Saturday, April 22, 2017

The Aurangzeb debate

(reader's letter replying to a review of Audrey Truschke's book Aurangzeb: Man or Myth, in National Interest, 22 April 2017)

Unfortunately, I have no time for a full review of Audrey Truschke’s book, checking primary sources and all that, though if it somehow proves necessary, I will do it anyway. I am presently concentrating on more complex and more important issues in the history of Hindu thought, while the history of Islam has lost my interest because it is so simple and our conclusions about it are not at all threatened with a need for revision. As a doctrine, it is a mistake, and as a historical movement, it has a very negative record vis-à-vis Unbelievers, especially the Hindus. The secularists and their foreign dupes may cry themselves hoarse in their denial of these straightforward and amply proven facts, they don’t stand a chance, though not for want of trying.

Nonetheless, let me offer some general observations. If Hindus are wrong anywhere in their evaluation of Aurangzeb, it is not in misstating his record, which was highly reprehensible even by the standards of his own day. But because of the crimes he undeniably committed against the mass of non-Muslims and against a few unorthodox Muslims, Hindus tend to launch this shrill rhetoric against the person Aurangzeb, as if he were an evil man. He was not.

Unlike Audrey Truschke, I will not have to do a counterfactual whitewash in order to relativize Aurangzeb’s guilt. He did destroy the Kashi Vishvanath, the Krishna Janmabhumi and thousands of other temples, and their ruins or the mosques built in their stead remain as mute witnesses to his practice of iconoclasm. Yet, he was also verifiably a pious and ascetic man. While we cannot look inside his skull to know what he really thought, all contemporaneous documents confirm that he set himself high standards of conduct. For example, he earned his own livelihood and did hold it against his father that he squandered taxpayers’ money on luxuries like building the Taj Mahal.

Among Hindus too, we know of numerous pious and ascetic people, but none of them earned a reputation as an iconoclastic monster. Then what happened in the case of Aurangzeb? The answer is in the contents of the doctrine he came to take ever more seriously: Islam. When people at some point in their lives “get religion”, their freshly upgraded or newfound faith colours the nature of the behavioural changes that ensue. In the case of Islam, the religious enthusiast may take inspiration from the Prophet’s life & works, more than the average Muslims brought up with the same ideals but less inclined to put them into practice. He was a better Muslim than most. Thus, he enacted laws harmful to the interests of the  ruling class but more in keeping with Islamic jurisprudence. But the same devotion and religious earnestness that made him an ascetic, also made him an iconoclast.

Whenever Islamic rulers or warlords feel compelled to provide a justification for their iconoclasm, they point to earlier Islamic leaders’ precedents, but most of all to Mohammed’s own model behaviour, especially the epochal moment after the city of Mecca’s surrender when the Prophet and his son-in-law Ali destroyed the Pagan Kaaba’s 360 idols with their own hands. The job completed, they declared that with this, light had triumphed over darkness; truly a defining moment in Islam’s genesis. Not one Islamic theologian will contradict us when we say that an exemplary Muslim is one who emulates the Prophet.

At the end of his life, Aurangzeb privately repented his policy of iconoclasm, eventhough not deeply enough to reverse it. If no one else can refute gullible apologists like Audrey, let Aurangzeb himself do it. He certainly realized that his policy was too much for his contemporaries to stomach. And again this change of heart had nothing to do with his personality but with his deeply-held faith.  He regretted having destroyed temples not because he was suddenly struck with compassion for the accursed Infidels, but because he had provoked them into rebellions and thus endangered Islam’s position in India. For almost two centuries, Islam had thrived and enjoyed power thanks to a compromise with the Hindu majority: these had a subordinate position, but not emphatically so. Not enough to make them rise in revolt. Now, after Shivaji’s successful rebellion, it was becoming clear that Indian Islam had entered a period of decline. The romantic ideal of emulating the Prophet in every detail had come in the way of Islam’s larger and deeper goal, viz. consolidating and extending its power, ultimately expected (as ordered by the Quran itself) to culminate in world conquest.

Let us note finally that on this issue, Audrey’s book is representative of a wider concern to whitewash Aurangzeb. In their all-out war on Hinduism and specific Hindu ideas, the South Asia scholars tend to practise Groupthink; there is rarely anything original, they only outdo each other in how daring they can make their own articulation of ever the same position. In 2014, I participated in an all-day session on Aurangzeb at the bi-annual conference of the European Association of South-Asian Studies in Zürich. One paper after another highlighted some quotes from contemporaneous writers in praise of Aurangzeb. These are easy to find, as he had the last say over their success or marginalization, even over life and death. On Stalin too, you can easily find many contemporary sources praising him, and then silly academics concluding therefrom that he can’t have been so bad.

Thus, one of the sources was Guru Govind Singh’s Zafar Namah or “victory letter”. If you quote it selectively, you might think he was an admirer and ideological comrade of Aurangzeb’s. But the Guru was strategically with his back against the wall and had to curry favour with the man holding all the cards. So he wrote a diplomatically-worded letter and held his personal opinions to himself (and here is one case where personal relations must have trumped ideology).  It is entirely certain, and academics cover themselves with shame if they cleverly try to deny it, that Govind hated Aurangzeb from the bottom of his heart. Aurangzeb was responsible for the murder of Govind’s father and all four sons. Any proletarian can understand that in private, Govind must have said the worst things about Aurangzeb. You have to be as silly or as partisan as a South Asia scholar to believe that the Guru meant to praise Aurangzeb.

To sum up, the presently-discussed thesis by Audrey Truschke comes to add to the numbers of what formally look like studies in history, but effectively are meant as strikes in the ongoing battle against self-respecting Hinduism.


Sandeep said...

" For example, he earned his own livelihood and did hold it against his father that he squandered taxpayers’ money on luxuries like building the Taj Mahal."

Wait, what about Bibi ka Maqbara?

Prabhnoor Rangi said...

Golden age will commence in about 435000 years it seems to me today this fine Sunday of Suraj dev. (mohamadan mlecch menacing miscreants will take that long to tackle.) All glories to SatGuru Nanak Sahib and Raja Janak and Shiv ji Maharaj. When will swastika be worn again as Guru's sacred sign is swastika and holy day is Thursday? When will Sanskrit be taken seriously? This is a very long-term beautification project of planet Earth - healing takes time...At the end of this beautification, Earth and Earthlings will all be drop dead gorgeous (extremely beautiful with genuine bhag (Guru's glow) on faces) thanks to purifying impact of Seva/Simran. Right now we need research into advanced metaphysical arms as the mlecch crisis is out of control! (jihadis crawling around everywhere). Have the Monsanto/McDonald/marriot etc. miscreants destroyed all organic seeds for pulses and grains? How is ahimsa dairy and our precious Vedic humped Gau Mata? One thing is certain, there will never be a post-Vedic age as beauty is eternal and can never be destroyed. Slavery is ugly.