Spiritual Bedfellows : The Norway massacre and the Indian connection
This article is cross posted from here.
On 22 July, Anders Behring Breivik, a 32-year-old Norwegian, set off bombs in the heart of Oslo. He then went on a shooting spree on a nearby island where young members of the Labor Party were holding a summer camp. All told, he killed 77 people that day, many in their teens. He targetted Labor Party youth because he saw them as part of a multicultural left-wing cabal that was allowing a Muslim takeover of Norway. In his view, they were ‘category A traitors’ who had to be eliminated to save Europe from Islam.
Even though Anders Breivik alone pulled the trigger, the massacre in Norway was by no means the work of Breivik alone. He is a product of years of immersion in a worldwide web of anti-Islamic ideas espoused by cultural purists and nationalists of all stripes.
India, it turns out, figures quite prominently in this web of hate. So far, the India connection has been limited in media reports to the 100-odd references to India that appear in Breivik’s massive manifesto, including his ringing defence of ‘Sanatan Dharma movements’. The irony of a Muslim craftsman from Banaras embroidering the skull-and-sword badge for his army of ‘Knights Templars’, modelled on the 12th century Christian crusaders, has also evoked much commentary.
But there is a lot more to the India connection than it appears at first glance.
The simple fact is that some of the most revered personalities of the Hindu Right have actively cultivated and nurtured links with the European New Right. We don’t have to go as far back as the Nazi-loving founding fathers of the Sangh Parivar. The Savarkar and Golwalker generation that admired Adolf Hitler for trying to exterminate the ‘Semitic races’ has been replaced by a newer generation of Hindu chauvinists that raves and rants against ‘Semitic monotheistic religions’-Islam, above all. This new Hindu Right has managed to move beyond the old Nazi fixation on racial purity to a new ideology of hate based on cultural and religious purity that is proving to be attractive to ‘crusader nationalists’ such as Breivik and his fellow ‘patriots’ from Europe, North America and Israel.
The new Hindu Right has been honing its radical critique of Islam and Christianity from the perspective of ‘yogic spirituality’ largely through books published by the Delhi-based publishing house Voice of India (VoI), which was founded in 1981 by two ardent Hindu revivalists and anti-Communists, Ram Swarup and his friend, Sita Ram Goel (both now deceased). VoI’s goal is to produce ‘bauddhik kshatriyas’ (intellectual warriors), who will defend Hindu society against the triple ‘threat’ of Islam, Westernisation and Marxism. The signature theme of VoI thinkers is to attribute these three ‘evils’ to ‘Semitic’ or monotheistic religions that are ‘inherently intolerant’ because they believe in One True God, One Truth and One Book.
In recent years, VoI has emerged as the hub where ‘Sanatan Dharma movements’ make common cause with Islam-bashers, anti-Christian pagans, New Age seekers, deep-ecologists/eco-feminists and other disaffected right-wingers from Europe and the US.
Evidence of the global reach of the VoI-school of Hindutva can be found in the 1,518-page-long manifesto titled 2083: European Declaration of Independence that the Norway killer posted on the internet just hours before he went on his rampage. The manifesto makes two references to a Belgian writer, Koenraad Elst. The first time Elst is mentioned is as the authority behind the highly contested claim that Muslims enslaved Hindus and drove them to their death in the Hindu Kush mountain ranges, now in Afghanistan. (This reference appears in an article by Srinandan Vyas, which is reproduced in the manifesto.)
The second reference to Elst appears in his ‘recommendations to the West’ on how to make the life of Muslim minorities in Europe so difficult that they will either give up Islam or leave. Elst is quoted here to suggest that though Islam is in decline, it can still take over Europe before it collapses. (Here Elst is quoted in an article by Fjordman, the anonymous Norwegian blogger well known for his anti-Islamic views and greatly admired by Breivik).
It so happens that Koenraad Elst has one foot firmly in the European New Right and the other foot in the Hindu New Right spawned by the VoI school.
