Negationism in Indian History: Its Lessons for the Arab Spring Dystopia
Until his death in 2003, Bhishma Sahni was one of India’s most renowned Hindi language authors and playwrites. His 1974 controversial and popular novel ‘Tamas’ (Darkness) won the Sahitya Akademi Award in 1975 and in 1987 was made into a television series for the national channel Doordarshan. Sahni wrote about the exodus of Hindus and Sikhs from Pakistan to India which director Govind Nihalani did his best in order to create the atmosphere when dramatising the original text onto the airwaves. But this was more than just a novel. It was semi-autobiographical with an ironic, sinister and self-hating twist. In his 1992 book ‘Negationism in Indian History’, Belgian scholar Dr. Koenraad Elst writes elaborates:
“The Communist novelist Bhishma Sahni has used the novel Tamas to point the Hindus as the villains in the Partition violence. The interesting thing is that Bhishma Sahni’s own family was among the Hindu refugees hounded out or Pakistan. His anti-Hindu bias, coming from a man who would have more reason for an anti-Muslim animus, is a gift from heaven for the Hindu-baiters. Marxist Professor Bipan Chandra parades a similar character in his paper: Communalism – the Way Out (published together with two lectures by Khushwant Singh as: Many Faces of Communalism). One of his students had survived the terror of Partition in Rawalpindi, losing 7 family members. But he did not have any animus against the Muslims, for he said: “Very early I realized that my parents had not been killed by the Muslims, they had been killed by communalism.” Coming from a victim of Muslim violence, this is excellent material for those who want to apportion equal blame to Hindus and Muslims.”
Now in the introduction to his 1992 book ‘Negationism’ Dr. Elst made these interesting comments which in the light of the dystopian nightmare harkened by the Arab Spring make interesting reading while the ominous warnings haunt us by their prophetic resonance:
“I want to dedicate this book to Boutros Ghali, the new secretary-general of the United Nations Organization. As a Coptic Christian in Egypt, he has risen to unusually high posts in the administration of his country, probably higher than young Copts can today reasonably look forward to. Though he was sidelined in the end by being promoted to the symbolic post of deputy prime minister, he gave hope and pride to the fellow-members of his community by climbing as high as possible for a non-Muslim in a nominally secular state. Of course, in his difficult position he cannot speak out against the Islamic oppression which his own community has suffered; but in his own way, he has contributed to alleviating the hold of Islam on his part of the world. He played a key role in the Camp David peace treaty between Egypt and Israel, for which Egypt was thrown out of the Arab League and president Sadat was killed by Islamic fanatics. The Camp David treaty proved that a nation can put its national interests and its desire for peaceful co-existence above its commitment to pan-Islamic brotherhood with its programme of hatred and destruction. It has reminded us how in the end, reason is bound to defeat Islam.”
Fast forward the clock almost two decades later and we find an American from Boutros Ghali’s very own community spoke of the disturbing academic disconnect which people in the west have with Islamic history. On 8 December 2011 Raymond Ibrahim, Shillman Fellow at the David Horowitz Freedom Center and an Associate Fellow at the Middle East Forum, testified before the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission in the House of Representatives on the worsening plight of Egypt’s Coptic Christians. He had earlier put his concerns over reporting of the Maspero massacre on Sunday 9 October 2011 in an article just two days later by what he terms the western MSM, or mainstream media such as CNN:
“Conditioned to always appear “fair and balanced”—especially when the incidents being reported are neither—the MSM is giving the impression that the conflict consisted of equal violence and intolerance from both the military and “militant” Christians—or, to use the MSM’s favorite, and increasingly meaningless, euphemism, “sectarian strife,” conjuring up images of equally armed, equally militant factions fighting for supremacy.Meanwhile, the MSM avoids the most obvious aspect of the conflict: religion, as Muslims—yet again—mow down infidel minorities for all to see.”
How to explain this? When Martin Luther King led civil rights marchers in non-violent protests the American public saw defenceless blacks facing the fury of police dogs, water cannon and batons for merely demanding equal rights, beamed live into their living rooms through television. Techniques pioneered by Mahatma Gandhi to achieve Indian independence worked with incredible effect. But then there was at the core of American value systems as sense of equality and civic duty that could be referred to, which had not completely been snuffed out when the high hopes and achievements which greeted the end of slavery were suffocated by the misnomered doctrine of ‘Separate but Equal’. Again in Sharpeville in 1961 and Soweto in 1976, the world’s television viewers saw defenceless blacks shot and oppressed by the racist system of apartheid. But South Africa aspired to be a civilised western nation and despite banning orders and a raft of other repressive legislation opponents of apartheid survived as the statist system itself began to rust until reform and ultimate dismantling was finally necessary. None of this applied sadly to events in the aftermath of the Arab Spring.
