Indian Newspaper Calls Out Nationalists for Using Fake History and Ancient Astronauts to Push Right-Wing Agenda
Note: I will be taking tomorrow off to mark the Thanksgiving holiday here in the United States. I will return on Friday.
For a variety of reasons, including the predominance of U.S. content in the media landscape, and my own geographic location, I tend to focus on American fringe history claims, followed by those from Britain, Continental Europe, Australia, and the rest of the world in descending order. I fully admit that this is a bias on my part, but one I can’t entirely help since so much of the content outside the Anglo-American media bubble is geo-blocked, geographically restricted, in languages I can’t speak, or otherwise unavailable. Nevertheless, I think it’s valuable to check in around the world from time to time to see how other countries and cultures deal with the same attacks on history that we see here at home.
Today’s case in point comes to us from The Times of India, where Manimugdha S. Sharma wrote this week that the country is suffering from a massive and coordinated social media campaign of fake history launched by ultra-conservatives who are looking to undermine historical facts in order to promote a rightwing agenda tied to the nationalist agenda of Prime Minister Modi. We’ve talked before about the Modi government’s efforts to fabricate fake ancient history for India, particularly around claims of advanced prehistoric surgery, prehistoric rockets and airplanes, and other ancient astronaut-style nonsense derived from a literal reading of Sanskrit epics.
Sharma writes that a group of rightwing trolls is engaged in all of the techniques made famous by the Russian propagandists, content farmers, and trolls operating during the 2016 American election: manipulating photographs, creating misleading or outright false memes, trolling online discussions with provocative and outrageous statements, and denying even obvious historical facts in service of political ideology. The only important difference is that the conservatives in this case are the Hindu nationalists.
For example, last week, right wing extremists circulated a fake meme using a photo of a nineteenth century Zanzibari slave trader and claimed it represented the “true” Tipu Sultan, an early modern Muslim ruler of southern India. “Nobody bothered to pause and consider whether photography was available in the 18th century. This refusal to think is what the thriving factory of fake history exploits, and is the reason it has been so successful at polarising opinion.” Another faker used a photo of a 1984 anti-Sikh riot and claimed it was a 1948 photo of Brahmins rioting after Gandhi’s assassination. Most of the fake history stories in India, according to Sharma, revolve around the standard right-wing playbook: demonize Muslims, liberals, and elites. In India, demonizing Muslims is much more pressing matter than in the United States because India has substantial Muslim minorities and coexists uneasily with its Islamic neighbors. Indian television routinely alters history to cast ancient rulers like Porus as victorious over Alexander the Great, creating a fake but glorious ancient past.
But these abuses of history pale before the influence of the ancient astronaut theory and its lost civilization cousins. Sharma describes what is happening:
Another Facebook page called 'Indian History — the Real Truth' takes history to another level of fantasy. With over 26,000 followers, this one regularly abuses "Left-leaned (sic)" historians for faking the truth — and claims that some temple spires are proof of ancient aliens visiting our planet 6,000 years ago, that Hindus fired the first rocket 1,200 years ago from a temple, that Hindu astronomy and texts are 1,20,000 years old. In fact, the term used for India's most celebrated historians is "criminal historians", and appeals are made to file cases of sedition against them for "subverting the truth".
This is a whole other level of awful than American fringe historians, who settle for calling their mainstream rivals biased or dogmatic, not openly seditious and a threat to the paramount leader and his supremacist agenda. The good news, for what it is worth, is that the calls to prosecute historians are few and confined mostly to a radical fringe.
Sharma quotes the anti-Modi writer and freethinker Pratik Sinha to the effect that rightwing extremists know that they cannot simply alter textbooks or change facts without a fight, so instead they use the power of the Internet to simply flood search results with their preferred propaganda until the truth vanishes in a sea of lies:
Since the average internet user cannot verify facts by reading a textbook or asking a historian, he only has Google to turn to. These fake history pages often come up on the first page itself during searches, not academic links. So, people pick up what's easily available. [...] All this faking of history is part of a larger right-wing project to shape the national narrative. They cannot change much of what's written in textbooks without catching undue attention, both here and abroad. So, these changes are being made more subtly. But they know they can create noise and people won't bother to find out what recorded history says.
And that, in the end, is the most dangerous part of fake history. The noise, the lies, the half-truths, and the propaganda provide fact-like material that takes the place of real facts and destroys any appetite for truth because (a) ideologues accept the lie at face value because it confirms their beliefs, (b) half-interested people make use of the lie because it is the easiest answer to locate and looks reasonable, and (c) the uninterested don’t care enough to challenge the lie.
