an you imagine Mullah Omar being hosted by US universities? Sounds repulsive, doesn't it? He hasn't been indicted in a court of law, nor did he carry out the WTC attacks himself. However, very little of the Taliban ideology would stand up to academic scrutiny, so there certainly is no case for offering Omar an academic podium. Besides, as Noam Chomsky put it so eloquently, "by accepting the presumption of legitimacy of debate on certain issues, one has already lost one's humanity." Needless to say, this hardly precludes an analysis of the forces that created and sustained such regressive forces as the Taliban.
When the organization in question is the Taliban, and the person in question is Mullah Omar, the above conclusions would seem commonsensical to most. Not so when the organization in question is the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), and the person in question is Ram Madhav 1. If this wasn't bad enough, but for his visa denial last month, Narendra Modi would have inaugurated the India Studies Center at the Cal State University (Long Beach).
For starters, the RSS is an organization modeled on the Italian fascists and the Nazis, and advocates a supremacist and exclusionary ideology (commonly referred to as Hindutva). True to their founding ideals, the RSS and its family of organizations have carried on a violent campaign of hate against religious and cultural minorities in India , and its leaders have consistently applauded such violence. For instance, after the massacre of about 2,000 Muslims in the western Indian state of Gujarat , leaders of the RSS family asserted that the massacres had the blessings of Hindu gods, and threatened to repeat such violence elsewhere. It's now public knowledge that these massacres took place under the watchful eyes of the Gujarat government (then, and still, headed by Narendra Modi) with the police often colluding with the killers. Besides, the Gujarat government has since then done its utmost to obstruct due process . After several futile appeals and condemnations , the Indian Supreme Court had to shift some cases to a neighboring state. Narendra Modi, thus, very much personifies the massacres not only in his official capacity as the elected head of the state but also through his virulently anti-Muslim utterances since then. His detailed biography is available elsewhere , but it deserves mentioning that Modi is a longstanding member of the RSS, of which Ram Madhav is the spokesperson.
After 2,000 humans are massacred and more than 100,000 are rendered homeless, a humane response would have been to explore avenues for justice for the survivors of the massacres. However, some US universities have acted in an utterly incomprehensible and inhumane manner and offered podiums to Ram Madhav and Narendra Modi -- leaders of organizations widely implicated in the massacres, the latter also implicated for ordering the targeting of Muslims .
1) Last September, the South Asia Studies (SAS) program at the Johns Hopkins University offered a podium to the RSS spokesman Ram Madhav. SAS's email announcement of the event completely sanitized and decontextualized the RSS, calling it "the pre-eminent nationalist Hindu organization of India ." As if to justify Madhav's presence, the announcement claimed that he "serves on the board of governors of several educational institutions." What was not mentioned was that the RSS runs lots of "educational institutions," its ideological indoctrination units. Probably bothered by the fragility of these earlier claims, SAS then went for overkill. Ram Madhav, it said, "also serves as the Director of a publishing company in Delhi that publishes popular weeklies like Organiser (English) and Panchjanya (Hindi)." These "popular weeklies" are the mouthpieces of the RSS, and even their websites don't claim that they are popular!
Perhaps more dangerous than SAS's hosting of Ram Madhav is its willingness to sing paeans for the RSS. Despite a petition drive by the Campaign to Stop Funding Hate 2 and others, the event went through 3. Coming as it did four months after the RSS's political wing (the Bharatiya Janata Party, BJP for short) suffered an electoral debacle, the SAS's hosting of Ram Madhav did more to rehabilitate the RSS in the US than exposing students to the "currents in Indian politics" (as claimed by Sunil Khilnani, SAS Director). Khilnani also faulted "an unwillingness on either side to engage in an argument", as if it's possible to reason with demagogues. With righteous anger and with no sense of irony, he added , "It is all very well to sit in academic campuses, publish in arcane journals, and keep one's hands clean." Indeed, SAS's hands are sullied, not because it undertook a dirty but necessary act, but because it undertook a shameful and absolutely unwarranted act. Even as survivors of the Gujarat pogrom are waging a grim battle for justice, SAS was too busy cuddling up to the killers.
