Koenraad Elst

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Koenraad Elst
Born (1959-08-07) 7 August 1959 (age 54)
Leuven, Belgium
Nationality Belgian (Flemish)
Occupation writer


Koenraad Elst (born 7 August 1959) is a Belgian writer, orientalist and independent scholar.[1] Elst has authored more than twenty books on topics related to Indian politics, Hinduism and history. He writes in English and Dutch.

Biography[edit]

Elst was born to a Flemish Catholic family. Some of his family members were Christian missionaries.[2] He graduated in Indology, Sinology and Philosophy at the Catholic University of Leuven. He received a Ph.D. from the same university in 1999. The main portion of his Ph.D. dissertation on Hindu revivalism and Hindu reform movements eventually became his book Decolonizing the Hindu Mind. Other parts of his Ph.D. thesis were published in Who is a Hindu and The Saffron Swastika. He studied at the Banaras Hindu University in India. Several of his books on communalism and Indian politics are published by the Voice of India publishing house.[3]

In his twenties, he was active in the New Age Movement.[4] In the 1990s he became interested in the European Neopagan movement and the European New Right.[5]

During a stay at the Banaras Hindu University between 1988 and 1992, he interviewed many Indian leaders and writers.[6] He wrote his first book about the Ayodhya conflict. While establishing himself as a columnist for a number of Belgian and Indian papers, he frequently went to India to study various aspects of its ethno-religio-political configuration and interview Hindu and other leaders and thinkers.

In 1989, Elst met Sita Ram Goel after reading Goel's book History of Hindu Christian Encounters. Elst sent Goel a manuscript of his first book Ram Janmabhoomi Vs. Babri Masjid: A Case Study in Hindu Muslim Conflict. Goel was impressed with Elst's script: "I could not stop after I started reading it. I took it to Ram Swarup the same evening. He read it during the night and rang me up next morning. Koenraad Elst's book, he said, should be published immediately."[7] In August 1990, L. K. Advani released Koenraad Elst's book about the Ayodhya conflict at a public function presided over by Girilal Jain.[7][8]

His research on the ideological development of Hindu revivalism earned him a Ph.D. at Leuven in 1998. He has also written about multiculturalism, language policy issues, ancient Chinese history and philosophy, comparative religion, and the Aryan invasion debate. Elst became a well-known author on Indian politics during the 1990s in parallel with the BJP's rise to prominence on the national stage. He has mostly been an independent scholar without affiliation.[9]

Elst says that his language has "softened and become more focused" on viewpoints rather than on groups of people such as the "Muslims or the Marxist historians."[10] He writes that he has reoriented his scholarly interests towards more fundamental philosophical studies and questions of ancient history, rather than questions in the centre of contemporary political struggles.[11] He worked part-time as an investigator for the Belgian senator Jurgen Ceder until spring 2013.

Opinions[edit]

Hinduism and Indian politics[edit]

Elst is one of the few western writers to defend the Hindu nationalism movements, although with reservations.[12] He also says that Hindutva advocates have not developed a "wellfounded coherent vision on a range of topics which any social thinker and any political party will have to address one day", and that there is very little original or comprehensive work being done in the Hindutva movement.[13]

Unlike many proponents of "Indigenous Aryanism", Elst believes in the comparative-linguistics approach: the Hindu nationalist N.S. Rajaram criticized Elst's book Asterisk in Bharopiyasthan because of Elst "rescuing Indo-European linguistics from oblivion".[14] Elst's views on the Aryan Invasion Theory have been debated by number of writers,[15] Including Edwin Bryant[16] George Cardona[17][full citation needed] and Michael Witzel.[15]

Islam[edit]

He ctiricizes some aspects of Islam in his works, including "Wahi: the Supernatural Basis of Islam", and "From Ayodhya to Nazareth". Elst says that "not Muslims but Islam is the problem".[18][19] His views on Islam are in line with the neoconservative think-tank "Middle East Forum", to which he has contributed.[20]

