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Jihad, Secularism and Hindutva – An American view of Indian politics

Author: Bryon Morrigan
Publication: Niticentral.com
Date: August 27, 2014

It can be infuriating trying to discuss Indian politics with my friends here in the USA, particularly when they find out that I am a supporter of Narendra Modi and the BJP.

The confusion comes from the fact that domestically, I generally support Left-Wing and/or Libertarian policies, while in India, the BJP is considered to be Right-Wing.  One of the primary issues here is terminology, and how words are used in different contexts in American or Indian usage.

To begin, the terms ‘Left’ and ‘Right’ in a political context come from the era of the French Revolution, with the supporters of the Revolution sitting on the ‘left wing’ of the French National Assembly, and the supporters of the King, the Church, and ‘keeping things the way they were’ sat on the ‘right wing’.  So generally, the ‘Left’ seeks progressive change, while the ‘Right’ seeks to either stop the change, or move things back to ‘the way they were’.

In the USA, we have a fairly short history, and it begins with slavery and a lack of rights for anyone who wasn’t a White, Christian man.  And frankly, a lot of people in this country think we would be better off if we went back to that era.  I, on the other hand, am not one of them. Furthermore, those are tricky usages for India, because defining the “Golden Age” of India is less simple, particularly when “India”, as a nation, is quite young, but the people of India have a long and rich history stretching back millennia.

Here in America, the ‘Right Wing’ is so intertwined with the Christian world view that it is impossible to dissociate it from the Republican Party. In India, Hindutva has a similar connection to the Right, but the difference between the ideologies is so vast that they become incomparable. Christian Nationalism, for example, is based on the exclusivism of Monotheism. Monotheism is incompatible with Pluralism, because it is not simply the belief in a “single God”, but rather it is a belief in a “single Way”. It is inherently intolerant, and does not abide competition. Hindutva, on the other hand, is a Pluralist ideology, as Dharma is not shaken or frightened by the existence of different paths to the gods. This does not necessarily imply the kind of namby-pamby universalism that many seem to equate with modern Hinduism, but rather an understanding of the divine that is outside of the comprehension to monotheists. As I like to say, “The only false religions are those that imply the existence of false religions”.  Take that as you will.

And that brings us to the singular issue in world politics today — Islamic Extremism.

In America, the Right is opposed to Islamic Extremism because it is Islamic. What American Right-Wingers fail to realise is how much their world view aligns with the very ideologies that they oppose.  This is no more evident than when dealing with the concept of ‘Sharia Law’.  In the USA, our Muslim population is negligible. They account for only a tiny percentage of the population, have almost no representation in Government, and are mostly made up of fairly moderate, law-abiding men and women. But there is a pathological fear of ‘Sharia Law’ in this country. The Republicans have even passed legislation to ensure that it cannot be integrated into our domestic laws. More than two dozen US States have voted on or considered legislation banning ‘Sharia Law’, and Republicans have even authored a study entitled, ‘Shariah: The Threat to America’. Of course, as both a non-Muslim and a rational human being, I am opposed to ‘Sharia Law’ being instituted in the USA, but is it really an issue?  We might as well ban the imposition of North Korean totalitarianism too as it has just as much likelihood of becoming the law of the land, which is to say: None at all.

And yet the comical irony is that the same people who fear ‘Sharia Law’ push for the addition of ‘Biblical Law’, based on Christianity, to American laws. A quick examination of the two competing ideologies shows that they are, in many respects, quite similar. No, Christianists in the USA are not generally advocating stoning or beheading those who do not follow these Biblical precepts… but the precepts themselves are basically identical, just with the name of ‘Jesus’ in place of ‘Muhammed’. In the USA, being opposed to both ‘Sharia Law’ and ‘Bibical Law’ is called ‘Secularism’, which has a wholly different meaning in India!

So when American Right-Wingers oppose Islamism, it is not really from an ideological perspective, but rather from a disingenuous one. The American Right-Winger says, “I oppose the forceful conversion of people to Islam, because it is Islam, not Christianity”. On the other hand, the Indian Right-Winger says, “I oppose the forceful conversion of anyone”.

