India's story is of intrinsic interest and importance. By following the story of Gujarat, Americans can begin to understand better than most currently do the political and religious dynamics of the world's most populous democracy, a nuclear power, and a nation that will play an increasingly large role on the world stage. India is typically not well covered by the U. S. media or by education in U. S. schools and colleges. Indian scholars who have written extremely well about their own situation, in books and articles and in a national press that is admirable for its quality and its openness, have little name-recognition in the U. S. and are rarely read. During the ascendancy of the Hindu right, when intelligent diplomatic pressure could have achieved change, U. S. foreign policy was largely indifferent to internal tensions in India, focusing only on the threat of nuclear conflict with Pakistan. American ignorance of India's history and current situation was largely to blame for such omissions. Americans typically follow events in the Middle East rather closely. If one wants to know about Israeli-Palestinian relations, for example, ample material for such an understanding is readily available from daily newspapers, television, and the internet. India is simply not as "present" to the American mind, because it is not as present in the American media. Thus India's own struggle with religious extremism is little known, and the lessons it can teach us are little appreciated.
I decided to write on this subject primarily in order to correct this imbalance. In the spring of 2003, I was invited to present a paper on a panel at the American Philosophical Association entitled "Philosophical Perspectives on the Israel-Palestine Conflict." That topic interested me, but I also knew that there were many fine philosophers who could speak on it, and that most people in the audience would be tolerably well informed about the issues. So I asked whether, instead, I might offer a comparative paper on Gujarat and Hindu-Muslim tensions in India. The offer was accepted. I wrote the paper, which was ultimately published as an article in Dissent ("Genocide in Gujarat," Dissent 61-9 (Summer 2003)). Another related article, on the rapes of women in Gujarat, was published in The Boston Review. ("Body of the Nation: Why Women Were Mutilated in Gujarat," The Boston Review 29 (2004), 33-38). The aim of both of these articles was not to say anything terribly surprising: public intellectuals, politicians, and activists in India had been analyzing the story of Gujarat often and well for some time. It was, however, to make Americans aware of the events, and of the work that had already been done on them.
People in the U. S. who read these articles often said to me things like, "That is really bad. I didn't know that was happening." It would have been possible for them to know what was happening, had they tried to read Indian newspapers online or bought books available only in India. But of course people don't do that unless they have some antecedent connection with the country. U. S. media were not making the information available to people who did not make that sort of unusual effort. So I began to think that it might be valuable for me to write a book on the subject of Gujarat and the Hindu right in India for the American public. The events of Gujarat were not inevitable. They were aided by the silence of the world. With these posts and my future book on this subject, I aim to break that silence. Intelligent action from the world community is important in sustaining recent good developments and in preventing a recurrence of genocidal violence.
My determination to write about Gujarat was increased when I encountered another kind of reaction. If I said to friends that I was writing on "religious tensions in India," a surprising number of highly intelligent people, some of them leading academics, said to me things like, "What's happening? Are the Muslims stirring up trouble again?" And of course that is precisely what the Hindu right wants people to think: Muslims are troublemakers wherever they are, and if there is trouble it is very likely to have been caused by them. The Hindu right seeks to exploit for its own purposes thoughts that come all too easily to many Americans in the aftermath of 9/11. Leading members of the Hindu right whom I have interviewed assume that as an American I am a potential sympathizer, since they assume that I already believe that Muslims are troublemakers. When people I admire repeatedly fell into this inaccurate and crude way of perceiving the Indian situation, I began to feel that it was urgent that the real story be told, so that our relations to this important nation would not be guided by stereotypes and misleading anti-Muslim propaganda.