[30 June 2003]
The Aryan Connection
by Satya Sagar
It is late night and I am still listening to this slick, pony-tailed, middle-aged Indian I chanced upon in a Munich café. "I meet them once in a while, the old Nazis" he tells me "They have a soft corner for Indians".
(Thanks, I tell myself, thatís what I really need now ë a Nazi soft cornerí.)
It is my keenness to get a tangential Indian view of Munich that keeps me here with this bloke. An architect by profession, X-Ray (let us call him that) has lived in Germany now for over three decades and obviously has a ësoft cornerí for the Nazis too.
Not surprising at all. Many well-heeled Indians living overseas are ardent supporters of the quasi-fascist, Hindu chauvinist politicians ruling India right now. X-Rayís beloved Hindu right wing politicians, in turn, come from a long tradition of admiration for Hitler and everything he stood for- including the ethnic cleansing of the Jews in his times.
But why should the Nazis have a ësoft cornerí for India? How did it fit into their Weltanschauung?
The answer lies in the ëAryaní Connection. According to this piece of fiction the populations of Europe, India and Iran had a common ancestry in the Aryan Race, which migrated from the mountainous regions of Central Asia and produced some of the earliest human civilizations.
Over two centuries after the myth of the ënoble, superiorí Aryan Race was first postulated the political, historical processes it set forth in motion are still with us in a variety of waysó in South Asia, the Middle-East, Europe and even the United States. Though thoroughly discredited by modern scholarship as well as the horrific experiences of the Second World War, the Aryan Connection is still very much alive and killing.
Let me explain first with a little bit of history about the Aryan Race myth itself.
The origins of the concept partially go back to Sir William Jones, a 18th century judge in Bengal as part of the British Raj, who studied the Sanskrit language and discovered several structural affinities it had with Greek, Latin, Celtic and German. Later, other scholars showed that Avestan (from ancient Iran), Armenian, and the Slavic languages were also related. All these were referred to as the Indo-German, or Indo-European group of languages.
As translations of old Sanskrit texts like the ancient Vedas flourished in Europe (Napoleon apparently carried it on the battlefield !) and enthusiasm for everything Indian grew dramatically it was just a matter of time before the notion of a common Indo-European language gave rise to the idea of common ëracialí origins too. The Brahmins of ancient India, according to their traditional lore, were supposed to be descendants of Aryan conquerors who migrated to India from the highlands of Central Asia, a tale that blended perfectly with beliefs among European occultists that white ëCaucasiansí too had originated from the same Central Asian mountains. Ergo, the concept of the Aryan Race as the creator of ancient civilizations was born.
Given the nineteenth century European obsession with ëraceí and ëhistoryí the theory of the ënoble, superiorí Aryan race became wildly popular, took legs and ran all over the world posing as the answer to the mysteries of all ancient civilizations. By the early twentieth century this absurd concept had grown claws, a beak and even sprouted wings with the rise of Hitler before finally crashing to the ground in the flak and fury of the Second World War.
Let me explain why the idea of the Aryan race is so ridiculous. To begin with the category of ëraceí itself is itself quite dubious. Genetically almost all of humanity is identical and the only ëraceí we are all part of today, I believe, is the ërat raceí of global capitalism.
Secondly the seemingly logical leap from postulating a common set of ëAryaní languages to the Aryan Race is also quite idiotic. A simple example will suffice to show its idiocy. If an extra-terrestrial studied the languages spoken on Planet Earth today and concluded that all those who speak, read and write English belong to the same race/ethnic group would he/she/it be right or wrong ? Obviously wrong unless I look like Tom Cruise, which I assure you - I donít. (I donít even look like Woody Allen)
Linguistic and cultural influences typically travel much faster than human populations (even in ancient times) and so the similarities that one sees between Sanskrit and Latin are entirely possible without both languages having a common origin. Even though it is safe to assume that there were several waves of migration from parts of central Asia into India over the millennia it does not follow that there is any one central source for Sanskrit. In all probability it evolved as a hybrid of both imported and indigenous languages native to ancient India.
How is all this discussion of the Aryan race, supposedly buried with the Nazis, so relevant to what is happening in our world today?
