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COMMENT: In numerous broadcasts and posts, we have highlighted Hindutva (Hindu supremacist/nationalist) fascism, the ideology of Narendra Modi’s BJP and its parent organization, the RSS. (Some of these programs are: FTR #‘s 795 , 889 , 988 , 989 , 990 , 991 , 992 , 1015 , 1018 , 1019 , 1020 .)
We have a reminder of how deeply the Hindutva fascism of India’s ruling BJP party and its parent RSS group were shaped by the Nazis. It’s also a reminder of how important idealized mythological pasts are for fascist movements. Finally, it’s a reminder of the important role anti-Semitism played in providing a model to RSS on how to successfully demonize of minority group (Muslims, in the case of the RSS) and how anti-Semitism remains a ‘go-to’ tool for Hindu nationalists today when dealing with non-Indians perceived to be enemies of the movement. Audrey Truschke, a historian of premodern India at Rutgers University , ruffled Hindu nationalist feathers with her scholarly works on the historical legacy of Islam in India. Her research primarily deals with the Muslim dynasty that ruled much of north and central South Asia in the 16th and 17th centuries. As a result of that work, Truschke has found herself under attack from Hindu nationalists upset with her work, and tarring her with anti-Semitic slurs (despite Truschke not being Jewish).
Hindutva fascists are also attempting to infuse scientific theory with Hindu mythology, not unlike the atavism that elements of the Nazi regime and the SS in particular espoused, dismissing Einstein, among others as a purveyor of “Jewish science.”
Two years ago, I awoke to the following tweet, “I hope another Hitler comes back and finishes off your people”, accompanied by a picture from 1945 of the bodies of dead Jews piled outside a liberated concentration camp. Since then, I have been regularly attacked with anti-Semitic language and tropes on social media, especially on Twitter.
I am a target for anti-Semitic insults due to my work: I am a historian of premodern India. My research primarily concerns the Mughals, a Muslim dynasty that ruled much of north and central South Asia in the 16th and 17th centuries and built the Taj Mahal. Most historians – especially those who work on non-Western, premodern topics – find their audience confined to scholars and students. But Indians have a voracious appetite for history, and the historical legacy of Islam in India has become a subject of explosive controversy in recent years. This potent combination has made my scholarship of wide interest among Indian and Indian American readers and has also made me a target of vicious personal attacks on the basis of my perceived race, gender, and religion.
Historically, anti-Semitism was not an Indian problem. Small Jewish communities, often traders, have dotted India’s western coast for more than a millennium. Premodern Indian Jews did not suffer from the persecution and discrimination that often characterised the lives of their European counterparts. In the 20th century, many Indian institutions and independence leaders condemned rising anti-Semitism in Europe. For example, following Kristallnacht in 1938, the Indian National Congress issued a declaration against Hitler’s Germany. Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru, two of India’s most famous Independence leaders, condemned the Nazi treatment of Jews.
India’s distaste for anti-Semitism began to erode in the early 20th century, however, especially among Hindu nationalists. Hindu nationalists – who believe that India ought to be a Hindu nation in population and character – warmly embraced fascist ideas. The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, a paramilitary Hindu nationalist group founded in 1925, modelled itself on contemporary European fascist movements. The Hindu Mahasabha, a Hindu nationalist organisation founded in 1915, openly supported Nazism, including “Germany’s crusade against the enemies of Aryan culture”, as a spokesman for the group put it in 1939.
Rise of anti-Semitism in India
A key appeal of Nazism for early Hindu nationalists was anti-Semitism, which they saw as a useful model for how to demonise India’s Muslim minority. Muslims constituted 24% of the Indian population in 1941, and they comprise 14% of Indians today (the drop is explained by the Partition of Pakistan and its large Muslim population from India in 1947). Speaking in 1939 in Calcutta, VD Savarkar, the ideological godfather of Hindu nationalism, identified Indian Muslims as a potential traitorous people not to be trusted, “like the Jews in Germany”. In the same year, MS Golwalkar, a Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh leader, wrote that Germany’s “purging the country of the semitic Race – the Jews” was “a good lesson for us in Hindustan to learn and profit by”.
For decades, Hindu nationalists constituted a set of fringe organisations whose extreme ideas were rejected by the wider Indian public. In 1948, a Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh man, Nathuram Godse, assassinated Mahatma Gandhi, which sparked a brief ban on the group’s operations. The Sangh experienced a remarkable recovery in subsequent decades, however, transforming itself from an extremist association known for producing Gandhi’s killer into the leaders of independent India. Today, Narendra Modi, who has had a lifelong association with the RSS, leads India as its prime minister.
Independent India has developed a strong appetite for aspects of fascism, including Nazi ideology. Hitler’s autobiography, Mein Kampf, has gone through countless editions in India and has been a bestseller in the country for decades. The work is especially popular among businessmen who see it as a self-help guide for how determination and strength can produce success. Indeed, I was once told by a gentleman in Bikaner, “Madam, you are a great leader like Hitler.” This was meant as a compliment.
Growing hate and intolerance
The Indian fascination with Hitler is often explained away as having nothing to do with anti-Semitism. Some argue that Indians hardly learn about the Holocaust in school and that they are historically and emotionally distant from the darker sides of Nazism. Others point out that the Indian state enjoys robust relations with Israel.
In India, however, growing bigotry and close relations with Israel are hardly mutually exclusive. A prejudiced attitude against Muslims has served as a binding glue between Israel and India over the past decade or two. Hate crimes against numerous groups – including Muslims, Christians, Dalits, and anybody who eats beef – are on the rise in Modi’s India. Such trends are unsurprising given the Hindu nationalist propaganda espoused by Modi and his political party, the Bharatiya Janata Party.
