Editor’s Note: An avid reader of this Blog brought this issue to our attention. This reader also informed us that letters to the NYT editors had been ignored. Below we give our opinions about the book in question, its review published by the New York Times and the selectivity practiced by the NYT in publishing this review. Our approach is to take our readers on a journey of thought to show them how we reached our opinions.
During our articles on Afghanistan, we described examples of cultural, racial supremacism in American Media. Our experience suggests that this supremacism is deeper and more widespread in what are considered to be traditionally liberal media.
We tend to think well of most people. We believe that, in the majority of cases, the supremacism is due to lack of education and resultant ignorance. But in some we see a central tendency of inherent supremacism which is covered up by pretentious journalistic or academic credentials.
Today, we describe a such a case of selective and tacit acceptance of deep seated cultural and religious defamation by the Editors of the New York Times. We lay out our reasoning below and invite our readers to judge for themselves.
Jon Stewart, BBC & New York Times Editors
Like many Americans, we tend to feel that Jon Stewart is the most credible news anchor in America. The brilliant Stewart labels his show as a comedy and sometimes calls it “selling snake oil“. But don’t be fooled. It is a serious opinion show in a comedic setting. We learn things on his show that we cannot find in the equally liberal New York Times.
For example, during the Iranian conference on denial of the Jewish Holocaust, Jon Stewart showed photographs of Orthodox Jewish Leaders who attended the Conference. Apparently, according to our understanding of the Jon Stewart story, there is a school of thought among Jewish Orthodoxy that believes that the formation of the State of Israel is against some of the tenets of this school’s interpretation of their religion’s teachings. Jon Stewart wondered why these Jewish religious leaders would present such a gift to Ahemadinejad?
The point is that Jon Stewart considered it relevant and journalistically important to present a different angle to the story that probably was against his own core beliefs.
In December 2009, BBC.com reported on the Unholy row over Mary and Joseph billboard. According to this story, a large billboard in New Zealand showed a picture in which “A dejected-looking Joseph lies in bed next to Mary under the caption, “”Poor Joseph. God was a hard act to follow””. This was erected by St. Matthews-in-the-City church in Auckland to provoke a debate. The Catholic Church , among others, condemned it as “inappropriate” and “disrespectful”, according to the BBC article. The article also states that the billboard had been defaced with brown paint within hours of its unveiling. We do not include the picture in this article because we consider it to be offensive to Christian believers.
We do not recall seeing any article on this subject in the New York Times. The New York Times did not publish any article that supports the view of the billboard in question, no article questioning the scientific fundamentals of the concept of divine conception, no tut-tut type comments bemoaning the religious passion of Christian Fundamentalists.
New York Times Editors – Their practice of shutting out negative & hurtful “scholarly”articles on religion
We have been told that Arab Religious Scholars have written articles and books about their views about the Jewish Religion. Based on the excerpts we have read, these articles contain comments we consider disgusting and vile. Yet, these are publications written by authors considered to be Scholars. These articles and books are used in religious studies in Arab Schools & Universities, we are told.
The New York Times has not, to our recollection, ever published positive reviews of these anti-Jewish books or articles. Had they chosen to do so, we have no doubt in our mind that any positive review would have been accompanied by one or more stridently negative reviews accusing the Arab Religious Scholars of deep seated Anti-Jewish hatred.
The New York Times would have told its readers that the Arab Religious Scholars are not practicing Jews, they belong to a different religion. The New York Times Editors would have argued further that publishing the views expressed by the Arab Scholars would cause deep distress to believers of the Jewish Faith. There is no doubt in our mind that the New York Times Editors would be petrified of the fire storm that would engulf them if they were to show their vaunted journalistic independence on these topics.
These are valid reasons and we concur with the decision of the New York Times Editors to not publish such deeply troubling views about Jewish Culture and Religion.