What Ibrahim is citing is a phenomenon which Elst was familiar with in writing ‘Negationism’, that western media such as the BBC ditched all pretence at objectivity in reporting issues of communal violence in India. In many ways it was even worse because Hindus were constantly blamed and in this western commentators were helped by their constant use of India’s dominant Marxist academics as a reference point, despite the obvious anti-Hindu animus of Stalinist historians such as Romila Thapar. Now that well trodden template is being foisted onto reporting on the Arab Spring. In fact it was already there, deploying to full effect in demonising Israel as the sole source of all problems in the Middle East while lauding Arab ‘revolutionaries’. All this did of course entail ignoring once again some rather inconvenient facts.
The desperate attempts by an ideologically bankrupt Left to portray a mass murderer like Saddam Hussain as a hero because he stood up to the West were in their prime when Marxist-Leninism managed to camouflage to the outside world its inherent genodical soul-destroying nature as an unhealthy ideological joke. In those days of Elvis, Marilyn Munroe, James Deane, early James Bond films, the twist dance craze, and when smart young British men in Italian suits riding Lambrettas began their first physical confrontations down at the seaside with their greasy haired counterparts wearing leather jackets and riding Harley-Davidsons, socialism and revolution became the opium of the intellectuals appearing to hold the key to an infallible utopian present. Nasser, Boumediene, Mao, Castro and above all Che Guevara became icons of a generation to hate the evil imperialist west. In varying degrees they were joined by Sukarno, Tito and Nehru who pioneered the Non-Aligned Movement: non-aligned to anything that smacked of the amorphous western ‘neo-colonialism’.
Of course behind this benign façade lay the nightmarish reality. Castro, like Lenin and Stalin, crushed the hopes of the useful idiots who had supported him. Mao oversaw more devastation than the Japanese wreaked even during the Rape of Nanjing. Sukarno bankrupted Indonesia. Tito crushed aspirations that were to emerge once he passed from the scene in grotesque murderous contortions that would split apart his beloved Yugoslavia. Boumediene meanwhile saw the birth of his independent Algeria with the mass exodus of Jews and the slaughter or expulsion of all Europeans and pro-French ‘harkis’. But it was Nasser that should have raised alarm. Vaunted as yet another revolutionary hero of anti-imperialism his causation of the short-lived Suez War saw the final epitaph of Great Britain as an imperial power. While his support for Algerian nationalists fighting the French is well known and lauded, his apologists are less eager to publicise his pro-Nazi leanings. Fritz Grobba, Hitler’s former spymaster in the Middle East who became ambassador to Saudi Arabia and Iraq, also became the Soviet Foreign Ministry director of Arab affairs in Moscow allowing him to facilitate the arms deal between Czechoslovakia and Nasser’s Egypt. The Egyptian security apparatus was transformed by the arrival of Alois Moser, SS-Gruppenführer who was involved in the extermination of Ukraine’s Jews, and Egen Eichberger a former battalion commander in the Sonderkommando.
Egypt also welcomed Joachim Däumling, formerly of the Gestapo and who had served with the Ustashe in Croatia. Many German war criminals found refuge in Egypt and Nasser’s military Arab revolutionary nationalist and ‘national’ socialist government was eager to employ many former Nazis. The country saw an end to its limited liberal experiment as well as ethnic homogenisation as Jews were expelled while Italians, Greeks, Maltese, French and many Copts saw the writing on the wall and left as Nasser’s pan-Arabism vied Saudi Wahhabism for leadership in the Arab world. Wherever it triumphed revolutionary socialism in the Arab world led to fascist style governments that should have been the diametric of what the western Left desired. The Ba’ath party, which took power in both Syria and Iraq, was openly inspired by Nazism and German Romanticism. Yet Arab nationalism and socialism, in whatever form it was manifest, did not mean secularism. Islam was always an essential component. Nasser railed against the Wahhabism of the Saudis because they represented a feudalistic version of the true faith. His suppression of the Muslim Brotherhood was not because of their religiosity but because of their attempted assassination attempt and because, as German communists were to the Nazis, they may have been ideological and racial blood brothers but were a rival focus for the masses. Democratic aspirations, liberal values and civil society itself was being suffocated before it even had a chance to make impact, all in the name of anti-imperialism and revolution.
