The Pestilence of Rabid Nationalism


Jakob De Roover and Sarika Rao

Nationalism is the ultimate pestilence that has destroyed the flower of our European culture. Thus wrote the Austrian-Jewish author Stefan Zweig in his 1942 memoirs. Zweig sent the manuscript to the publisher the day before he and his wife committed suicide. They simply could not live with what was happening to Europe.

It would take years before the European nation-states saw that Zweig was right. After 1945, many opened their eyes to the ravages of nationalism. This should never happen again, they felt. Some of the nation-states embarked on an exciting experiment: the unification of Europe, in which they surrendered part of their sovereignty without any violence and gradually entwined their economies, even though the same nations had tried to destroy each other some years before. While the world wars had created gaping holes in Europe’s cultural consciousness, she could still dream of a world that would finally realize her ideals. All men would one day become brothers under the sway of the wings of joy, the European anthem suggested.

The national interest

Meanwhile, someting very different was happening across the Atlantic. After 1945, the Cold War began. Together with its military technology, the United States of America developed a most potent poison: rabid nationalism. Typical of this form of nationalism is its foreign policy. While critics accused the US of imperialism, they were wrong. In the era of the colonial empires, some European leaders always stood up to argue that the general interest of the Empire should override the particular interests of their own countries. Rabid nationalism, in contrast, subordinates everything to ‘the national interest’ and ‘national security’. Because of this tendency, it acquires several very harmful properties.

Even when a people initially fights for important ideals, it begins to betray these once it gets caught in the claws of rabid nationalism. After the experience of the Second World War and the crucial victory over Nazism, the US wanted to safeguard the freedom of other nations by protecting them against ‘totalitarianism’. Because of the absolute priority given to the national interest, however, this ideal soon lost its force and its credibility. More and more, it served as a mask for subordinating the entire world to the alleged interest of the American nation.

For a nation-state suffering from rabid nationalism, everything seems allowed to advance its interest. This was also the case in the US: it destabilized democratically elected governments through infiltration and violence. It organized coups and brought dictators to power. Whenever this was considered opportune, the American government provided weapons to guerrilla movements or gave support to regimes sponsoring terrorism. Its spies were often given a blank cheque. In other words, the foreign policy of rabid nationalism involves systematic violations of international law and elementary ethics.

This type of foreign politics shows similarities with another phenomenon: that of terrorism. In what sense? As our research group has been arguing, the core of terrorism lies in the fact that it transforms crime into supererogation (the realm of actions that go above and beyond the call of duty). Crimes become heroic acts. Terrorists kill but they experience their actions as expressions of an extraordinary morality that goes far beyond ordinary obligations. Basically, they equate the act of a man who saves a drowning child and dies while doing so (because he could not swim) to the acts of men who walk into a school and randomly shoot children. In their eyes, these are exemplary actions of the type that only the saints and heroes of this world are able to perform.

In other words, terrorism makes the criminal into the praiseworthy. And this is just what rabid nationalism also does. In the name of the national interest, it does not simply approve of illegal and immoral acts, but also transforms these into extraordinary moral achievements. Thus, the US kept miraculously converting its disastrous foreign policy into the generous gifting of freedom and security to a world living under threat.

Symbiosis with terrorism

Given this fundamental similarity between the two phenomena, rabid nationalism feeds terrorism in the countries upon which it lets loose its foreign policy. Among local movements and regimes, it encourages a tendency that is often already present: transforming their own misdeeds into heroic acts committed in the name of some cause or the other. In the Middle East, Afghanistan and Pakistan, these movements began to call upon Islam to justify this move. Their self-image told them that they were the representatives of the Muslim nation fighting a war against the enemies of God and the forces of evil.

Terrorism and rabid nationalism may seem to be antithetical forces, but in fact they live in symbiosis.

Just as one feeds on the other, the reverse is also the case. For instance, it was not a coincidence that – in the aftermath of 9/11 – the American president and his advisors accepted the self-image of the terrorists. They joined the latter in an alleged war, thinking that it would be a piece of cake to win it. When Bush said “you’re either with us or against us in the fight against terror,” Osama Bin Laden agreed, simply adding that the terrorists were the Western crusaders. In response to the threats of terrorism, leaders like Bush and Blair once again sold immorality as exceptional morality. They systematically lied to their own population, allegedly to protect the world order. In the meantime, we have learnt how their disastrous interventions in Iraq helped destroy that order.

And thus we come to the world of today. The ISIS terrorists also see themselves as heroes that fight valiantly and not as criminals that murder. They claim to represent the caliphate, the nation of all true Muslims which they aim to realize here on earth. They think they are extraordinary ‘radical’ fighters, capable of unseen courage and sacrifice, who seem to be mad in the eyes of ordinary people. And the West has not only embraced this story, but also shouts it from the rooftops: they are ‘radicalized Muslims’, ‘psychopaths’, ‘madmen’, ‘fanatics’ …

What we are witness to in Paris is not just the attempt of the terrorists to extend the battlefield of their so-called war, but their growing success in executing their agenda. “France is in a state of war,” the French government proclaims and public opinion confirms. In the name of the nation and her values, François Hollande plans to restrict constitutional rights for which the French people fought for centuries. In the meantime, he is proudly sending off jetfighters to bomb cities in Syria, closing the borders with other Schengen-countries, declaring a months-long state of emergency, and investing heavily into the intelligence services. Now, such measures are explicitly described as the goals of the terrorists in their handbooks and propaganda videos; they are manifestations of the symbiosis between terrorism and rabid nationalism.

