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?