First of all, the idea of the ëAryan raceí is unfortunately not fully interred yet in popular consciousness in several parts of the world. Just do a search for the ëAryan Raceí on the web and see the number of sites that turn up talking about the term as a historical fact.
Secondly, the Aryan myth still plays an important role in the contemporary politics of South Asia.
In India, for example, the 19th century European notion of the ancient ëAryansí as the fount of all human wisdom and civilization underpins the modern Hindu chauvinist worldview according to which:
a) The history of the Indian sub-continent is essentially an ëAryan Hindu historyí reaching back continuously over 5000 years (including the Indus valley civilizations) and interrupted only by the ëviciousí invasions of Muslims and later Christians during the last millennium. So if Muslims and Christians want to survive in India today they will have to ëHinduiseí themselves. If they donít do it on their own the Hindu storm troopers will force them to. The Aryans themselves in this version are believed to be completely indigenous to India and not migrants from Central Asia.
b) The Vedas, the worldís oldest ëAryaní literature, are the repository of all ëtruthí and its wisdom needs to be revived and used in the modern Indian context irrespective of their relevance. So we now have courses in ëVedic mathematicsí and ëVedic astrologyí being taught in Indian universities thanks to the current Hindu chauvinist regime. Though they will never spell it out in so many words the more insidious part of this project to revive the ëvirtuesí of ancient India is to justify and perpetuate the Indian caste system with the fair skinned ëAryansí at the top and the darker non-Aryan ërabbleí at the bottom of the pile.
c) India should aspire to be a ëgreat powerí in world affairs today to recover the ëgloryí of its ancient past. If necessary this should be done with the help of the nuclear bomb and strategic alliances with the only existing superpower- America.
In neighboring Sri Lanka the Aryan myth has played a devastating role in dividing the islandís allegedly ëAryaní Sinhalese population from the so called ëDravidianí Tamil population over the past century or more. Several studies by Sri Lankan sociologists have traced the Orientalist propaganda of the Aryan race theory in the mid-nineteenth century as having shaped Sri Lankaís national consciousness drastically. While there were other factors also responsible for the eruption of this tragic islandís two decade long civil war between Tamils and the Sinhalese there is no doubt that the Aryan fable has taken its deadly toll here too.
As for the Middle-East the role of the Aryan myth in shaping its modern history is quite obvious- through the creation of Israel in 1948. Quite simply put, if not for Nazi obsession with establishing ëNordic Aryan purityí in Europe and the consequent Jewish Holocaust there would be no Israel today, the European Jews would still have been in Europe and Palestine might have been the most peaceful place on Earth (barring of course the chance of Bush Jr. searching for WMDs in Jerusalem!!).
Sure, Zionism pre-dates the Holocaust but then it was also born as an extreme reaction to the anti-Semitism widespread throughout Europe in the nineteenth century. An anti-Semitism that had always existed in Europe for two millennia but which acquired a particularly virulent form with the coming of the Aryan Race myth, which was used by anti-Semites, among other reasons, as a counter to the Jews calling themselves Godís ëchosen peopleí.
Ironically the early Zionists picked up the dubious category of ëraceí prevalent among their worst enemies and insisted that the Jews were one ëraceí thereby lumping diverse people belonging to the same faith into one racial/ethnic category (so today we have people from the north-east Indian state of Manipur, thought to belong to the ancient Jewish Bnei Menashe tribe, freely migrating to Israel because they are all supposed to be part of the same ëraceí).
The basis for the creation of Israel, drawing as it does on nineteenth century notions of race and obsession with historical origins, was clearly the ëJewish mythí- an inverted image of the Aryan myth. And when has an evil ever ceased to be so by merely putting a mirror to it.
Now coming to modern-day Europe, though there are signs of anti-Semitism on the rise in many countries, I do not think that the Aryan myth is still taken seriously by many people. (There is nothing like a World War to cure a continent of bad scholarship!)
But Europe still has a responsibility for the continuing global consequences of the Aryan Race theory and the anti-Semitism it spurred on in its past. Let me explain how.
Firstly, it is well known that anti-Semitism was not unique to Germany and widespread throughout Europe. This is a point worth focusing on, because the way the history of anti-Semitism and the Second World War has been popularly told the blame has been simplistically placed entirely on Nazi Germany whereas a lot more of Europe should be sharing such blame.