The ideologues

It is difficult to miss the fact that rabid nationalism has now infected Europe. Calling upon the values of freedom and the rule of law, we are busy violating those values – all of this for ‘national security’ and ‘the national interest’. Yet, decades of experience of the US have shown that these notions are not only incoherent but also tremendously harmful: almost everything the Americans did in name of their nationalist interest has turned against them and made the world unsafer than before. How could so many of us remain blind to this, all this time? Why do our politicians and intellectuals lack the integrity to fight this massive deception?

To understand, we need to introduce another dimension of rabid nationalism: it destroys the search for knowledge about human beings and replaces it by ideology. The US did this during the Cold War. The government pumped huge amounts of money into the universities in order to produce academics ready to sell the American ideology of ‘freedom’. Thousands of academics were on the CIA’s payroll. In all kinds of disciplines, they launched projects abhorrent to any human being with a minimal moral consciousness. Psychologists, for instance, used psychiatric patients as guinea pigs in experiments that aimed to create methods for manipulating the human mind; they also helped to develop torture techniques. Until very recently, the American Psychological Association (APA) actively endorsed and contributed to such work, as a damning report recently showed. The secret services infiltrated research institutions and student associations across the globe. And dramatically: critical academics also substituted ideology for knowledge, simply preferring the ideology of ‘political correctness’.

The role of the ideologues is as clear in rabid nationalism as it is in terrorism: they must try and transform the factual world into an imaginary world. Once the universities had produced enough of them, they could spread into society. In politics, they became ‘spin doctors’; in the academic world, ‘professors’; in the media, ‘top journalists’; in the world of business, ‘advertising experts’. All of them share the same property: they are not interested in what things are really like, but in how things are seen. Politicians should be seen as ‘firm and strong leaders’ and as ‘good administrators’ by the voters; universities are companies that require ‘branding’; the media is interested only in ratings. Advertising experts are at least honest: they admit that they are willing to tell any story to sell their products.


Today, Europe is importing the symbiosis between rabid nationalism and terrorism at an accelerated pace. In France, we see how Hollande’s advisors whisper into his ear that he should come across as ‘firm’, ‘strong’, ‘efficient’, and ‘unafraid’ in the eyes of the French people. In Belgium, we are imitating in silly ways what the rest of the Western world teaches us. We have our own ‘strong’ and ‘firm’ politicians who want to go to war with ‘Muslim extremism’. In the words of our Minister of Home Affairs, they are going to ‘clean up’ entire neighbourhoods by checking each house for potential radicals and terrorists. The leader of the Flemish nationalists, the largest party in Belgium, is now demanding a kind of patriot act for the country. These politicians say that everyday life should continue and that we should not allow the terrorists to sow fear, while they take measures that do this more successfully than any terrorist could dream of.


The success of rabid nationalism becomes clear when we consider the fact that the worst cases are not even found in nationalist circles. Our own paragon is a socialist named Hans Bonte, the mayor of the commune of Vilvoorde near Brussels. He endlessly repeats the same prattling about ‘radicalization’. Without any advice from the qualified institutions, he unilaterally raises the threat level of his town to four (the highest level, comparable to a state of emergency) and shuts down the schools. He is a good student of the Americans, whose workshops trained him well in the art of parroting: he pleads for a ‘war on weapons’ in Brussels – undoubtedly as intelligent as Reagan’s ‘war on drugs’ and Bush’s ‘war on terror’, two of the great political failures of recent times. But then, as the spin doctors say: you should appear in the media as frequently as possible to get votes.

Europe is also increasingly busy creating its own collection of ideologues. University professors are always prepared to come and sell clichés about ‘radicalization’ and ‘the war against terrorism and extremism’ in television studios. What the media love perhaps most of all is to produce academics with names that suggest a Muslim origin, who should then represent a ‘moderate’ standpoint. Such ‘radicalization experts’ have sprung up like mushrooms in the past year or so.

However, by seeing ‘radicalization’ as the challenge we are facing, a most insidious danger creeps in: we are accepting the self-image of the terrorists, namely their claim that they are the radical representatives of true Islam. In this way, rabid nationalism will find its opponent in another nation: ‘the true Muslim nation of the caliphate’. This is the model that ISIS wants to impose on the world; it is also the model that European nationalists and racists will endorse in the coming years; together they will actualize it.

The flower of our culture

‘A world of terror demands strong measures’, people love to say today, ‘and what is your alternative?’ Well, what we are doing now is to add the pestilence of rabid nationalism to the poison of terrorism. We are happily feeding the symbiosis between these two that has caused so much harm to the world. The alternative for swallowing poison is clear: stop doing so; find out which poison it is and how it works; then find an antidote and take that in the right quantities.

