Saturday, October 27, 2012

Hindu bravery

One hears it all too often: ‘Hindus are cowards, they only deserve what they are suffering.’ Mahatma Gandhi said it clearly enough: ‘The Muslim is a bully, the Hindu a coward.’

But Hindus are by no means cowards. Hindus as such have their problems, but lack of bravery is not one of them. Look at the Bangladesh war of 1971. The Pakistani Army was brave enough as long as its job consisted in raping Bengali women, but as soon as the Indian Army appeared on the scene, all they could do was to flee and to surrender. The Hindu-Sikh Army liberated the oppressed Muslims and the persecuted Hindus of Bangladesh. Or look at the Kargil war of 1999. Though the politicians forbade the Indian soldiers from taking the war into enemy territory by crossing the Pak border, the Indian Army besieged the Kargil mountain which the Pak invaders had taken, and reconquered it.

Let us look at the historical record. First off, the Vedas and the Hindu epics, like most ancient writings, extolled bravery. The Bhagavad-Gita also underpins its plea for bravery on the battlefield with a typically Hindu (at least very un-Christian and un-Islamic) philosophy, namely the belief in reincarnation. Cicero and Caesar had noted the Gallic men’s battlefield bravery and its connection to their belief in reincarnation. This was equally true of the Hindu warriors: they were not afraid of death.

Then, Hindus stopped Alexander the Great. To be sure, this is old history, we have a paucity of reliable sources about what really happened, and the map shows that Alexander’s soldiers were uniquely far from home and understandably unwilling to go farther even if they could. But fact is: the great Alexander was satisfied with the Iranian provinces of India’s frontier and declined to enter India proper. That was no mean achievement of the Hindus.

Then the Shakas, Kushanas and Hunas managed to gain a foothold in India’s Northwest. The Shakas were defeated, the Vikram calendar begins with this victory. These conquering foreigners were not fully expelled, but at least they were absorbed. There is no distinct Shaka, Kushana or Huna community today, much less do they demand minority privileges.

The Muslims entered Indian history with a naval attack north of present-day Mumbai in 636, only four years after Mohammed’s death. It was repelled. Then for half a century they sent a number of expeditions from Mesopotamia to Sindh. Each expedition was defeated. While conquering North Africa was a cakewalk, there was a Caliph who expressed his reluctance to send another army to Sindh, because those expeditions only cost the lives of so many good Muslims. But of course, if you keep trying, you will break through one day, so eventually, Mohammed bin Qasim occupied Sindh in 712. But even then, his successor was soon defeated.

Meanwhile, the Muslim armies conquered Central Asia and their next attack was through Afghanistan and the Khyber pass. Afghanistan was ruled by the Hindu Shahiya dynasty, which gave them a long-drawn-out fight. But towards the year 1000 the Muslims finally won through, and the Shahiya king killed himself when he found himself unable to defend his subjects. From Afghanistan, Mahmud Ghaznavi entered India proper for what his court chroniclers described as raids. In fact, he would have been happy enough to occupy India permanently, but the Hindus were still too strong for that.

But what the Hindus had in bravery, they lacked in alertness. They didn’t realize that Islam was a new type of enemy, much more difficult to digest than the earlier invaders. In the peripheral Kashmir region, the king acted “secular” and gave Muslims positions of power and confidence, which gave them the opportunity to take steps towards the Islamization of the region. This would be repeated many times, down to the present. Thus, the kings of the Vijayanagar empire showed off their broad-mindedness (now mistermed “secularism”) by hiring Muslim troops, only to find in the battle of Talikota that their Muslim armies defected to the Muslim opponent camp and inflicted defeat on their erstwhile Hindu overlord.

Meanwhile, Mahmud’s nephew Salar Mahmud Ghaznavi made a successful foray into the Ganga basin. The Hindu kings in the neighbourhood got together to stop him. Led by Sukhadeva and including the famous philosopher-king Raja Bhoja, they defeated Ghaznavi in the battle of Bahraich near Ayodhya in 1033. (It is a different matter that sentimental Hindu sleepwalkers of later years joined their Muslim neighbours in worshipping at Salar Masud Ghaznavi’s grave, not appreciating the bravery and foresight of the Hindu kings and soldiers who defeated him; there are certain things very wrong with the Hindu mentality, but again, lack of bravery is not among them.) For more than a century and a half, the people of the Ganga basin considered Islamic invasion a thing of the past.  

But then, the breakthrough came. It was not due to Hindu cowardice, but to Hindu magnanimity and overconfidence. A year after being defeated by Prithviraj Chauhan, who spared him, Mohammed Ghori did battle again and took his erstwhile victor captive. After blinding and executing Prithviraj, he and his generals conquered the entire Ganga plain, using newer battlefield strategies. From there, they would extend their power southwards to cover almost the whole subcontinent in due course. But for five centuries and a half, the Hindus had prevented this, while West Asia, North Africa and Spain had fallen within eighty years.

