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Possible ‘Fifth Force’?

Groundbreaking Technique Yields Important New Details on Silicon, Subatomic Particles and Possible ‘Fifth Force’

Using a groundbreaking new technique at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), an international collaboration led by NIST researchers has revealed previously unrecognized properties of technologically crucial silicon crystals and uncovered new information about an important subatomic particle and a long-theorized fifth force of nature.

By aiming subatomic particles known as neutrons at silicon crystals and monitoring the outcome with exquisite sensitivity, the NIST scientists were able to obtain three extraordinary results: the first measurement of a key neutron property in 20 years using a unique method; the highest-precision measurements of the effects of heat-related vibrations in a silicon crystal; and limits on the strength of a possible “fifth force” beyond standard physics theories.

The researchers report their findings in the journal Science.

To obtain information about crystalline materials at the atomic scale, scientists typically aim a beam of particles (such as X-rays, electrons or neutrons) at the crystal and detect the beam’s angles, intensities and patterns as it passes through or ricochets off planes in the crystal’s lattice-like atomic geometry.

That information is critically important for characterizing the electronic, mechanical and magnetic properties of microchip components and various novel nanomaterials for next-generation applications including quantum computing. A great deal is known already, but continued progress requires increasingly detailed knowledge.

“A vastly improved understanding of the crystal structure of silicon, the ‘universal’ substrate or foundation material on which everything is built, will be crucial in understanding the nature of components operating near the point at which the accuracy of measurements is limited by quantum effects,” said NIST senior project scientist Michael Huber.

Neutrons, Atoms and Angles

Like all quantum objects, neutrons have both point-like particle and wave properties. As a neutron travels through the crystal, it forms standing waves (like a plucked guitar string) both in between and on top of rows or sheets of atoms called Bragg planes. When waves from each of the two routes combine, or “interfere” in the parlance of physics, they create faint patterns called pendellösung oscillations that provide insights into the forces that neutrons experience inside the crystal.

“Imagine two identical guitars,” said Huber. “Pluck them the same way, and as the strings vibrate, drive one down a road with speed bumps — that is, along the planes of atoms in the lattice — and drive the other down a road of the same length without the speed bumps — analogous to moving between the lattice planes. Comparing the sounds from both guitars tells us something about the speed bumps: how big they are, how smooth, and do they have interesting shapes?”

The latest work, which was conducted at the NIST Center for Neutron Research (NCNR) in Gaithersburg, Maryland, in collaboration with researchers from Japan, the U.S. and Canada, resulted in a fourfold improvement in precision measurement of the silicon crystal structure.

Not-Quite-Neutral Neutrons

In one striking result, the scientists measured the electrical “charge radius” of the neutron in a new way with an uncertainty in the radius value competitive with the most-precise prior results using other methods. Neutrons are electrically neutral, as their name suggests. But they are composite objects made up of three elementary charged particles called quarks with different electrical properties that are not exactly uniformly distributed.

As a result, predominantly negative charge from one kind of quark tends to be located toward the outer part of the neutron, whereas net positive charge is located toward the center. The distance between those two concentrations is the “charge radius.” That dimension, important to fundamental physics, has been measured by similar types of experiments whose results differ significantly. The new pendellösung data is unaffected by the factors thought to lead to these discrepancies.

Measuring the pendellösung oscillations in an electrically charged environment provides a unique way to gauge the charge radius. “When the neutron is in the crystal, it is well within the atomic electric cloud,” said NIST’s Benjamin Heacock, the first author on the Science paper.

“In there, because the distances between charges are so small, the interatomic electric fields are enormous, on the order of a hundred million volts per centimeter. Because of that very, very large field, our technique is sensitive to the fact that the neutron behaves like a spherical composite particle with a slightly positive core and a slightly negative surrounding shell.”

Vibrations and Uncertainty

A valuable alternative to neutrons is X-ray scattering. But its accuracy has been limited by atomic motion caused by heat. Thermal vibration causes the distances between crystal planes to keep changing, and thus changes the interference patterns being measured.

The scientists employed neutron pendellösung oscillation measurements to test the values predicted by X-ray scattering models and found that some significantly underestimate the magnitude of the vibration.

The results provide valuable complementary information for both x-ray and neutron scattering. “Neutrons interact almost entirely with the protons and neutrons at the centers, or nuclei, of the atoms,” Huber said, “and x-rays reveal how the electrons are arranged between the nuclei. This complementary knowledge deepens our understanding.

“One reason our measurements are so sensitive is that neutrons penetrate much deeper into the crystal than x-rays – a centimeter or more – and thus measures a much larger assembly of nuclei. We have found evidence that the nuclei and electrons may not vibrate rigidlyas is commonly assumed. That shifts our understanding on the how silicon atoms interact with one another inside a crystal lattice.”

Force Five

The Standard Model is the current, widely accepted theory of how particles and forces interact at the smallest scales. But it’s an incomplete explanation of how nature works, and scientists suspect there is more to the universe than the theory describes.

The Standard Model describes three fundamental forces in nature: electromagnetic, strong and weak. Each force operates through the action of “carrier particles.” For example, the photon is the force carrier for the electromagnetic force. But the Standard Model has yet to incorporate gravity in its description of nature. Furthermore, some experiments and theories suggest the possible presence of a fifth force.

“Generally, if there’s a force carrier, the length scale over which it acts is inversely proportional to its mass,” meaning it can only influence other particles over a limited range, Heacock said. But the photon, which has no mass, can act over an unlimited range. “So, if we can bracket the range over which it might act, we can limit its strength.” The scientists’ results improve constraints on the strength of a potential fifth force by tenfold over a length scale between 0.02 nanometers (nm, billionths of a meter) and 10 nm, giving fifth-force hunters a narrowed range over which to look.

The researchers are already planning more expansive pendellösung measurements using both silicon and germanium. They expect a possible factor of five reduction in their measurement uncertainties, which could produce the most precise measurement of the neutron charge radius to date and further constrain — or discover — a fifth force. They also plan to perform a cryogenic version of the experiment, which would lend insight into how the crystal atoms behave in their so-called “quantum ground state,” which accounts for the fact that quantum objects are never perfectly still, even at temperatures approaching absolute zero.


Paper: Benjamin Heacock, Takuhiro Fujiie, Robert W. Haun, Albert Henins, Katsuya Hirota, Takuya Hosobata, Michael G. Huber, Masaaki Kitaguchi, Dmitry A. Pushin, Hirohiko Shimizu, Masahiro Takeda, Robert Valdillez, Yutaka Yamagata, and Albert Young. Pendellösung Interferometry Probes the Neutron Charge Radius, Lattice Dynamics, and Fifth Forces. Science. Published online September 9, 2021. DOI: 10.1126/science.abc2794

FACTSHEET: RASHTRIYA SWAYAMSEVAK SANGH (RSS)

 

FACTSHEET: RASHTRIYA SWAYAMSEVAK SANGH (RSS)

Published on 18 May 2021

IMPACT: Founded in 1925 by K.B Hedgewar, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) is an Indian right-wing, Hindu nationalist, paramilitary volunteer organization. In 2020, RSS had almost 585,000 members and over 57,000 branches or sakhas, including a trade union wing (Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh), women’s wing (Rashtriya Sevika Samiti), student wing (Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad), and economic wing (Swadeshi Jagaran Manch). The Print, an Indian news outlet, estimates that 3 out of 4 ministers in the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) are members of the RSS, including the current Prime Minister, Narendra Modi. 

The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) was founded in 1925 by K.B Hedgewar in response to a series of small and large scale riots between Hindus and Muslims across northern India. As the historian Tapan Raychoudhuri has noted, Hedgewar believed the riots were Muslim riots as he [Hedgewar] claimed that in every single case, “it is they [Muslims] who start them.” 

