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 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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