Apart from countries in mainland Europe, even in the United Kingdom and the United States anti-Semitism was rife in those days. (In 1938 four polls showed that up to 85% of the American public was opposed to increased immigration quotas which would have allowed Jewish refugees to escape Nazi Germany.)
Also, it has to be recognized that the way the Aryan Myth and anti-Semitism played out under the Nazis was only an extension, albeit an extreme one, of the notions of racial superiority that permeated all of European colonialism. The concepts of colonialism being a ëcivilizational missioní , ëthe white manís burdení, the colonized natives being close to ëanimalsí and so on were all precursors to the deadly brew of fascism that Hitler finally stirred up. (And that is why as the US elites embark upon their own brazen colonial expedition in Iraq some of the justifications bandied about sound almost as if the word ëAryansí has been just displaced neatly by ëAmericansí)
It is interesting to me, as a citizen of a former colony, that when the blame-game began following the defeat of the Nazis after the Second World War few scholars took up the link between fascism and European colonialism. To me it seems that the upstart that he was, Hitler upset the racist, colonial applecart by taking it to logical extent with his theories of Aryan superiority and the practice of holocaust. Basically the fellow thought he would outsmart his fellow Europeans at what they were doing in their colonies anyway.
Thirdly, the logic of the Allied action at the end of the Second World War vis a vis Europeís Jews seemed to be that a people who had been so grievously wronged by Europe certainly deserved to have a land of their own --- in faraway Asia ! (Imagine the much oppressed Kurds getting a homeland in Bavaria. Why not indeed ?)
I know all about the Balfour declaration of 1917 (who the hell were the British to ëpromiseí Palestine to a handful of Zionists) and also about the 2000 year old claim of the Zionists to Palestine (sure, and I am now about to grab some prime real estate in Tashkent).
In the process of accepting the creation of Israel the Allies also ironically fulfilled, wittingly or unwittingly, - a long-standing dream of all European anti-Semites ie. to get the continent rid of the Jews. Amazingly enough, the vanquishers of the Nazis did with the carrot of Israel what the Nazis failed to do with the stick of the Holocaust.
In fact, when I as a South Asian, look at the seemingly perpetual conflict between the Jews and the Palestinians- one desperately trying to hold on to a new born nation and the other desperately trying to retrieve an old one- what I see is a tragic conflict between two sets of victims. The Jews, victims of European and indeed Western racism/fascism pitted against the Palestinians, victims of Western colonialism/opportunism. There is nothing more terrible than two members from the same family fighting each other or the quarreling of two slaves owned by the same master (there is virtually no evidence of animosity between the Jews and the Muslims before the early twentieth century).
Since I have taken so much of your time explaining the Aryan Connection between India, the West and the Jewish Holocaust let me take a little more ó with a modest proposal towards what a solution to the so called Middle-East crisis could look like.
It is quite clear to me that the solution does not lie within the geographical or political parameters of the middle-east itself. The solution really lies with Europe, which while pretending to act as a broker of peace between the Jews and the Arabs- has not yet fully compensated for what its people did to the Jews of Europe or foisted upon the hapless Palestinians. (This is in fact particularly true of ënew Europeí which consists mostly of countries that have conveniently buried their anti-Semitic past in the fog of the Cold War.)
What Europe needs to do now is to undo that old Nazi and in fact old pan-European notion of making Europe ëfree of the Jewsí to ësettle the Jewish questioní. Wait, I am not saying take the population of Israel back to Europe.
Be more creative- make Israel along with a newly independent Palestinian state full members of the European Union. Make the borders meaningless just like in Europe. Of course, all this with the United States bearing part of the expenses involved in such an initiative.
Stretch out your hand, be generous and help the Israelis and Palestinians achieve what the old warring nations of Europe themselves are doing so brilliantly- bury their differences and create a new, peaceful future.
As the current round of bloodshed between the Israeli government and Hamas shows, left to themselves the Zionists and Palestinian hardliners will enact nothing short of Armageddon in their ancient land. And already I can hear Adolf Hitler laughing in his grave, wherever that happens to be, at the prospect of these ënon-Aryansí doing to themselves - exactly what he wanted to do to them.
Satya Sagar is a journalist based in Thailand. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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