In the Sangh’s mission statement, Hedgewar wrote: “The Hindu culture is the life-breath of Hindustan. It is therefore clear that if Hindustan is to be protected, we should first nourish the Hindu culture. It is the duty of every Hindu to do his best to consolidate the Hindu society.” In 1927, RSS co-founder — Dr. B.S. Moonje — described the RSS as an institution which could produce “the military regeneration of the Hindus” and unify the people in line with “the idea of fascism.” In 1940, M.S Golwalkar succeeded Hedgewar as head of the RSS.

Golwalkar, widely regarded as the ideological architect of the Sangh, is the author of We, or, Our Nationhood Defined, which maps out a vision of a “Hindu Rashtra”. A March 2018 piece by Parnal Chirmuley in The Indian Express notes that Golwalkar’s vision [of a Hindu state] drew inspiration from Italian fascism, specifically Mussolini’s organization of fascist paramilitary forces. In comparing the supremacy of Hindus in India to the supremacy of the Aryan race in Hitler’s Germany, Golwalkar wrote, “To keep up the purity of its race and culture, Germany shocked the world by her purging of the country of the Semitic races— the Jews. Race pride at its highest has been manifested here .. a good lesson for us in Hindustan to learn and profit by.”

In the 1940s, under Golwalkar, RSS volunteers were forbidden from taking part in Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi’s “Quit India Movement” against the British empire. During the partition of the subcontinent in 1947, Golwalkar is reported to have met with Gandhi over RSS’s alleged involvement in widespread anti-Muslim pogroms. On January 30, 1948, Nathuram Godse, a former member of the Sangh, assassinated Gandhi. In the aftermath, Golwalkar was jailed, and the RSS banned.

In 2009, following the BJP’s defeat in national elections, Mohan Bhagwat— who grew up in a staunchly RSS family— took over the organization. Leading up to the 2014 election, the Sangh actively campaigned for the Hindu-nationalist party, backing Narendra Modi, then the Chief Minister of Gujarat, as the front runner. Narendra Modi is a lifelong member of the RSS, and is accused of “allowing” the 2002 massacre of Muslims in his state. 

In recent years, the RSS has been at the forefront of promoting Hindu-nationalism in India, with the Sangh accused of inciting violence against India’s Dalit-Bahujan community, including hate crimes against Muslimslynchings of Dalits, and pogroms against religious minorities. 

In 1992, RSS had campaigned for the destruction of Babri Masjid in Ayodhya, arguing the Mughal era structure was built on top of the birthplace of the Hindu God, Ram. Following the BJP’s landslide electoral victory in May 2019, Mohan Bhagwat reaffirmed the Sangh’s commitment to the masjid-mandir (mosque-temple) debate at an RSS-education camp, saying, “Ram’s work will be done.” In December 2019, after the Supreme Court of India ruled in favor of the destruction in November 2019, three RSS leaders were charged with “commuting a deliberate and malicious act intended to outrage religious feelings and uttering words with deliberate intent to wound the religious feelings of a person” in Karnataka, India, for reenacting the demolition of the mosque. 

In April 2019, The Caravan reported a new initiative by the RSS to bring “true nationalist narrative” to Indian academia. Since BJP came to power in 2014, prominent historians such as Romila Thapar have argued that the Sangh is “attempting to foreground revisionist histories with a glorified view of a Hindu past” by rewriting school textbooks, setting up “RSS-model schools”, and lobbying streaming platforms to remove “anti-nationalist” content. Balmukund Pandey, the head of the historical research wing of the RSS, is on record asserting: “The time is now to restore India’s past glory by establishing that ancient Hindu texts are fact not myth.”

Since its early days, RSS has been linked to white supremacist organizations in Europe and North America. In 2011, Anders Breivik— the Norwegian mass murderer— hailed India’s Hindu nationalist movement as a “key ally in a global struggle to bring down democratic regimes across the world”, listing the websites of the Bharatiya Janata Party, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, the National Volunteers’ Organization, the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad and the Vishwa Hindu Parishad as resources.

The Sangh has also been linked with Hindu-American advocacy groups in the U.S, chief among them the Hindu American Foundation (HAF) in Washington, D.C. Mihir Meghani, co-founder of HAF, is a long time member of Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh, and has spoken at conferences organized by Vishwa Hindu Parishad of America, the international religious branch of the RSS. Meghani is also the author of Hindutva: The Great Nationalist Ideology where he writes, “The future of Bharat is set. Hindutva is here to stay. It is up to the Muslims whether they will be included in the new nationalistic spirit of Bharat. It is up to the government and the Muslim leadership whether they wish to increase Hindu furor or work with the Hindu leadership.” In April 2006, Meghani wrote a letter to the editor of India Abroadstating “The essay I wrote nearly fifteen years ago representing some of the views I held as a teenager cannot be held up as representative of my views now or the views of the Hindu American Foundation.”

In 2005, the Hindu America Foundation (HAF) partnered with the Vedic Foundation and the Hindu Education Foundation, to push the state of California to change passages on Hinduism in official school textbooks. In a February 2006 cover story, Siliconeer, a monthly magazine for south Asians on the west coast, said the changes in curriculum that HAF was pushing for reflected “chauvinistic political agendas” seeking to equate the history of India with the history of Hinduism. Recently, HAF board member Rishi Bhutada served as the official spokesperson of “Howdy Modi,” the RSS backed rally for India’s BJP prime minister held in Houston, Texas on September 22, 2020. 

In October 2019, HAF invited Aarti Tikoo Singh, who claimed, in a Twitter exchange with Tarek Fatah, that “Islamophobia is a bullsh*t word thrown in as a slur by those who have irrational fear (phobia) of any criticism of Islamic extremism [and] regressive Muslims.” In April 2019, after city councils across Canada voted to allow the Islamic call to prayer (adhan) to be broadcasted for a few minutes a day during the holy month of Ramadan, Fatah claimed that the Muslims wanted the public adhan to become a “permanent feature”, and that Greek Town (as the neighborhood of the mosque is known) might soon become “Islamabad.” Fatah was retweeted by Ravi Hooda, who commented that the decision— to broadcast the adhan— opened the door for “separate lanes for camel & goat riders” or laws “requiring all women to cover themselves from head to toe in tents.” Writing for Foreign PolicySteven Zhou identified Hooda as a volunteer for the local branch of the Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh, which represents the overseas interests of the RSS.

In February 2020, following anti-Muslim pogroms in Delhi, 16 RSS cadres were arrested and charged with murder and rioting. At least 53 people were killed during the violence, almost three quarter of whom were Muslims. According to The Guardian, the catalyst for the pogrom is widely acknowledged to have been a comment by Kapil Mishra, a BJP leader, who issued a public ultimatum declaring that if the police did not clear the streets of a protest against a new citizenship law seen as anti-Muslim, his supporters would be “forced to hit the streets”.

Today’s RSS tries to distance itself from its past. But according to Arundhati Roy, “its underlying ideology, in which Muslims are cast as treacherous permanent ‘outsiders,’ is a constant refrain in the public speeches of BJP politicians, and finds utterance in chilling slogans raised by rampaging mobs. For example: ‘Mussalman ka ek hi sthan—Kabristan ya Pakistan’ (Only one place for the Muslim—the graveyard, or Pakistan). In October this year, Mohan Bhagwat, the supreme leader of the RSS, said, ‘India is a Hindu Rashtra’—a Hindu nation. ‘This is non-negotiable.’”

For a PDF version of the factsheet, click here. 

Last updated May 18, 2021

Reading Savarkar: Was the Hindutva icon actually Hinduphobic?

 

Reading Savarkar: Was the Hindutva icon actually Hinduphobic?

He argued that Hinduism was inferior in comparison to Hindutva and that it was ‘more limited, less satisfactory and essentially a sectarian term’.

Accusations of Hinduphobia in those who do not see eye-to-eye with Hindutva have reached new heights in recent years. An obscure 19th-century concept is now the default mantra for Hindutva-vadis against all critiques of their ideas.