Nouvelle Droite and Vlaams Belang[edit]

Elst contributes to nationalist New Right Flemish publications, and has shown sympathy to the Nouvelle Droite movement since the early 1990s.[5] He has criticised that movement in relation to particular topics. He said that the collaborationist aspects of the careers of two Belgian writers were covered up in Nouvelle Droite articles, and that he suspected that "its critique of egalitarianism in the name of 'differentialism' could at heart simply be a plea against equality in favour of inequality, Old-Right style".[21]

However, his claims to have no hostility towards the people involved with Nouvelle Droite:

Wisely or unwisely, I have not taken my scepticism to be a reason for any active hostility to the Nouvelle Droite people, some of whom I count as friends... Time permitting, I accept invitations from that side, so that I spoke at their conference in Antwerp in 2000, if only as a stand-in for an announced speaker who had cancelled at the last minute for health reasons (Pim Fortuyn, no less, the Dutch liberal sociology professor who criticized Islam, subsequently went into politics, and ended up murdered by a leftist).[22]

Jan De Zutter criticized Elst for being too close with the Vlaams Belang, as in June 1992, Koenraad Elst gave a speech directed against Islam at the Vlaams Blok Colloquium.[23] Elst said that he spoke there because it was the only party where the "problem of Islam" was brought up, but that he also explicitly said that he did not agree with the party's solution for that problem, and disapproved of their xenophobia.[24] He stated that the VB can not be and was never his party because of its xenophobia and ethnocentrism.[25] Though he himself denies any affinity to the party program,[26] he admits to "lukewarm" sympathy for the Flemish cause (of independence).[27] Lucas Catherine contrasted Elst's viewpoint with the viewpoint of Filip Dewinter, who according to him could not have been very happy with Elst's opinion that not Muslims, but Islam, is the problem.[28]

Influences[edit]

Elst has published in English and Dutch. He contributed for example to the conservative magazine Nucleus.[29][30] He is also a contributor to the conservative internet magazine The Brussels Journal, the Flemish satirical weekly 't Pallieterke and other Belgian and Dutch publications. He has also written for mainstream Indian magazines like Outlook India. He wrote a postscript to a book written by Daniel Pipes (The Rushdie Affair: The Novel, the Ayatollah, and the West). He has also published critiques of Islamism in the West.[31] According to Sanjay Subrahmanyam, he has connections to the far-right Vlaams Blok.[32] though Dr. Subrahmanyam did not provide any supporting evidence.

He has described himself as "a secular humanist with an active interest in religions, particularly Taoism and Hinduism, and keeping a close watch on the variegated Pagan revival in Europe."[33]

In his books, articles, and interviews, he describes some of his personal motivations and interests in Indian nationalism and communalism.[34][35][36]

Reception[edit]

Praise[edit]

Paul Beliën described Elst as "one of Belgium's best orientalists".[37] Ramesh Nagaraj Rao has noted that "Koenraad is an unassuming, hardworking, good-humored, and brilliant man who does his research meticulously, but who has been made into an ogre by the academic and media mills both in India and in the West."[38][39]

David Frawley writes that Elst "intrigued" him, Frawley explains "Elst had much better command of political and social issues in India than I ever gained, unmatched by any western writer and researched in great detail. Elst is a thorough scholar and supremely rational in all that he does. His work on the Ayodhya movement was definitive."[40][41]

K. D. Sethna, also known as Amal Kiran, he praised Elst's book on Babri Masjid as "absolutely the last word".[42]

Criticism[edit]

Thomas Blom Hansen described Elst as a "Belgian Catholic of a radical anti-Muslim persuasion who tries to make himself useful as a 'fellow traveller' of the Hindu nationalist movement".[43] Ashis Nandy criticized the alleged dishonesty and moral vacuity of Elst.[44]

Sarvepalli Gopal in the book Anatomy of a Confrontation calls Elst "a Catholic practitioner of polemics" who "fights the Crusades all over again on Indian soil". He also says that it is difficult to take an author, who "speaks of the centuries when there were Muslim rulers in India as a bloodsoaked catastrophe".[45]

Christian Bouchet criticized Elst's book The Saffron Swastika for having placed far too much trust in Savitri Devi's autobiography, and for claiming that Savitri Devi was bisexual.[46]

Works[edit]

This an incomplete list of books and editions by Koenraad Elst.