The question that stares us Europeans in the face must be clear: Will we let rabid nationalism poison the flower of our culture, this time for good? Shall we leave to our children a Europe that is the battlefield of an alleged war between ‘the worldwide Muslim nation’ and our own ‘democratic nations’? Or will we do honour to the statesmen and -women who strove towards the unification of Europe after the ravages of nationalism, to the achievements of our ancestors, to the ideals of freedom for which they fought, to the magnificent beauty of our own culture?

How Europe Is Succumbing to Terrorism


Sarika Rao, Marianne Keppens, Nele De Gersem and Sufiya Pathan

Terrorist attacks by so-called Muslim fundamentalists have been a common phenomenon since 9/11. Even though it is not the first time such an attack has occurred in Europe, with the Paris bombings a general feeling is rising among Europeans that things are different now, that we have entered a new phase. There are several aspects to this feeling: (1) the perception of an increased systematicity to the attacks or that they are only the beginning of a large-scale and systematic assault on the West; (2) a realisation that the attacks are aimed at all Europeans, regardless of what one does or says; (3) an awareness that there is no escaping European involvement in the wars and conflicts that are going on in the world; (4) the understanding that, if we don’t react in an adequate way now, things will go very bad. How we react today will fundamentally affect all of our lives in the coming decades. We must realise that the stakes are very high.

Here Europe could play a very important role: it could draw on its experience of two world wars to prevent a third one. Unfortunately, having the potential to do something is not sufficient. Rather than reflecting on its experience, Europe has been asleep, indifferent, and in many of its policies plainly stupid. Now that the hen has come home to roost, the only reaction Europe seems capable of is one of shock, indignation and anger: all three, the perfect recipe for disastrous policies. The one thing we know about bad policy-making is that it damages ourselves as much as it damages others. The US ‘war on terror’ of the last decennium is a witness to this, but all we seem capable of doing is more of the same and some extra.

The first steps of such damaging policies are already being taken: increased border control; closing down of borders; increasing nationalistic sentiments; more arms, ammunitions and money spent on the ‘war on terror’.  In some countries, laws are being adapted to allow for separate treatment of potential terrorists: in Belgium, for instance, politicians now want to track everyone who could possibly be involved in terrorist networks with a chain around the foot. This without any form of trial or proof of crimes committed. These are measures that go in the direction of Guantanamo, sentencing outside of the judiciary system. Along with this, ridiculous safety measures are taken. To give just one example, Ghent University in Belgium has asked its faculty to address unknown people they meet in the corridor, asking them who they are and what they are looking for. Not only is such a measure utterly stupid (as if a terrorist will not have an acceptable answer ready when he is asked that question), it will create suspicion and resentment between people. Given all this, we wouldn’t be surprised if the entire idea of the European Union, built with much patience and effort in the last 100 years, breaks down in the next few years.

All this shows that we are not reacting in an adequate way. But what then would be adequate? And how to know? The answer here is very simple: by starting with a good diagnosis of the events. If we have a proper diagnosis, we can hope to find a cure.

What then is wrong with the diagnosis? Let us first look at some aspects of the phenomenon: what we see is a movement, first barely visible but now clearly identifiable as a global movement. It is a movement without borders, without nationalities, without one central organisation. It is spread all over the world and is attracting more and more people to it as we speak. It has been called by multiple names: jihadism, terrorism, Islamism and so forth. But labels do not bring understanding. On the contrary: they make us believe that we understand this phenomenon. By blindly accepting such beliefs, the world has completely accepted the logic of the movement itself and played along with its terms and conditions in the last fifteen years.

One criterion to assess the adequacy of our understanding is whether we are able to answer the following question: What makes terrorism so different from other actions of crime? What separates and differentiates it from other seemingly similar actions? The only hypothesis we have found so far that answers this question is one developed by S.N. Balagangadhara and Jakob de Roover published in the Journal of Political Philosophy in 2010. They developed a hypothesis on terrorism and suggested ways of tackling the problem. As they put it:

Terrorism draws on a mechanism that represents crime as morally praiseworthy. That is to say, it is not a defense of a particular criminal action of some individual or another; it is a defense of ‘crime’ as such. By presenting criminal actions as morally praiseworthy, the mechanism of terrorism enables one to lend legitimacy to actions that are otherwise considered illegitimate.”

They go further to say that:

“Crime is transsubstantiated into acts of supererogation…They are not obligatory but they have the force of moral exemplars. These actions are ‘over and beyond the call of duty’ and as such are beyond the realm of moral obligation. That is, they are outside the domain of ‘moral laws’, but yet within the ethical domain.”

In this line, to see the actions of a terrorist as something sui generis, something unique and outside the realm of human understanding is to succumb to the terrorist. When John Kerry calls the attacks in Paris the work of “psychopathic monsters,” he is acknowledging and accepting the terrorist’s claim that he is performing an action that is out of the ordinary. The terrorist considers himself supererogatory and thus outside the realm of moral laws. The US and Europe in their turn consider them “insane” and hence also outside the realm of moral laws. This is how we are allowing these actions to determine not only our policies but also our experience of the world.