The recent furore against the upcoming conference called “Dismantling Global Hindutva” (September 10-September 12) has made me wonder whether, ironically, these same individuals might also – if they had the patience and capacity to read his large corpus of writing – need to identify Vinayak Damodar Savarkar as Hinduphobic.

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After all, a basic truth made clear in Savarkar’s writing is that Hindutva is not Hinduism. They are not equivalents. In fact, you do not have to read Savarkar all that carefully to see the clarity with which he argued that Hindus should consider “abandoning” the concept of Hinduism as part of their lexicon.

One does not need to search deep into his oeuvre to discover Savarkar’s distinction between Hindutva and Hinduism. In Essentials of Hindutva, published in 1923, he begins by clarifying that “Hinduism is only a derivative, a fraction, a part of Hindutva”. He declared Hinduism as one of the many “isms” that had plagued modernity, by calling it a “spiritual or religious dogma or system”.

He not only argued that Hinduism was inferior in comparison to Hindutva, he also stated that it was “more limited, less satisfactory and essentially a sectarian term”.

An existential crisis

The Marathi intellectual and Marxist scholar GP Deshpande had long argued that Hindutva-vadis do not actually read Savarkar. I think we should take Deshpande’s claim seriously, despite the increasing number of celebrations of Savarkar’s life as exemplary for Hindus. I suspect that Savarkar’s arguments about Hindutva and Hinduism would create an existential crisis among those who claim to be his supporters.

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If their logic is that any critique of Hindutva or Hinduism is a form of Hinduphobia, then certainly Savarkar’s call to abandon “Hinduism” – he believed it was an inferior concept created by Western Orientalists – should also be viewed in the same framework.

Does this mean that Savarkar himself was Hinduphobic?

There was once a period in the 1930s when Sanatanis in Maharashtra decided to stage protests against Savarkar’s call for temple entry for, and inter-dining with, “Untouchables”. Petitions were circulated to British officials demanding that Savarkar be prevented from speaking because it was believed he posed a threat to social order, that he was hurting the sentiments of Hindus. Rocks and chappals were regularly thrown at Savarkar’s processions.

Does this mean that these adherents of Sanatan Dharma were Hinduphobic? Or does it mean, conversely, that Savarkar’s advocacy of social reform linked to Hindutva was Hinduphobic as it was hurting the sentiments of Hindus?

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If the adherents of Hindutva actually read Savarkar, they would know that he also advocated the need for Hindus to kill other Hindus. Savarkar’s intended Hindu victims were individuals who promoted ahimsa. Savarkar saw ahimsa as a kind of weakness that needed to be weeded out. In similar vein he identified as effeminate all Hindus who lacked a theory of warfare.

Was Savarkar Hinduphobic in celebrating the killing of Hindus? When Savarkar and Gandhi publicly disagreed with each other on interpretations of the Bhagavad Gita or the meaning of the Ramayana, did this mean that both were Hinduphobic?

Textual pluralism

To push this argument further, are all disagreements between Hindus merely expressions of Hinduphobia? By this logic, the only end to Hinduphobia would be the annihilation of all Hindus, which would happen when there could be no critique of Hindus, Hinduism, and Hindutva. Perhaps this is what all Hindutva-vadis actually desire: reductio ad absurdum.

I do wish that those Hindutva-vadis who decided to burn copies of the Kama Sutra in Ahmedabad recently had read Savarkar on what he called “the sexual urges of mankind”. As also the importance he attached to Hindus celebrating their rich literary traditions. They would then learn what Savarkar clearly argued, namely, that the libido was more powerful than the claims of any man, god, or prophet. They would also then understand that Savarkar celebrated textual pluralism, and that he had a deep affection for the Bible.

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Will these Hinduva-vadis who burned the Kama Sutra now seek to destroy the temples at Khajuraho based on their same argument of indecency? Is the artistic magnificence of Hindu temple architecture to be made hostage to Victorian notions of sexual correctness?

The question that in fact comes to mind by carefully understanding Savarkar’s sophisticated and clear-headed mind, as evident from his Marathi and English writings – the vast bulk of which I have read over many years – is this: are these modern Hindutva-vadis who claim Savarkar as their hero in fact themselves Hinduphobic?

In 1937, the Marxist revolutionary MN Roy shared a stage in Mumbai with Savarkar. Roy wanted to introduce Savarkar as a great revolutionary who had influenced him in his childhood. But Roy also publicly disagreed with Savarkar’s interpretations of Hindu-Muslim relations and his conceptualisation of Hindutva. Savarkar did not denounce Roy as Hinduphobic.

On the contrary, he shared a stage with this Marxist and stated that Roy was more interested in structural inequality based on class differences, and not in the divisions between Hindus and Muslims. Savarkar added that he was willing to accept Roy’s description of socialism as long as it meant equality for all Hindus.

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The fact is that Savarkar himself exemplifies a liberal principle and broad-minded intellection when he shows, by his presence alongside MN Roy, that political enemies could and should have a debate about ideas. Modern Hindutva-vadis betray their own hero Savarkar when making it clear that debate is no longer possible.

Claiming victimhood

The purpose of an academic conference on “Dismantling Global Hindutva” is exactly meant to debate interpretations about the very meaning of Hindutva in the 21st century. Those who oppose the conference without even knowing what scholars will actually say by declaring all participants “Hinduphobic” is a sign that those who promote Hindutva no longer have the capacity for intellectual exchange. Instead, Hindutva-vadis have mastered intimidation and threats of violence, rape, and murder as a way to shut down any intellectual engagement, all the while claiming victimhood in the process.

Hindu fragility is something that Savarkar had anticipated during his lifetime. He claimed that the more the Hindus worshipped cows, the more the Hindus would behave like cows.

Savarkar also wanted to harness what he saw as Hindu fragility into excessive or cruel violence as a form of vengeance, which is why he promoted the lion as the spirit animal of Hindus, and celebrated Narasinh’s savage killing of Hiranyakshipu. The fact is that without the claims of victimhood and hurt sentiments, the entire edifice of contemporary Hindutva-vadis falls apart. The endless repetition of Hinduphobia as a chant against anyone who provides a critique of Hindutva is today’s tactic to reinforce the idea that those Hindus who support Hindutva are victims.

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I cherish this simple irony: that if Hindutva-vadis actually read what Savarkar had to say about Hindutva and Hinduism, we would be one step closer to the declaration that Savarkar was Hinduphobic.

Vinayak Chaturvedi is at the History Department, University of California, Irvine. His Essentials of History: VD Savarkar and the Meaning of Hindutva will be published in 2022 by Permanent Black and Ashoka University, and subsequently by the State University of New York Press.

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Hindutva Harassment Field Manual

Hindutva Harassment Field Manual

Whether you are the target or a witness to a Hindu Right assault, this Field Manual by the South Asian Scholar Activist Collective offers resources for how to defend those attacked and how to educate others. This guidance was written by the South Asia Scholar Activist Collective for academics under assault. We hope these resources prove valuable more broadly to those targeted by Hindu nationalist attacks.

See more here: https://www.hindutvaharassmentfieldmanual.org/

Being Hindu in a Hindu Rashtra

Being Hindu in a Hindu Rashtra

For Hindutva, which is not a spiritual or religious world view but a doctrinaire, authoritarian political programme, Hinduism is a mere prop

 
Illustration by NILANJAN DAS
 
 

On the face of it, being Hindu in a ‘Hindu rashtra’ might sound good to Hindu ears. You might think you are in a rashtra (nation) that is in sync with your faith, values and way of life. However, closer examination and some reflection on the nature of Hinduism as it is lived by hundreds of millions of Hindus will present a very different picture. To put it bluntly, for the sahaj Hindu, being Hindu in a Hindu rashtra is more likely going to be a nightmare. Etymologically, the word sahaj means something one is ‘born with’.