In Europe, he is considered a ‘leading Orientalist’, and writes frequently for The Brussels Journal, a European nationalist anti-Islamic blog, cited repeatedly by Breivik in his manifesto. Elst has also worked with think-tanks and publications suspected of links with Belgium’s far right, anti-Islamic, anti-immigrant party, Vlaam Belang.
In India, Elst is the darling of the Hindu Right, and is held in great regard as the ‘intellectual heir’ of Ram Swarup and Sita Ram Goel, who practically took him under their wing when he was researching the Ayodhya conflict in the late 1980s. His book, Ram Janmbhoomi v Babri Masjid, was published by VoI and released by LK Advani. VoI has published at least eight more of his books, and he is counted among VoI’s bestselling authors.
VoI has quite a few other European and American fellow travellers apart from Elst. Among the more notable is David Frawley (aka Vamadev Shastri), an American convert to Hinduism, who teaches Ayurveda and Vedic astrology in the US. Like Elst, Frawley follows Ram Swarup and Goel in decrying Islam and Christianity as inherently intolerant and fit only for ‘lower’ intellects. Like Elst again, Frawley tops the VoI bestseller list. Francois Gautier, a follower of Sri Aurobindo, and more recently of Sri Sri Ravishankar, is another VoI author who had a long career with the French newspaper La Figaro, which has been described as the mouthpiece of the French New Right. Gautier is the brain behind the idea of creating a museum showcasing the Hindu ‘holocaust’ at the hands of Muslims. A collection of his ‘Ferengi’s Columns’ has been published by VoI.
VoI, predictably, has also published Daniel Pipes, a well-known American critic of Islam, who also finds many mentions in Breivik’s manifesto. Well-known tracts of anti-Islamic literature, including Sir William Muir’s The Life of Mohamet and David Margoliouth’s Mohammed and the Rise of Islam, dating back to the 19th century, have also been reprinted under the VoI imprint.
In addition to nurturing extreme critics of Islam and Christianity, the founding fathers of VoI also tried to encourage the revival of pre-Christian and pre-Islamic pagan religions on the assumption that these ancient Indo-European religions shared the polytheism and ritualism of Hinduism. Ram Swarup personally mentored neo-pagans from many parts of Europe including Lithuania, Russia, Britain, Ireland, Iceland and Belgium (including Elst himself, who at one time harboured pagan sympathies).
VoI’s overtures to neo-pagans have not been terribly fruitful, as the nationalism favoured by ‘indigenous Europeans,’ who want to bring back pre-Christian gods of ‘blood-and-soil’, has been overtaken by an openly anti-Islamic ‘crusader nationalism’ exemplified by Breivik.
Now that Brevik’s manifesto has revealed the names of anti-Islamic authors, bloggers, websites and groups that shaped his thinking, the great washing off of hands has begun. Just about everyone named by Breivik has issued stern statements distancing him/herself from his violent deeds. Elst himself posted a statement stating that ‘The Brussels Journal never ever carried calls to counter Islam by means of bombs and shoot-outs… It only carried criticism of Islam, but that is a perfectly legitimate exercise.’
In India, the response of the Hindu Right has varied from total denial of any connection, to decrying the violence but supporting the reasons why he did it, to utter shock (as expressed by Praveen Togadia of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad) that anyone would be so “absurd” as to even think of “linking European right-wing thinking with the most ancient Hindu cultural ideology”.
Decrying the violence is necessary but not sufficient, because the agenda of the Islamophobic Right is much larger than spilling blood in the streets. As he made clear over and over again, Breivik’s primary objective was to ‘create a platform to consolidate anti-Marxist forces before Europe is overwhelmed demographically by Muslims’. In other words, his first priority was to take down ‘cultural Marxists’ or multiculturalists, who are supposedly ‘appeasing’ Muslims. (This must sound familiar to Indian ears. Indeed, Breivik advises his Hindu nationalist brothers to first go after the ‘cultural Marxist government’ and its left-wing sympathisers-’category A and B traitors’ respectively-and only later resort to ‘counterproductive’ street attacks and the like against Muslims.)