Nehru was a close ally of Nasser helping to steer India into an anti-western direction. While his support for struggles against apartheid in South Africa and colonialism worldwide are well known his anti-Semitism is not well publicised. One needs only to read his writings and speeches to glean his burning hatred for the state of Israel before it was even formed. Nasser therefore found no difficulty on impressing India’s foreign minister Krishna Menon to read the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. Nehru’s anti-Semitism was only matched by his hatred and alienation from his Hindu background. In a series of letters from the 1930s now compiled into a book, ‘Glimpses of World History’, Nehru acted as nauseating apologist for the USSR while Stalin was indulging in his purges, massacres, deportations, and enslavement of vast swathes of the population, often on an ethnic basis. On his visits to his socialist holy land the man who was to become India’s first prime minister decided to be oblivious to all this. If he could ignore and distort crimes against humanity which were happening before his eyes, it is any surprise that he would do the same to India’s past? During the struggle for independence the Indian National Congress was keen to elicit support from the Muslim minority and went so far as supporting the Khilafat movement (1919-1923) which imploded into pogroms against Hindus, most notoriously by the Mapillahs of Kerela. Yet after 1931 Congress historians had begin the rewriting of Indian history as a time of communal harmony before the British arrival. This was of course a gross distortion of the facts and as Dr. Elst has explained Nehru was in the forefront of this myth making concerning the record of Islam:
“The best-known propounder of negationism was certainly Jawarharlal Nehru. He was rather illiterate concerning Indian culture and history, so his admirers may invoke for him the benefit of doubt. At any rate, his writings contain some crude cases of glorification of Muslim tyrants and concealment or denial of their crimes. Witness his assessment of Mahmud Ghaznavi, who, according to his chronicler Utbi, sang the praise of the temple complex at Mathura and then immediately proceeded to destroy it. Nehru writes: “Building interested Mahmud, and he was much impressed by the city of Mathura near Delhi”. About this he wrote: “There are here a thousand edifices as firm as the faith of the faithful; nor is it likely that this city has attained its present condition but at the expense of many millions of dinars, nor could such another be constructed under a period of 200 years.” And that is all: Nehru described the destroyer of Mathura as an admirer of Mathura, apparently without noticing the gory sarcasm in Ghaznavi’s eulogy.
Moreover, Nehru denied that Mahmud had committed his acts of destruction out of any religious motive: “Mahmud was not a religious man. He was a Mohammedan, but that was just by the way. He was in the first place a soldier, and a brilliant soldier.” That Mahmud was definitely a religious man, and that he had religious motives for his campaigns against the Hindus, is quite clear from Utbi’s contemporary chronicle. Every night Mahmud copied from the Quran for the benefit of his soul. He risked his life several times for the sake of destroying and desecrating temples in which there was nothing to plunder, just to terrorize and humiliate the Pagans. In his campaigns, he never neglected to invoke the appropriate Quran verses. In venerating Mahmud as a pious hero of Islam, Indian Muslims are quite faithful to history: unlike Nehru, the ordinary Muslim refuses to practise negationism.”
In this he was helped by westernised and modernising Muslims of the University of Aligarh, notably Mohammed Habib from 1920. He claimed that Islamic invaders such as Mahmud, Timur and Babur had exaggerated their atrocities against Hindus and only plundered temples because this was where Hindus had amassed their wealth. Habib even resorted to racial profiling claiming that any brutality was not due to religion but that fact of these invaders being Turks. Islam was eventually victorious because it offered equality to the downtrodden of Hindu society. This is despite contemporary historical records which say the contrary such as those of Alberuni.
The Aligarh school of thought was taken up with vigour by the Marxist historians who have dominated academia since India achieved independence. Their Kremlin is the aptly named Jawaharlal Nehru University in Delhi where Romila Thapar, Harbans Mukhia and Bipan Chandra, have enjoyed prestige and influence as professors. They preached the myth that Hindu and Muslim were non-existent entities before the British Raj and it was these evil foreigners who had stoked up communal differences. Elst:
“Yet, the negationist belief that the British newly created the Hindu-Muslim divide has become an article of faith with everyone in India who calls himself a secularist. It became a central part of the negationist argument in the debate over the Ram Janmabhoomi/Babri Masjid issue. Time and again, the negationist historians (including Bipan Chandra, K.N. Panikkar, S. Gopal, Romila Thapar, Harbans Mukhia, Irfan Habib, R.S. Sharma, Gyanendra Pandey, Sushil Srivastava, Asghar Ali Engineer, as well as the Islamic politician Syed Shahabuddin) have asserted that the tradition according to which the Babri mosque forcibly replaced a Hindu temple, is nothing but a myth purposely created in the 19th century. To explain the popularity of the myth even among local Muslim writers in the 19th century, most of them say it was a deliberate British concoction, spread in the interest of the divide and rule- policy. They affirm this conspiracy scenario without anyhow citing, from the copious archives which the British administration in India has left behind, any kind of positive indication for their convenient hypothesis – let alone the rigorous proof on which a serious historian would base his assertions, especially in such controversial questions.”
