Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Indus Valley Rising

Although the Indus Valley is now squarely located in Pakistan, its cultural heir is unmistakably the modern-day Hindu civilization and India is now its home. Last year I posted some news of America's desire to see India become a super power through the act of an unprecedented change of policy towards India in the U.S. State Department, but now we're seeing more shockwaves--harbingers of India's coming rise to world power. Parag Khanna, a fellow at the North America Foundation, and Raja Mohan, the strategic affairs editor at the Indian Express, post a timely article at Policy Review about India's rise and potential as a world power.
"It has become the norm to speak of India as a 'natural ally' of the United States, and in the first years of the Bush administration, India transacted more political business with the United States than in the previous 40. That public attitudes in India toward the United States have begun to shift in a fundamental manner was evident in a recent Pew Research Center Global Attitudes Survey. Of all the countries surveyed, pro-American sentiment was strongest in India, where 71 percent of respondents reported a favorable view." (Khanna, Mohan)
The article in its entirety is more or less their road-map for the future and what they think are the common interests India and America share and what are the right moves that America should make to further court India. It could be said that the authors themselves are eager to see an allied America and India, but on terms as coequal partners.
Newsweek's cover story this week is also about India, and it's titled "India Rising." Some of the same facts Khanna and Mohan quote (the 70+ percent of Indians favorable to America, for example) make it into the Newsweek piece, too. Among all the money quotes in the article, this one is a gem:
"Such a relationship between the United States and India is almost inevitable. Whether the nuclear agreement goes through or not, whether the governments sign new treaties, the two societies are getting increasingly intertwined. A common language, a familiar world view and a growing fascination
with each other is bringing together businessmen, nongovernmental activists, journalists and writers."
(Newsweek)
This quote is exactly right, but not for all the reasons the Newsweek authors, and most likely Khanna and Mohan, might imagine. What else does America and India share, have in common, that distinguishes them from practically the rest of the world? Religion. America is by far the most religious country in the West, and India itself is perhaps the most religious country in the world. Anyone who has visited India can attest that religion pervades the life and culture of virtually everyone in India. But the fact that both countries are outstandingly religious explains only a part of their emerging cultural bond. That they both embrace religious plurality as core, ideological principles is itself a powerful draw between America and India. America's religious plurality arose from the Enlightenment, and India's religious plurality is built in to its culture. This is not to say there are no other compelling reasons and circumstances that draw India and America together as partners for the future, but religion is one that most commentators are likely to miss.

Of course, America as a largely Christian country and India as a predominantly Hindu country have plenty of other cultural differences, but when we consider that despite their external cultural differences America and India seem to understand each other better than, say, Saudi Arabia, whose Islamic culture is historically more intertwined with Christianity and should theoretically be more understandable to Americans, we have to look deeper--to the way each thinks--to understand this emerging partnership between America and India. This is where the Newsweek article and the Policy Review article of Khanna and Mohan miss out on some deep insight:
"But democracy has its own way of rebalancing. The wave of Hindu nationalism that raged through the country in the 1990s is on the wane, for now, and a thoroughly secular government is in power." (Newsweek)
Let's not forget that after 30 years of misplaced pacifism, it was the Hindu-nationalist BJP who finally got the gumption to go ahead and redeveloped their nuclear capability, which at first earned America's approbation but later America's respect. (And anyone familiar with Indian politics today knows that the Congress party of Manmohan Singh, propped up by regional Communist parties, has barely a toehold on power.)

But take another look at this last sentence in the Newsweek quote above and note how the authors think that "a thoroughly secular government" is an important cause for India and America coming closer to each other. I would say that it is the opposite that is happening. As Islam and China are challenging the world in ways that are most dangerous, to rise to meet the challenge the peoples in America and India are becoming more religious, not more secular. (That would also explain why the secularists in both countries have become more shrill.) This means that we will find both countries becoming more religious instead of more secular as the Long War progresses.

A conception of religion which can logically accommodate other religions (but not illogically as a kind of theological multiculturalism) may be what decisively decides this Long War in favor of the Indo-Americaalliancece: India has a culture and religion it is willing to share with the world, China, for example, does not. I myself, and many tens of thousands of other non-Indian Europeans, Hispanics, and Afro-Americans in America (and throughout the West) have accepted the Vaishnava religion, which is major limb of the Hindu cultural tradition. In the Long War, the battle is for the hearts of the world, and religion remains unsurpassed in its ability to win hearts. This is probably because of all other philosophies in the world, it has really only been religions that have developed any certainty that we have a heart--a soul.

The Cold War was a battle of ideologies between the West, led by America, and the Soviet Union, but the Long War will be a battle for hearts and souls. Religion, not secularism, can prevail in such a battle. This predicts that to win, both America and India will necessarily have to become more, not less religious, and it has been my observation that they are becoming more religious--if ever so gradually. This is the kind of fight secularism will never understand--the good fight--since secularism alone at best has only a relative, uncertain conception of what is good. That America and India will be on the same side and coequal partners in the Long War is a real hope for the world's future.