The age of Muslim expansion was again marked by endless Hindu resistance. Wise Muslim rulers opted for a compromise with this unbeatable foe (misinterpreted by secularists as “secularism”), but more zealous rulers depleted their forces in endless wars. In this endeavour, they were helped by a stream of West-Asian adventurers and African slave-soldiers who came to India to increase the Delhi Sultanate’s large standing armies. The Muslim states were totally geared to warfare, something unseen in Hindu history. For this reason, we can say with the comfort of hindsight that the Muslims could finally have conquered all of the subcontinent had they remained united. Even Hindu bravery could not have prevented it, any more than the brief acts of North-African bravery could stop the Islamization of North Africa. But fortunately, Muslim states or Muslim ethnic lobbies within a state also fought each other, which gave Hindus a chance to regroup and to mount another attack.

Also, some Hindu kings did what they thought best under the circumstances, viz. they surrendered without war, paid tribute, and retained sufficient autonomy to house rebels from other areas (like Guru Govind Singh’s asylum with the Hill Rajas) or become rebellious themselves once circumstances allowed this. It was important for a come-back to have these free territories (just like the reconquista of Spain was only possible because its Asturian region had managed to remain free since the beginning). Their collaboration was not cowardice but a ruse to gain time.

All the same, this meant that Hindus enlisted in the armed force of sagacious Muslim rulers. Akbar, who had consolidated his power by defeating the Hindu ruler Himu, was smart enough to keep enough of the Hindus on his side to overpower rival Muslim claimants and to fight Hindu  freedom fighters. Famously, the rebellious Rana Pratap was countered by Man Singh, who wielded the sword of the Moghul empire. Hindu bravery was employed by Muslim rulers.  

Finally, in the 17th century, a rebellious Shivaji, born in a family of collaborators, would arise and restore Hindu sovereignty. Where his Maratha army appeared, defeat of their enemies was a certainty. The Moghul empire became a mere shadow of its former self, while the military power rested with the Marathas. In 1817, the Peshwas, who had taken over the Maratha confederacy, were terminally defeated by the British. But again this was not for Hindus’ lack of bravery. They fought like lions, and on the other side, other Hindu divisions fought like lions for the British, who could conquer and rule India without doing too much fighting themselves.

 If something can be held against the Marathas and their Peshwa successors, it is not a lack of bravery or military prowess, but lack of proper ideological motivation. This is why they spilled their energies in predatory raids against other Hindu populations, it is why their leader prostrated before the powerless Moghul emperor in 1771, it is why some Peshwa descendents could be enticed into a Hindu-Muslim or Moghul-Maratha cooperation (which was really a case of mutual deception) in the Mutiny of 1857. They lapsed from Shivaji’s sense of mission as the liberator of the Hindus.

One constant for at least 8 centuries was that Hindus didn’t use their brains to update their warfare. They didn’t learn from their enemies’ successes. Also, they were sentimental and too overly attached to the person of their leader. They could bravely fight all they wanted, but if the leader was killed, there was no second person, much less a collective plan, to take his place. When you look at today’s Hindu politicians and internet warriors, you find exactly the same defects.

In a hostile sense too, Hindus are too focused on persons. They have wasted their energies attacking Sonia Gandhi and her family, and failed to dismantle the secularist dispensation established by her grandfather-in-law, Jawaharlal Nehru, and given a Marxist slant  by her mother-in-law, Indira Gandhi. They haven’t emulated the techniques by which the secularists, like the British of yore, exercise power totally out of proportion to their numbers. They haven’t figured out how to stop the phenomenon of “Hindus wielding the sword of Islam”, in which Akbar exulted, but which has become so commonplace under the guise of secularism. For that, an analysis of all the factors in the field is necessary. This is not too difficult, it only takes a normal degree of involvement and will. But so far, Hindus have not mustered the will to win.


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Monday, October 22, 2012

The municipal elections in Belgium 2012

                Nothing is beneath the dignity of our attention, so even the municipal elections of Belgium, last Sunday 14 October 2012, can be deemed to have their importance. I cannot discuss every trend that came out of the results, but a few stand out.

                On the Walloon side, little remarkable happened. All four established parties (Socialists, Liberals, Christian-Democrats secularized as “Humanists”, and Ecologists) held their own, the Socialists even strengthening their dominant position. Some personal issues are of some interest, e.g. how a coalition managed to oust the 20-year mayor of Molenbeek, Philippe Moureaux; this coalition was engineered by the Christian-Democrats in revenge for their own ousting from the coalition in the city of Brussels, where the Socialist mayor Freddy Thielemans strengthened his position.

On the Flemish side, however, something of a revolution took place. The papers were most vocal about the giant victory of the N-VA (“New-Flemish Alliance”). From a marginal alliance partner of the Christian-Democrats in one go to the status of biggest party of the country with more than a quarter of the vote in its own right, it is indeed impressive. Partly, this was a reaction of indignation by the electorate against the latest government formation, in which the classical parties sold out the Flemish nation’s rights badly. Partly, it was because the N-VA has placed itself on the map as a decent conservative party. But it remains to be seen whether they will live up to this new image: the party is as  yet a bit inconsistent and ideologically amateurish. The rightward slant is at any rate undeniable: its rather leftist mayoral candidate in Ghent with a Socialist past, Siegfried Bracke, won comparatively little, whereas their candidates with a right-wing image or past, like Bruno Stevenheydens in Beveren, Karim Van Overmeire in Aalst and party president Bruno De Wever in Antwerp, won hugely.