Anti-Semitic attitudes are not a central storyline in this larger flowering of prejudice, but they are a readymade playbook of virulent hate that can be unleashed against foreign scholars. Academics, such as myself, often contradict Hindu nationalist claims about a pristine Hindu past, in which Muslims are seen as barbarous invaders, by arguing that many Muslims were embedded into the fabric of premodern Indian society. By virtue of our dedication to accuracy, scholars also shed unfavourable light on the origins of groups such as the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh. Hindu nationalists lack the historical evidence to counter academic claims on scholarly grounds, and so they turn to one of their most finely-tuned weapons: identity-based attacks.
One curious aspect of this anti-Semitism directed at me is that I am not, in fact, Jewish. Perhaps my last name suggests a Jewish identity to those unfamiliar with eastern European surnames, but I suspect that darker reasons often lurk behind this mistaken identification. Several of my academic advisors are Jewish and frequently maligned as such by Hindu nationalists. As a result, I am evidently perceived as a Jew by association. More insidiously, the old anti-Semitic trope that Jews control universities still surfaces with alarming regularity. This is a sub-type of the foundational anti-Semitic trope that there is an international Jewish conspiracy to run the world. In other words, anti-Semitism blinds people into assuming that I am Jewish, and then provides them with a remarkably hateful set of tools with which to attack me.
India has a growing problem with hate and intolerance. Alarmingly, in recent years, much of this hate has been sponsored by groups and figures that are close to the Indian government. Within India, Muslims remain the chief targets of mounting bigotry and violent assaults. When attacking non-Indians, however, Hindu nationalists increasingly resort to the virulent anti-Semitic ideas that inspired their early leaders.
Scientists in India have hit out at speakers at a major conference for making irrational claims, including that ancient Hindus invented stem cell research.
Some academics at the annual Indian Science Congress dismissed the findings of Isaac Newton and Albert Einstein.
Hindu mythology and religion-based theories have increasingly become part of the Indian Science Congress agenda.
But experts said remarks at this year’s summit were especially ludicrous.
The 106th Indian Science Congress, which was inaugurated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, runs from 3–7 January.
The head of a southern Indian university cited an old Hindu text as proof that stem cell research was discovered in India thousands of years ago.
G Nageshwar Rao, vice chancellor of Andhra University, also said a demon king from the Hindu religious epic, Ramayana, had 24 types of aircraft and a network of landing strips in modern day Sri Lanka.
Another scientist from a university in the southern state of Tamil Nadu told conference attendees that Isaac Newton and Albert Einstein were both wrong and that gravitational waves should be renamed “Narendra Modi Waves”.
Dr KJ Krishnan reportedly said Newton failed to “understand gravitational repulsive forces” and Einstein’s theories were “misleading”.
Critics said that while ancient texts should be read and enjoyed – it was nonsense to suggest they represented science.
The Indian Scientific Congress Association expressed “serious concern” at the remarks.
Pseudoscience moves from fringe to the mainstream
Analysis by Soutik Biswas, BBC News, Delhi
India has a mixed relationship with science.
On the one hand, it has a rich tradition of outstanding scientists – the Higgs boson  particle, for example, is named partly after an Indian physicist and Einstein’s contemporary, Satyendra Nath Bose. Particle physicist Ashoke Sen, meanwhile, is the recipient of Fundamental Physics Prize, the world’s most lucrative academic award.
But it also has a long tradition of replacing science with myths, leading to a fringe culture of pseudoscience.
Many believe under Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist BJP party, pseudoscience has moved from the fringe to the mainstream.
Mr Modi himself set the tone in 2014 with his outlandish claim that cosmetic surgery was practised in India thousands of years ago.
Many of his ministers followed suit with similar claims. India’s top science summit also started inviting academics with Hindu nationalist leanings who have made equally bizarre claims.
Such claims usually hark back to an imagined glorious Hindu past to bolster religious nationalism. The BJP and its hard line allies have for a long time mixed mythology and religion to bolster political Hinduism and nationalism. Adding science to the mix, say critics, will only help propagate quack science and erode scientific temper.
Also, as economist Kaushik Basu says: “For a nation to progress it is important for people to spend time on science, mathematics and literature instead of spending time showing that 5,000 years ago their ancestors did science, mathematics and literature.”
Other claims made by Indian politicians and scientists:
* India’s junior education minister Satyapal Singh in 2017 said that airplanes were first mentioned in the ancient Hindu epic, Ramayana. He added that the first working plane was invented by an Indian named Shivakar Babuji Talpade eight years before the Wright brothers
* Also in 2017, the education minister for the western state of Rajasthan said it was important to “understand the scientific significance” of the cow, claiming it was the only animal in the world to both inhale and exhale oxygen
* In 2014, Prime Minister Narendra Modi told medical staff at a Mumbai hospital that the story of the Hindu god Ganesha – whose elephant head is attached to a human body – showed cosmetic surgery existed in ancient India
* Geologist Ashu Khosla said that Hindu god Brahma discovered dinosaurs and documented them in ancient Indian scriptures while presenting a research paper at the Indian Science Congress on Sunday
* Lawmaker Ramesh Pokhriyal Nishank prompted outrage in 2014 when he said that “science is a dwarf in front of astrology”. He added that astrology was “the biggest science” and that India conducted nuclear tests more than 100,000 years ago