This is not simply an intellectual point, it has consequences in the world. Allowing someone to shape our moral world implies that they can determine what kind of actions we take and what kind of moral ideals we pursue. In this case, the success of the terrorist lies not in bombing our cities and murdering our people. His success lies in the fact that we follow the dynamics which he has launched. As said earlier, the terrorist transforms crime into an exceptionally moral, supererogatory act.

Do we see this reflected in the steps taken by Europe and the US in the last weeks? This is what happened: President Hollande undertook a massive airstrike on Syria as retaliation. He wants to reform the Constitution to give more powers to the police, allow arrest without warrant, and establish a three-month long state of emergency. More than half of the US states have decided not to accept refugees. Multiple European nations want increased border control, increased intelligence efforts and scrutiny which undermines privacy.

There is a striking similarity and pattern in all of the above responses: such reactions would have been frowned upon, considered wrong and in some instances downright unthinkable not so long ago. Yet today they appear morally praiseworthy, heroic and respectable. We are doing things today which would not be so easy to defend or justify fifty years ago, when the memory of the world wars was still fresh in our minds and the lessons learnt still vivid. Today, we act and react as if all is forgotten, unaware that terrorism breeds terrorism. In our haste to eradicate evil, we are forgetting who we are and how we got here. We are following the same lines of the terrorists and glorifying actions that are wrong and contemptible.

This is not new. By following America’s characterisation of the ‘war on terror’, we refrained from isolating the separate events as pockets of violence and criminality that are simply symptoms of an illness. Stuck in the idée-fixe that all religions should be respected, we did not split the dynamics of terrorism from the religion that Islam is. As Balagangadhara and De Roover put it:

“neither religious nor secular doctrines form the intellectual basis of terrorism. They are used in morally justifying an act that has already achieved the status of a supererogatory action.”

Islam is simply a reason, just the way “the war on terror” or “the American national interest” are. Both serve as a reason to justify and thereby repeat the same dynamic of transformation. There was one continent that could have acted as a counterweight to the vicious circle America and the terrorists were stuck in. But she was sleep-walking.


Since the Second World War, we Europeans are convinced that we need to be politically correct, respect everyone, accept that other people are justified for doing things we do not understand, and so on. This has hindered us from seeing terrorism as criminality. Doing so, however, would have solved at least part of the problem: it would have prevented us from letting criminals shape and determine our experience of the world. Perhaps it would also have reduced the attraction it holds for many of the youth today.

Here, as in other cases, we Europeans are either guided by our guilt or by our anger. In both cases we stop thinking and implement policies that are disastrous. The current refugee crisis is another instance of this: the willingness to help and the steadfastness despite criticism are commendable. But moral reasons and guilt alone are not adequate reasons to take decisions. Without thinking, Europe insisted on taking in the refugees and treating them as political refugees when they were not. They were war refugees, which meant that these people were fleeing a war and would one day return to their countries to rebuild their homes and lives. Spreading around in Europe and integrating them into European society was neither necessary nor intelligent. Humanitarian aid in the form of rescue operations, food, shelter, clothing, medical support and phone calls could have been provided in short-term comfortable camps created specially for them.

But instead: (1) Our politicians force our populations to let the refugees integrate in our societies, which cannot digest the numbers. (2) The refugees will confront mainly hate and unwillingness in the European population in the long run, so they will remember us as heartless people (“in times where we needed basic help, they would not give us a drop of water”). (3) Right-wing parties will gloriously win the next elections in many European countries. (4) The urgency for solving the volcanic situation in the Middle East is taken away. (5) However small a percentage of the refugees may consist of terrorists posing as refugees (even if it is 1%), we allowed these people to come in through open doors. Because of the previous points, these terrorists will now find a fertile ground from which to recruit. What do we achieve in the end, despite having provided humanitarian help? We create hatred, where there was no need for it. On top of that, we show the entrance to our societies, so terrorists can easily integrate together with the needy refugees. This is the consequence of not treating war refugees as war refugees.

The insights mentioned above were already published in international peer-reviewed journals. If so, why wasn’t this taken further and reflected about? What are our intellectuals doing? Why are they still spouting nonsense like some “experts” who come to the conclusion that Europeans should bow down in shame, because the current violence can be justified on the basis of European colonisation in the past or proclaiming inanities like a few other who claim that terrorism has to be “cut at the root”?

With such intellectuals, such policy-makers, such amnesia about our own past, is it surprising that the only reaction we can give is one of shock and horror? Shocking and horrifying as these attacks are, isn’t it time to go further than that and to think instead of simply reacting? Isn’t it time to realise we are at the brink of a world-wide war, if we haven’t already blithely walked into one? Until we have a thorough understanding of what is going on the only appropriate and adequate reaction is to develop one: only by understanding the mechanisms of terrorism and knowing how to prevent these from being successful, will we be able to tackle this phenomenon.

Paris, Terrorism and the Third World War

More than a month ago, when the long-expected war refugee crisis hit Europe, I spoke to a Belgian MP and told her of the danger awaiting Europe, if it follows its current dumb policies towards the refugees. Like all politicians, scared of the truth, she buried her face in the sand. Today, after the Paris disaster, all she can do is to express the moral indignation so typical of the European politicians who pursue even more irrational policies. Only the terrorists and the racists will enjoy huge success; the rest of us, the European populace included, will pay a very heavy price for this victory, if we do not wake up on time, now, before it is too late.