But what exactly do Breivik and his stormtroopers have against these multiculturalist ‘cultural Marxists’? The answer is simple: cultural Marxists say ‘all cultures and religions are equal’. The problem with cultural Marxists, Breivik says, is that they are egalitarian and want to create ‘a society not merely of equal opportunity, but equal condition’. But it is ‘evident’ to him that all people are not equal, because all cultures and religions are not equal. Multiculturalists and cultural Marxists are, therefore, guilty of spreading the ‘politically correct’ but false ideology of tolerance and equality of all faiths and all cultures.
This equality is not acceptable to cultural nationalists: if all cultures are equal, how can they oppose the influx of what they see as inferior cultures? If all cultures are equal, how can they carry on their ‘consciousness-raising’ campaigns against The Quran and Sharia? If all cultures are equal, what is special about their own Christendom?
This resolute opposition to equality of all religions is what unites the European New Right and VoI-school of the Hindu Right.
Unfortunately, we in India are all too familiar with Hindutva sympathisers questioning the loyalty of Muslims, or wanting them to ‘acknowledge with pride’ their Hindu ancestry (as Subramanian Swamy did in his response to the recent bomb blasts in Mumbai). But most standard-issue Sanghis, however prejudiced they may be in reality, still claim that as good Hindus they believe in ‘sarva dharma samabhaav’ (equal regard for all religions) as a hallmark of the tolerance and pluralism of their ancient Vedic faith. Indeed, this mantra has served the BJP and RSS quite well, for they could oppose any concessions to religious minorities as contrary to the equal treatment of all religions, and, therefore, ‘pseudo-secularist’.
What distinguishes the VoI-brand of Hindutva-and pushes it into the global network of Islamophobia-is its staunch opposition to the mantra of sarva dharma samabhaav, the Hindu equivalent of multiculturalism. Hinduism, they assert, is not any ordinary religion, but rather contains the very essence of religion itself: it is sanatan dharma, the Eternal Cosmic Truth. To equate Hindu dharma, this mother of all Truth, with violent, materialistic and monotheistic ‘creeds’ like Islam amounts to equating dharma with adharma, the ways of devas (gods) with the ways of asuras (demons).
As Sita Ram Goel, the founding member of VoI, put it, “To entertain samabhaav (equal regard) for Islam and Christianity, by giving them the status of dharma is to extend [an] invitation to doom… These ideologies are not worthy of being called dharma in any sense of the word. Contrary to this, they are brimful [sic] of imperialistic expansion.”
Once they got rid of the mantra of sarva dharma samabhaav, VoI militants declared an open war against Islam. Their new consensus is that rather than ‘appease’ Muslims by pretending to respect their religion, Hindus need to debunk the claims of the ‘false’ and ‘monstrous’ doctrines of Islam. Indeed, Koenraad Elst has himself applauded this new war on Islam. In accordance with the VoI line on Islam being ‘asuric’, he has proclaimed that, “Every Muslim is a Sita who must be released from Ravana’s prison. We should help Muslims in freeing themselves from Islam.”
This is exactly the agenda of the Norway killer-to ‘educate’ Norwegian society, including Muslim immigrants-that ‘Islam is not a religion but a political ideology.’ This is the ‘non-violent’ component of the ‘crusade’ against Islam in Europe: to create an environment so hostile that the practice of Islam becomes difficult and that Muslims have no choice but to either leave or give up their faith.
Indeed, if there were any doubt about the shared ground between the VoI and European Islamophobes, Elst gives the same advice, in almost the same words, to the Norway killer as he does to his VoI admirers. The solution to the ‘Islam problem’ is not to use violence, ‘but to liberate Muslims from the mental prison-house of Islam’.
This war against Islam is the thread that dubiously binds Extremist India with the Norway massacre.
Meera Nanda is a historian, philosopher, and author of books such as Prophets Facing Backward and The God Market. She is a John Templeton Foundation Fellow in Religion and Science.