Naipaul, Islam and Gujarat riots

Arab News ^ | 5/4/02 | Shazia Nasir,

Although violence against minorities in India is an old phenomenon, the Gujarat pogrom is different as it has the evident support of the state and worse, ordinary Hindus, especially women. It is important to analyze how the intelligentsia is responsible for spreading such venomous hatred. One such advocate of Hindu militancy is Nobel laureate V.S. Naipaul who is known for his love of controversy and intolerance of Islam. The carnage in India and the apparent clash of civilizations call for an examination of Naipaulspeak as he has long been crying hoarse about the “threat from fundamental Islam.”

Born in Trinidad of Indian parents, Naipaul visited India in quest of his roots only to find a “wounded civilization” with “a million mutinies.” However, he does not cry for humanity’s corruption but for what he calls “half-made societies.” The poverty of the land, the dust and darkness strike him sharply. He is sentimental about his roots, and as W.B. Yeats wrote “the sentimentalist deceives himself.” Naipaul deceives himself by assuming that the chaos that had India in thrall was the fault of “foreign tyrants,” i.e. Muslims. He set out on his “Islamic journey” to Iran, Pakistan, Malaysia and Indonesia in an attempt to explore the reasons for the “rage” of the “tyrants who besieged” India. His bitterness about Islam manifests largely as the fear of the unknown.

Of all his various tales, Naipaul relishes telling the story of an Iranian biologist, married to an American, who falls ill on a visit to Iran. Her doctor blames a stressful life and advises her to seek solace in mosques. She does so and finds happiness. Naipaul finds this “intellectually flawed” and wonders if people should continue “striving in the stressed world, making drugs and medical equipment to keep the Iranian doctor’s hospital going.” Flawed it is but it was her personal choice.

The answer comes from another of Naipaul’s tales from Iran. A man shares with him his worry about getting an American visa for his son. Naipaul asks him why the US should be so important to the son of a spokesman for the Iranian revolution. The man’s reply — “It’s his future” — should have pleased Naipaul.

It is wrong to ask what Islam could offer to an “infinitely more educated, infinitely faster world” and to say that Muslim societies are “content to enjoy the fruits of progress, while affecting to despise the conditions that promote that progress.” It is scientific research and enterprise that is responsible for today’s progress and not any religion. Example: The people of South America are as Christian as those of North America but as backward as anyone anywhere. At present no society has achieved what the West has and its accomplishments are enjoyed not only by Muslims but by the entire world. Islam does not despise scientific research and enterprise. What disturbs it is the obsession with materialism which it sees as hedonistic.

If any religion has been responsible for scientific inquiry, it is Islam. Did it not offer reason at a time called the Dark Ages in Europe? Would not much of the learning of classical antiquity have been lost but for Muslims? Traveling among non-Arab Muslims, Naipaul gets the impression that they “would have liked to make their minds and souls a blank so that they could be nothing but their faith... such self-imposing tyranny.” Why be surprised that to a Muslim believer “the time before the coming of the faith was a time of error”? Would anyone change his faith if he were not convinced of that faith’s fallacy? The Malaysian Muslims are “ashamed of their animist past” and take pride in the “alien and imported faith” because it appeals to them.

Naipaul is pained to find “no room in the hearts or minds of the Muslim converts for their pre-Muslim past.” He says that “no colonization had been as thorough as that of the Arab faith.” His view that “Islam and Christianity, having done their work, have little more to offer” promotes materialistic societies. But hasn’t Nietzsche been proved wrong? To its adherents, a faith is not a means of colonization and much more than a set of commandments.

How fantastically outlandish to complain that a Muslim convert’s holy places are in another country! Should all Christians be packed into Jerusalem and all Buddhists into Bihar? And where are the holy places of Hindus who, like Naipaul, have been born and lived exclusively outside India?

Being a Hindu, it is perhaps difficult for him to comprehend that missionary religions do not derive their doctrinal systems from geographical and cultural bases but from their universality. Ideas may have a place of birth but no domicile. They spread with no recognition of boundaries or frontiers. Naipaul offers Joseph Conrad’s idea of “Muslim hysteria” as the cause of today’s fundamentalism. Ideologies seldom stir a “philosophical hysteria” that Conrad describes and Naipaul buys; civilizations that spread on such emotive frenzies do not endure. Islam has not only endured; it continues to grow daily.

Naipaul is especially disparaging of the Muslim conquest of India, calling it “a wound impossible to face. Muslims should not be too sensitive here. Because in the Islamic world, a similar vandalization occurred with the Mongols.” True perhaps but the Mongols did not give Baghdad and its empire any architecture, books or poetry. They simply destroyed everything. Muslims, on the other hand, made India their home and began a renaissance reflected in the beauty of Indo-Muslim culture.

Naipaul is mistaken to declare that a Muslim convert rejects his own history because he has an “unreal sense” of identity. The idea that a Muslim convert’s condition has “an element of neurosis and nihilism” erases the centuries of adaptation and development of Islam outside Arabia. Civilizations have grown in communication with one other. The Moorish, the Indo-Muslim and the Turko-Mongol cultures are splendid examples of civilization that arose from a beautiful blend of Islam and local societies. Naipaul’s idea of religion obliterates such blended influences. In communally volatile India, this closed perspective has become an instrument of harassment in the hands of bigots who never miss a chance to call Muslims “invaders” and “outsiders.” The massacre in Gujarat is a manifestation of this.

What sounds seriously alarming is Naipaul’s naive description of the Babri Masjid demolition as “an act of historical balancing, a minor eruption.” Events such as the demolition of the Babri Masjid are not “correctives to history” but a nation’s burden which weighs on its conscience and can be neither buried in oblivion nor borne with dignity. And how much effort should be made to unearth “suppressed histories?” A large Gothic Cathedral in Seville was built from a mosque of which only the courtyard and the minaret have been retained. Should the Cathedral be demolished because it was created from a mosque? How narrow of Naipaul to say: “Dangerous or not, Hindu militancy is necessary corrective to history. It is a creative force.” Will he brush away the barbarity of Hindu rioters who forced Muslim women to parade naked in the streets? Can it be true that a scholar in the civilized world justifies such acts as response to invasions centuries in the past? A mob’s frenzy may be understood. But when scholars support a vendetta in the name of revenge, it is time humanity asked itself if the Final Solution is the only solution.


Back To Islam Awareness Homepage

Latest News about Islam and Muslims

Contact for further information