Today, the thing to know and realize is that the Third World War has been going on for some time. A man, George Bush, and his poodle, Tony Blair, began it. The American and British PR departments went into an overdrive mode that masked the world war as a ‘war against terror’. Only the ‘Old World’, in the pretentious words of Rumsfeld, protested impotently against it: some European politicians even said that one should not call it a ‘war’ for wars can only be fought against nations. However, it was a war, as both sides saw it: the ‘clash of civilizations’ said one ideologist whose holy words were picked up by self-serving institutions in the US; ‘jihad’ said the other who wants to pit the Muslim Nation (used in the singular) against all other nations in the world. A war was also going on against the Afghan nation, but people were fooled into believing that this was a war against a group of terrorists called ‘the Taliban’. The people forgot that Ronald Reagan had called them ‘freedom fighters’ long before, thus recognizing them as a nation that fought the Soviets.

A military alliance of multiple nations was fighting a war in two theatres, Asia and the Middle East, and ‘all the king’s men’ did not see that the war was escalating. No, it was still a ‘war against terror’.  Syria entered the war: armies fought; millions of civilians paid the price that war makes people pay; chemical bombs were used to destroy people, schools, hospitals … The world watched; the politicians thumped on the table with moral indignation; the press had a field day; and no one saw that more and more nations were being sucked into this war. Now, unmistakably, the World War had begun; still, people were mumbling about ‘terrorism’ and ‘peace’. Saudi Arabia went into a full scale war in Yemen; Iran entered the fray; the US supplied arms … but, no, it remains a war against ‘terror’. ISIS arose, a trans-national army that fought the armies of other nations.  It was called a ‘state within a state’, and even when it massacred civilians and massively persecuted religious groups, it was still considered ‘a terrorist group’.

A war begins in Ukraine, Russia intervenes militarily in an indirect way, and all that the NATO can talk about is a ‘crisis’ involving ‘rebel groups’. In Syria, Russia also intervenes militarily, enters into an alliance with Bashar al-Assad, and challenges the USA. After being cowed down by Putin here, Obama’s officials begin to flex their muscles in the South-China Sea. But no one seems to appreciate what is happening in the world.

The war comes home to Europe and touches Paris first and all that people can do is cry horror. Horror it is, but it is not the horror of terror but of war. The increasing hostility of the populace against Muslims is what the ‘terrorists’ want and the racist parties will give them that. The political pundits in Europe pontificate pompously: we have to tackle the ‘radicalisation of Islam’. The achievements of Europe of the last five decades that were themselves a response to the horrors of the two World Wars is rolled back at a stroke to protect ‘French’ values and lives.

The PR departments and advertising agencies are in full swing decrying ‘terrorism’ and assuring us that ‘Islam’ means peace. No one seems to understand that Paris today (and London and Munich tomorrow) are merely the expanding theatres of war. Even when war refugees storm into Europe, the politicians do not understand the phenomenon they are confronting: they deny that they are war refugees by treating them as political refugees.

The future will not understand why we are blind or even how we became blind. The Third World War that pits nations against nations, creates unholy alliances and justifies all war time measures (just think of the massive NSA spying programme that targets friends and foes alike) is already with us. These are covered and disguised by morally high sounding slogans and propaganda. Any dispassionate summing up of the properties present in a world war show us that these are present in the ‘war against terror’ today. All we lack is a clearly identifiable global enemy. The jihadists across the world and racists across Europe will soon provide us with such an entity, namely ‘the Muslim Nation’.

What do we need to wake up? The terror in Paris is not a mere ‘act’ of a small group of terrorists that we should abhor. The Third World War has reached Europe. It will engulf the world, even if it takes a decade or more. What do we need to wake up?

An Open Letter to Europa

Oh Europa, My Lady, Whither are you Going?

An Open Letter, January 2012

My Lady, I wanted to write this letter and share with you my thoughts at the turn of the millennium itself. I could not; I had to wait a full twelve years to be able to do that, a time-frame significant to those of us who know the Indian epics Ramayana and Mahabharata. The Mahabharata is the grand story of the relationships between the Pandavas and the Kauravas, two groups of cousins. When the Pandavas asked for their just share of the kingdom, their cousins, we are told, connived to make them accept a twelve year exile before considering their request. Some of your children dislike me for much the same reason and treated me pretty similarly. Be that as it may, the twelfth year is now up and the mutually agreed period of exile has run its course. I am, at last, free to talk to you.

When I look at you, at your past, at your deeds and their consequences, I feel a deep sense of sorrow. You see, in their striving to bring true religion and civilization, to make money and become powerful, Europeans inflicted massive damages on the world, on humanity and on multiple cultures. They transformed continents into markets, peoples into slaves and, in so doing, colonized most of the planet, destroying peoples and groups in the name of religion, progress, civilization and democracy.