 
 

In usage, it connotes something done ‘with ease’, which is to say unburdened by diffidence or false pride, self-deprecation or arrogance. Hinduism, as it has grown organically over the centuries, is not a doctrinaire system. For sahaj Hindus, their faith and world view flow from epics like the Ramayana and the Mahabharata-in their myriad versions, none of them a simple translation from the classical Sanskrit, with their variations, texture and colour shaped by a million local stories-and the puranic narratives. The human agony, moral conflicts, anguished queries contained in these narratives-and the wisdom that follows their resolution-deeply impact the Hindu mind.

A sahaj Hindu learns from these lively narratives, not from abstract commandments. In these narratives, not even gods escape the logic of kaal (meaning: both time and death) and karma (both action and its consequences). After the fratricidal war of the Mahabharata, Krishna is cursed by a bitterly lamenting Gandhari for not having done enough to prevent the calamity. Krishna reminds Gandhari of her own indulgence of Duryodhana (her son), but he has to suffer her curse nonetheless, and witness a disastrous fratricidal conflict in his own Yadava clan. Folklore never spared Rama either for his deeply unjust treatment of Sita. Contrast this robust tradition of criticism, where even gods are fair game, with the proclivity among proponents of a Hindu rashtra to label dissenters as ‘anti-national’ heretics.

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The Hindu tradition is inherently inclusive, so much so that its critics have often accused it of appropriating dissenting or breakaway traditions. The accusation stems from an inability to value Hinduism’s capacity to learn from criticism and to mainstream critical ideas-a capacity most vital for the longevity of a tradition. It’s this very civilisational genius for constant refinement that made someone wax lyrical in these famous words: Kuchh baat hai ki hasti mitati nahin hamari (It must be something about us that makes us indestructible)’.

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Go look him up-he wrote what is easily the best known nazm celebrating the greatness of India. Another kind of mistrust of Hinduism has to do with the failure to see the distinction between so-called ‘Brahmanism’ and sahaj Hinduism or the lived reality of Hindus. The adherents of this prejudice believe that the gods of marginalised people have no place in the Hindu pantheon. That’s not true, though: to cite just one example, in the Chambal region of northern Madhya Pradesh, there are numerous little shrines and temples dedicated to Hira Bhumia, a 16th century folk hero of the Gujjar caste.

The story goes that Hira died trying to save a cow from a tiger. In the rainy season of bhado (August/ September), he is ritually invoked to ‘possess’ the most suitable devotee (often a Dalit/ OBC man) and through this devotee (called ghulla for this period) he is believed to heal all manner of ailments (snake bites are common) and resolve various crises in the life of the householder.

His grace makes no distinction between Hindu and Muslim, or between Dalit and Brahmin. So, those who think Hinduism has no spiritual or symbolic space for the marginalised are in the grip of a category mistake. The modern-day understanding of Hinduism has been done a great disservice by scholars who have reduced it to a 19th century construct as imagined by British scholars, census commissioners and their Indian assistants. This construct betrays its utter ignorance of vernacular sources.

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Hinduism was a well-recognised religion/practice and Hindu an identity distinct from the geographical one centuries before the English reached Indian shores. Early modern poets like Vidyapati (1352-1448) and Kabir, Anantdas and Eknath (15-16th century) knew this well, as did European Christian missionaries like Giuseppe Maria da Gargnano (18th C.), who wrote tellingly about this in an imagined dialogue between a Christian missionary and a Hindu in the early 1750s.

The Hindu tradition is so inclusive that its critics have often accused it of appropriating breakaway traditions

 

 

Unfortunately, many contemporary scholars continue to perpetuate the colonial-era misconceptions about Hinduism, unmindful of the historical record contained in pre-British deshbhasha sources (I’ve argued in my academic work that the word ‘vernacular’ should be dropped in favour of deshbhasha, the class of living languages of the common people). Writing the history of early modern India, including that of Hindu traditions, solely on the basis of Sanskrit/ Persian sources is a deeply flawed enterprise; it’s akin to writing the history of the Renaissance and modern Europe exclusively on the basis of Latin sources.

The genius of sahaj Hinduism is that it folds in local legends (like Hira Bhumia’s story), evolving practices (like the now ubiquitous kanwar yatra) and even emerging gods and goddesses (for example, Santoshi Ma). Also, it has a rather unique relationship with scripture. A sahaj Hindu hardly ever interacts with the foundational scripture of his/ her faith-the Vedas. S/he relates to the stories contained in the epics, which render the scriptural wisdom in everyday life situations.

These renderings and meandering elaborations are characterised by fascinating innovation and departures, resulting in autonomous moral and ethical explorations. Intriguingly, the adjective ‘vedic’, in Hindu terminology, is not confined to the four Vedas; it oftener refers to an intellectual and reflective tradition, to knowledge systems-hence Ayur-veda (the knowledge of medicine), Natya-veda (the knowledge of theatre/ dance) and so on.

The historical arc of Hinduism is characterised by diversity, dialogue and dynamic symbolism (or should I say DDD-S or the 3Ds, given the current propensity for banal, alliterative catchwords?). Even idol worship or the notion of avatar (incarnation) are illustrations of this dynamic symbolism-on a philosophical plane, a way of imagining the degree to which divinity is realised in an individual, and on a cultural level, a way of creating an artefact, an aid to civilisational memory.

Contrary to this avatar of Hinduism, confident in its diversity and dynamism, the idea of a Hindu rashtra or Hindutva is rooted in diffidence masquerading as a brash, hyper-assertive confidence. For the RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh), ekchalakanuvartitva (follow the one supreme leader) is an article of faith and a key organisational principle. The source of this cult of personality is European fascism-not Hinduism, where deities and avatars abound, and even the notionally ultimate source of wisdom is not singular but the four Vedas.

The Hindu rashtra is not a natural extension of Hinduism. For Hindutva, which is not a spiritual or religious world view but a doctrinaire, authoritarian political programme, Hinduism is a mere prop. Savarkar candidly admits this in his opus, Hindutva: Who is a Hindu? (1923), the foundational text of the Hindu rashtra. He says: ‘Hindutva is not identical identical with what is vaguely indicated by the term Hinduism.’

At the core of what Savarkar calls Hindutva or ‘Hinduness’ is the fear and hatred of the constructed other-mainly the Muslim. As an idea of India, the Hindu rashtra is false, simply because it is historically inauthentic and culturally alien to the Indian ethos in general and Hinduism in particular. The ideologues of the Hindu rashtra see the richness and complexity of the Hindu tradition as a liability. Hindutva is, by its nature and purpose, insensitive to Hinduism’s evolution, its historical content and texture.

Hence the obsession with One leader, One language, One way of life, One food culture and so on. Motivated by contemporary political concerns, the guardians of Hindutva have been trying desperately to pour the rich matrix of Hinduism into a monolithic mould. This project has attained great success in recent times, and the widespread ignorance in Left-liberal intellectual and political circles of the inner dynamics of the Hindu tradition has contributed to the success of Hindutva in no small measure.

If the Left liberals have failed to grasp Hinduism, it is mainly due to their failure to seriously engage with deshbhasha sources; a certain indifference to the cultural concerns of Hindus may also have played a bit role. If you are a sahaj Hindu and consider your tradition more important than power games and political contests, then be in no doubt that incidents like mob lynching, the cynical tugs at your emotions invoking your religious identity, and the demonisation of intellectuals and scholarship and the dissenting view are not aberrations or fringe activities in the Hindutva project but devious strategems of a political programme that cannot succeed without distorting Hinduism to its very core.

PURUSHOTTAM AGRAWAL is a writer and historian of early modern Indian literature. His latest book, Who Is Bharat Mata?, is an edited anthology of writings on and by Jawaharlal Nehru. He is now working on another book on the Hindu tradition (working title: Understanding Hinduism/ Amazon Westland)

 

 

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Hindutva 101
Hindutva 101.png

Difficult, but important.

Talking about complex political, historical, and religious issues may seem intimidating, especially for those of us who have grown up outside India. Nevertheless, it is our responsibility to speak up. This guide is intended for Hindu-Americans who may want to talk to their parents, relatives, friends, or colleagues about Hindu nationalism but don’t know where to start. It will give an overview of Hindutva from a Hindu perspective and then provide some links we have collected that address the issue thoughtfully.

