EDUCATION
Shunning the architects of hate
Hitler, Modi and Gandhi: On the same page?
- Rafia Zakaria
Hitler, Modi and Gandhi: On the same page?



THE COVER OF the book is dark blue and the faces featured most prominently on it are those of Nelson Mandela and Narendra Modi. Those are not the only featured faces, however; right next to Modi and in front of Gandhi and next to Aung San Suu Kyi is the angry face of Adolf Hitler. Great Leaders, the book in question, is being published as a children’s volume in India, by the Pegasus imprint of the B. Jain publishing group.

The inclusion of Hitler, who had hundreds of thousands of European Jews murdered during and before the Second World War, is not accidental. Beyond the cover, in the pages of the book, Hitler is described as a man who devoted his life to the betterment of his country and his people. Nor were there apologies from the publisher, who insisted that "we are not talking about whether he was a good or bad leader but simply portraying how powerful he was as a leader”.

The clever justification is not surprising but it is alarming. Even though Indians chose to elect and anoint Narendra Modi, a man who was known for his hatred of India’s large Muslim minority, one would imagine that the burgeoning Indian middle class, with its increasingly higher levels of education, would have been better informed about world history.
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The Indian publisher, after all, is looking to sell books, and in Modi’s India, books about Hitler’s greatness seem to be good business.
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Not only did Hitler have hundreds of thousands of innocent Jews murdered, he chose to do so in the most cruel and inhuman way. Hundreds of thousands of families were lined up before gas chambers, mothers were forced to choose which of their kids would live, and kidnapped Jewish children were subjected to sickeningly evil medical and surgical experiments.

Hitler, the architect of it all, regularly whetted the hatred, promoting religious xenophobia among ordinary Germans, forcing one and all to participate in the marginalisation of a blameless religious community.
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Muslim students are regularly taught how much the Holy Prophet (PBUH) despised discrimination based on race or tribe or skin colour. Yet, when it comes to evaluating certain dictators and authoritarians, such concerns are often disregarded.
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All of this has been duly documented in books and movies and museums around the world. The glib differentiation between a ‘good’ leader and a ‘powerful’ leader cannot explain away the fact that when Hitler is included among ‘great leaders’ meant to ‘inspire’ children, his actions are imagined as commendable, something to be appreciated and emulated. The Simon Wiesenthal Centre, an NGO that encourages the study of the Holocaust and records the testimony of Holocaust survivors, has demanded that the publication of the book be stopped. There has been no response by the Indian publisher.

The Indian publisher, after all, is looking to sell books, and in Modi’s India, books about Hitler’s greatness seem to be good business.

The same was true of Modi’s Gujarat, where children’s textbooks praising the ideology of Nazism and fascism could be found as early as 2004. They too spoke of Hitler’s great efforts in making Germany ‘self-reliant’. And it is not just books praising Hitler but actually books by Hitler that are popular too. A few years ago, The Jerusalem Post reported that bookstores in New Delhi openly featured volumes of Mein Kampf, Hitler’s own book. In conversations, bookstore owners confessed that the book has been a reliable seller for many years, which is why a stock of copies is maintained in the inventory.

Books are not very popular in Pakistan, and so there are fewer examples of an affection for Hitler in children’s books or bookstores. This, however, does not mean that Hitler, with his predilection for slaughtering innocent people, is altogether reviled in Pakistan. An article in the German newspaper Der Spiegel noted with some alarm that some Pakistanis believed themselves to be ‘Aryan’ (based on the fact that there was an Indo-Germanic race), and imagine that Hitler might have considered them fellow Aryans. This thinking is wrong, of course, and there are many instances of Hitler’s disregard for Indic peoples, not to mention the fact that he did not consider them to be ‘real’ Aryans. If they had been around in Germany at the time, they would probably have been marched off to the gas chambers just like the other ethnic minorities.

Apart from this specific example, this subcontinental belief in superiority based on race is sickening and a sign of low moral character.
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Pakistanis cannot control what Indians do; many Indians may go on adoring cultish figures like Hitler and setting them before their children as an example of worthy behaviour deserving commendation and commemoration. But Pakistanis can control themselves, understand that the gross and gruesome evils of those, living or dead, responsible for the deaths of innocent people of any religion is inexcusable.
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For instance, Muslim students are regularly taught how much the Holy Prophet (PBUH) despised discrimination based on race or tribe or skin colour. Yet, when it comes to evaluating certain dictators and authoritarians, such concerns are often disregarded.

Some even posit that the current persecution of the Palestinian people, a great atrocity of our time, is a good reason to excuse Hitler’s pogrom of the past. It’s a bizarre explanation, with an even more peculiar rationalising logic. Does the persecution of minority religious communities in Pakistan justify the killing of Muslims during Partition? Moral calculations cannot be projected back in time, nor can evil from the past be considered good because of the evils of the present.

Pakistanis cannot control what Indians do; many Indians may go on adoring cultish figures like Hitler and setting them before their children as an example of worthy behaviour deserving commendation and commemoration. But Pakistanis can control themselves, understand that the gross and gruesome evils of those, living or dead, responsible for the deaths of innocent people of any religion is inexcusable.
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If Pakistani Muslims want to be true Muslims, they should condemn all dictators and acknowledge that the mass slaughter of any religious minority is wrong, and cannot be justified simply because the killed and persecuted are not Muslim.
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If it is wrong for a nationalist bigot like Modi to instigate hatred against Muslims, so too was the massive slaughter of Jews by Hitler. If fascism is condemnable under Modi, who has destroyed democratic checks in his effort to become the strongman of the moment, so too was it wrong under strongmen in history.

If Pakistani Muslims want to be true Muslims, they should condemn all dictators and acknowledge that the mass slaughter of any religious minority is wrong, and cannot be justified simply because the killed and persecuted are not Muslim.

 
 
Rafia Zakaria is the author of The Upstairs Wife: An Intimate History of Pakistan (Beacon, 2015) and Veil (Bloomsbury, 2017). This article first appeared in Dawn and is being reproduced here with the due permission of the author.
 
 
 

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Comment by: SKChadha

“If Pakistani Muslims want to be true Muslims, they should condemn all dictators and acknowledge that the mass slaughter of any religious minority is wrong, and cannot be justified simply because the killed and persecuted are not Muslim.”

Rafia you can’t make fool others in your own bigotry. Your entire writing is cunning and one sided. While ending your writing with above quote, will you first explain justification for Banu Qurayza massacre at Yathrib (Madina) ?

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