Interview with Dr. Koenraad Elst – Part (IV)

This is the fourth and final part of my interview with Dr. Koenraad Elst. The following discussion covers an expansive range of topics.

Adity Sharma: In a blog post dated [December 14, 2014], titled: How I did not become a Hindu,  you mention the lack of enthusiasm you were shown, when you expressed your interest in becoming a Hindu. This is quite regrettable, and you go on to give possible explanations. Given the professional zeal with which new converts are welcomed into Christianity and Islam, do you think the lackluster Hindu attitude towards welcoming newcomers will impede Hindu Dharma’s growth in the long run? What next?

Koenraad Elst: Looking back on it, I don’t think it is a bad attitude. Belonging to Hindu Dharma is not a superficial thing, Hinduness has roots, and those you cannot acquire. It is different when you marry into a Hindu family and really come to share their lives. But a mere desire is not sufficient as an entry passport. In Europe, we know of a similar attitude among Jews: they shake their heads when they see someone who wants to throw in his lot with them, and they do a lot of enquiry and testing before they let an outsider in.

Only, today you have a situation with a heavy competition for converts. The Christian missionaries have penetrated far deeper into Hindu society than during the British period, and their psychological techniques have been perfected and are more differentiated towards every single community. They have done the hard work of what Rajiv Malhotra calls the Purva-Paksha, the study of the adversary as well as of the battlefield. Against that, Hindus are just babes in the wood. So, in changed circumstances, traditional attitudes may stand in need of change.

A very healthy and historically correct phenomenon is the Ghar Wapsi movement: living among Christianized villagers, winning their trust, and making them see how deep down, they are still Hindus and can re-awaken their Hinduness.

As for Indian Muslims, most are converts from Hindu Dharma under duress, and in this age of people rediscovering their roots, it is only normal that they go beyond the outer layer that was imposed on them. In fact, on present demographic trends, it is the only thing that can save Hindu society. Hindus will be a minority before the end of the century, unless enough Muslims quit Islam.

Then again, Hindus may get saved by circumstances that are not their own doing. Maybe all their yajñas are having an effect on macro-evolutions seemingly beyond our control, who knows? But again: I don’t like to say this because in practice it will only encourage laziness.

A.S.: Hindu temples have been found in China, Japan and as far north as Russia. Hindu Dharma was at one time a more universal religion which stretched beyond the borders of modern Bharat and encompassed diverse racial groups.

Today, Hindu Dharma is often portrayed as an “Indian Religion”, especially by many Indians themselves. How can Hindus work on transforming Hindu Dharma to a universal religion without offending the sentiments of those who take pride in the “Indian” nature of Hindu Dharma?

K.E.: There even is a movement, the RSS, that claims “Hindu” is merely a synonym for “Indian”. And that Indian Muslims are just “Mohammedi Hindus”. So, in that view, if strictly applied, all these PIOs are lost to Hindu Dharma, while all those Owaisis and Quraishis and Iqbals are  Hindus. Once the RSS wanted to be a militantly Hindu movement, and the Hindu-bashers still describe it as that, but now it has degenerated to the point of denying that there even exists a separate category of “Hindu” at all. That is why the Narendra Modi government has never shown the least sign of being even aware of a “Hindu agenda”. Hiding behind safely secular-sounding “development” concerns, the Nehruvian agenda par excellence, they feign to ignore the specifically Hindu (not “Indian”) need to weed out the legal and factual discriminations against Hindus (as distinct from “Indians”).

Very often, references to “India” rather than “Hindu” are a sign of cowardice, of trying to get into the sunshine of the reigning secularists.

Yes, “reigning”, for the BJP may be in power politically, but it still hurries to play by the rules laid down by the secularists. (However, I am happy to note that, even in the name of “India”, at least the security apparatus is given a freer hand than under Congress, and that crackdowns on Jihadi circles in places like West Bengal and Tamil Nadu are no longer sabotaged.)

But back to your question. “Hindu” in the sense of “Dharmic” was at one time not confined to the Subcontinent, just like now. Manu says that the Greeks and the Chinese were at one time Aryas, but fell from that status by not observing the Arya practices. Disregarding the historicity of that statement, its point is that it doesn’t link Dharma to Indianness. Which is correct. India has been overemphasized by the objective circumstance of the freedom movement (but that was long ago) and then by Hindu eagerness to replace Hindu Dharma with an unassailably secular term.

A.S.: What advice would you give to young Hindu activists in the West, wishing to take up the Hindu cause? What issues are important; which ones are trivial/symbolic?