Not that they can enjoy their newfound power in many places, for the traditional parties have mostly ganged up to keep the N-VA out of power, even if it is the biggest party. In the city of Halle, for instance, the mayoral candidate Mark Demesmaeker ended first but was unexpectedly bypassed by a coalition of the losers. But the N-VA knows how to play the same game: in Bilzen, MEP Frieda Brepoels will be the mayor, replacing her meritorious ex-party comrade (now Christian-Democrat), mayor Johan Sauwens. And in Kortrijk, N-VA supported the coup de théatre by Vincent van Quickenborne, who leaves his ministership in the central government to oust the sitting mayor, former minister De Clerck. For the first time in 150 years, Kortrijk will have a Liberal mayor instead of a Christian.

The Green Party gained somewhat, though a big progress in votes could not save their mayor Ingrid Pira of Mortsel, where yours truly happens to live; the N-VA was bigger there, as in most towns around Antwerp, where they will have a number of mayors. The far-left Partij van de Arbeid (“Labour Party”) put itself back on the map in Antwerp and a few other  towns. The traditional parties all lost somewhat. The victories of the Socialists (at least seemingly, for the real winner was their Green alliance partner) in Ghent and of the Liberals in Tongeren and Mechelen are the opposite of the general picture. But the big loser was the Christian-Democratic Party CD&V.

                In terms of votes, they held out fairly well, slightly better than the Socialists and Liberals. But given their deep implantation in Flemish society, their loss of ground is definitive and a major contrast to their past omnipresence. The decline of the Christian-Democratic party is another step in a long-term decline, combining the structural evolution of people becoming less religious and at any rate less Christian, with the conjunctural disappointment at the party’s selling out the rights of the Flemish people in the latest government formation. Its proverbially incompetent president Wouter Beke tried to put a brave face on his defeat, lying that his party was still the greatest at the municipal level. It is still the dominant party in some rural area, but with the loss of the cities of Aalst, Bruges and Kortrijk, it has very little power in the centres anymore.

This can be compared to that political family’s fortunes in the neighbouring countries. In the Netherlands, the CDA (“Christian-Democratic appeal”) was reduced in the last few years to one-third of its strength, marginalized into irrelevance from what till recently was the natural party of government which mostly furnished the Prime Minister. Its line was centre-left, its tradition and voters centre-right, and once they were presented with an alternative (including Geert Wilders’ anti-Islam party), they left the party in droves. The problem here, as in many parties, is that the voters have their private opinions at ease, while the public figures who sit in parliament are influenced by leftist fashions: either because they really believe these, or because they play to the gallery out of fear that centre-right opinions will be punished by the leftist opinion hegemons. In Italy, the Democrazia Cristiana, for decades in government and the natural partner of the Americans in containing the Communist threat, simply collapsed and disappeared. In Germany  by contrast, the Christian-Democrats profiled themselves as a mildly but consistently conservative party, where Christians and secularized people feel equally at home, so that it survived the secularization of the population unharmed.

                The other big news of these elections was the huge defeat of the Vlaams Belang (VB, “Flemish Interest”, formerly Vlaams Blok, “Flemish Bloc”), also a Flemish nationalist and resolutely separatist party, but known mostly for its anti-immigrant stance. Well, the party spokesmen will say they are not anti-immigrant per se, that they welcome people who are willing to throw in their lot with the natives and become Fleming with the Flemings. But they are perceived as so anti-immigrant that they are shunned by all other parties including the N-VA and kept locked in a cordon sanitaire, i.e. an agreement to boycott them. While increasing its share of the vote constantly, it never took part in exercising power at any level. All kinds of things were tried to counter its influence, including a trial which outlawed the party and forced it to refound itself.

Its presence became counterproductive, as the other parties felt compelled to take the opposite view or at any rate carry out the opposite policies. Thus, the Vlaams Belang was at its strongest around 2004, when the other parties agreed to the Fast-Belgian Act, the most liberal nationality law in the world. More restrictive immigration policies in the European countries have been enacted by the mainstream parties, and all the more so if they had no sizable anti-immigrant parties to define themselves against.

In the nineties, as the Vlaams Blok was going from strength to strength, Prof. Johan Leman, appointed as director of a government centre to combat “racism”, meaning this party, remarked that the answer to the Vlaams Blok was a decent centre-right party which could attract its voters. At the time, there was no such alternative. The parties which the left (and hence the media) likes to describe as centre-right, namely the Christian-Democrats, the Liberals and also the Volksunie (= an earlier incarnation of the N-VA), all rejected that label and pursued centre-left policies. So, they failed to attract VB voters. But now, the new leader of the N-VA, Bart De Wever, managed to give the party a centre-right image at last. He lauds Theodore Dalrymple and Roger Scruton, makes deals with David Cameron, and writes his own conservative column in a leading newspaper. So, his party at long last gave the electorate their decent centre-right alternative. This was just what the voters had been waiting for. Now they want the party to be true to its promises.

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