Hindutva is not simply “Hindu-ness.”

Hindutva, also called Hindu nationalism, is a right-wing political ideology that guides the current ruling party in India, the BJP, under Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Sometimes, people will argue that Hindutva is “a way of life,” or that Hindutva simply means “Hindu-ness,” synonymous with Hinduism. However, Hindutva is a modern, political ideology that is barely more than a hundred years old.

In some ways, Hindutva resembles right-wing nationalist movements around the world, advocating for economic protectionism and increased border security. Its distinguishing factor, though, is its core belief that India’s national identity should be synonymous with a Hindu identity.

The word “Hindutva” wasn’t even used until 1923, when it was first mentioned in V.D. Savarkar’s book Hindutva, which “articulates criteria for Indian identity based on citizenship, common ancestry, common culture and regard for India as fatherland (pitrbhu) and sacred land (puṇyabhu).” For Savarkar, Christians and Muslims could never be true Indians, despite the presence of both religions in India for centuries.

Hindu nationalist groups in India like the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) were inspired not by Hindu teachings, but by Nazi Germany and Mussolini’s fascists in Italy.

“The idea of fascism vividly brings out the conception of unity amongst people… India and particularly Hindu India need some such institution for the military regeneration of the Hindus… Our institution of Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh of Nagpur under Dr. Hedgewar is of this kind.”

– B. S. Moonje, Hindu nationalist leader who met fascist Italian dictator Mussolini in 1931

Hindutva violates the core teachings of Hinduism.

“Shanti Devi,” Victoria & Albert Museum.

“Shanti Devi,” Victoria & Albert Museum.

Some of the core teachings of Hindu scriptures include ekatva (oneness) and ahimsa (nonviolence). Hindutva promotes division and exploitation on the basis of religion. In a country where one fifth of the population is not Hindu, Hindutva advocates argue that India should be a country that privileges Hindus and openly incite violence against minorities, particularly Muslims and Christians. This is a majoritarian vision no different from the ugliness of white nationalism or conservative politicians who argue that the United States is a Christian country.

Hindutva is an American problem too.

Hindutva groups have a significant presence in the United States. This past September, 50,000 Indian-Americans attended a rally in Houston organized by Hindutva political activists that featured Narendra Modi and Donald Trump. Last year, in Chicago, leaders of India’s largest Hindu nationalist group spoke in Chicago to an audience of thousands of people at the World Hindu Congress.

Hindutva groups are active in the United States — they might be active at your local temple, on your college campus, or elsewhere in your community. These groups include the Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh (the American counterpart of the RSS), the Vishwa Hindu Parishad of America (VHP-A), and the Hindu Students Council.

Several Hindu American politicians and elected officials have displayed admirable leadership in opposing Hindutva as Hindus. These include U.S. Congressman Ro Khanna (D-CA), Illinois state senator Ram Villavalam (D), and former Chicago alderman Ameya Pawar (D).

Unfortunately, other Hindu American politicians have covertly and overtly supported Hindutva. Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI), the first Hindu in Congress, has received significant donations from Hindu nationalist leaders in the US, and was initially named chairwoman of the 2018 World Hindu Congress in Chicago. Congressman Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-IL) spoke at the 2018 World Hindu Congress and also spoke this past October at an event in Chicago celebrating the founding of the RSS.

More Hindus need to speak out against Hindutva.

It is important to listen to and amplify the voices of groups who are most directly affected by Hindutva: Muslims, Dalits, Adivasis, and other marginalized groups. However, as Hindus, we have a special responsibility to speak out against Hindutva.

For years, some Hindu voices have been publicly opposing Hindutva, but now the time is more urgent than ever. Hindu scholar and pandit, Dr. Anantanand Rambachan, tells us that “The rise of populist nationalism, and especially those versions that clothe themselves in religious colors, requires a critique from the same religious traditions.”

No ancient Hindu texts or traditions call us to the service of a nation. However, they repeatedly suggest that we commit ourselves to supporting the welfare of all beings (sarva bhuta hite ratah). Our highest calling is not identity with a nation, but identity with fellow beings in joy and suffering. The Bhagavadgita commends a concern for the universal common good (lokasamgraha) in all actions. The implication is that a nationalism that advances the interests of a nation by the exploitation of other nations or which ignores the suffering of other nations violates the Gita’s call for commitment to a universal common good. Our prayer as spiritual and religious people should be for the happiness of all (loka samasta sukhino bhavantu).

It’s on us to have these conversations: we need to confront bigoted views in our family WhatsApp groups, question why they may be liberal when it comes to US politics but support a right-wing agenda in India, and work to continuously uplift spiritual, progressive, and humane values.

Nelumno_nucifera_open_flower_-_botanic_garden_adelaide2.jpg

Suggested Readings:

Scaachi Koul, “The Crisis In Kashmir Has Started A Conversation I Don’t Know How To Have” (Buzzfeed News, December 18, 2019)

In this article, Koul writes about the difficulty (and importance) of discussing the Indian government’s actions in Kashmir with her Kashmiri Pandit family. She asks, “If Hindus who live comfortably around the world, who don’t worry about being oppressed by other brown people, aren’t going to speak publicly about the harm their own community is doing, who will?

Dr. Balmurli Natrajan, “Searching for a Progressive Hindu/ism” (Tikkun, October 2009)

In this article, Dr. Natrajan provides an overview of the history of Hindutva, and how Hindutva-affiliated groups have been able to claim to be the public representatives of Hinduism. He also outlines some possibilities for Hindus to take back their religion from Hindutva.

Dr. Anantanand Rambachan, “Populist Nationalism and the Kena Upanishad” (Sadhana, September 13, 2018)

In this article, Dr. Rambachan draws upon the teachings of the Kena Upanishad to argue that “Any version of nationalism and national identity that undermines the dignity of others or that justifies and instigates violence is contrary to the fundamental teachings of the Hindu tradition.”

Ramesh Venkataraman, “Hindu way to resist Hindutva” (Indian Express, December 31, 2015)

Hinduism’s great diversity is one of its strengths—there is no one way to be Hindu. In this article, Venkataraman argues that advocates of Hindutva are trying to homogenize Hinduism, erasing its diversity of perspectives and practices. He calls on liberal Hindus to “engage seriously with Hinduism’s history, texts and living practices to articulate from within it an ethic of pluralism and tolerance that resonates in today’s India.”

Nivedita Menon, “Bharat Mata And Her Unruly Daughters” (Buzzfeed News, July 18, 2017)

In this article, Menon shows that the Hindutva “project of homogenizing Hinduism … remains an incomplete project to this day.” She outlines many fascinating examples of “the refusal of Hindu practices to be tamed into the pallid, rigid North Indian, upper caste version that is the basis of the Hindu nationalist project.”

Dr. Stanley Thangaraj, “Sipping on the Indian Haterade: Hindu American Whiteness and Support for Trump” (Tropics of Meta, January 30, 2017)

In this article, Dr. Thangaraj points out that “the Hindu fundamentalist community aligns perfectly with the anti-poor, anti-black, and anti-Muslim rhetoric of Donald Trump.” He goes on to say that “History is not on the side of Hindu fundamentalists in the United States. Rather, history has shown that Aryan myths of lighter skin tones, religious identification, caste status, or financial wealth will not stave off white supremacy.  Let us stop sipping on this concoction that Modi and Trump share and rather jump into the waters of civil rights organizing with BlackLivesMatter, TransLivesMatter, Dreamers, Muslim civil rights activists, and immigration and refugee rights activists for a taste of democratic living.”

Valay Singh, “Ayodhya’s Forgotten Mahant and His Message of Peace” (The Wire, November 13, 2019)

This article discusses the life of Baba Lal Das, a Hindu priest who opposed Hindu nationalist groups like the RSS in their efforts to target Muslims and demolish Ayodhya’s Babri Masjid to build a temple for Lord Ram. He was assassinated in 1993.

