Comments by Sankrat Sanu, part of an email exchange with Michael Brown about the Washington Post coverage of objections to Prof. Paul B. Courtright's book Ganesa: Lord of Obstacles, Lord of Beginnings (Oxford University Press, 1985). The message is posted here with permission. Sankrant Sanu is a freelance writer who has written on Hindu issues.

28 April 2004

Dear Prof. Brown:

Thanks for your response. The answer to your question of whether I support those who use harrassment and intimidation is an unequivocal no. In fact, these people are at least as much a liability for the community as they are for the scholars. Unfortunately there is no way to for us to control those who send nasty emails or post anonymous "death threats" -- the internet as a medium too easily allows many forms of virtually anonymous verbal diarrhea. As writers in the community we have tried hard to make sure that we don't encourage or condone this segment which has nothing of value to add to the debate in any case. While I was not involved in the petition against Courtright's book, nor did I choose to sign it, I did note that the sponsors of the petition took it off-line when a few people posted comments personally threatening to Courtright.

On your other point, as far as I know, there has been no concerted call for Courtright to resign or be dismissed. Sometimes rumors travel faster than facts even in academia. I know that a recent community group that met with Emory University to express their concerns specifically did not seek Courtright's resignation or dismissal. [MFB comment: This is correct; the group demanded that Emory reassign Prof. Courtright to courses that don't involve teaching about Hinduism, the area of expertise for which he was originally hired and for which he is noted.]

Unfortunately, it is also true that the spectre of "death threats" has also been used by some scholars simply as an excuse to refuse to engage with their critics in the community and to brand all those who object as "fanatics". Both Rajiv Malhotra and I have repeatedly said that our goal is to have the academy take our concerns seriously and respond to our detailed critiques. This has unfortunately not been forthcoming. Stereotyping the protestors is also a ruse for avoiding debate. Thus the description on your website remains problematic: "On the menacing campaign, including death threats, against cultural"outsiders" at American universities who have written about Hinduism in ways that "insider" Hindu fundamentalists find objectionable." There are people other than "Hindu fundamentalists" who think some scholars have grossly mis-represented the tradition and engaged
in dubious scholarship. This is not simply a matter of insider or outsider but a matter of "what constitutes knowledge?"

In particular, if the academy is engaged in the production of knowledge its freedom of speech is only meaningful within that boundary. Otherwise there is no way to prevent anyone's personal fantasies or works of fiction to be passed off as non-fiction academic writing. Blasphemy is not a primary concern for me. Truth and fairness are. I explore this issue with regard to the academy in my essay "Courtright Twist and Academic Freedom."

For a detailed rebuttal (included questionable and missing references) of Courtright's book, see the essay by another community member: "When The Cigar becomes a Phallus". Again this work is being done by members of the community because no such rebuttal has come from *within* the academy (yes, in the 20 years the book was published). This absence of opposing voices within the academy to Courtright-like works in Hinduism (that then get used as standard reference) would be unimaginable for similar works for any other major religion -- e.g. Christianity, Islam or Judaism. This is symptomatic of the disbalance we seek to expose and help correct

I appreciate your time and willingness to engage in a constructive discussion.

Regards, Sankrant