statement about the Breivik affair (, “If only he had read the Brussels Journal”) goes largely unanswered by Meera Nanda. Rather than refuting it and thus drawing her readers’ attention to it, she prefers to insinuate in general terms that “the great washing off of hands has begun”. Haha, Meera Nanda is unable to refute a rare effort to look Breivik in the eye. But most Islam critics mentioned in Breivik’s manifesto did indeed wash their hands off of his influence. Indeed, most of us had never heard of him; I certainly hadn’t. In the totalitarian world of her dreams, an accusation would have been enough to indict and imprison all affected. But in the real world, Islam critics like Robert Spencer or Andrew Bostom did reply. Well, what did she expect?

She, like most Breivik exploiters, belongs to a class of people dumbfounded by our criticism of Islam, which was based on authentic sources: statements by Mohammed himself, orthodox Islamic jurisprudence, and modern-day claims by Islamic leaders. They were simply unable to reply to Islam-critical charges, and they received Breivik’s intervention to distract attention and give a terrorist alternative to Islam criticism, as a godsend.

After all the unasked analysis given by Meera Nanda to the momentous topic of the motives of Koenraad Elst, it is my turn to analyze her motive. And it is so simple. Meera Nanda is a bad loser. She’s a loser, who by her silence has conceded defeat in the Islam debate. And she’s bad in losing, for she fails to graciously bow out of the struggle. Instead, she makes a last-ditch attempt behind Breivik’s broad shoulders.

What is worse, is that through me she seeks to attack two Hindu scholars who are not responsible for my conduct. Here we have a Templeton scholar in the paid service of the Christian lobby, who tries to implicate the long-dead scholars Ram Swarup (1920-1998) and Sita Ram Goel (1921-2003), veterans of the Gandhian non-violent struggle, in the Breivik affair, when in fact Swarup and Goel were anti-Christians and she herself works for Breivik’s Christianity. From as long as they became aware of the Islam problem, they have advocated that which was the first Hindu solution, propagated since decades before anyone spoke of Hindu nationalism or Hindutva, viz. shuddhi, the reconversion of the Muslims to the religion of their ancestors. They never thought that killing Muslims was the solution to the Islam problem, let alone killing non-Muslims. They stood against Communism where and when it took courage, but they never dreamed of killing ruling-party youngsters as the solution, the way Breivik did.

With her false accusation, dragging me and especially dragging Ram Swarup and Sita Ram Goel into the Breivik affair, Meera Nanda has dishonoured herself. I will have a hard time seeing anything but a debtor in her. But I have my Christian upbringing: I don’t believe anymore but I still have certain automatisms, and one of these is to forgive a wrong admitted. Leave it alone for now whether scholarly speaking, Christianity borrowed this trait from Buddhism or not; the point is that I made it my own. All she has to do is to admit she was wrong, and no word shall be uttered about her false Breivik associations anymore.

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