K.E.: I do not relate to Indian ethnic advocacy, because in that respect their history is not mine. But I venture to question it also on another ground: it gives them the chance to feel like activists all while forgetting the specifically Hindu agenda. They, inside and outside the RSS, are being led by the nose to “India” advocacy by the Nehruvians. You can feel brave fighting the long-dead colonialists, as re-enactors of the long-concluded Freedom Struggle. You can then dine out on the moral high ground that the Freedom Fighters enjoyed in their struggle against colonialism, and feel very smart (and assuredly popular among secularists) by telling blatant lies such as: “The wily British imposed Partition on India.” The result is that some Hindus are proud of successes scored by Bobby Jindal, a convert to Christianity. Well, if Jindal shows the way, go and convert to Christianity.

Those, by contrast, who want to take up the Hindu cause, would do well to distinguish between the Indian couleur locale and the essence of Dharma that can meaningfully be transplanted to a new environment. They would also do well to study the different strands in the host society, some of which are quite amenable to treating Hindu Dharma as an ally. What stands between Hindu Dharma  and the millions of ex-Christians in the West is mainly the ugly reputation that the secularists and their Western allies have given Hindu Dharma. And the emphasis here is really on the Indian secularists, who in this case lead the dance with their Western dupes. On the other hand, Westerners are useful by tailoring new academic and mediatic techniques to the struggle against Hindu Dharma. But their motive is now largely, to live up to standards of hatred set by Indians and Indo-Americans.

There are of course Western sources of hate for Hindu Dharma too, esp. the Christian missions. But there again: they do not hate India, they only hate Hindu Dharma. With the nationalistic RSS analysis, you would have to welcome the missionaries. I hear many of these nationalists say that the many anti-Hindu Indians or PIOs are only “kissing the white a..” (their words, not mine). Well, they are completely anachronistic. There is no such thing today as a “white” animus against “India”, and if at all you could find one example in some barroom, it certainly has no political consequences. But there is a Christian animus against Hindu Dharma.

K.E.: I do not want to leave this subject without mentioning the sterling work of Vishal Agarwal. By profession a medical engineer, he is also a qualified Sanskritist and a volunteer in community work in Minnesota. In Sunday classes for children and youngsters, he teaches them all about Hindu tradition. All those circles preserving your Tamil or Konkani language are fine, but your grandchildren will be speaking English anyway, so it is better to get ready for a Hindu Dharma in English (or Spanish or whatever). The central thing to be maintained is not the language, these things come and go, but the Dharmic contents.

A.S.: This is a personal observation, so it may be slightly exaggerated. While a liking for the arts is certainly healthy, high school and college-age Hindus in the West however, seem overly obsessed with the latest mediocre Shahrukh Khan movie or holding elaborate Bhangra competitions. Hindus have these Desi and South Asian clubs/societies that hold frivolous events high on Bollywood dance numbers, and extremely low on presenting and promoting any genuine understanding of Hindu Dharma to fellow students. This is in sharp contrast to the activities of other religious organizations on campus. The Muslim Students Association for instance, not only lures people with free food, but often holds events aimed at dispelling common misperceptions about Islam. What could be the reason(s) for this lackadaisical attitude?

K.E.: Let us first of all face the fact that this lackadaisical attitude exists. Many Hindus either do not realize that they are on a battlefield, attacked by hostile forces, or try to forget this with an artificial attitude of carefreeness signalled by a silly preoccupation with Bollywood. This voluntary superficiality reminds me of African chieftains giving up their land for some cheap trinkets the European traders gave them. The Europeans found that in Bharat (India) this approach didn’t work: the natives there did know the value of things, having in fact been the very originators of jewelry. But when it comes to the world of ideas, anglicized Hindus do settle for trinkets, like the Gandhian muddle-talk about all religions saying the same thing.

Some factors make it worse today than in the past, though. It is precisely because there is a conflict, an attack on Hindu Dharma requiring Hindu alertness to it, that Hindus are rewarded for being supercilious or lackadaisical, and punished for being politically conscious.

Another scene I am reminded of, is the beginning of Steven Spielberg’s movie Empire of the Sun. In 1937 in Shanghai, the Westerners in the Anglo-American concession are busy with celebrating carnival and cultivating a frivolous attitude, while the Chinese are all tense and up in arms about the incoming Japanese attack. The Chinese care about their country and what happens to it, while the Western expatriates are trying to look away from it. Well, the “Hindu fanatics” care about their Dharma (which by the way implies caring about India too), while the “moderates” and “secularists” with all their Bollywood frivolity are trying to look away from it, even from the needs of their ancestral country, besieged by various anti-Hindu “breaking India” forces, the very India behind which they take umbrage to sound secular.

Consciousness-raising is the only thing you can do against it. This will not come ramping up from some event, like an Islamic terrorist attack on Hindus or on American targets. Experience teaches that people accustomed to looking away from a problem, keep on looking away even when they themselves get impacted.