In a similar manner, the New York Times Editors have given no voice to non-standard interpretations of the circumstances of the birth of Jesus Christ. It is an issue of deep religious and emotive centrality to Christian believers. Again, we have no doubt that the New York Times Editors would be terrified of the fire storm that would engulf them if they were to show their vaunted journalistic independence on this topic.
These are valid reasons and we concur with the decision of the New York Times Editors to not publish Freudian or Sexually-oriented opinions, scholarly or otherwise, about the birth of Jesus Christ. Personally, we consider such discussion to be vile, contemptuous of the deep belief of millions and therefore unnecessary.
Defamation of Indian Culture & Religion – A selective & deliberate action by the NYT Editors?
But we discovered to our great chagrin that the New York Times Editors flouted all the above considerations when it came to Indian Religion and Culture.
They published a glowing review of a book that looks at Indian Culture & Religion from a disgustingly sexual orientation, a book from a purported scholar who does not practice Indian Religion or Hinduism. The sexual orientation of this book and its quotes go beyond the pale and far exceed the sexual connotation of the “Poor Joseph, God was a poor act to follow” billboard in New Zealand.
The NYT Editors did not feel the need for balance. The New York Times has not published a single negative review of this book that claims to provide an alternative history of the Hindus, the people of India. Not one single negative review and not one single detailed letter to the editor has been published by the NYT.
The New York Times Editors are not dumb. We do believe they read the reviews submitted to their newspaper. Yet, they allowed a deliberate, disgusting defamation of the essence of Indian Religion and of figures that are central to Indian Identity. They chose to publish a review that uses negative quotes from British historians and figures without using any positive quotes of great Americans like Mark Twain, Albert Einstein, Will Durant.
As we said the New York Times Editors are not dumb. They know that th
ere is no Indian entity like the Catholic Church. There is no entity like the Jewish Anti-Defamation League. They know that passivity is the essential Indian trait. They know that Indians will simply fume in private or at worst a tiny minority of Indian-Americans may write letters to the NYT Editors. But they can ignore these letters. While anti-Jewish, anti-Christian or anti-Muslim articles can create a firestorm, anti-Indian or anti-Hindu articles would not even create a ripple of protest.
So, in our opinion, the Editors of the New York Times felt free to publish an article that praises deliberately contrived, sexually oriented analysis of Indian Culture or Religion, analysis that millions of Indians around the world would consider to be a gratuitous act of severe cultural and religious defamation.
Divine Conception & Avatar
The concept of “divine conception” goes back to at least 1,000 years before beginning of Christian history. The most celebrated and discussed case is the divine conception of the sons of King Pandu of the Kuru Dynasty of Hastinapur. Princess Kunti was awarded a divine Mantra by the great Sage Durwas. With this Mantra, Kunti could demand divine conception from any representation of God. The conceptions were immaculate in the sense that the virginity of Kunti was restored after every divine conception. Kunti conceived four sons from four different representations of God.
In Indian Culture, children born from a divine conception were not necessarily divine. Yes, they inherited aspects of their divine father but their actions on earth were their own.
The status of divinity on earth was reserved only for the “Avatar” or the incarnate of God on earth. Shri Ram of Ramayan and Shri Krishna of Maha-Bharat are the two most celebrated Avatar of God in Indian Culture.
The New York Times Review and the Doniger Book
Let us go back to the Christian view of the divine conception of Jesus Christ. If you are a Christian, think of a book by a non-Christian author that analyzes the sexual nature of the divine conception of Jesus Christ. Now imagine this non-Christian author claiming that “God raped Mary”. How repulsive would that be to you?
Now read what author Wendy Doniger says about the divine conception of Karna, the first son of Kunti – “The Sun God raped her and after wards restored her virginity“.
Think of a book that covers the life of Jesus Christ and discusses the sexual complexes felt by Jesus due to the circumstances of his birth, his fears about inheriting an over-sexed nature from his father and other Freudian analysis of this nature. If you have any positive feelings about Christianity, you would be disgusted, outraged or perhaps both. Would it make you less angry or more angry if this author were a non-Christian?
