When did we lose the moral high ground—and how can we get it back?
Address by Dr. Richard L. Benkin
To Overseas Friends of Bharatiya Janata Party
Rolling Meadows, IL
July 23, 2011
[Note: The actual presentation deviated from the prepared text in order and emphasis; but the message remained.]
For the last several years, I have been urging a US-India-Israel alliance as humanity’s last hope to defeat the 21st century’s equivalent of the last century’s worst totalitarianisms: Radical Islam. One key to that alliance is the growing relationship between Israel and India. The nations have grown so close that it is hard to imagine that they did not even have formal relations only 20 years ago. But despite the tremendous amount of military, security, intelligence, business, and cultural cooperation, something remains amiss under the reigning Congress government. Here are some examples.
In 2009, India voted “yea” on a United Nations resolution that endorsed the now-discredited Goldstone Report that charged Israel with war crimes. The report is so biased that even Richard Goldstone himself has disavowed it. Israel knew the vote reflected Indian politics; specifically, politicians’ fear of alienating the Muslim vote. Thus, it said it was “disappointed” by the Indian action, but left it at that.
In 2010, Indian President Pratibha Devisingh Patil publicly supported Syria’s claims in its dispute with Israel over the Golan Heights; Syria, a nation that even the Arab-toadying left now condemns. It was the height of impropriety for Patil to inject herself into the bi-lateral dispute. It represented little more than her craven approach to foreign relations and reflected her party’s fear of jeopardizing its foreign receipts from the Gulf States. Thus, Israel’s response was muted.
In 2011, I was addressing students on several Indian campuses when a colleague approached me. He said that the government had replaced academic administrators with political ones; and that his new bosses have banned classes and subjects that openly offer students information that does not cast Israel as a villain. Other university colleagues have reported similar actions.
We can debate the forces that allow us to “understand” these actions, but they are not how a friend and ally behave. As long as they exist, they are obstacles to the grand alliance that is our best hope. I am not ready to cast the current government as the villain in all this, but I do know that the BJP can cast itself as the hero by going back to the principles that gave birth to it. Here is what I mean.
In February 2010, I had a private talk with the great L K Advani that lasted about 40 minutes. We talked about my work to save the Bangladeshi Hindus, and I told him about the evidence of ethnic cleansing I saw with my own eyes. He was touched by their plight and said to me, ’The Congress government tells us that there is no problem for Hindus in Bangladesh now. If this is not true, the people should be told.’ I agreed, and we decided to work together; and, as we agreed I would, I sent him more evidence once I returned to the United States. But nothing ever happened: no exposure of the reality for Hindus in Bangladesh; no efforts to tell the people the truth. I am not so presumptuous to believe that a man like Advaniji has nothing better to do than to wait for words of wisdom from me; nor would I question his sincerity; but the incident did make me wonder.
When I returned to India this February, the country was ablaze with fiery talk about scams and massive corruption by government and Congress Party higher ups. One incident that stood out for a lot of people involved the Gandhi family. Dr. Subramanian Swami accused them of squirreling away a great deal of Indian money in European banks, something he would not do without strong evidence. Predictably, the current leader of that family, Sonia Gandhi, angrily denied the charge. When she did, do you remember how Advaniji responded? Did he recognize his opponent’s weakness and keep up the heat; press the Right’s advantage, as he has done so many times? No. He issued a cloying public apology that retreated before her insubstantial denial and promised to drop the issue. It disappointed every conservative and potential conservative voter I know.
That, too made me wonder; and the more I thought about it, the more I realized that it was not just the BJP. It has happened to conservative parties in the United States, Europe, and elsewhere. Look at what happened in Israel less than six years ago when the Lion of Israel’s right, Ariel Sharon, threw his conservative party over the side to form a coalition of weakness and preside over a disastrous withdrawal from Gaza.
When did we conservatives lose the moral high ground? Or better still, when did we give it away. Conservatives are supposed to stand for something; so much so, that our opponents keep telling us to ‘go with the times’ and stop clinging to our principles. But conservatives will not do that. We continue to believe in the promise of the individual, not government; in strong families and religion as the bedrocks of any society; and principles of right and wrong that we do not abandon when they become inconvenient. We also stand up to the truly evil forces in the world, from communists to Islamists. When did that change, and can we get it back?
In the late 1970s and 1980s, people rebelled against the leftward direction their governments took in the prior decades. Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher returned their nations to conservative principles. The Soviet Union and Eastern Bloc of communist countries fell to popular revolt. In places like India and Israel, conservatives unseated leftist parties that had ruled since independence. They won by standing on principle and by delivering the moral governance they promised.
