Recollections with Sita Ram Goel: Part 3
Clash of Civilizations
The now-fashionable expression “clash of civilizations” was already in use in India well before Samuel Huntington gave it currency in the West. Girilal Jain, for one, already used it in his analysis of the Ayodhya crisis in 1988-92.
Sita Ram Goel wasn’t inclined to using trendy expressions, but the clash between Hinduism and Islam had always been a central theme in his reading of medieval and modern Indian history.
Contrary to the fog-blowing of the secularists and their loudspeakers in Western academe, who always try to blur the lines between Hinduism and Islam, a line laid out ever so clearly by Islamic doctrine, Goel firmly stuck to the facts: Islam had waged a declared war against infidelism in India since its first naval invasion in AD 636 and continuing to the present.
However, about the future of Hinduism, at least in its confrontation with Islam, Mr. Goel was not overly pessimistic. In spite of its demographic growth and its successful extraction of concessions from secular governments in India and the West, Islam may really be a paper tiger. Not only is its impending demise a mathematical certainty, but it may even happen sooner than we would normally think possible.
The Muslims themselves will question Islamic beliefs, and some of them are already doing so (Mr. Goel kept contact with Ibn Warraq, apostate and author of Why I Am Not a Muslim). For most, the occasion will probably be the conspicuous failure of Islamic culture to keep up with the requirements of the modern world.
Recently, some mainstream politicians in Europe have broken a taboo by calling Islam “a backward religion”. For the present purpose, not the character but the impact of Islam is important, so let us rephrase that: Islam is a factor of backwardness.
Successive UN reports on the state of the Arab countries have documented how in spite of their God-given oil wealth, they are hopelessly behind in practically every respect: enterprises set up, original research conducted, inventions patented, internet access per head, books published, sales per book, foreign books translated etc.
Likewise, in the past, in its first and most creative centuries, the Arab world had a non-Muslim majority and the grip of Islam on the minds of even the Muslims was not yet very firm; but when Islam solidified and penetrated the culture more thoroughly, a thousand years of stagnation set in.
Today in Malaysia, the Muslim population enjoys increasing prosperity by redistributing the wealth generated by the non-Muslim minorities. And not to look too far, just compare India’s creativity and progress since independence with the persistent obscurantism in the failed state of Pakistan.
The worldwide Islamic propaganda and mosque-building boom is financed by the buyers of petrol, not by Muslim economic achievement. As Mr. Goel remarked: “When their oil runs out, they will go back to tending goats.” Or more seriously: they will reject that retrograde option, drop Islam in disappointment, and seek access to the real world.
On the conversion front, Christianity has better trump cards than Islam. Its missionary effort is very systematic and puts to use the latest knowledge from psychology and marketing.
But both belief systems are ultimately doomed by their delusional core doctrines. In the long run, mankind won’t keep on believing that Jesus was God’s only-begotten Son and that His death and resurrection delivered us from sin; nor that God gave private and exclusive messages to Mohammed now preserved in the Quran. Unfortunately, even while their time runs out, they can still do serious harm to Hinduism. That is why the prospect of ultimate success is no reason for complacency.
In Sita Ram Goel’s last years, I purposely telephoned or mailed him less often than I used to in the preceding decade. His diminishing health as well as my own sudden heart disease were conditions that made us less prone to communication.
But more importantly, I was embarrassed for not meeting his standards. I had gotten divorced, a very ordinary occurrence in the contemporary West but still an object of scorn for a serious Hindu. I remembered the disapproving smirk in his comments on the family life of his American acquaintances (“I met Mr. Y at the wedding of Mr. X’s son, who is of course divorced by now…”), and I felt reduced to being yet another specimen of the decadent Westerner species.
Not that he ever expressed himself to that effect, but I wouldn’t have found it unjust if he had. His own family life had always struck me as a model of harmony or at least of successful conflict resolution, to the great benefit of all members young and old, a standing challenge to the individualistic mores of the modern West.
When I was in Delhi, he didn’t come to the office anymore and the only place where we talked was at his bedside. His mind was lively as ever and often even full of plans for new books, including a sequel to his book on Nehru, but pain had become his permanent companion. He still proofread the writings of others but didn’t manage to realize his own writing projects anymore. More than in the past, he talked about his spiritual life.
Mr. Goel had never been much involved in conventional religion, never went to temples or performed devotional rituals, and could possibly be described as an atheist. However, he practised a few simple meditation techniques. Though troubled by physical discomfort, at least he finally had plenty of time for his sadhana. I understand that he also rediscovered the devotional verses of his family’s guru Garibdas.
These last years, every time when I took leave of him on my way to the airport to fly back home, I realized that this could be the last I would see of him. Yet, he held out for several years longer than I expected (kicking the habit of smoking had clearly helped).
For an old man, there is nothing abnormal in dying, as he himself had said on the occasion of Ram Swarup’s peaceful and unexpected passing on 26 December 1998. In principle, then, it was nothing surprising when the phone rang and news of Mr. Goel’s own death came. But then it always takes us by surprise.
At Ram Swarup’s cremation, I recall seeing many Delhi intellectuals, including some otherwise fierce polemicists, unable to contain their tears. But Mr. Goel remained perfectly collected.
Any preacher could perfunctorily have spoken the following words, but Mr. Goel fully meant it when he told me: “The Ram Swarup who was born in Sonipat wasn’t the real Ram Swarup. The important part of Ram Swarup hasn’t left us.”
I don’t think I can say a similar thing now. Perhaps the real Mr. Sita Ram Goel is still with us somehow, but like many of us, I do miss him. Even as the moment of his passing recedes in time, it remains quite a task to find in ourselves the counsel for which we used to turn to Sita Ram Goel.