The irony is that the people promoting such ridiculous ideas are taken seriously in the West and further, despite all their fulminations against neo-imperialism, capitalism and neo-colonialism, they hanker desperately for well-paid positions at universities in those very countries which they deride as ‘reactionary’, notably the USA. Anyone familiar with Indian history would know that Islamic imperialism was resisted at all levels by heroic figures such as Rana Pratap, Lachit Borphukan, Krishnadevaraya, Shivaji. Akbar only succeeded in pacifying large areas of India under Mughal rule by a policy of toleration and co-opting support of Hindus, notably Rajput rajas. It was this which was reversed by his great-grandson Aurangzeb and the emperors that followed which helped to destroy much of the Mughal empire in India as Hindus resisted with more than non-violence.
They ignore contemporary first hand sources such as that by Punjab’s renowned Sufi Muslim mystic and poet Bulleh Shah (1680-1758) who wrote:
“Had there been no Guru Gobind Singh, everyone would have been circumcised.”
The Sikh Khalsa was formed to resist forcible conversion to Islam which gathered apace during the eighteenth century under both the Mughals and the Afghan invaders who fought them. As every visitor to the museum at the Sikhs’ holiest shrine of Harimandir Sahib (Golden Temple) in Amritsar is familiar with, this has been portrayed by artists in all its gory reality: Sikhs cut in half by gear like devices, infants cut into pieces and then hung around the necks of their mothers like garlands, Bhai Mani Singh chopped up piece by piece, Bhai Matti Das killed for refusing to embrace Islam by being sawn from head down. Even if not taken literally the depictions of Shaheed Baba Deep Singh fighting even after his head was severed shows the determination to liberate Harimandir Sahib in 1757 from the Afghan invaders under Ahmad Shah Durrani (Abdali) who in the name of Islam had demolished the holy shrine by throwing cattle entrails into the sacred tank is demonstrative of the determination to which India’s indigenous inhabitants resisted the colonialism and forced conversions of Islam.
At a wider level India suffered wanton destruction of temples, art, Buddhist monasteries and the university at Nalanda which had allowed this ancient civilisation to contribute so much to our own modern civilisation. ‘Arabic’ numbers are after all from India. The ‘zero’ was an Indian concept, a result of the deep spirituality which aspired to release the inner self from the endless cycle of rebirth and achieve moksha, what Buddhists call nirvana, a sense of nothingness as the self merges as one with the cosmos. But beyond this there was the very real human cost. The American historian Will Durant summed it up like this:
“The Islamic conquest of India is probably the bloodiest story in history. It is a discouraging tale, for its evident moral is that civilization is a precious good, whose delicate complex of order and freedom, culture and peace, can at any moment be overthrown by barbarians invading from without or multiplying within.”
Yet who would dare to speak in such honest terms now? They would soon be denounced by the Marxist axis of historians such as Thapar to whom western commentators on India defer with blind obedience. Back in 1992 Elst was an almost lone voice in the West for daring to state the harsh truth:
“The Muslim conquests, down to the 16th century, were for the Hindus a pure struggle of life and death. Entire cities were burnt down and the populations massacred, with hundreds of thousands killed in every campaign, and similar numbers deported as slaves. Every new invader made (often literally) his hills of Hindus skulls. Thus, the conquest of Afghanistan in the year 1000 was followed by the annihilation of the Hindu population; the region is still called the Hindu Kush, i.e. Hindu slaughter. The Bahmani sultans (1347-1480) in central India made it a rule to kill 100,000 captives in a single day, and many more on other occasions. The conquest of the Vijayanagar empire in 1564 left the capital plus large areas of Karnataka depopulated. And so on.”