Now read Doniger’s comments (highlighted by her in an interview with Outlook) about Shri Ram, the purest Avatar of God in Indian Culture. Ms. Doniger talks about the complexes inherited by Shri Ram about his sexual nature, whether he had inherited an over-sexed nature from his titular father Dasha-Rath. You do not have to be a religious Indian or even a semi-religious one to feel utter disgust about the sexual preoccupations of Ms. Doniger.
These are just two examples of how the book by Wendy Doniger inflicts pain and evokes deep religious outrage & a sense of vile disgust among many followers of Indian Culture.
Again, we ask readers, especially Christian readers of European Ancestry, to imagine a book that focuses entirely on:
- the sexual circumstances of the birth of Jesus,
- the impact on the sex life of Jesus and his relationship with Mary Magdalene,
- then draw from this an inference to abuse of boys by Catholic Priests in America and
- further draw from these sexual analysis a causal relationship to the inhuman cruelty of European Christian conquest of Latin America, Asia & Africa.
In our opinion, this is exactly what Wendy Doniger has done in her book “Hindus: An Alternative History”. To paraphrase Justice Stewart, we recognize religious defamation when we see it or feel it.
Let us be clear. We have no problem with Ms. Doniger writing any book with any mindset and to any purpose. She could have titled her book something like Sexual Observations of Indian Mythology or Doniger’s Freudian Analysis of Indian Culture.
But she did not do that. She called it “An Alternative History”. This book is NOT history. No one can read this book and learn even the basics of Indian history. A History book would first describe factual history and then, as a footnote, provide analysis of the author. Ms. Doniger does not describe history at all but only lays out her own sexual interpretations of Indian Culture, interpretations that to us are vile, disgusting, inflammatory and utterly contrived.
Let us give you an example.
Chapters of the Doniger Book about the Maha-Bharat
In our opinion, the Maha-Bharat is the greatest story ever told. It is not a religious story but an “Itihass” or history of the Kuru Dynasty. Read what Ms. Doniger herself writes “The Mahabharata is a text of about 75,000 verses or 3mm words, some 15 times the combined length of the Hebrew Bible & the New Testament, or 7 times the Iliad & the Odyssey combined and a hundred times more interesting.”
The central crisis of the Maha-Bharat is the Great Maha-Bharat war, a first world war in which about 3 million soldiers died. It is at the beginning of this Maha-Bharat War that the Bhagwat-Geeta was told to Arjun by Shri Krishna, the Avatar of God on earth.
So what seems interesting to Wendy Doniger about this great epic? Read her words, “Maha-Bharat both begins and ends with a story about dogs”. This is not just one line. Ms. Doniger spends an inordinate amount of effort and words about the violence towards animals in the Maha-Bharat. Ms. Doniger faults Indian society for not liking dogs and somehow this to her is a major theme of Maha-Bharat.
We understand that pigs are considered to be unclean animals in Jewish culture. Have we ever seen a history book about a central Jewish Epic that makes the dislike of pigs to be a major theme of that Jewish Epic? No. But using any contrived theme or isolated scenes to defame a great Indian Epic, that is just fine. Ms. Doniger writes it and the New York Times publishes a glowing review of it.
We challenge any reader to read chapters 10 & 11 of the Doniger book and tell us what they learned about the history of Maha-Bharat. These chapters are not history, neither alternative nor standard but are simply a rampant expression of sexual fantasy based opinions of the author.
Getting Back to The Review in the New York Times
We are drawn again to the comments by Jon Stewart about a school of Orthodox Jews that traveled to the Iran conference to highlight their opposition to Israel’s formation. Jon Stewart wondered on his show how they could do that?