Whether in India or America, the problem is the same: There is a concerted effort to delegitimize the pursuit of historical truth in order to promote ideology and quasi-historical fantasy.
11/22/2017 12:07:48 pm
"the country is suffering from a massive and coordinated social media campaign of fake history launched by ultra-conservatives who are looking to undermine historical facts in order to promote a rightwing agenda"
11/22/2017 02:15:54 pm
The wise saying that "You can fool all of the people some of the time ..." is not geographically restricted.
11/23/2017 05:27:49 am
I AM AN IGNORANT WHITE TRASH RACIST BIGOT THAT IS BRAINWASHED
11/23/2017 02:57:09 pm
Happy Thanksgiving, fake Bob.
11/22/2017 01:04:56 pm
New Scott Wolter blogpost madness:
11/22/2017 02:25:25 pm
And it boils down to "if you measure it diagonally (on this diagonal, not that diagonal, and length and width don't work) PROOF!"
11/22/2017 05:11:37 pm
Ya but using a speculative measurement (that may have not even existed) that went out of knowledge thousands of years before the Medieval age as proof that the stone is Medieval takes a certain kind of mind to come up with. More PROOF !!
11/22/2017 03:01:19 pm
"What the initiated Cistercian monk also understood was the ancient and very sacred measuring system used by cultures dating back over 10,000 years that was calculated using the planet Venus: the Megalithic Yard."
11/22/2017 04:50:43 pm
How could Wolter be wrong ? Especially when he uses Alan Butler as a source, you know, the guy who claims the moon was built by Free Mason time travelers from the future.
11/22/2017 06:45:03 pm
Even if real science ever proves the KRS is real, it wont change the fact that everything out of Wolters mouth is bullshit
11/22/2017 08:04:35 pm
In response to an anonymous post Wolter has added a graphic to his blog post. He is now adding in Egyptian cubits to the mix.
11/22/2017 08:51:03 pm
Whoa... cool your jets good people. This ain't about bashing Wolter. Can't you wait a day or two for a Wolter-specific topic? The intent here it to bash one political party. As if any other one does not embrace falsehood to press its advantage...
11/22/2017 02:34:05 pm
As a museum professional, I worry that we'll soon be seeing the same extent of historical "revision" taking place this side of the Atlantic.
11/22/2017 02:54:33 pm
d) Fake history has proven to be lucrative to the smarter snake oil salesmen.
11/23/2017 02:15:47 pm
I'm not sure about the "smarter" part, smarter than their gullible victims I suppose. Jason has shown time and again just how stupid many of them are.
11/22/2017 03:29:05 pm
Hope you have a nice Thanksgiving. At least Scott Wolter will probably not show up at your house. I mean, you will probably all ready have one turkey in the house.
11/23/2017 01:09:55 am
Happy Thanksgiving, everybody!
11/23/2017 01:51:20 am
11/23/2017 11:20:56 am
jason the idiot
11/23/2017 05:25:31 am
IDIOT HINDUISM IS FAKE WITH ITS THOUSAND OF MADE UP GODS
11/23/2017 11:26:14 am
Happy thanksgiving, Fake Jason.
11/23/2017 10:41:18 am
The history of what has been called Hindutva style thinking about the history of India goes back to the 1920s at least. One of chief characteristics is a Hindu supremism which not too subtlety categorizes non-Hindus has non-Indian. Thus Muslims are excluded from the category of "Indian". Further it is apparent that also not too subtlety Hindutva style thinking and attitudes serves usefully has a technique of reasserting the Indian Caste system and thus the domination of the so-called Higher Castes over the Indian state and society.
11/24/2017 03:50:57 am
"Hindu astronomy and texts are 1,20,000 years old"
11/24/2017 12:36:02 pm
Or for those of us in Rio Linda, they put the commas in different places.
11/24/2017 01:34:23 pm
That's a consequential and, not an or.
11/24/2017 01:39:12 pm
It's the canonical "or" as in "Or for those of you in Rio Linda". Here's what you need to do, Triple D: find a rope and go tinkle up it.
11/24/2017 06:40:43 pm
Who listens to moderate Republicans like Rush Limbaugh in 2017?
11/24/2017 08:02:43 pm
11/26/2017 08:42:20 pm
<<<<“nineteenth century Zanzibari slave trader”
11/28/2017 02:17:14 pm
The Templars acquired photographic technology in their voyages to Asia using longitude. It's how their Grandmaster Galileo created the Shroud of Turin while time travelling.
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I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Esquire, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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