The Irascible Prophet: V. S. Naipaul at HomeFour weeks old, but I didn't notice this article until now. Here's another smart Asian, the 2001 Indian Nobel laureate in literature, V. S. Naipaul:
The Irascible Prophet: V. S. Naipaul at Home
What is of account, in Naipaul's view, is the larger global political situation -- in particular, the clash between belief and unbelief in postcolonial societies. ''I became very interested in the Islamic question, and thought I would try to understand it from the roots, ask very simple questions and somehow make a narrative of that discovery,'' he said. To what extent, he wondered, had ''people who lock themselves away in belief . . . shut themselves away from the active busy world''? ''To what extent without knowing it'' were they ''parasitic on that world''? And why did they have ''no thinkers to point out to them where their thoughts and their passion had led them''? Far from simple, the questions brought a laserlike focus to a central paradox of today's situation: that some who have benefited from the blessings of the West now seek to destroy it.
In November 2001 Naipaul told an audience of anxious New Yorkers still reeling from the attack on the World Trade Center that they were facing ''a war declared on you by people who passionately want one thing: a green card.'' What happened on Sept. 11 ''was too astonishing. It's one of its kind. It can't happen again,'' he said in our conversation. ''But in the end it has had no effect on the world. It has just been a spectacle, like a bank raid in a western film. They will be caught by the sheriff eventually.'' The bigger issue, he said, is that Western Europe, while built on tolerance, today lacks ''a strong cultural life,'' making it vulnerable to Islamicization. He even went so far as to say that Muslim women shouldn't wear headscarves in the West. ''If you decide to move to another country and to live within its laws you don't express your disregard for the essence of the culture,'' he said. ''It's a form of aggression.''
And yet, for all his laments, Naipaul is not invested in the notion that Western civilization is in decline. ''That's a romantic idea,'' he said brusquely. ''A civilization which has taken over the world cannot be said to be dying. . . . It's a university idea. People cook it up at universities and do a lot of lectures about it. It has no substance.'' The ''philosophical diffidence'' of the West, he maintains, will prevail over the ''philosophical shriek'' of those who intend to destroy it.
A Hindu by birth, though not observant, Naipaul finds India a place of great hope. It is, he says, the country where belief and unbelief coexist most peaceably. The economic development of India -- and China -- he said, will ''completely alter the world,'' and ''nothing that's happening in the Arab world has that capacity.'' Yet Naipaul called it ''a calamity'' that, even with its billion people, ''there are no thinkers in India'' today. India is also where he turns for a theory of history. ''The only theory is that everything is in a state of flux,'' he said. This is his own ''personal idea,'' he said, but one linked to a philosophical concept in Indian religion.