Shivani Parikh, “Howdy Modi? The Case for a New Indian American Resistance Movement” (Hyphen, November 26, 2019)

In this article, Shivani Parikh outlines the ways that progressive Hindus and South Asians in the United States can look to other South Asian diasporas in order to combat Hindutva and other conservative ideologies.

 

Looking for more resources? You can find dozens of articles on Hindutva and other topics on our Sadhana Syllabus.

Last updated December 2019.

HINDUTVA IS NOT HINDUISM

HINDUTVA IS NOT HINDUISM

Hindu supremacists have made a concerted effort over several decades to equate their manufactured term “Hindutva” with Hinduism. From the early twentieth century onwards, they have worked hard to shield themselves from legitimate critique for their extremism by claiming to speak for a persecuted Hindu community, despite Hindus being a sizable majority in India. Most recently, they have been leveraging the language of being a religious minority in the United States to evade criticism of their supremacist ideologies.

However, the distinction between “Hindutva” and Hinduism has been stark: Hindutva is a political philosophy styled after European fascism of the early twentieth century, an ideology that privileges a cult of personality and authoritarian leadership. By contrast, Hinduism is a term used to describe a wide range of religious practices and beliefs that are heterodox, and like the practices and beliefs of any major religion with hundreds of millions of followers, continuously under contestation, and often contradictory. Hinduism has rightly been critiqued for the deep inequities in Indian society, most importantly for the caste system. Many Hindu reformers have also offered these critiques.

In the Indian subcontinent, Hindusim has also been shaped by syncretic faiths such as Sufism, which is a form of mysticism that broke away from orthodox Islam, and by poets and visionaries who adopted it into local idioms. The Bhakti movement which spread from South India to the North and East is one example—its most famous poet, Kabir, was venerated by Muslims and Hindus alike.  Hindus, Muslims, and Christians have a history of praying at Sufi shrines, as well as in temples, mosques, and gurudwaras and other shrines. There is also much borrowing from Hinduism into other religions practiced in India. These are the rich histories of Hinduism that Hindutva seeks to obliterate and disavow.

Hindutva refuses these critiques, as well as such syncretic faiths, and instead doubles down on using supremacist tools in the service of a toxic and genocidal unifying theory of a “Hindu Rashtra” or Hindu nation. In other words, instead of recognizing the plurality and the changes and debates within Hinduism, Hindutva demands an unquestioned allegiance to a myth-oriented, hate-mongering dogma that reifies and sanctions its violent modes of operation.

To equate Hinduism and Hindutva is to fall into the narrow, bigoted, and reductionist fiction that instrumentalizes Hinduism by erasing the diverse ppractices of the religion, the debates within the fold, as well as its conversations with other faiths. If the poet A. K. Ramanujan reminds us about the importance of acknowledging “three hundred Ramayanas,” then Hindutva seeks to obliterate that complexity into a monolithic fascism.

It is akin to equating Judaism and Zionism. Judaism is a legitimate religion whereas Zionism is just hate propaganda.

CLICK THE IMAGES BELOW FOR RESOURCES FOR PRACTICING HINDUS:

Sadhana Guide on Hindutva
Death threats sent to participants of US conference on Hindu nationalism

Death threats sent to participants of US conference on Hindu nationalism

Threats force several scholars to withdraw as ‘far-right fringe groups’ accuse event of being ‘anti-Hindu’

Supporters and members of Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP), Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and Bharatiya Janata party.
Supporters and members of Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP), Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and Bharatiya Janata party. Photograph: Jagadeesh Nv/EPA
 

An academic conference in the US addressing Hindu nationalism is being targeted by rightwing Hindu groups, which have sent death threats to participants and forced several scholars to withdraw.

The conference, titled Dismantling Global Hindutva, which is co-sponsored by more than 53 universities including Harvard, Stanford, Princeton, Columbia, Berkeley, the University of Chicago, the University of Pennsylvania, and Rutgers, has come under attack after several groups in India and the US accused the event of being “anti-Hindu”.

 

The aim of the conference, which will begin online on 10 September, is to bring together scholars to discuss Hindutva, otherwise known as Hindu nationalism, a rightwing movement that believes India should be an ethnic Hindu state, rather than a secular nation.

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India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata party (BJP), led by the prime minister, Narendra Modi, has pushed forward a Hindu nationalist agenda, under which India’s 200 million Muslims have faced discrimination and attacks.

The conference organisers said that in recent weeks, “far-right fringe groups have mobilised to attack the speakers at the conference”, falsely characterising the discussion of the political ideology of Hindutva as an attack on Hinduism itself.

In a statement, the organisers described how “immense pressure has been placed upon universities by fringe groups to back out of the conference” and emphasised the “sinister implications” of this “massive disinformation campaign”.

Several of the participants have withdrawn from the conference over fears it would lead to them being banned from returning to their families in India or being arrested on their arrival into the country.

Dozens of speakers and organisers involved have had violent threats made against their family members. Meena Kandasamy, a speaker, had pictures of her children posted online with captions such as “ur son will face a painful death” as well as casteist slurs. Other academics have been forced to file police cases after receiving death threats.

More than 1m emails were sent to the presidents, provosts and officials at universities involved in the conference pressuring them to withdraw and dismiss staff who were participating, pointing to an organised campaign by groups in India and the US. At Drew University in New Jersey, more than 30,000 emails were received in just a few minutes, causing the university server to crash.

“We are deeply concerned that all of these lies, taken together, will be used to incarcerate those who speak at the conference, or worse, inflict bodily harm, up to murder, upon those associated with the conference,” read the statement by the conference’s organisers. “Due to the variety of the nature of these threats, several speakers have had to withdraw from participating in this conference over the past two to three days.”

“The level of hate has been staggering,” said Rohit Chopra, an associate professor at Santa Clara University, who is one of the conference organisers.

“Organisers and speakers have received death threats, threats of sexual violence, and threats of violence against their families. Women participants have been subjected to the vilest kind of misogynistic threats and abuse and members of religious minorities associated with the conference have been targeted with casteist and sectarian slurs in the ugliest sorts of language.”

Chopra said he had received several emails accusing him of betraying Hindus. “Whether on email or on social media, there has also been a relentless barrage of messages accusing those involved in the conference of being terrorists, Hindu-haters, Hinduphobic, anti-Indian, and the like,” he said.

One email sent to the organisers said: “If this event will take place then I will become Osama bin Laden and will kill all the speakers, don’t blame me.”

Ben Baer, the director of the South Asian Studies programme at Princeton University, which is a co-sponsor of the conference, said the faculty and legal department of the university had been inundated with hate mail and accusations that the event was anti-Hindu.

“Those of us who have studied India, and indeed cumulatively lived there for some years, know this claim to be not only false but maliciously deceptive,” said Baer.

“Based, among other things, on the cut-and-paste nature of a great number of the messages received, it is clear that the conference has been under attack from an orchestrated campaign by one or more fringe extremist groups.”

The conference has also become a particular object of ire on rightwing TV news channels in India, who have accused it of being funded by the CIA, foreign governments and George Soros, and alleged on air that the conference is designed to support the Taliban.

The groups campaigning against the conference are the Hindu Janajagruti Samiti, an Indian organisation that has faced allegations of being linked to the murders of intellectuals and journalists, and US-based rightwing groups the Hindu American Foundation and the Coalition of Hindus of North America.

In a statement this week, the Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh (HSS) USA – a sister group of the RSS, an extremist nationalist organisation in India – urged all universities involved to withdraw support. They expressed “deep concern about the upcoming online event titled Dismantling Global Hindutva. We strongly condemn such events that amplify Hinduphobia, encourage Hindu hate, and incite violence against the minority Hindu population in the west.”

Hindu Janajagruti Samiti also wrote to the Indian home minister asking for action to be taken against those taking part in the event.