Books[edit]

Book chapters[edit]

  • Linguistic Aspects of the Aryan Non-Invasion Theory, In Edwin Bryant and Laurie L. Patton (editors) (2005). Indo-Aryan Controversy: Evidence and Inference in Indian History. Routledge/Curzon. ISBN 0-7007-1463-4. 
  • The Rushdie affair's legacy. Postscript to Daniel Pipes: The Rushdie Affair: The Novel, the Ayatollah, and the West. Transaction Publishers, paperback (2003). 1990. ISBN 0-7658-0996-6. 
  • Gujarat After Godhra: Real Violence, Selective Outrage/edited by Ramesh N. Rao and Koenraad Elst. New Delhi, Har-Anand Pub., 2003, 248 p., ISBN 81-241-0917-6.
  • The Ayodhya demolition: an evaluation", in Dasgupta, S., et al.: The Ayodhya Reference, q.v., p. 123-154. 
  • The Ayodhya debate in Pollet, G., ed.: Indian Epic Values. Râmâyana and Its Impact. Leuven: Peeters. 1995, q.v., p. 21-42.  (adapted from a paper of the International Ramayana Conference and the October 1995 Annual South Asia Conference in Madison, Wisconsin)
  • The Ayodhya debate: focus on the "no temple" evidence, World Archaeological Congress, 1998
  • India's Only Communalist: In Commemoration of Sita Ram Goel (edited by Koenraad Elst, 2005) ISBN 81-85990-78-6
  • "The Rushdie Rules". Middle East Quarterly. June 1998. 
  • Foreword to: The Prolonged Partition and Its Pogroms: Testimonies on Violence against Hindus in East Bengal (1946–1964) by A. J. Kamra.
  • "Banning Hindu Revaluation". Observer of Business and Politics. 1-12-1993. 