This is what wondered when we read the glowing review of the Doniger book by an author named Pankaj Mishra. Titled Another Incarnation, this review begins with a glowing tribute to the views of E.M. Forster, Macaulay, Karl Marx and a British Army captain. A couple of excerpts are below:
- “ “There is no dignity, no taste, no form”,” he (Forster) complained in a letter home. Recoiling from Hindu India, Forster was relieved to enter the relatively rational world of Islam.” (emphasis ours)
- “Forster, who later used his appalled fascination with India’s polytheistic muddle ….was only one in a long line of Britons who felt their notions of order and morality challenged by Indian religious and cultural practices.” (emphasis ours)
Then Mishra describes the Indian beliefs as “pagan blasphemies” and goes on to praise British historians who studied Hinduism.
This is a review? Under what editorial standards does this biased outburst qualify as a review? To use views of Forster, Karl Marx and words like “pagan blasphemies” as evidence to justify attacks on Indian Culture?
This fits with the Editorial Standards of the New York Times? We suspect that even religious extremist newspapers would exercise better editorial control!
This review then praises the Doniger book as a staggeringly complex work and writes “Doniger sets herself the ambitious task of writing ““a narrative alternative to the one constituted by the most famous texts in Sanskrit.””
Here is an author, a non-practitioner of Hinduism, employed by an American University, who sets out to write her own narrative that seeks to contradict the most famous texts in Sanskrit.
And the New York Times Editors did not see anything wrong in this? Did they ask any Indian scholars in India for their opinions about the Doniger book or the Mishra review? Clearly they did not. They probably felt that an American “scholar” from the University of Chicago was an entirely trusted source to defame Indian Religion.
In a paraphrase of Justice Stewart, we recognize cultural & religious supremacism when we see it and defamation is a thin line away from inbred, deeply felt supremacism.
Why is this Important?
Griff Witte of the Washington Post wrote an article about Pakistan’s public education system. It described how the nature of the education system is reflected in popular attitudes toward the Taleban, Al-Qaeda and other extremist groups.
Perhaps Griff Witte and his colleagues should look closely at American Universities. We notice that religious defamation is spreading across American Universities, especially defamation of Indian Culture & Religion. A clique of “scholars” have begun deriding pre-Buddhist achievement of Indian culture in a variety of ways, the most central of which is a Freudian or Sexual analysis of Religion & Culture.
Until recently, the focus was on writing about how the British brought civilization and culture to India. Today, the political focus is on writing that Alexander and the Greeks brought European influence into India and shaped Indian culture. Last week we showed an example of this false yet effective message in our article Cultural Supremacism in a Time Article & of Time’s Editors?
A “clique” of self-described non-practitioner “scholars” in America are now engaged in attributing the good aspects of Indian Religion to the influence of Buddhism, even though Buddha was born over 1,000 years after the formulation of Indian Religion & Culture. This is as biased and perverted as saying that the teachings of Christianity were due to the good influence of Islam. Remember Islam was formed as a religion several hundred years after Christianity.
This spread of defamation of Indian culture is of grave danger to America & India. First, books by professors at American Universities are likely to be used as reference in teaching about Indian Culture & Religion in American schools. Persistent and pernicious use of defamatory texts can have the same effect on American children as persistent & pernicious use of defamatory texts on Pakistani children. An inbred and cultivated belief in European Cultural & Religious Supremacy can only backfire against America, as it has backfired against Pakistan and some Arab countries.
Fortunately, unlike Pakistan, there are numerous American writers and scholars that repudiate such defamatory writings. For example, a good article about Indian Religion was by Lisa Miller in Newsweek titled We Are All Hindus Now. The Clay Sanskrit Library is in the midst of a gigantic project to translate the great Sanskrut texts into English. It is the love of Sanskrut of John & Jennifer Clay that led them to finance this greatest publishing project of our time. We wrote about the Clay translation of the Book of Karna (from the Maha-Bharat) by Adam Bowles in our article The Karna-Arjun Battle in The Maha-Bharat – Beyond Adjectives.
But the good people of America & India cannot rest on the laurels or work of a few like the Clays or Lisa Miller. They have to be vigilant about the spread of religious bias in American Universities and American Media. To paraphrase John Kennedy, when good people do nothing, evil gets a free reign.