Even those who are not involved in the conference have faced violent threats. Audrey Truschke, a professor of South Asian history at Rutgers University in the US, whose works on Mughal history have made her a target for Hindu rightwingers, had to contact the police after a threatening voicemail was left for her. An investigation is under way.

“Because of what’s happening in India, the Hindu right and Hindu supremacists in the United States feel particularly emboldened, and the virulence their attacks on scholars is accelerating significantly,” said Truschke, who has to have armed security present whenever she speaks in public.

Last week, more than 900 academics from across the world and 50 organisations connected to south Asia issued a collective statement in support of the conference.

Chopra said that while the “hope of the Hindu right is to intimidate and bully scholars so that no one dares analyse Hindutva”, the backlash highlighted why it was so important for the conference to proceed.

“It is a matter of academic freedom,” he said. “Of not ceding the space for scholarly discussion about Hindutva, or for that matter, any topic, to the adherents of a violent, majoritarian, fascist ideology.”

 

How 9/11 Ushered in a New Era of Conspiracy Theories – Scientific American

How 9/11 Ushered in a New Era of Conspiracy Theories The breakdown of institutional legitimacy helped shape our current information crisis By Jason Stanley on September 10, 2021 9/11 conspiracy theorists protest outside a memorial service at the World Trade Center construction site on the 10th anniversary of the terrorist attack. Credit: James Leynse Getty Images All governments lie and distort to advance their agendas. But it’s fair to regard the current moment as a singular age of unreality in recent United States politics. Most members of one party have embraced an explicitly fictional world, one in which the 2020 election was stolen by rampant election fraud by Democrats. Historian Timothy Snyder has called this fabricated conspiracy “the Big Lie.” The rise of such a flagrant mendacity is usually located very recently, in Donald Trump’s first election run or in the dawning of the social media age. But the inflection point was actually 20 years ago, in the immediate aftermath of 9/11. In Mother Jones, David Corn has argued that the George W. Bush administration paved the way for the Big Lie, on the grounds that its propaganda push that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction constituted its own “Big Lie.” More generally, one might think that the misinformation-filled campaign in the lead-up to the Iraq War was itself an early example of the “post-truth” era. Admittedly, its effects on the promotion of false beliefs were extreme. We focus so much today on the role of social media and digital disinformation when it comes to our fractured sense of reality and the rise of conspiratorial thinking. But it’s worth remembering that in September 2003—five months before a site called thefacebook.com went live—a Washington Post poll found that almost 70 percent of Americans thought that Saddam Hussein was at least somewhat likely to have been personally involved in the 9/11 attacks. There is, however, a distinction between the distortions that the Bush-Cheney administration made in its rush to war and the “Big Lie” of Trump’s Republican Party. As historian Joseph Stieb argued correctly in the Washington Post, unlike the Bush administration’ propaganda, “Trump’s case for a stolen election isn’t exaggerated, it’s pure fiction.” In other words, the Bush administration attempted to deceive American citizens by distorting evidence and insinuating falsehoods. In intending to deceive, one treats one’s audience as reasoners whom one must persuade. In contrast, Trump and the party he controls simply made up, whole cloth, a fictional reality for its own loyal audience. Trump’s “Big Lie” was never intended to be digested by anyone other than unwavering supporters of the leader. A Big Lie isn’t part of an argument. A Big Lie is a rallying cry. ADVERTISEMENT How, then, did the immediate post-9/11 era give rise to our current politics? Some of the most trusted Americans in public life, such as Colin Powell, were used to present wildly exaggerated and false claims to the public. Much of the mainstream media felt impelled to give far more credibility to the government’s justifications for the Iraq War than they warranted. When democratic institutions are revealed to have misled the public as badly as they did, what results in a crisis of legitimacy. In such a crisis, people look for a charismatic leader in whom they can place their faith. The failures of the Bush administration made Trump’s takeover of the Republican Party possible, because the success of Trump’s style of politics depends on a vast loss of public trust in government and the media. It is not just the decline in public trust that paved the way for the flourishing of what can rightly be called fascist politics. After 9/11, Muslims were represented as an existential threat, domestically and internationally. Trump’s favorite government institution, ICE, is a product of the post-9/11 era. The logic of a militarized border, with a massive department of “Homeland Security” and a designated internal police force to protect “us” against “them,” is a legacy of that era. It’s no wonder that social platforms have exploited the rise of this in-group versus out-group mentality, attuning their algorithms to profit off of powerful emotional triggers such as fear, outrage and disgust. Fascist politics thrives when democratic institutions can be painted as corrupt and untrustworthy. It thrives when a population is taught to fear a supposed enemy that is both foreign and yet insidiously domestic—be they Muslims, Jews (as in Nazi Germany) or another minority group. Social media and online influence operations provided platforms and fuel for conspiratorial thinking to proliferate. But it was the post-9/11 era, with its nativist anti-Muslim appeals, betrayals of public trust and failures of democratic institutions, that enabled a politics based on rallying cries and faith rather than mutual deliberation over policy. It laid the groundwork for the future success of politicians who prey on our fears and encourage conspiracy theories, if not manufacture them outright. This is how they push aside democracy in pursuit of absolute power.

Death threats sent to participants of US conference on Hindu nationalism

Death threats sent to participants of US conference on Hindu nationalism

Threats force several scholars to withdraw as ‘far-right fringe groups’ accuse event of being ‘anti-Hindu’

Supporters and members of Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP), Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and Bharatiya Janata party.
Supporters and members of Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP), Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and Bharatiya Janata party. Photograph: Jagadeesh Nv/EPA
 

An academic conference in the US addressing Hindu nationalism is being targeted by rightwing Hindu groups, which have sent death threats to participants and forced several scholars to withdraw.

The conference, titled Dismantling Global Hindutva, which is co-sponsored by more than 53 universities including Harvard, Stanford, Princeton, Columbia, Berkeley, the University of Chicago, the University of Pennsylvania, and Rutgers, has come under attack after several groups in India and the US accused the event of being “anti-Hindu”.

 

The aim of the conference, which will begin online on 10 September, is to bring together scholars to discuss Hindutva, otherwise known as Hindu nationalism, a rightwing movement that believes India should be an ethnic Hindu state, rather than a secular nation.

Advertisement

India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata party (BJP), led by the prime minister, Narendra Modi, has pushed forward a Hindu nationalist agenda, under which India’s 200 million Muslims have faced discrimination and attacks.

The conference organisers said that in recent weeks, “far-right fringe groups have mobilised to attack the speakers at the conference”, falsely characterising the discussion of the political ideology of Hindutva as an attack on Hinduism itself.

In a statement, the organisers described how “immense pressure has been placed upon universities by fringe groups to back out of the conference” and emphasised the “sinister implications” of this “massive disinformation campaign”.

Several of the participants have withdrawn from the conference over fears it would lead to them being banned from returning to their families in India or being arrested on their arrival into the country.

Dozens of speakers and organisers involved have had violent threats made against their family members. Meena Kandasamy, a speaker, had pictures of her children posted online with captions such as “ur son will face a painful death” as well as casteist slurs. Other academics have been forced to file police cases after receiving death threats.

More than 1m emails were sent to the presidents, provosts and officials at universities involved in the conference pressuring them to withdraw and dismiss staff who were participating, pointing to an organised campaign by groups in India and the US. At Drew University in New Jersey, more than 30,000 emails were received in just a few minutes, causing the university server to crash.

“We are deeply concerned that all of these lies, taken together, will be used to incarcerate those who speak at the conference, or worse, inflict bodily harm, up to murder, upon those associated with the conference,” read the statement by the conference’s organisers. “Due to the variety of the nature of these threats, several speakers have had to withdraw from participating in this conference over the past two to three days.”

“The level of hate has been staggering,” said Rohit Chopra, an associate professor at Santa Clara University, who is one of the conference organisers.

“Organisers and speakers have received death threats, threats of sexual violence, and threats of violence against their families. Women participants have been subjected to the vilest kind of misogynistic threats and abuse and members of religious minorities associated with the conference have been targeted with casteist and sectarian slurs in the ugliest sorts of language.”