After a time, however, conservatives realized: they liked being in power. As a consequence—just like the politicians they defeated—many became so concerned with how to hold on to it that they forgot what brought them to power in the first place. Politics became more important than principles. To get those almighty votes, many conservatives became “moderates,” and expended their greatest stock of energy trying to show people how un-conservative they were. Moderate soon became little more than code for “left-light.”
I spend enough time in India and with Indians to hear the same things you do. People are angry with the Congress Party: with its corruption at home and its weakness abroad. But as angry as they are with Congress, they are even angrier with the BJP. Why? Because they knew what they were getting with the Left, but they thought the Right stood for something and now wonder if there is any difference between the two parties.
The BJP has a chance to retake the high ground and stand for something again: for strength; for victory over Naxalites and jihadis; for defending Hindus from their Islamist neighbors; for principle over politics. They can set a clear social ethic that will be the end of the anti-Israel toadying mentioned above and drive that grand alliance. It takes only one spark to light that great conflagration, and the Bangladeshi Hindus can be that spark.
Bangladesh’s Hindu community is dying. That is not opinion or “Islamaphobia.” It’s a fact. At the time of India’s partition in 1947, they were almost a third of East Pakistan’s population. When East Pakistan became Bangladesh in 1971, they were less than a fifth; 30 years later less than a tenth; and according to reliable estimates, under eight percent today. If anyone still wonders where this is headed, look at Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Kashmir where once robust Hindu communities have been all but eliminated. Glimpse the future for Hindus in Bangladesh if we do not act; for while we receive almost daily reports of rapes, murders, Mandir destruction, and Bangladeshi government complicity; the rest of the world—including India and the United States—remains silent.
Saving the Bangladeshi Hindus is a moral imperative, and a pure human rights issue that no decent human being can oppose once forced to recognize the truth. For the BJP to lead this fight would emphasize the party’s fidelity to its essential principle to defend Hindus and Hinduism. It also appeals to Jews; we know what it is like to be the victims of that persecution, and we share the same enemy today. Stop trying to be like our pseudo-secular opponents and admit that the perpetrators are Muslims, both radical and moderate, and part of international jihad. Is our fear of being called “communal” more important than stopping the daily atrocities faced by Bangladeshi Hindus? Standing resolutely on this basic issue of human decency would cast the BJP—and India—as leaders in a coalition of peoples, all of whom face the same threat; as the party that can further India’s strategic relationships with countries that stand against the tide of radical Islam.
This would answer the voters’ question about what distinguishes the two parties. And it is all connected. I want you to look at the different ways India and Israel have responded to the leftist push by US President Barack Obama. He treats India as a pet, offering kind words and occasional attention, but selling India old military hardware and offering other crumbs. And what does the Indian government do? They lap it up as if it were gold and fall all over one another to say thank you. Looking at Israel, Obama has tried from Day One to undermine Israel’s Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and substitute a more compliant, left-leaning government. But Netanyahu refused to play ball. He stuck to his conservative positions and even gave the US president a stern lecture about why his statement that Israel should return the pre-1967 armistice lines was not going to happen. Despite the worst vilification by a hostile media, the domestic and international Left, and a heavy-handed Obama; he is stronger today than ever. Netanyahu satisfied a hunger among Israelis to defend their nation and values; the same hunger exists among Indians. I was in Phlibit in 2009 when hundreds of thousands of Hindus lined the road as Varun Gandhi returned to defy the government’s pseudo-secularism. The Left responded to his stirring defense of Hindus by non-stop screeds and vilifiction. But they did not count on the people, who not only cheered him in great numbers but also gave him a landslide victory in the midst of an otherwise disastrous showing by the BJP.
The BJP’s opportunity is ripening as we move toward raising this issue in Washington. Congressman Bob Dold and I are finishing a letter that will circulate to a select group of lawmakers and be used to drive Congressional hearings and eventually other actions in support of the Bangladeshi Hindus. It has been a long time coming and will end the ability of people to close their eyes and pretend it is not happening. The BJP can then take Advaniji’s advice and tell the people the truth about their brethren’s oppression at the hands of the Muslim majority. The offer I made to Advaniji still stands: to provide the evidence and passion needed for this effort. Convince your colleagues to join those of us who have fought this battle virtually alone and who now have supporters in Washington.
Do we need any more motivation? Just in case, try this. In 2009, I met with a Hindu family in West Bengal that had crossed over from Bangladesh just 22 days earlier. They told me about the father being beaten, an uncle being murdered, and about how a gang of local Muslims invaded their small family farm and threw them off. The police would not defend their rights so they fled to India. I remember looking into the eyes of the family’s 14-year-old daughter as she told me about being gang raped by Muslims. That little girl makes the imperative of standing up for these people more of a moral imperative.
Joseph Stalin is said to have remarked, “One death is a tragedy, a million deaths a statistic.” That 14-year-old rape victim—that child—was no statistic. God help us if we make her one.