When I take a look at the news, I see members of ISIS beheading an American, and I see both sides, Left and Right, in America calling for the destruction of ISIS.  But the main difference is that the Left generally opposes Islamists on ideological reasons, while the Right generally opposes Islamists on religious reasons, which is why they disagree in regards to the Israeli situation, which has a different set of ideological issues as play.

But frankly, the only truly moral position is the one that I see promoted by the BJP and Narendra Modi, as it is the most philosophically and intellectually consistent one.  It is unfortunate that it is not a position that is really available in American politics.

In point of fact, during the writing of this article, I decided to peruse the requirements of joining the BJP.  As an American who has adopted Hinduism, I certainly have a particular interest in the affairs of India, and view the party as the most likely to promote my own viewpoints.  I noticed that, in order to officially join the party, one has to affirm a few statements, such as a commitment to “Sarva Dharma Sama Bhava”, an egalitarian society, and non-discrimination based on caste, sex, or religion.  In contrast, I see no such requirements for admittance to any of the Indian or American political parties that I examined in comparison.

Yet here in the West, our media tells us that the BJP are crazed Hindus who commit riots and kill Muslims. How many times have I had to explain to my American friends that, no…Narendra Modi did not start a riot to kill Muslims, and no, the BJP is not comparable to the American Right.

In fact, one of the key distinctions between the American Right and the Indian Right is in reference to materialism. The Republicans, the chief party of the American Right, have embraced materialism to such a degree that selfishness is often seen as a “virtue”. They praise Ayn Rand and her Anarcho-Capitalist ideologies, while simultaneously reconciling these beliefs with Christianism.  It would be funny if the irony was not lost on their adherents.  They deride anyone who does not believe in unfettered Capitalism and selfishness as some kind of “Communist” or “Socialist”, even though they are unable to differentiate between the terms.  Of course, this flies in the face of the fact that some of the wealthiest Western businessmen in the world happen to be American Left-Wingers (Ex. Bill Gates, Warren Buffet, Mark Zuckerberg, etc.).  Only an uneducated buffoon would consider such people exemplars of ‘Communists’.

And even the real hardcore Communists that one finds in America are quite different in comparison to those found in India. They tend towards either atheism, personal spirituality, or other minority religions… but would be appalled by the Christian Maoists who terrorise India’s North-East, or the Communists who defend the allowances for ‘Sharia Law’ in Indian civil law. When I tell friends about ‘Muslim Personal Law’, and how defending it is called ‘Secularism’ in India, they usually think that I’m joking, or that I’m spreading some ridiculous conspiracy theory. In the West, ‘Secularism’ means quite the opposite, and refers to the ‘Separation of Church and State’, which really compares more to ‘Sarva Dharma Sama Bhava’! They do not understand how the meanings of words have completely different meanings in Indian politics from American politics, or even Western politics in general.

But I digress. The importance of describing American politics is not to convince Indians to support Americans. It is to ensure understanding for both sides of where allies and enemies can be found. There is a reason that America’s first Hindu member of the House of Representatives, Tulsi Gabbard, is considered to be a “Liberal” or “Left-Winger” by American standards, but would likely find a home in the Indian Right if she were in the Lok Sabha.  In America, the “Right” is inseparable from Christianity, as in Islamic states, the “Right” is inseparable from Islamism.

And really, one of the best things about Hindutva, in my opinion, is the breaking-away from the West, in favour of a true Indian resurgence. The West has brought many innovative technological advances to the world, but at the expense of a materialist view that everything can be reduced solely to its monetary value. If there is any one piece of advice that I, as a Westerner, can give to my Indian friends, it is to stop taking advice from Westerners. It is time the rest of the world started taking advice from India.

(Bryon Morrigan is a lawyer living in Florida.  In addition to his law degree, he also holds a master’s degree in Ancient History, and also formerly served in the US Army as a military intelligence analyst.  His novels ‘Acheron’ and ‘The Desert’ are available at most online booksellers.)
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