|Born||7 August 1959|
|Education||Benaras Hindu University Katholieke Universitiet Leuven|
|Organization||Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh|
Koenraad Elst (Dutch pronunciation: [ˈku:nra:t 'ɛlst]; born 7 August 1959) is a Flemish indologist, known for support of the Out of India theory and the Hindutva movement. He has also engaged himself with the Flemish movement, for direct democracy and Flemish secession.
Life and education
Elst was raised in a Flemish Catholic family but identifies as a secular humanist. He graduated in indology, sinology and philosophy at the Catholic University of Leuven. Around that time, Elst gained interest in Flemish nationalism. Between 1988 and 1992, Elst studied at the Banaras Hindu University.
Koenraad Elst's positive reception of the Hindutva movement (Hindu nationalism or revivalism) has attracted criticism from opponents who suggest there are anti-Islamic or Hindu fundamentalist themes in his works.
Aryan non-invasionist theory
In two books, Update on the Aryan Invasion Debate (1999) and Asterisk in Bhāropīyasthān (2007), Elst argues that the Indo-European languages originated in India and spread to the Middle East and Europe when the Aryans.
This viewpoint, commonly called the Out of India theory, opposes the widely held contemporary academical view that the Indo-European languages originated in the Kurgan culture of the Central Asian steppes, from where migrations brought the proto-Indo-European language to the Indian subcontinent in the second millennium BCE.
According to Elst, the linguistic data are a soft type of evidence and compatible with a variety of scenarios. The dominant linguistic theories may be compatible with an out-of-India scenario for Indo-European expansion.
Elst was an editor of the Flemish/Dutch New Right journal Teksten, Kommentaren en Studies (TeKoS) from 1992 to 1995, focusing on criticism of Islam. According to Elst, he spoke in 1992 before an audience of Vlaams Blok, the main Flemish nationalist and far-right political party, and one year later was described by Flemish media as an “ideologist” of the party, however, according to Elst he has never been a member of the party and he claims that all alleged links between him and the party "go back to this one article" [of 1992].
He has also been a regular contributor to The Brussels Journal, a blog with Flemish secession, Islam-critical and conservative views.
In Ram Janmabhoomi vs Babri Masjid, Elst makes the case for the birthplace of Rama, the Hindu god/king to correspond with the site of the Babri Masjid mosque and concurrently portrays Islam as a fanatic faith. The book was praised by L. K. Advani, former deputy Prime Minister of India. It was published by Voice of India, a publishing house that is self-describedly devoted to furthering the Hindu nationalist cause and has attracted criticism for publishing many anti-Muslim works.
In Ayodhya and After (1991), Elst was explicit in support of the demolition and termed it an exercise in national integration which provided "an invitation to the Muslim Indians to reintegrate themselves into the society and culture from which their ancestors were cut off by fanatical rulers and their thought police, the theologians". In another interview, Elst claimed that it was a justified act of Hindu repercussion, able to curtail Muslim violence. However, later he has rejected the use of force in the demolition of the temple and has urged Muslims to contend with the construction of a peace monument.
While not having access to mainstream western publishers, Elst is a prominent author of the Voice of India publishing house and an heir to the school of thought of its founders, Ram Swarup and Sita Ram Goel, who were themselves highly critical of both Christianity and Islam. He shares their hard-line stance against the two religions in his book. Elst argues that there existed a "universal spirituality" among all races and faiths prior to the introduction of "Semitic" religions. In Decolonizing the Hindu Mind, he contends that the "need for 'reviving' Hinduism spring from the fact that those hostile ideologies (primarily Islam) have managed to eliminate Hinduism physically in some geographical and social segments of India, and also – along with Western ideologies – have rendered the Hindu spirit a nominal one only among many Hindus."
He is a vocal proponent of Hindutva, a Hindu revivalism or Hindu nationalist movement which is typically associated with the Bharatiya Janata Party. Elst perceives Hindutva as a tool to decolonize and revitalize the mental and cultural state of Indians, based on a continuity of Hindu tradition and identity. He has supported the view that Vedic science was highly advanced and may be only understood by a Hindu mystic.
The Saffron Swastika, the title hinting at the use of the symbol as an emblem of Hinduism, is widely regarded to be his magnum opus. The work argues against the allegation that the political Hindutva practiced by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh is fascist in ideology. Advani highly supported the work, terming Elst a "great historian" and even carried a "heavily marked" copy of the book from which he quoted passages during discussions.
