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The National: Purification Rites

Author: Pankaj Mishra
March 27, 2009


As "nationalist demagogues" take power in India and Israel, Pankaj Mishra examines the histories of division, ethnic cleansing, and militant patriotism that have led both countries into a "moral wilderness."

Excerpt: Growing up in the 1970s in small town India, where nothing much happened, I was an avid reader of the foreign pages in the Indian newspapers. This is how I discovered one of my earliest heroes, the Israeli general Moshe Dayan. I remember being introduced to his legend by my grandfather, an upper-caste Hindu nationalist who was an admirer of militant patriots, especially those he supposed to be ranged against Muslims. He recounted keenly how Dayan had outmaneuvered numerically superior Arab armies in 1967, and how he had snatched the Golan Heights from Syria at the last minute.

When news of Dayan's secret visit to India in 1978 as Israel's foreign minister leaked and pictures of him appeared in the Indian newspapers, I was transfixed by his black eye-patch and mischievous grin. This image of vitality, courage and resourcefulness was confirmed by one of the first books that I read in English: Ninety Minutes at Entebbe, the account of a daring Israeli raid in Uganda to free hostages captured by Palestinian terrorists.

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