The New Hitler Youth of India

With India’s rise on the global stage, it would seem valuable to know the attitudes of its most elite educated teenagers, and Dilip D’Sousa at the Daily Beast reports that a not inconsiderable number of them harbor fascist sentiments:

My wife teaches French to tenth-grade students at a private school here in Mumbai. During one recent class, she asked these mostly upper-middle-class kids to complete the sentence “J’admire …” with the name of the historical figure they most admired.

To say she was disturbed by the results would be to understate her reaction. Of 25 students in the class, 9 picked Adolf Hitler, making him easily the highest vote-getter in this particular exercise; a certain Mohandas Gandhi was the choice of precisely one student. Discussing the idea of courage with other students once, my wife was startled by the contempt they had for Gandhi. “He was a coward!” they said. And as far back as 2002, the Times of India reported a survey that found that 17 percent of students in elite Indian colleges “favored Adolf Hitler as the kind of leader India ought to have.”

What is going on here? My theory: the rage of centuries of collective humiliation is leaking out toward both Muslim and British conquerors from past generations. Here’s what D’Sousa’s wife discovered in conversation with her tenth grade charges:

“[Hitler] was a fantastic orator,” said the 10th-grade kids. “He loved his country; he was a great patriot. He gave back to Germany a sense of pride they had lost after the Treaty of Versailles,” they said.

“And what about the millions he murdered?” asked my wife. “Oh, yes, that was bad,” said the kids. “But you know what, some of them were traitors.”

Where are the students acquiring their information about Hitler? Probably their parents. Mein Kampf, dumbfoundingly, sells thousands of copies a month in India. Here’s D’Sousa again:

Mein Kampf is available for sale on flipkart.com, India’s Amazon. As I write this, 51 customers have rated the book; 35 of those gave it a five-star rating. What’s more, there’s a steady trickle of reports that say it has become a must-read for business-school students; a management guide much like Spencer Johnson’s Who Moved My Cheese or Edward de Bono’s Lateral Thinking. If this undistinguished artist could take an entire country with him, I imagine the reasoning goes, surely his book has some lessons for future captains of industry?

Much of Hitler’s Indian afterlife is the legacy of Bal Thackeray, chief of the Shiv Sena party who died on Nov. 17

Thackeray freely, openly, and often admitted his admiration for Hitler, his book, the Nazis, and their methods. In 1993, for example, he gave an interview to Time magazine. “There is nothing wrong,” he said then, “if [Indian] Muslims are treated as Jews were in Nazi Germany.”

D’Sousa notes that, in another context, Thackeray also said this:

“If you take Mein Kampf and if you remove the word Jew and put in the word Muslim, that is what I believe in.”

So this is the trope that animates some contemporary Indians from the most elite classes: antisemitism, not directed at Jews, but at another group–Muslims–whose cultural origins are also semitic.

And the Indians, of course, are paired off with another paranoid nation, itself broiling with antisemitic resentment and an admiration for Hitler: Pakistan.

And they both have the bomb.

The antidote, it seems to me, to fanatic nationalism is the Anglo-French Enlightenment internationalized along these lines:

_________

This is the great struggle for our future: will the Anglo-French Enlightenment’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights beat out Herderian nationalist memes like Mein Kampf for the imaginations of global youth?

To put it another way: will Thomas Jefferson achieve escape velocity before Dr. Strangelove does?

About Santi Tafarella

I teach writing and literature at Antelope Valley College in California.
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7 Responses to The New Hitler Youth of India

  1. India is the largest democracy on earth (in fact, it is probably bigger in population than all other countries that actually count as democratic put together). The typical Indian ballot features a dozen or more MAJOR parties. There is no political group of any size or significance in India that espouses any ideology that remotely resembles fascism or Nazism. These stupid anecdotes being peddled by this guy are just a pathetic attempt at sensationalism.

    • Santi Tafarella says:

      Sanduleak:

      By your name, I presume you are writing from India, and I am glad for your counter-perspective, but I’d also be curious as to your take on whether or not there is some nostalgia in India for the politics of Hitler. I would find it disturbing if I stumbled upon 9 of 25 10th graders in an American classroom choosing Hitler as a source of admiration, and I’m wondering how you might account for this response among the Indian 10th graders in the article. That’s an awfully high figure. How does that happen among children from wealthy families?

      –Santi

  2. Staffan says:

    “This is the great struggle for our future: will the Anglo-French Enlightenment’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights beat out Herderian nationalist memes like Mein Kampf for the imaginations of global youth?”

    Or put differently: will declarations transmogrify human nature? Because Herder’s ideas of nations have largely been proven right by research – we do live in tribes, as nations, as races, according to religion or political affiliation. You’re doing a reversed form of don quixotism in which you attack reality with dreams of how things should be.

    As for Hindu nationalism, it’s not surprising that they have negative feelings about Muslims; practically everyone who comes into contact with them does. Perhaps they lack the Western taboo of Hitler and view his murders alongside those of Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot and others. God knows a lot of you in Academia has praised the mass murderer Mao.

    • Santi Tafarella says:

      I agree with you that Mao was a bad man and that his image should not be presented in a benign, casual, or uncomplicated fashion in popular culture (as Andy Warhol did).

