Saturday, 10 September 2016

Culture Wars And Conspiracy Theories

I was recently pointed to an article on Swarajya mag titled "The Cultural War Against Hinduism". I knew what I was going to be reading as soon as I saw the title, and I was not disappointed.

The author (David Frawley) joins a long line of useful idiots from the West who, for reasons of their own, are happy to echo the conspiracy theories of the Hindu right, only in more articulate English. Others in this category are Maria Wirth, Koenraad Elst, Fran├žois Gautier and Michel Danino. Their Indian counterparts are Rajiv Malhotra, Vamsee Juluri and Sankrant Sanu.

Frawley's words are music to the ears of the believers. However, a slightly deeper analysis of his arguments reveals the contradictions inherent in them.

1. "Along with the spread of Western culture is found the promotion of Western monotheistic religions [read Christianity]. It was particularly true during the colonial era, but continues in a subdued form today."

A surprising statement, when Christianity can be seen to be in full retreat in its Western homelands, and churches are closing every year as attendance falls. Any number of verifiable statistics are available in the public domain to refute this conspiracy theory. Western culture (Western *secular* culture, that is) is alternately despised and feared by the church in Western countries. How can Christianity be promoted by the materialistic Western culture being propagated across the world?

2. "The West [...] defends jihadi Islam while ignoring indigenous groups like the Yazidis being destroyed by it."

Another surprising statement, when millions of Muslims around the world are convinced that the West is on an existential crusade to wipe them out. Is the mess in the Middle East a figment of our collective imagination? Aren't the millions of dead and displaced in the Muslim world the direct victims of Western intervention in their region? And what about the struggle between Western and Muslim cultures in the West itself? Witness the Swiss minarets ban, the French burqa ban, and in general the feedback loop between Islamic terror and Islamophobia. Only a Hindu conspiracy theorist could imagine an unholy alliance between two Abrahamic cultures engaged in a bitter internecine war of their own.

3. "Meanwhile, Western commercial culture turns traditional cultures into folk art for casual adornment and entertainment, forgetting their sacred dimensions."

What sacred dimensions? Surely Mr Frawley does not expect to win over a rational audience with an appeal to unsubstantiated metaphysical belief? There is nothing sacred about any Hindu religious belief. They are a bunch of superstitions, just like the beliefs of every other religion. Hinduism is in no way superior.

4. "With the Left is allied an aggressive judiciary in India that feels it has the legal right to rule over Hindu practices, including to ban whatever it feels inappropriate, however ancient or revered."

Excuse me? In a secular democracy, it is entirely by design that the judiciary has the right to rule over religious practices, including bans on what religious people may feel are "sacred". If the author does not like this aspect of living in a secular society, he must campaign to amend the Indian constitution. Nothing less will do.

5. "The same judiciary, however, will tread carefully with the inequalities or violence that occurs in Islam."

This is playing fast and loose with the truth, and there are countless examples to refute this, both positive and negative. As just one positive example, the Supreme Court of India in fact angered Muslim fundamentalists with its 1981 ruling on support for widows in the Shah Bano case, which the Rajiv Gandhi government cravenly overturned by passing the cruelly misnamed "The Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Divorce) Act" in 1986. As a negative example, Delhi's Tis Hazari Court in 2015 acquitted all those accused of the murder of 42 Muslims at Hashimpura in 1987. It's hardly fair to accuse the Indian judiciary of being biased towards Muslims. Ask Muslims whether they perceive things the same way, and you will hear a story of victimhood that is the mirror-image of the author's.

6. "Caste and untouchability will be used to divide Hinduism, ignoring Hinduism’s own social reform movements"

That's a laugh. Genetic evidence (Moorjani et al) established that strict endogamy (caste restrictions on inter-marriage) began 1900 years ago. These are not Western assaults on Hinduism. They are endemic evils within the religion. Any Hindu reform movements are feeble and meet with stiff resistance (witness the reaction to the efforts of BJP MP Tarun Vijay). The most effective weapons against caste-consciousness seem to be urbanisation and a Western secular education. There are many more, but all stemming from modernisation inspired by the West. Hindu society has no homegrown remedies to the evils of the caste system, only apologism.

7. "Fortunately, the vastness of Hindu culture can ultimately prevail over the superficial cultural movements in the world today that lack an understanding of higher consciousness. Hindu Yoga, Vedanta and Ayurveda and its ally, Buddhism, are also spreading worldwide at a higher level of ideas, insights and aspirations."

Now here's an example of how an inferiority complex may often come intertwined with a superiority complex. So far, the article dwelt on "Hinduism in danger". Now the tone shifts to one of mocking superiority. How could something as superficial as Western consumerist culture hope to prevail against the "vastness" of one that possesses a "higher consciousness"?

I'm confused now. Is there a danger to Hinduism or not?

Ah, and Buddhism is now an ally? How cute, considering that Hinduism and Buddhism were once mortal theological enemies, and often wreaked violence upon each other's followers, until the Muslims arrived and slaughtered both of them.

Well, that fizzled out quickly.

I eagerly devour writings about cultures and cultural clashes, because these interest me a lot personally, but I am invariably disappointed with both the content and the logical frailty of Hindu right wing conspiracy theories. I'm sure I could do a far more sophisticated job if I were so inclined. Perhaps I will one day, as an exercise in parody. I will not be surprised if such a takedown goes viral thanks to people who cannot see irony. Right wingers are the same the world over. Their passion dwarfs their intellect and reason by orders of magnitude.
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