Part 2 of Special Interview
CHICAGO: Belgian scholar Koenraad Elst, PhD, will be speaking on September 8 at the Chicago World Hindu Congress 2018 on “Implications of misportrayal of Hindus on Bharat’s policies and destiny.” The second part of the interview with him is given below. The first part was published last week in India Post issue dated August 24:
- How would you evaluate University of Chicago’s Indology output?
The portrayal of Hinduism by Wendy Doniger is mediocre and biased. Her Veda translation is flawed and has been pointed out by other Indologists. The shoddiness of her view of Hindu history, wrongly called “alternative”, is not in doubt. However, the Hindu reaction of trying to get her book pulped has turned it into a free speech issue, transforming their detractor into a martyr.
- Are Indian unity and Hindu identity necessarily compromised if Indo-Aryans had come from outside?
No, of course not. Switzerland was started by a confederacy of a few German-speaking regions, and then joined by a few French and Italian regions who liked this political formula, regardless of ethnic origins. It is a much healthier state than, for instance, Belgium. Groups of different provenances can get together around a unifying idea, and Dharma could be just that.
Numerous countries have an immigration or conquest as their founding myth, including the United States. And even if the “Aryans” had immigrated, that event would be some 3500 years ago, which is much earlier than, say, the population that turned Australia into a modern state. The grimness of the whole debate is a bit ridiculous. The British understood how useful this otherwise academic theory could be in legitimizing their colonization and to pit one Indian group against another, both on linguistic and on caste lines.Numerous Indians interiorized it and, whereas in Europe this quaint Homeland question is now of little interest, you can still hear it debated across the Lok Sabha benches.
- Can India’s Muslims become authentically Swadesi (‘indigenous’) without disowning Islam?
Having lived through apostasy myself and witnessed the walk-out from the Church of most of my nation; I am convinced that “disowning Islam” need not be so dramatic. Many will try to have it both ways: bend over backwards, or rather bend the teachings of their religion, to make them palatable to modern sensibilities. Content-wise, this would have to become a religion that Mohammed could not have recognized as his own (without jihad or shari’a?), though a step in the right direction. By contrast, it is very harmful for outsiders to join this rosy but false view of Islam. Alarm over Islamization in Europe is overdone, but it is rendered plausible by appeasement policies.
Whether this makes Muslims or ex-Muslims more “Swadeshi”, more “Indian”, is not my concern, nor is it their own. It is an RSS mode of thinking, stemming from the high tide of nationalism after World War 1, and the Indian freedom struggle.Globally, nationalist doctrine has gone out of favor and, nationally, India has been master of its own house since 71 years.
- Why are Hindus often unable to articulate issues and sometimes even take offense at your criticism?
Their eagerness to please, to smoothen sharp edges and lower their distinctive profile, is a large part of the problem. On Islam, I advocate critical thinking about the doctrine but sympathy towards its believers; Hindus mostly do the reverse. MS Golwalkar said: “Islam is a great religion, but the Muslims are great fools!” Thus, Hindus fall for the sheer buffoonery that temple destruction is “against the tenets of Islam.” It is just like the behavior of Western statesmen who keep bombing and invading Middle Eastern countries but praise Islam to the skies. Watch out with these ‘Islamophiles’: they kill Muslims by the thousands; whereas critics of Islam have never harmed a Muslim.
Another source of friction is my applying the historical method to Hindu tradition. Thus, the Rig-Vedic text itself shows that it is the product of a specific time and place, viz. bronze-age Northwest India. This is not liked by traditionalists for whom it is the ‘Hindu’ equivalent of the Quran, God-given at the time of Creation, standing outside history. It gives details about historical people and developments. Similarly, I second Western scholarly opinion that the Vedic hymns had no knowledge of reincarnation. Hindus would prefer everything to be sanatana (eternal).
Anyway, it is indeed the case that Hindus often prove “unable to articulate issues.” This is mainly due to never coming to grips with outside reality. I see Hindus mostly attempting to convince each other or preaching to the choir. Far better to solicit feedback from the enemy, or at any rate from reality.