But do they realize how they made you suffer in this process? You see, you did not survive this onslaught on humanity without paying a heavy price yourself. You underwent two world wars that destroyed continuity between generations, you experienced fascism and Nazism that tore the fabric of your culture, your own people were destroyed through the Holocaust and concentration camps that inflicted horrible wounds on you that can never properly heal, your nations were split into artificial hostile camps in the cold war from which you have not yet recovered,… Any one of these events would have staggered a nation; cumulatively, they tore open gaping holes in your memory. Thus, what is absolutely essential to you was tampered with: the memory of who you once were. As a consequence, you barely realize who you now are and hardly know where you should be going in the future.

You, my Lady, are suffering from amnesia. Some of your children could have helped you here, made you remember your past and cure you of this malady. Instead, these, the historians, mindlessly collect factoids and destroy your past by transforming it into a set of historical facts. Where historians failed, there the philosophers could have helped: they did not; they have produced a story, which puts paid to all grand narratives, as though remembering who you were for the last two millennia is a false narrative that is best destroyed, desecrated, forgotten and buried. They call this story ‘Postmodernism’.

You are not a stranger to me, My Lady. In fact, you became my mother-in-law when I married a European. But my relationship to you is richer and more complex than this fact and it both antedates and postdates the event of a marriage: you see, when my mother taught me that the teacher becomes the second father, she did not quite tell me what happens when that teacher, which is what you are to me, is a woman. So I can only assume that you become my mother, the second mother as it were; thus, I owe you a debt of gratitude which I can hardly repay, even though it is my obligation to try. Therefore, I will address you like I would my own mother, and not as I would talk to my mother-in-law. If you become my mother, Europeans become my cousins, my own relatives.

For some time now, I have been troubled by what is happening to you, even more troubled that none of your children is helping you, but troubled most by the worry that they might in fact be burying you while you are still alive. They do not seem to understand that you are merely suffering from an ailment; you are not moribund, not yet dead or even close to dying. How can premature burial cure cultural amnesia? Yet, in this letter, I shall not complain about them.

In the land I hail from, there once lived an extraordinary poet Kalidasa, who wrote a play called Abhignana Shakuntala. ‘Shankuntala’ names a girl and, in Sanskrit, ‘abhignana’ means ‘remembering the forgotten’. Today, we need another Kalidasa; not to write Abhignana Shakuntala but to write an Abhignana Europa. I wish I could do that, but I am neither a poet, let alone a great one like Kalidasa, nor can I give back your memory. Even though I look back with admiration at the things you have realized and at what you have accomplished, I am very, very perturbed by what you have forgotten. Thus, I shall make a beginning with the hope that a new Kalidasa will emerge out of the millions who constitute your children, to tell you how great you once were and how great you still are, if only you could remember what you have forgotten since. Yet, I am afraid, even this will not suffice; you need more than a new Kalidasa to remember. To make you understand the ‘why’, I need to recount a story.

Let this story begin at a time that also marks the end of your most acute suffering, namely, after the first fifty years of the last century. The ravages to your internal organs were so devastating that you, my Lady, went into a coma. The United States of America, your sister one presumes, nursed you back to health here: she helped rebuild your towns and cities, revitalized your commerce and trade and she even airlifted food to mitigate the dramatic consequences of an imposed division of a nation into two warring factions. Rightly, Europeans are grateful for what she did; they owe her their lives in more ways than one. However, you needed more than physical health but, here, she failed abysmally. Not for the want of trying but because she herself underwent changes that sapped life from her.

You see, after the Second World War, your sister rightly lifted her restrictive immigration policies. Now, she allowed people to come from different shores and continents to live at the foot of the Statue of Liberty. While doing so, as a mother, she committed an unforgivable act: she neglected to care for her new children, transformed them into orphans, taught them no culture but instilled in them only the greed for money. When orphans multiply with no teachers to teach them, with no cultivation or education or culture, we know what happens: we know our Oliver Twist well, do we not? Criminals take over and run schools for the orphans, not in order to teach them how to live well but to ensure that they learn to steal. This is what America did to her new children: she orphaned them, neglected caring for them, and left them at the mercy of criminals who set up schools that taught them to make money by hook or by crook. As a result, she, their mother, lost her life blood, became drained and anemic; her orphaned children knew no more why they ceded from Britain, nor what ‘No taxation without representation’ really signified. Today, the self-styled inheritors of this tradition have taken the grotesque form of the ‘Tea Party’ – a bunch of lunatics who are beginning to define the politics of the United States by borrowing slogans from thoughts they scarcely comprehend. That is the price you pay when you forget your own past. Your sister, America, sold her soul for a dime and a cent, precisely at the time you lost your memory due to suffering. But neither fact excuses the failure of the progenies: to remind you or America where you are coming from and where you should be heading.

Let me tell you something more: this sister of yours has created criminal gangs called ‘lobbies’, which run America. These are small groups of individuals financed by huge amounts of money that care only for narrow, sectional interests. These lobbies buy politics and politicians through money and favors; they mortgage the democratic election processes by spending gigantic sums on televised lies. Most Americans, the students from orphan schools with little education and no culture, buy into these advertisements as though they embody God’s own truth. They cannot distinguish between fiction and reality, between lie and truth, and between falsehood and deception. These lobbies not only buy votes and politicians: they also formulate narrow policies, which, when strung together, get sold as the ‘National interest of America’. It has little to do with the national interests of America; as the history after the Second World War demonstrates, she is rapidly losing friends, including those from ‘Old Europe’, as a pretentious American disparagingly referred to you not so long ago. America is isolated, America is going into a decline, but these orphaned children do not even know that they are watching Rome burn while their presidents play fiddle like Nero did. America is burning, my Lady, but there are no firefighters left anymore: not in the Americas, not in Europe, nor anywhere else in the world.

