Vinay Lal

Vinay Lal is an Associate Professor of History and Asian American Studies at UCLA.   Lal runs a blog called Lal Salaam, a clever play on his last name but also a reference to the popular Communist salutation (English Translation: Red Salute) in India, used by individuals and political parties alike.  Lal is the spokesperson for the Campaign to Stop Funding Hate (CSFH)[1] and a member of FOIL[2].  His views on Hinduism, India and Hindus in general use the same hateful/suspicious lens used by fellow FOIL members such as Vijay Prashad and Angana Chatterji and Marxists like Romila Thapar.  In his book, Introducing Hinduism (USA: Totem Books, 2005), Lal’s pejorative obsession with the ‘evils’ of Hinduism shines brightly in addition to factual errors.  Vishal Agarwal, in a review of the book, mentions: “Kalki, the last incarnation of Lord Vishnu is likened to the ex-US President George Bush (page92) in a rather insensitive way.  The photograph of Swami Dayanand Saraswati (1824-1883), the founder of Arya Samaj given in the book (p. 119) is actually that of a currently living Swami Dayanand Saraswati, who is the founder of Arsha Vidya Gurukulam in Pennsylvania.”[3] Similarly, Lal makes a dubious assertion Buddhism and Jainism introduced vegetarianism and monasticism into Hinduism.[4]

“When Lal talks about Ramayana in 7 pages (pages 57-63), he devotes 3-4 of them to Sita’s agnipariksha and 1 on ‘alternate’ (= not conforming to the conventional versions) versions of Ramayana.”[5] There is barely any discussion on why Rama is considered an ideal son, warrior, etc. by Hindus and why he is considered an Avatar (incarnation) of Vishnu. “The overall impression created is that the Ramayana is a misogynist text.”[6] “In discussing the Pauranic Deities, Shiva is of course also referred to as a ‘Pre-Aryan’ transplant into Vedic Hinduism (page 68)”.[7]  Hindu protests against images of Deities on shoes, toilet seats, etc. are categorized as those driven by hateful ideologies and the NRIs in US are automatically considered supporters of Hindu Nationalism.  The immensely popular Indian TV series Ramayana and Mahabharata are labeled as fueling “Hindu Communalism”.[8] “The doctrines of Rebirth and Reincarnation, Samsara and Karma – which are so vital to understanding Hindu world view, [are] practically ignored in the book.”[9] Lal’s views share striking but not surprising similarities to those espoused by fellow FOIL members and like Vijay Prashad, Biju Mathew and others.

In contrast to Lal’s bias against Hinduism, he goes to great pains to defend Islam.  In an article discussing the Taliban’s destruction of the Bamiyan Buddhas, Lal is particularly sympathetic to the Taliban.  He whitewashes the ideology and intents of Taliban and seems to justify the destruction of the statues: “[it] is construed as an expression not only of the Taliban’s anger but of its sense of betrayal, its feeling of isolation, and its profound disappointment that it should not have been suitably rewarded on the one occasion when it subscribed to some norms of international political engagement.”[10]  Thus, Taliban’s Fundamentalist Islamic view is really out of frustration at the West for not honoring its part of the deal when Taliban made Afghanistan free from Poppy seed production!  Lal then proceeds further to offer a more ‘balanced’ view of the Taliban, reminding his readers that “one should not be allowed to forget that Ronald Reagan welcomed the Mujahideen to the White House as ‘freedom fighters’; at this juncture in history, it is still the relentless zero-sum of politics which makes the United States and its adversary Afghanistan look strikingly akin.”[11]  Further in the article, Lal defends Islamic invaders and Islam in general, by adding Bamiyan’s two gigantic Buddhas were spared by Mahmud of Ghazni but Genghiz Khan, the Mongol king, was not so indifferent.  Describing Mughal King Aurangzeb as ‘ecumenical’, Lal is ready to point out that while there is some evidence that the king initiated attacks on the Bamiyan Buddhas, he left the Ajanta and Ellora Caves untouched during his twenty year fight with the Marathas in the Deccan.  Similarly, he highlights:

…all the Muslim states have emphatically repudiated the Taliban’s actions, and even Saudi Arabia, which fancies itself as the guardian of an authentic and orthodox Islam, declared itself unequivocally opposed to the destruction of the Buddhas.  Nothing in the Sharia, or in the pronouncements of various Islamic schools of law, encourages the destruction of monuments which are not the sites of religious worship and cannot therefore be construed as ‘idols’.  Most poignantly, the call to jihad, which is described by the Taliban as having furnished it with the warrant to take action at Bamiyan, has been stripped of its endearing promise.  The authorized translation of the Holy Quran, published by the King Fahd Holy Quran Printing Complex, states that the essence of jihad consists in abiding by a ‘true and sincere faith, which so fixes its gaze on Allah that all selfish or worldly motives seem paltry and fade away’.[12]

Lal comes out as a greater defender of Islam while bedeviling Hinduism as a religion that sanctions violence against the lower caste Dalits, women and minorities.  Passages from Koran and the Hadiths inciting violence against and destruction of infidels are considered to be taken out of context, while the same is not true in case of Hinduism’s texts.  Why doesn’t Lal discuss deeply pluralistic teachings of Hindu scriptures, that the caste system is a construct of latter day society and not sanctioned by Hindu scriptures, that the concept of Sati (bride burning) is also not sanctioned in Hindu scriptures, etc.?   But, Lal is keen on peddling theories that Hindus were some beefing eating invaders from outside of India who oppressed the ‘dark-skinned’ Dravidians and drove them down South.

Lal and other FOIL members like Prashad love to quote Gandhi when hitting out at Hindus, as if they hold him in high regard.  However, Lal acknowledges “the Marxists have long subscribed to the view that Gandhi was a ‘romantic’, a hopeless idealist and even hypocrite.”[13] Gandhi’s company of women is surmised as follows:

The vow of brahmacharya did not preclude, as it has for reformers and saints in Indian religious traditions, the company of women; indeed, Gandhi adored their presence and reveled in their touch…[Mirabehn’s] correspondence has a touch of the erotic…She was by no means the only woman with whom Gandhi enjoyed a platonic relationship…[14]

Lal falls just short of labeling Gandhi a homosexual.  He says:

Many of his male friendships are equally interesting:  for example, he may also have been attracted to Hermann Kallenbach, a wealthy Jewish architect who would become one of Gandhi’s earliest patrons and closest friends[15]


[1] Ashfaque Swapan, “IDRF Supporters Dispute Charges, Critics Unimpressed”, India West, January 10, 2003, available at http://stopfundinghate.org/resources/news/011003IndiaWest.htm, accessed June 19, 2011

[3] Vishal Agarwal, “Hating Hindus as a Fun Activity”, Voice of India, January 2010, Page 3, http://voi.org/vishalagarwal/column-vishalagarwal/hatinghindusasafunactivity/page-3.html, accessed June 20, 2011

[4] Agarwal, Ibid.

[5] Agarwal, Ibid.[3]

[6] Agarwal, Ibid.[3]

[7] Agarwal, Ibid.[3]

[8] Vishal Agarwal, “Hating Hindus as a Fun Activity”, Voice of India, January 2010, Page 5, http://voi.org/vishalagarwal/column-vishalagarwal/hatinghindusasafunactivity/page-5.html, accessed June 20, 2011

[9] Vishal Agarwal, “Hating Hindus as a Fun Activity”, Voice of India, January 2010, Page 1, http://voi.org/vishalagarwal/column-vishalagarwal/hatinghindusasafunactivity.html, accessed June 20, 2011

[10] Vinay Lal, “The Fragments of Bamiyan”, Page 5, http://www.vinaylal.com/ESSAYS%28GP%29/bamiyan3.pdf, accessed June 20, 2011

[11] Lal, Ibid.

[12] Lal, Ibid., Page 7

[13] Vinay Lal, “The Sexuality of a Celibate Life”, May 5, 2011, http://vinaylal.wordpress.com/2011/05/05/the-sexuality-of-a-celibate-life/, accessed June 20, 2011

[14] Lal, Ibid.

[15] Lal, Ibid.[13]

Advertisements

2 responses to “Vinay Lal

  1. fantastic work in bringing out the truth, sir.

  2. Why we were under bondage for centuries can be easily understood by noting these charecte;ess characters. Such people were there even at those times. These are ready to put their wifes and daughters as well as mothers at the disposal of their benifactors.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s