A.S.: Notwithstanding his anti-immigration stand, could the present Trump presidency bode well for Hindu-Americans?

K.E.: I am not aware of structural problems for the Hindu-Americans, except that any sign of Hinduness is attacked by the authoritative India-watchers in academe and the media. Or, yes: in case you hadn’t noticed, the Hindu community itself is targeted for elimination. Not that anyone will get killed, but conversion and “love jihad” may do the job. Both only have a chance with Hindus who have essentially already left Hindu consciousness even if sheer inertia still makes them belong to a Hindu family. In the short run, some timely paternal advice may save the day, but the only meaningful thing you can do against it in the long run is to revitalize a consciousness of the Hindu traditions.

Trump has made some anti-Muslim statements, and this has endeared him to many Hindus. Keeping the war-monger Hillary Clinton out of the White House was certainly desirable, but Trump’s views on Islam are crude, a bit like the view of the more radical strands in the Hindu movement. I admit he is showing a capacity for learning, and on Islam too, he has advanced. But then he has to come from far: when Jihadis made a murder attempt on Islam critics Pamela Geller and Robert Spencer, he said it was the critics’ own fault. I suppose he is the lesser evil. His statement that we should stop Muslim immigration until we find out what it is all about, is typical for an uneducated anti-Muslim attitude that many Hindus share: they vaguely feel that something with Islam is not right, but have no clue what it is.

To be sure, it is to be welcomed that the next President will not repeat Obama’s soothing lies about Islam. But if he does not handle the issue well, he may discredit Islam criticism, which has already been slandered and criminalized so much.

A.S.: What books/authors would you recommend to Hindu activists to better advocate for Hindu causes?

K.E.: One book I will summarize for you: the Sunzi Bingfa, “The Method of Warfare by Master Sun”. It says that those who know themselves as well as their adversaries, are bound to win. That describes the Christian missionaries, and to some extent the Muslims. The latter’s knowledge of Hindu Dharma is not very deep, but at least they know everything that is strategically important: that many powerful Hindus can be bought, or are eager to curry favour with the Islamic bullies (and the more bully the latter are, the more eager the Hindus are to please them), or are unwilling to defend Hindu causes and tangible Hindus such as the Kashmiri Pandits. It also says that those who know neither themselves nor the adversary are assured of defeat. That mostly describes the Hindus. Their knowledge of their own traditions and situation is poor and, among decision-makers, only sliding further backwards. Their knowledge of their enemies (the “Purva-Paksha”) has always been poor.

Master Sun also speaks of the art of spying. To gain knowledge of the insides of the enemy camp, there is no alternative to infiltrating it and directly getting that knowledge. It cannot be had by divination, he says, or translated to the present: it cannot be gained by empty rosy assertions about them, nor by pontificating metaphysical claims such as that “all religions say the same thing” – not the result of an actual study of all religions, but a smug and lazy projection of Hindu views onto the other religions. If you go on like this, you will be defeated.

However, an important positive trend must be noted, though not thanks to any purposeful Hindu action: the internet. It is amazing how the internet has changed the situation to the advantage of the Hindus. It has broken through the enemy monopoly on the spread of information and opinion. When they attack you, you can defend yourself on social media, your statement can reach all those interested, and mainstream media find it hard to ignore your stand. Secondly, it is highly visual and validates the strong visual component of the Hindu worldview. Thirdly, it replaces reading culture by oral culture, with which most Hindus are more comfortable. The usual RSS retort to a book presentation, “Can’t you summarize this into a small brochure?”, bespeaks not just the lack of intellectual culture among the RSS people themselves, but is in fact a realistic assessment about the limited reading culture of the Hindus in general.

On books, the Voice of India authors’ list is already a good start. We’ll talk again when you are done with those. Thank you.

The end.

I would like to conclude by expressing my deep gratitude to Dr. Elst, for not only agreeing to the interview, but also for providing detailed answers. Dr. Elst’s anecdotes, his vast reservoir of knowledge, and the sincere advice, cultivated from decades of study of Hindu Dharma and observation of the Hindu movement, are all invaluable to the Hindu cause, and indispensable tools for any Hindu activist wishing to earnestly work for the Dharmic cause. These straightforward observations should not merely be relegated to the intellectual realm, but if applied to the problems Hindus are currently confronting, can go a long way in preserving, protecting, and propagating Hindu Dharma.

Adity Sharma

(Earlier Parts of the interview – Part 1, Part 2, Part 3)

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About the Author

Adity Sharma
Adity Sharma is a student at St. John's University School of Law in New York. She has previously written for India Facts, Vijayvaani, Chakranews and Beliefnet.