In essays and at conferences, Elst has supported strong criticism of the ideology of Islam which, according to him, is inseparable from terrorism and hence, should be opposed. He proposes an Indian-ization of Muslims and Christians by requesting to accept the supremacy of Hindu culture and terms it as the Final Solution for the Muslim Problem. In his 1992 book, Negationism in India: Concealing the Record of Islam, Elst claims that there is a prohibition against criticism of Islam in India and he accuses secular historians (such as Romila Thapar, Bipan Chandra and Ram Sharan Sharma) of suffering from Hindu cowardice since they ignore Muslim crimes against Hindu communities in order to fulfill their Marxist agenda.
Elst has attracted criticism from the academia. Thomas Blom Hansen, an anthropologist and commentator on political and religious issues, – has 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". Historian Sarvepalli Gopal deemed Elst to be "a Catholic practitioner of polemics" who was fairly oblivious of modern historiography methods. Meera Nanda deems him to be a far-right Hindu cum Flemish nationalist. Elst has engaged in historical revisionism on Indian topics and has been described variedly as a Hindu fundamentalist, apologist or propagandist or pro-Hindutva right-wing ideologue.
Meera Nanda has accused Elst of exploiting the writings of his intellectual forefathers over Voice of India, to "peddle the worst kind of Islamophobia imaginable".  Sanjay Subrahmanyam similarly views Islamophobia as the common ground between Elst and the traditional Indian far right.
Elst strongly denies the charges of him being an anti-Muslim, but insists that "not Muslims but Islam is the problem".
Elst's works have been praised by Hindutva activists and conservatives. David Frawley deemed his work on Ayodhya as "definitive" and Paul Beliën described him as "one of Belgium's best orientalists"; François Gautier considers Elst one of the most knowledgeable scholars on India and regretted that he is confined to publish his works at Hindu-oriented publishing houses. Ramesh Nagaraj Rao praised Elst for his unassuming and brilliantly meticulous research while blaming the academia for turning him into a demonic figure or ignoring his works.
Biologist and philosopher of science Meera Nanda, who is a debater of secularist conviction and a vocal critic of Hindutva, has pointed out that Koenraad Elst's works have been extensively cited by the mentally ill terrorist Anders Behring Breivik. Immediately before Breivik committed the 2011 Norway massacre, he published a "manifesto", a loose collection of texts from various sources along with his own ideas, including the deportation of all Muslims from Europe. Breivik used Elst's texts as support for the view that there exists a movement aimed at ''deny[ing] the large-scale and long-term crimes against humanity committed by Islam''.
In response to the criticism, Koenraad Elst pointed out that Breivik had picked text excerpts from a very large number of authors and sources without understanding their context, and that Elst's writings in the Brussels Journal opposed violence:
But in reality, the Brussels Journal never ever carried calls to counter Islam by means of bombs or shoot-outs, whether of Muslims or non-Muslims. It carried criticism of Islam, but that is a perfectly legitimate exercise. As Karl Marx put it, criticism of religion is the start of all proper criticism. Enemies of the freedom to criticize religion are simply enemies of freedom.— Koenraad Elst (2011)
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A Belgian revisionist, Koenraad Elst, has nevertheless claimed that the Aryan migration was not towards India but out of India. Their ancestral homeland, their Urheimat, was the land of Sapta-Sindhava (the Punjab), and from there they expanded outwards towards Afghanistan, Iran, Central Asia and, ultimately, towards Europe.
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The Gimbautas hypothesis of an origin in the kurgan region and spread during the Bronze Age (between 4,000 and 2,500 BC) [...] seems to have the greatest support from archaeological and other considerations [...].CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
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It is possible that the absorption of foreign words could have taken place after the emigration of other branches of Indo-Europeans from India (p. 8).
- Bryant, Edwin (2001). The Quest for the Origins of Vedic Culture: The Indo-Aryan Migration Debate. New York: Oxford University Press. p. 146.
In any event, Elst's proposal that earlier tribes could have emigrated from India bearing the centum characteristics and, after the velars had evolved into palatals in the Indian Urheimat, later tribes could have followed them bearing the new satem forms (while the Indo-Aryans remained in the homeland), cannot actually be discounted as a possibility on these particular grounds.
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