The New York Times is but one participant to the Anti-Indian defamation we write about. The University of Chicago is another. Ms. Doniger is employed by that University and that employment is what gives her book a standing that other books may not have.
Our Approach in this Article – Thank you John Grisham
John Grisham wrote A Time to Kill in 1989. In this novel, Tonya Hailey, a 10-year old African-American girl, is viciously raped and beaten. Her father, Carl Lee Hailey, shoots the two accused men because he fears they would go free. His friend Jake Brigance defends Mr. Hailey at his trial.
In his closing remarks, Jake Brigance asks the jury to imagine that a white girl had been raped by two black men and these men had been shot by the girl’s father. Then he asks the Jury to think of whether they would convict the white girl’s father. He does so to bring home to the white jury the depth of Hailey’s anger.
We have tried to use a Jake Brigance approach in this article. We have asked readers to imagine what their reactions would be to statements, similar to those made by Ms. Doniger, against deeply held Christian or Jewish beliefs. It was the only way we could convey some of the horror and outrage caused by the Doniger book to Indians worldwide. As far as the Mishra review is concerned, it is beneath our contempt.
Indian Culture & Indian Religion – Our Use of the Word “Indian”
The word “Hindu” was created by Persians to describe the culture and civilization of the people that lived on the banks of the River Sindhu (apparently, the Persians could not pronounce S). It was the region between the Sindhu, Saraswati (now lost) & Ganga rivers that created the culture that is now referred to as the Indian Culture. The English could not say either Sindhu or Hindu. So they made up the name “Indus” for the River Sindhu and India became the name for the country and culture created on the banks of the river Indus.
So the words Indian and Hindu are synonyms. Therefore we use them as such. The non-religious name for the country is Bharat. But Bharat includes all of Afghanistan and today’s Pakistan. It is an ethnic or historical name.
Indian Culture was created long before there was a Buddha, a Christ or a Mohammed. The notion of religion in India was woven around the concept of Dharma, a framework that encompasses the concepts of devotion, faith, theology, social practice among others. This is what Lisa Miller explains in simple terms in her Newsweek article We are All Hindus Now.
The teachings of Mahavir and then of Buddha introduced the concept of a single path to Nirvan or God in Indian society. The embrace of Buddhism by Emperor Ashok transformed Buddhism from a niche faith to a religion practiced from Persia-Greece in the west to Far East Asia. The notion of a single path to God was then embraced by newer religions like Christianity and Islam.
The central concept in Indian Dharma is that there are multiple paths to one God and, if practiced with devotion, all paths lead to God. As Indian economy emerges from its stupor, as India becomes a greater player on the world scene, the potential spread of the eternal democratic” concept of Indian Dharma is being perceived as the greatest threat to “follow this path – or-else” religious teachings.
Is this a reason behind the increasingly vituperative attacks on Indian Religion? Is this a reason behind the almost zealot pursuit of proving that Indian culture is somehow derived from Buddhist teachings?
For example, Wendy Doniger writes about Bhagwat-Geeta “Arjun starts out with what might appear to be a quasi-Buddhist attitude that Krishna demolishes.” This is the same Doniger who writes elsewhere that the Maha-Bharat war was around 900 BCE, about 600 years before the birth of Buddha.
Today, there are millions of Buddhists, Christians, Jains, Muslims and Sikhs (in alphabetically correct order) in India. Every single one of these Indians can and does claim Indian Culture as theirs, regardless of their own religious beliefs. The history of Ramayan, Maha-Bharat, Vedic civilization belongs to them all and all of them have the right to be anguished by defamatory attacks on Indian Culture or Dharma. Just as the American practitioners of various religions claim the legacy of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Ben Franklin as their own and become outraged by obscene, contrived attacks on American Society.
Indian society was enriched by the introduction and influences of cultures from around the world. So will American society as America grows more diverse. But American Universities and American Journalists will have to discard their deep seated supremacist tendencies.
Perhaps New York Times & University of Chicago can take the first steps by discrediting the Mishra review and the Doniger book.
Send your feedback to [email protected]