The United States of America. Is she truly your sister, a daughter or merely a pretender to the title? Whatever the case, she had great promise and showed great potential at birth. ‘Give me your poor’, she said to the world at large, ‘give me your wretched and give me your weak. I shall make them proud and strong’. She fulfilled her promise too, or, at least, people thought she did. It does not matter which of it is true, but the point is that she knew why she existed. However, something happened after the Second World War: perhaps, your present situation also interfered in her past. Be that as it may, while you developed cultural amnesia she learnt just this: greed for money. Today, my Lady, the ‘American Dream’ signifies only this: anyone can make money there, if only one is greedy enough. America sold herself to the incessant greed to make money, more money and even more money. Any protest is stifled in the name of ‘fighting socialism’, ‘fighting communism’ and ‘protecting freedom’.

The American public has become so illiterate that they hardly distinguish between democracy, socialism, authoritarianism and dictatorships. They shout slogans ripped out of contexts borrowed from your liberal and socialist thinkers of yesteryears. They disfigure and deform these beyond all recognition and such one-liners then become the planks of American policy towards other nations and people. The price she is paying for it is huge; the price the world is paying for it is also huge. America has become a poison in the palace of nations. Instead of occupying her rightful place, which was hers even without asking, she has fritted it away in the last five decades by supporting authoritarian and dictatorial regimes, by promoting terrorism under the guise of supporting ‘freedom fighters’, and by attacking weak countries using her military might. All of this in the name of her ‘national interest’. Which national interest is served, my Lady, when, decade after decade, you support dictators and terrorists? America has no national interest to protect, because she is not a nation anymore. Today, she is simply a collection of lobbies, a collection of interest groups, a collection of people crazed by money, who are steering America hither and thither without any idea of where she should be going. So, you see, your present state is not obviously without universal impact; it has not only impacted America but also the rest of the world. We need you today. Come back to us my Lady, because if you go the way you’re going, human destruction is an assured fact.

Your sister’s progeny, the present day Americans, are pretenders to the throne. They falsely claim that they are continuing your legacy, the legacy of democracy. You would have known this for a falsehood, if it was not for your amnesia. Contemporary Europeans are beginning to blindly and unthinkingly reproduce the worst from America and, in the process, mutate, deform, disfigure and destroy what you once stood for. Mindless imitation is more damaging here than it is elsewhere.

Today, such unthinking people suggest that voting periodically and having a peaceful transfer of power is what democracy is all about. Did you fight for centuries for a mere voting procedure? Surely despots also organize elections, the way China does today, and have themselves elected. Why fight for this? What did you oppose? What did you want to realize and achieve?

Everybody preaches democracy but nobody seems to know what it is. It gets reduced to voting, to universal suffrage and to peaceful transfer of power as though with these things in their place, society is rescued from the clutches of sectional interests and narrow ideologies. You, my Lady, did not fight for this; the earlier generations of Europeans did not die for this, even though this was surely a part of their dream, a part of what they wanted to achieve. They wanted something more, which they did achieve, even if imperfectly. On their way to realizing their dream, the earlier generations knew that there were the general interests of society, general interests of people, which trump any narrow sectional, class, group, or nationality interests. They believed very strongly that general interests override all sectional and particular interests and democracy was desirable because it represented to people their own interests as a people. This was the democracy they fought for, and this is the democracy that the despots and the authoritarian regimes fight against. If this was not the case, Pinochet with regular elections and Hitler with popular elections would all be democrats. But they are not. They cannot be that because they would not and could not represent the general interests of a people. Because such general interests are not given a priori, it is the task of the democratically elected political parties to hammer out a general interest through discussions with the people as a people: not as social classes, not as interest groups, not as lobbies. But as members of a society desirous of living peacefully with each other.

One does not pass a legislation for holding arms, as they do in America, under the pressure of a lobby like the NRA. One does not use the murder of school children as an excuse to transform citadels of education, which is what schools should be, into prisons by calling for the police to ‘guard’ the inmates. One does not protect tobacco, automobile and other industrial lobbies because they pay the politicians; instead, one looks at what they are doing to the interests of the people, both national and international. Today, democracy is being honored by raping it:  your philosophers and historians either stand by the wayside or applaud the act. As though this is not enough, they also want to publicize this state of affairs, promote and transfer it to other cultures and people. Do they realize what they are doing when they do this? Are you even aware that such things are happening in the name of your past, in the name of your travails and in the name of the torture you underwent and in the name of the results that you once tried to achieve?

