Tuesday, September 06, 2005

The Irascible Prophet: V. S. Naipaul at Home

Four 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.


At September 06, 2005 8:40 AM, Blogger Ron said...

I can agree with some of his sentiments, after spending much of last year in India.

Often people just do not think about actions, but instead rely on tradition and how things were done the previous time, to guide them how to do an action in the future.

Making a change, is just not the job of an individual. One is not to rock the boat, make waves, or stand out from the crowd, family, community, caste, etc.

For example, it is such a cultural imperative to get married quickly and start making babies, well because that is how it has always been done. Never mind undertaking a risk and following your dreams for a while, that is not looked upon well. But not many stop to think if so much emphasis on making a family so soon is good, and its why they have so many people.

Indians are very nice and giving people. But at the same time, they are very risk averse and afraid to break with tradition, or go thru their own path in life.

At September 07, 2005 1:20 AM, Blogger PD111 said...

What Naipual writes now, he has held that view for sometime. In a talk he gave to The Manhattan Institute for Policy Research, in The 1990 Wriston Lecture, he had this to say

Muslim fundamentalism in places like Malaysia and Indonesia seems new. But Europe has been in the East for a long time, and there has been Muslim anxiety there for almost all of this time. This anxiety, this meeting of the two opposed worlds, the outgoing world of Europe and the closed world of the faith, was spotted a hundred years ago by the writer Joseph Conrad, who, with his remote Polish background, his wish as a traveller to render exactly what he saw, was able at a time of high imperialism to go far beyond the imperialistic, surface ways of writing about the East and native peoples.

To Conrad the world he travelled in was new; he looked hard at it. There is a quotation I would like to read from Conrad's second book, publishes in 1896, nearly 100 years ago, in which he catches something of the Muslim hysteria of that time-the hysteria which, a hundred years later, with greater education and wealth of the native peoples, and the withdrawing of empires, was to turn into the fundamentalism we hear about.

"A half-naked, betel-chewing pessimist stood upon the bank of the tropical river, on the edge of the still and immense forests; a man angry, powerless, empty-handed, with a cry of bitter discontent ready on his lips; a cry that, had it come out, would have run through the virgin solitudes of the woods as true, as great, as profound, as any philosophical shriek that ever came from the depths of an easy chair to disturb the impure wilderness of chimneys and roofs."

Philosophical hysteria-those were the words I wanted to give to you, and I think they still apply. They bring me back to the list of questions and issues that the senior fellow of the Institute, Myron Magnet, sent to me when he was in England last summer. Why, he asked, are certain societies or groups content to enjoy the fruits of progress, while affecting to despise the conditions that promote that progress? What belief system do they oppose to it? And then, more specifically: why is Islam held up in opposition to western values? The answer, I believe, is that philosophical hysteria. It is not an easy thing to define or understand, and the Muslim spokesmen do not really help. They speak cliches, but that might only be because they perhaps have no way of expressing what they feel. And some have overriding political causes; and others are really religious missionaries rather than scholars.

At September 07, 2005 8:50 AM, Blogger ik said...

Nice to know you had a good time in India. Some minor points

The Europeans are in trouble primarily because they are not "making babies"

There is a perception that India is crowded - if you take the CIA Factbook numbers for India and Holland

India - 1,080,264,388people/2,973,190 sq km - 363 people /sq. km.

Holland -
16,407,491 people/33,883 sq km - 484 people/ sq. km

The problem is that nobody in India developed infrastructure in the small towns and villages so everybody migrates to the cities (side effect of industrial revolution and oil age). Also the leftists/commies ruling India do not care about peasants (Workers of the World Unite - Peasants go F yourselves!) - once you go out of the cities it is all empty.

54% of land in India is farmable - in China it is 10% - and that 10% comes after adding Tibet which inflates China's land by double.

The perception of "crowded" also comes about because of looking at the Mercator map - take a look at Peters Map - http://www.petersmap.com/

Also India is more like Europe with each state having a very different culture - so there are some extremely entrepreneurial regions.

At September 07, 2005 8:57 AM, Blogger ik said...

"there are no thinkers in India" - hey Naipaul forgot about me ;)

We did discuss this on on some Indian sites a while ago - the general consensus was that Naipaul is about 10 years late in finding out things about India - his first book was about India being a "dark continent" - 10 years later he wrote "a million mutinies now" where he was more positive. Now 10 years after that he is very happy for India but claims there are no thinkers - I predict that he will write about all the Indian thinkers after another 10 years!

Naipaul is limited by the fact that he is very distant and I thik he also does not hang around on the internet! - the Indian thinkers were ostracized/blakned out by the Indian state for being apostates to the state "religion" of the worship of Gandhi/Nehru - the internet has let the genie out of the bottle - just like in the west (VDH/Bil Whittle/Robert Spencer etc.)

At September 08, 2005 4:58 AM, Blogger Ron said...

Yes, I did enjoy my time in India, I was working in Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh on a cloud seeding project with aircraft.

I think that your calculations do not tell most of the story however in regards to crowding, since much of India is devoted to farming, and many of the people are crammed into the cities, since they want work and a life besides substinence farming.

You wont see a whole family in the Netherlands living in a single room, while that is quite common in India, and with a larger family also.

I do think Europeans need to start having more children, because they are in danger of having the native populations go down, while the Muslim immigrants, many of whom do not care anything about the country and culture they moved to, are having many babies.

I do not want to see Europe Islamicized, or turned into Pakistan north.


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