      And your point about Muslim-Indian tension is well taken. Culturally, Muslims and Hindus are very different from one another. Assimilation is tricky but needn’t be thought of as impossible.

      I have higher hopes than you do for the triumph of the Enlightenment long term. I don’t think it’s utopian. The evidence of its fast advance is everywhere. Urbanism, democracy, the Internet, and free trade seem to favor it, and these are all obviously trending.

      Isolationist authoritarian nationalism and religion–Herder’s signature issues–are almost certainly things of the past. Where they exist in the modern world, they are holdouts. The broken wheel squeaks loudest.

      But the big five questions are these: (1) whether the forces of Herderian reaction can create a global hostage crisis (Iran, North Korea, or Pakistan threatening or starting a nuclear war); (2) whether Islamic terrorists can make a superbug that wipes out a third of humanity; (3) whether there is some instability in global trade or the banking system that leads to a global economic depression; (4) whether there is a global environmental crisis in the offing that scientists have missed; and (5) whether China starts, with new genetic technology, a eugenics race that the West feels it simply must respond to in like manner. The genetic creation and reproduction of elite “super-people” would put enormous strains on the collective psyche.

      Any of these could lead to a revival of mass Herderian politics, religion, tribalism, and hysteria.

      –Santi

  3. Staffan says:

    Urbanism, internet, and democracy are not really evidence of a nontribal human nature. Urbanism has been due to jobs being created in the cities since the industrial revolution. It means people go there for financial reasons – not to be a big happy family.The internet connects people and it does bind the world together. I don’t know the extent of this but it goes in your favor. Democracy is not any kind of antidote to tribalism. Your latest election showed a clear pattern of voting according to race – something like 95 percent of African Americans voted for Obama. It’s all about the black vote, the white vote, the Hispanice vote. China are the world’s largest trading partner and they are certainly both authoritarian and nationalistic. Jews are very active as traders all over the world and they are clearly tribal in many ways.

    So this is not much in form of evidence. But we have actual evidence in form of research results showing people are loyal to their ingroups and hostile or avoidant against the outgroups. I think the fact that you fail to address this and only offer societal trends as informal evidence to support your position indicates that you are in fact a utopian.

    “Isolationist authoritarian nationalism and religion–Herder’s signature issues–are almost certainly things of the past. Where they exist in the modern world, they are holdouts. The broken wheel squeaks loudest.”

    That would mean the Chinese and the Jews are old-fashion, unable to adapt to the modern world. As for isolationism, it depends on whether you mean protectionism or a cultural thing. I personally don’t believe in protectionism but you can still reject foreign influence in spite of trading globally.

    It’s a pet theory of many scientists and friends of the Enlightenment that religion is obsolete. But if it was then who would cling to it in this day and age? Someone less intelligent you’d think. And yet the link between intelligence and religion has been very hard to establish. A recent study published in Intelligence found correlations around -0.15 for most measures of religiosity – and that’s hardly anything in behavioral science, which the authors practically admitted.

    “But the big five questions are these…

    Any of these could lead to a revival of mass Herderian politics, religion, tribalism, and hysteria.”

    Note how all of these potential disasters have scientific development as their prerequisite. That’s what you get for spreading rationality around the world – people take what they can use, but their nature is the same. It’s not a Herderian reaction; it’s the same age old human nature that was there all along. You ignore that, empower people with no constraints hoping they will transform with the access of knowledge and rationality. And when you see the dark clouds on the horizon, you say, “Oh, a Herderian back-lash, not my fault.” Not to sound too harsh, but it kind of is your fault. You and your ilk insisted that science and rationality would be a blessing. And even in the face of potential disasters created by applied science, you still insist on it and try to put the blame elsewhere.

    • Santi Tafarella says:

      Staffan,

      You make good points. I hadn’t noticed that my “big 5″ all have a techno-connection, but you’re right. And I agree that I could be inadvertently using “Herderian” as a trope for evolved human (tribal and religious) nature.

      I think of the Jews and the Chinese as groups open to the outside world. I was thinking more of Iran and North Korea as holdouts.

      And I agree that Enlightenment rationalism and brotherhood can lapse into Jacobinism. It’s a danger. It’s also true that religion can lapse into evil as well.

      But I do think there is a counter trend–the Phoenician trend, if you will. 3000 years ago, Phoenicians set the model for global trade and posed a challenge to tribalism, encouraging it to urbanization, openness, and tolerance for diversity (in the name of making money).

      By fits and starts, that model is winning, and its acceleration in recent years is unmistakable. I don’t think it’s utopian to say so. People will always be tribal, but they’ll also see the advantage of enlarging the circle of cooperation and living in cities.

      Technology unbound may well prove our collective undoing. It could unmoor religion in such a way that, not an Enlightenment humanist, but a Darwinian/Nietzschean world takes its place.

      In this sense, I agree with you that, to the extent I forget this, I’m being naive.

      –Santi

  4. Staffan says:

    Trade has an inevitable influence, as does the internet, but whether it will actually open up countries to the point where they abandon their national identity and include the whole world in their ingroup, that’s a still to be decided. Me, I think any country that doesn’t have a strong tribal identity is in trouble. You can see how nations in Europe have split – always along ethnic lines – and how Germany was reunited. I can’t say I see the Chinese as very open. They don’t object that much to their regime and nationalism seems to be thriving even more now than before. Time will tell…

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