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ The Indo-Aryan Controversy: Evidence and Inference in Indian History by Edwin Francis Bryant, Laurie L. Patton RoutledgeCurzon, 2005 ISBN 0700714626, 9780700714629
  2. ^ "The Problem of Christian Missionaries". 
  3. ^ Michael Witzel, 'Rama's Realm: Indocentric rewriting of early South Asian archaeology and history' in: Archaeological Fantasies: How Pseudoarchaeology Misrepresents the Past and Misleads the Public Routledge (2006), ISBN 0-415-30593-4, p. 205.
  4. ^ "New Age Fascism: Review of an Exercise in Marxist Defamation". 
  5. ^ a b Meera Nanda, Hindu Triumphalism and the Clash of Civilisations, Economic & Political Weekly, july 11, 2009 vol XLIV no 28.
  6. ^ Elst, Koenraad. Negationism in India: Concealing the Record of Islam. 
  7. ^ a b Sitam Ram Goel, How I became a Hindu. ch.9
  8. ^ Ayodhya and After: Issues Before Hindu Society (1991) Footnote 64
  9. ^ "So, Mr. Ghosh may be the Director of the Indian Council of Social Science Research, but as an independent scholar I am not impressed by such titles and positions." Ayodhya and After: Issues Before Hindu Society (1991)
  10. ^ Koenraad Elst. Who is a Hindu? Chapter Four, p.53
  11. ^ Ayodhya, The Finale - Science versus Secularism the Excavations Debate. 2003. ISBN 81-85990-77-8. 
  12. ^ See M. R. Pirbhai Demons in Hindutva, writing a theology for Hindu nationalism, Modern Intellectual History (2008), 5 : 27-53 Cambridge University Press doi:10.1017/S1479244307001527, and Dibyesh Anand Anxious Sexualities: Masculinity, Nationalism and Violence doi:10.1111/j.1467-856x.2007.00282.x BJPIR: 2007 Vol 9, 257–269 p.259.
  13. ^ Ayodhya and After: Issues Before Hindu Society (1991) Chapter Fifteen, page 340
  14. ^ N.S. Rajaram, "This asterisk has no fine prints", Review in The Pioneer, 18 March 2007
  15. ^ a b Edwin Bryant and Laurie L. Patton (editors) (2005). Indo-Aryan Controversy: Evidence and Inference in Indian History.
  16. ^ The Quest for the Origins of Vedic Culture By Edwin Bryant. Oxford University Press
  17. ^ The Indo-Aryan Languages By Dhanesh Jain, George Cardona. Routledge
  18. ^ "Book Review - Saffron Wave". 
  19. ^ Koenraad, Elst (2001 by Ayub Khan in Communalism Watch, 13 March 2003). Sangh Parivar's Apologist", a review of Decolonizing the Hindu Mind: Ideological development of Hindu Revivalism. Rupa, Delhi. 
  20. ^ Elst, Koenraad (June 1998). "The Rushdie Rules". Middle East Quarterly. pp. 31–40. 
  21. ^ "The religion of the Nazis". 
  22. ^ "The religion of the Nazis". 
  23. ^ De Zutter, Jan (2000). Heidenen voor het blok - Radicaal rechts en het moderne Heidendom" (Heathens in favour of the Blok - the radical Right and modern Heathenism) (in Dutch). Antwerpen / Baarn: Uitgeverij Houtekiet. p. 17. ISBN 90-5240-582-4. 
  24. ^ "Het VB en de islam" (in Dutch). 
  25. ^ "Wat is racisme?" (in Dutch). 
  26. ^ Elst, Koenraad (October–November 2001). "Het VB en de islam" (in Dutch). Nucleus. 
  27. ^ Elst, Koenraad (2001). "Vlaanderen, Kasjmir, Tsjetsjenië, Kosovo... Het ene separatisme is het andere niet (Flanders, Kashmir, Chechnya, Kosovo: one separatism does not equal another)". Antwerpen: Secessie. 
  28. ^ Lucas Catherine. Vuile Arabieren (in Dutch). p. 81.  quoted at "Het VB en de islam". 
  29. ^ Nucleus on Dutch Wikipedia
  30. ^ "Beeldenstorm in Afghanistan" (in Dutch). bharatvani.org. 9 March 2001. 
  31. ^ Elst, Koenraad (June 1998). "The Rushdie Rules". Middle East Quarterly. 
  32. ^ "Sanjay Subrahmanyam". The Times of India. August 22, 2006. 
  33. ^ "The Problem of Christian Missionaries". bharatvani.org. Retrieved 11 December 2010. 
  34. ^ "Elst interview". 
  35. ^ "Voice of Dharma review". 
  36. ^ "Let's combat communalism". 
  37. ^ [1]
  38. ^ An Interview With Koenraad Elst, August 2002
  39. ^ Koenraad Elst Who is a Hindu? (2001)
  40. ^ How I Became a Vedic Hindu
  41. ^ How I Became a Hindu: My Discovery of Vedic Dharma, Frawley, page 96, 2000
  42. ^ Mother India: Monthly Review of Culture, Volume 58. page 521
  43. ^ Hansen, Thomas. "The Saffron Wave". p. 262. 
  44. ^ Nandy, A. "Creating a Nationality". p. 5. 
  45. ^ Gopal, S., Anatomy of a Confrontation: Ayodhya and the Rise of Communal Politics in India, Palgrave Macmillan, 1993, p.21.
  46. ^ "The eternal return of Nazi nonsense: Savitri Devi's last writings".  Savitri Devi Mukherji: Le National-Socialisme et la Tradition Indienne, with contributions by Vittorio de Cecco, Claudio Mutti and Christian Bouchet, published in the series Cahiers de la Radicalité by Avatar-éditions, Paris/Dublin 2004.

External links[edit]