Friday, June 6, 2003

The June issue of National Geographic contains one of the rare honest looks at India. The article “India’s Untouchables” gives a shocking picture of some of the most persecuted people on Earth.

For far too long, India has been one of a number of countries used by the intelligentsia to denigrate the United States. The image or the insinuation has been that we are materialistic, they are spiritual; we are violent, they are peaceful — and so on.

Instead of picturing every country as it is, warts and all, too often the picture of the United States has been warts only and other countries — whether India, Cuba, China, or at one time the Soviet Union — have had their blemishes and worse passed over in silence.

When it comes to materialism, India leads the United States by miles. Indian brides are still mistreated or even murdered when their dowries are deemed too small. A leading Indian businessman says that anyone who is serious about doing business in India has to be prepared to pay dozens of bribes to corrupt officials.

When it comes to violence, all the blacks lynched in the entire history of this country, plus all the blacks and whites killed in all the race riots of the 20th century, do not add up to 1 percent of the people killed in riots between Hindus and Muslims in one year when India became independent in 1947.

Nor is all this violence a thing of the past. While affirmative action is a political and legal issue in the United States, in India it has set off innumerable riots, with death tolls ranging as high as the hundreds. The National Geographic’s heart-rending picture of violence against the untouchables today is just part of this larger pattern.

There is no need to present a warts-only picture of India, any more than of any other country. Its untouchables — now called Dalits — have made progress in India’s cities, even though most still live in rural areas, and the president of the country is a Dalit.

India has also made heartening economic progress. But one of the tipoffs on Indian society is that people from India tend to prosper in countries around the world — except in India. With all due allowance for selective migration, the contrast is still huge.

The average income of people from India in the United States is higher than that of the average American. In the world diamond center in Antwerp, Jains from India are displacing Hasidic Jews.

The point here is that a wholly fictitious India has been created by the intelligentsia and used for too long to make the United States look bad by comparison. The same was true of the Soviet Union during the worst years of Josef Stalin, China during the butcheries of Mao Tse-tung and now Cuba under the brutal dictatorship of Fidel Castro.

The most casual glance at countries around the world makes it painfully and inescapably clear that most are much worse off than the United States — not just in economic terms, but even more blatantly in terms of elementary freedoms and ordinary decency.

No society of human beings has ever been Utopia. But virtually everything that has been criticized in the United States has been worse elsewhere. By sheer repetition, slavery has been depicted as something peculiar to this country or to Western civilization, when in fact slavery has existed on every inhabited continent, as far back as history has been recorded.

It was the West that stamped out slavery around the world — over the opposition of non-Western societies. But this too has been passed over in utter silence, while history has been stood on its head by those trying to score ideological points or extort money from gullible and prosperous people in the West.

We can learn a lot from other countries — including how lucky we are to be Americans. One of the best books on this theme is by a writer from India — Dinesh D’Souza, who wrote “What’s So Great About America.”

The key to the denigrators is that they do not compare the United States to other countries but to the Utopia in their imagination. Those who do this seem not to understand that it was the attempt to create political heaven in the 20th century that led to the unprecedented hell of totalitarianism.

Thomas Sowell is a nationally syndicated columnist.

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