With all this war and conquest against the idol worshipping infidels India became one big slave market for the Islamic world right into the nineteenth century. Hindu girls were especially prized for the harems of sultans. Of course with the numbers running into the millions detractors may ask where did all these people go? Where is the genetic legacy? The answer is most obvious and poignant among the glaring demographic evidence we have of the descendants of these slaves. Adopting a nomadic lifestyle they ventured into Europe where for six centuries they were enslaved in the Balkans and elsewhere remained, as they do today, a marginalised and socially outcaste group in Europe. The Roma or Gypsies.
It is now that same negationism which is producing intellectual dishonesty among western academic circles. In discussing slavery the modern servitude in Mauritania and Sudan has become too obvious to ignore. But how many are aware of the corsairs who in the seventeenth century took their slave raiding along the Mediterranean coasts and as far as Iceland, Norway, Newfoundland, France, Portugal, Greece, Russia, Ireland, Cornwall, Devon, and the English colonies of the New World? While western civilisation is decried for slavery, racism and colonialism, what of the cultures and civilisations crushed underfoot by the Islamic imperialism which preceded it? Why are we largely ignorant of the comments by Ibn Khaldun comparing blacks with monkeys, Amir Khusrau calling Hindus “crow-faced”, and the laments by seventh and eighth century Arabic poets of part Ethiopian descent known as “black crows” such as Ibn Suhaym, Nusayb ibn Rabah and Abu Dulama who bemoaned the racism which they suffered? As long as negationism was applied to India western intellectuals and policy makers could safely brush it off as something at a safe distance which only affected uncivilised people.
They could even convince themselves that just as long as Israel gave up a bit more land and stopped having the audacity to defend itself against unprovoked rocket attacks from the ‘democratically’ elected Hamas government only then would peace come to the Middle East. If only America would stop backing brutal despots and let the Arab masses decide their own ‘democratic’ future then all would be well. Now with hindsight if only they had heeded the lessons which negationist brainwashing had caused in India they might have been more realistic now that the barbarians are almost at the gates. Bribing the barbarian tribes only allowed classical civilisation of antiquity to buy so much time.
As it was Alaric the Goth still sacked Rome and the Turks were to breach the walls of Constantinople to cause the resultant bloodbath. So we are faced with a negationist poison which has been dominant in India and now tells us that the Salafi parties of the Maghreb are actually moderate, whatever that means. As any objective observer would know this a desperate source for solace as the enemy becomes bold and brazen in its efforts. In 1705 Sher Mohammed Khan, Nawab of Malerkotla, vehemently protested when his close relative Wazir Khan, governor of Sirhind, had Fateh Singh and Zorowar Singh (the two surviving sons of Guru Gobind Singh, and aged nine and seven respectively) tortured and bricked up alive for refusing to convert to Islam. In vain do the apologists for the Salafists and radicals look for such a figure as the Nawab of Malerkotla – without even knowing or bothering to learn about this very important historical fact.
From an Indian perspective it looks as if western academia has an Aligarh school of thought in all but name while its unreconstructed Marxists blame western governments for not paying enough jizya tax in western aid. But no amount of latter day Munich-style agreements are going to change the reality. If events continue on their present course western democracies, as much as Israel and indigenous minority communites of the Middle East such as Copts and Assyrians, face a ‘Hindu’ future. One only need to look at the events of India’s partition in 1947, Bangladesh in 1971 and since, Kashmir since 1989 and a host of atrocities since to know what that means. As Lebanese-born Brigitte Gabriel from Act for America has said in numerous talks cross the country “it is time to call a spade a spade and throw political correctness out of the window”. Having seen her own homeland and community destroyed by the corrosive effects of negationism she is indeed well placed to warn western democracies of the impending doom. For that reason I will end with the words of Koenraad Elst from his book ‘Negationism in Indian History’ which are even more relevant today than they were when first written almost twenty years ago:
“Those who deny history are bound to repeat it”: that is what many critics of Holocaust negationism allege. This seems slightly exaggerated, though it is of course the well- wishers of Nazism who practise negationism. In the case of Islam, it is equally true that negationism is practised by the well-wishers of that same doctrine which has led to the crimes against humanity under consideration. While Nazism is simply too stained to get a second chance, Islam is certainly in a position to force unbelievers into the zimmi status (as is happening in dozens of Muslim countries in varying degrees), and even to wage new jihads, this time with weapons of mass-destruction. Those who are trying to close people’s eyes to this danger by distorting or concealing the historical record of Islam are effective accomplices in the injustice and destruction which Islam is sure to cause before the time of its dissolution comes. Therefore, I consider it a duty of all intellectuals to expose and denounce the phenomenon of negationism whenever it is practised.
By Ranbir Singh