Chopra said he had received several emails accusing him of betraying Hindus. “Whether on email or on social media, there has also been a relentless barrage of messages accusing those involved in the conference of being terrorists, Hindu-haters, Hinduphobic, anti-Indian, and the like,” he said.

One email sent to the organisers said: “If this event will take place then I will become Osama bin Laden and will kill all the speakers, don’t blame me.”

Ben Baer, the director of the South Asian Studies programme at Princeton University, which is a co-sponsor of the conference, said the faculty and legal department of the university had been inundated with hate mail and accusations that the event was anti-Hindu.

“Those of us who have studied India, and indeed cumulatively lived there for some years, know this claim to be not only false but maliciously deceptive,” said Baer.

“Based, among other things, on the cut-and-paste nature of a great number of the messages received, it is clear that the conference has been under attack from an orchestrated campaign by one or more fringe extremist groups.”

The conference has also become a particular object of ire on rightwing TV news channels in India, who have accused it of being funded by the CIA, foreign governments and George Soros, and alleged on air that the conference is designed to support the Taliban.

The groups campaigning against the conference are the Hindu Janajagruti Samiti, an Indian organisation that has faced allegations of being linked to the murders of intellectuals and journalists, and US-based rightwing groups the Hindu American Foundation and the Coalition of Hindus of North America.

In a statement this week, the Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh (HSS) USA – a sister group of the RSS, an extremist nationalist organisation in India – urged all universities involved to withdraw support. They expressed “deep concern about the upcoming online event titled Dismantling Global Hindutva. We strongly condemn such events that amplify Hinduphobia, encourage Hindu hate, and incite violence against the minority Hindu population in the west.”

Hindu Janajagruti Samiti also wrote to the Indian home minister asking for action to be taken against those taking part in the event.

Even those who are not involved in the conference have faced violent threats. Audrey Truschke, a professor of South Asian history at Rutgers University in the US, whose works on Mughal history have made her a target for Hindu rightwingers, had to contact the police after a threatening voicemail was left for her. An investigation is under way.

“Because of what’s happening in India, the Hindu right and Hindu supremacists in the United States feel particularly emboldened, and the virulence their attacks on scholars is accelerating significantly,” said Truschke, who has to have armed security present whenever she speaks in public.

Last week, more than 900 academics from across the world and 50 organisations connected to south Asia issued a collective statement in support of the conference.

Chopra said that while the “hope of the Hindu right is to intimidate and bully scholars so that no one dares analyse Hindutva”, the backlash highlighted why it was so important for the conference to proceed.

“It is a matter of academic freedom,” he said. “Of not ceding the space for scholarly discussion about Hindutva, or for that matter, any topic, to the adherents of a violent, majoritarian, fascist ideology.”

 
Some of Us are Superhuman in fighting Covid

New Studies Find Evidence Of ‘Superhuman’ Immunity To COVID-19 In Some Individuals

 

An illustration of antibodies attacking a coronavirus particle.

Christoph Burgstedt/Science Photo Library /Getty Images

Some scientists have called it “superhuman immunity” or “bulletproof.” But immunologist Shane Crotty prefers “hybrid immunity.”

“Overall, hybrid immunity to SARS-CoV-2 appears to be impressively potent,” Crotty wrote in commentary in Science back in June.

No matter what you call it, this type of immunity offers much-needed good news in what seems like an endless array of bad news regarding COVID-19.

Over the past several months, a series of studies has found that some people mount an extraordinarily powerful immune response against SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus that causes the disease COVID-19. Their bodies produce very high levels of antibodies, but they also make antibodies with great flexibility — likely capable of fighting off the coronavirus variants circulating in the world but also likely effective against variants that may emerge in the future.

“One could reasonably predict that these people will be quite well protected against most — and perhaps all of — the SARS-CoV-2 variants that we are likely to see in the foreseeable future,” says Paul Bieniasz, a virologist at Rockefeller University who helped lead several of the studies.

In a study published online last month, Bieniasz and his colleagues found antibodies in these individuals that can strongly neutralize the six variants of concern tested, including delta and beta, as well as several other viruses related to SARS-CoV-2, including one in bats, two in pangolins and the one that caused the first coronavirus pandemic, SARS-CoV-1.

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“This is being a bit more speculative, but I would also suspect that they would have some degree of protection against the SARS-like viruses that have yet to infect humans,” Bieniasz says.

So who is capable of mounting this “superhuman” or “hybrid” immune response?

People who have had a “hybrid” exposure to the virus. Specifically, they were infected with the coronavirus in 2020 and then immunized with mRNA vaccines this year. “Those people have amazing responses to the vaccine,” says virologist Theodora Hatziioannou at Rockefeller University, who also helped lead several of the studies. “I think they are in the best position to fight the virus. The antibodies in these people’s blood can even neutralize SARS-CoV-1, the first coronavirus, which emerged 20 years ago. That virus is very, very different from SARS-CoV-2.”

In fact, these antibodies were even able to deactivate a virus engineered, on purpose, to be highly resistant to neutralization. This virus contained 20 mutations that are known to prevent SARS-CoV-2 antibodies from binding to it. Antibodies from people who were only vaccinated or who only had prior coronavirus infections were essentially useless against this mutant virus. But antibodies in people with the “hybrid immunity” could neutralize it.

These findings show how powerful the mRNA vaccines can be in people with prior exposure to SARS-CoV-2, she says. “There’s a lot of research now focused on finding a pan-coronavirus vaccine that would protect against all future variants. Our findings tell you that we already have it.

“But there’s a catch, right?” she adds: You first need to be sick with COVID-19. “After natural infections, the antibodies seem to evolve and become not only more potent but also broader. They become more resistant to mutations within the [virus].”

Hatziioannou and colleagues don’t know if everyone who has had COVID-19 and then an mRNA vaccine will have such a remarkable immune response. “We’ve only studied the phenomena with a few patients because it’s extremely laborious and difficult research to do,” she says.

But she suspects it’s quite common. “With every single one of the patients we studied, we saw the same thing.” The study reports data on 14 patients.

Several other studies support her hypothesis — and buttress the idea that exposure to both a coronavirus and an mRNA vaccine triggers an exceptionally powerful immune response. In one study, published last month in The New England Journal of Medicine, scientists analyzed antibodies generated by people who had been infected with the original SARS virus — SARS-CoV-1 — back in 2002 or 2003 and who then received an mRNA vaccine this year.

Remarkably, these people also produced high levels of antibodies and — it’s worth reiterating this point from a few paragraphs above — antibodies that could neutralize a whole range of variants and SARS-like viruses.

Now, of course, there are so many remaining questions. For example, what if you catch COVID-19 after you’re vaccinated? Or can a person who hasn’t been infected with the coronavirus mount a “superhuman” response if the person receives a third dose of a vaccine as a booster?

Hatziioannou says she can’t answer either of those questions yet. “I’m pretty certain that a third shot will help a person’s antibodies evolve even further, and perhaps they will acquire some breadth [or flexibility], but whether they will ever manage to get the breadth that you see following natural infection, that’s unclear.”

Immunologist John Wherry, at the University of Pennsylvania, is a bit more hopeful. “In our research, we already see some of this antibody evolution happening in people who are just vaccinated,” he says, “although it probably happens faster in people who have been infected.”

In a recent study, published online in late August, Wherry and his colleagues showed that, over time, people who have had only two doses of the vaccine (and no prior infection) start to make more flexible antibodies — antibodies that can better recognize many of the variants of concern.

So a third dose of the vaccine would presumably give those antibodies a boost and push the evolution of the antibodies further, Wherry says. So a person will be better equipped to fight off whatever variant the virus puts out there next.

“Based on all these findings, it looks like the immune system is eventually going to have the edge over this virus,” says Bieniasz, of Rockefeller University. “And if we’re lucky, SARS-CoV-2 will eventually fall into that category of viruses that gives us only a mild cold.”