2) Within a week of the JHU event, the Center for the Advanced Study of India (CASI) at U Penn hosted Ram Madhav. Francine Frankel, director of CASI, claimed she invited Madhav to get answers to some questions, which of course were not answered during the invitation-only event.
While on this, a few similarities between the two events deserve mention 4.
- The events weren't publicly announced, and there seems to have been an effort to keep them secret so as not to draw public protests.
- There were attempts to enforce no-protest zones. In the first case, the Hindutva thugs intimidated people of opposing views, even threatening to use the Patriot Act, while the second event was invitation-only. If the organizers' idea -- as they had claimed - was to bring the RSS views into the open, one fails to understand how such closed events would help achieve their goals.
The primary intent of the organizers -- both SAS, JHU and CASI, U Penn -- seems to have been to ensure that the events went off smoothly. Not by intent but certainly by their actions, they gave a resounding yes to the question posed by CSFH : "can we take a stand to support genocide, as the RSS did in Gujarat, 2002, when 2000 human beings were massacred, only because we reside within the walls of the first world academy?" However, they distanced themselves from the RSS ideology, which makes their actions all the more puzzling. Why would they host someone whose views fly in the face of humanity and do not stand academic scrutiny, ensure that he "walked away sanguine", let him get away with his stated mission of clearing the "concerns about Gujarat" so that Hindutva fundraising in the US could proceed unimpeded, and justify their actions under the pretext of liberal ideals of free speech and civil dialogue? Is there more to it than meets the eye? It's hard to say, but a more recent event gives some pointers.
Last month, Narendra Modi was to inaugurate the center for India Studies at the California State University (Long Beach). How ironic! Apparently, the donors for the center had insisted on Modi inaugurating it, but CSULB ought to know better than selling education to the highest bidder. Besides, they wouldn't have invited Mullah Omar to inaugurate an Afghan Studies center, would they? Interestingly (or rather, ominously), the inauguration was to take place during the Spring break at CSULB, when the campus would be free of students (thereby precluding any student protests). Once again, a US university had conspired to host (and in this case, honor) an RSS leader and ensure a smooth conduct of the event. In this case, the Hindutva folks had flexed their financial muscle to achieve their objective. Upper caste Hindus (from whom Hindutva derives its strength) constitute one of the wealthiest groups in the US and have in the past tried to barter some of their wealth for an increased say in the academia. But never as brazenly as now.
Zionism has for long been respectable in the US academia, but Hindutva's audacious assault on the US academia is a post 9/11 phenomenon 5. Unlike with Zionism, support for Hindutva has not been a long-standing US foreign policy imperative, but with Islamophobia skyrocketing after the WTC attacks (and gaining explicit state sanction, as with policies like "special registration"), Hindutva ideologues in the US have made common cause with fellow Muslim-baiters and moved in for the kill 6. Given the dehumanization of Muslims and the utter contempt for their sensibilities, in the days to come, one can expect the US academia to lend willing ears to and humor a slew of anti-Muslim ideologies, particularly those with dollars to spare. The denial of visa to Modi (ironically, by a dispensation that has had very friendly relations with the RSS) is indeed a big blow to the Hindutva forces in the US. Besides countering their rebuilding attempts, now is the time to also hold their collaborators accountable.
1 Needless to say, the RSS is hardly the sole beneficiary of such largesse, but that's beside the point.
2 See under " Rebranding the Sangh: US Universities Legitimate the RSS " at the CSFH website.
3In his opening remarks, Professor Khilnani did provide an apt introduction to the RSS, terming its views "dangerous and potentially destructive of the constitutional identity of the Indian republic."
4 See also the first person accounts by David Ludden and Itty Abraham & Samip Mallick .
5 This is not to downplay the long-standing influence of Hindutva in the Indian American community. For instance, Hindutva ideologues have been very active in raising funds for their Indian brethren. See The Foreign Exchange of Hate: IDRF and the American Funding of Hindutva .
6 See Zionism and Hindutva in the U.S . and USINPAC: Buying Zionist Influence, Selling Indian Interests