Do not misunderstand me, my Lady. Not all your progeny is doing all of these things. There are indefinitely many, both in Europe and in America, who think the way I do. But their voices are drowned and their numbers overwhelmed. They too despair, not knowing what they should be doing. In their despair, some of them seek to ‘build a European identity’ or even encourage people to ‘become’ Europeans. This would be comic if it was not so tragic: how could they want to ‘become’ Europeans, when they are already that? So, it appears, they too do not know who they are. Stands to reason, does it not? As your children, they too are afflicted by the amnesia you are suffering from. Perhaps, this explains why neither your historians nor your philosophers can help you; why even America cannot help you. It is not their bad faith that is responsible for this, My Lady, but merely their helplessness.

Thus we arrive at the questions of the millennium: what should you do to get your memory back? Who can help you here? When your erudite historians with their impressive tomes about past events gaze helplessly; when your brilliant philosophers with their obscure and not-so-obscure tracts produce impotent discourses; when your gifted politicians succumb to the siren song of ephemeral political success; when even a nation like the United States of America can do no more than play the bully; who, then, can help you here?

Amnesia is a tricky thing. We know of a few remedies that can cure: we wait and hope for the memory to come back; where possible, we also administer ‘memory enhancing’ drugs, whose efficacies are dubious at best; further, we encourage the patient to seek out familiar places and people, interact as the acquired skills and knowledge permit and jiggle the forgotten back into existence through an exercise of the ‘not-forgotten’. We have waited for more than five decades now and no doubt will continue to do the same for some more time to come. Your writers, thinkers and politicians are the only drugs we have and I have already expressed my skepticism about the results. So, it appears that there is but one option left for you, which is to seek out familiar places and people. However, what are these places and who are these people?

In retracing your actions among people to recover your memory, there are many things that should not be repeated, some only partially and yet others perhaps in full. I possess no special knowledge to help you in this regard. I do not need to: the Europeans will learn what they have to do, when the time comes. For now, all I can suggest is that you partially retrace your actions in your ex-colonies, who have become proud and independent now. To do what requires doing, the Europeans have to seek them out: not in ones and twos, but in hundreds of thousands; not as colonial masters meeting their subjects and not even as tourists. They have to go to them as concerned people, who are looking for a people-to-people relationship. These contacts will provide you with new contexts where the reproduction of some of your old actions will be fraught with new meanings but still help you recollect yourself. It will not be the colonial context because that is long past; but it will be context where the Pandavas and the Kauravas meet, as children of two different mothers. This time the meeting shall not take place on the battle field where they destroyed each other but in a festival where they come together as family members.

However, I cannot speak in the name of all your ex-colonies or even one. But I can speak of my mother’s land and invite you to come and seek us out in numbers that beat the imagination. While I cannot promise you anything in the name of my brothers and sisters, I can let you in on an insight that should help you in your quest. This insight will tell you why Indians will help you because, you see my lady, you can help them too when you go back there: you can give something back to them that they badly need today.

You see, when your children dominated and took us over, they turned-off the taps, which brought water to our lands. This life-bringing water is the traditions of a people that connects them to their past and to each other. Because of the event of colonialism, Indians lost trust and faith in their own traditions because they related colonization directly to the nature of these traditions. The land of millions, they reasoned, could not be dominated by few thousands unless their own culture and traditions were backward and primitive. The Europeans, drunk with their belief in the truth of their religion and the strength of their civilization, told us that we were indeed primitive if not barbarous, stagnant, and in need of progress, true religion and modern science. We believed them; we could not argue with the power of colonialism. Thus, we have come to accept as God’s own truth that our traditions and cultures are hindrances in every way. In doing so, we let them tell us what our traditions are, what these cannot do and the Europeans did what they thought was in the best interests of all concerned: they turned our taps off.

By turning the taps off, they did not merely sever our links to the land, to our past and indeed to knowing who we were. It also made us ignorant of the very existence of these taps, had us believe that these were useless drainage cisterns built by people from so-long-ago. Our traditions ceased to be seen by us as taps; they became useless drainage pipes from the past. Therefore, we do not know that water came through them once. All we see are useless pipes, which work no more; that is what our own traditions have become to us now: useless and stifling customs that have made our soil into an arid land. When Europeans ridiculed and trivialized our culture and traditions, while within a colonial ambit, they turned the taps off; now, it can be turned on again by helping us to rediscover the strength and power of our culture and traditions. In this sense, Europeans do know how to turn the taps on; after all, they turned them off before. Please have them do so: that is what they will have to do when they come to India.

Having been the cause of many induced famines in Bengal, the British observed the result of one such thus: “we can now safely say that Bengal, once the granary of India, a third of Hindustan, is now a jungle inhabited only by wild beasts.”

Then it was at least a jungle; now it has become a desert where nothing grows except the cacti. My Lady, this is a fertile land, not a desert. It is a crime to transform fertile lands into deserts when mankind is starving for food. All it requires to make it fertile once again is to have the taps turned on. Let that be done because food is needed not just for us but for the whole of humanity. That humanity is starving today.

Help us reconnect to our traditions, my Lady, and we shall help you rediscover the memory you have lost.

So I invite you, my Lady, to send your children to us. Together, let us build an ‘India Platform’, a platform which will be the foundation of a festival hall built big enough to accommodate both my siblings and your heirs. May we come together this time to celebrate and not to destroy, to enjoy and not to suffer, to remember and not to forget.


Affectionate greetings,