Vinay Lal

Vinay Lal

: Photo from Wikimedia Commons / Author of Photo: Hossein.sattari


* Professor of history at UCLA
* Believes the U.S. government has exploited the 9/11 attacks as a pretext for military action
* States that as a result of 9/11, “nothing has changed, insofar as the U.S. remains on course in exercising its ruthless dominance over the rest of the world”

Vinay Lal has been a Professor of History at UCLA since the Fall 1993 semester. He teaches courses in Indian history, comparative colonial histories, subaltern history, and Indian historiography. In addition, he teaches graduate-level seminars on the contemporary politics of knowledge, postcolonial theory, and the politics of culture. In 1992-93, just prior to his arrival at UCLA, he was a Lecturer in History at Columbia University.

Lal was born in Delhi and was raised in numerous places, including India, Indonesia, Japan, and the United States. As an undergraduate student at Johns Hopkins University, where he earned his B.A. in 1982, he studied literature, history, and philosophy. That same year, he earned an M.A. from Johns Hopkins for his thesis on Indian Philosophy. In 1992 he was awarded a Ph.D. by the University of Chicago.

Lal teaches a course titled “Fiat Lux Seminar: Honors Collegium 98,” which, according to the UCLA online catalog, is subtitled “Re-Reading Democracy in America: Politics Before and After 9/11.” According to the catalog, there are “two requirements” for students to complete the course — a paper on one of the two class texts, and an in-class presentation. Here is how the presentation is described in the UCLA catalog:

“… In this presentation, the student will draw upon some aspect of American political, cultural, or social life which has a bearing on the subject matter of the course. For example, a presentation might focus on what the election to California’s governorship of a movie star [Arnold Schwarzenegger] who has been charged by a dozen women with sexual molestation, drives perhaps the most environmentally unfriendly vehicle in the world, and appeared not to have a single idea about governance says about American ‘democracy.’ Other presentations can focus on corporate ownership of the media, the rise of Fox News, the MTA and grocery chain strikes in Los Angeles, the trade union movements, the presence of African-Americans and Latinos in the U.S. army, the film ‘Bowling in (sic) Columbine’, the assault on civil liberties, the indefinite detention of hundreds of Muslims without any accountability to notions of justice, or thousands of such phenomena.”

The course description shows that Professor Lal’s Fiat Lux Seminar is an exercise in political propaganda, not academic inquiry. The text assigned for this seminar is Vietnam and Other American Fantasies by H. Bruce Franklin. Lal explains the importance of Franklin’s text in this way: “Though many commentators have unthinkingly rehearsed the cliché that after 9/11 all is changed, our other principal text comes from one of the most respected scholars of American history [Franklin is in fact a Professor of English Literature], whose relatively recent inquiry into the meaning of the Vietnam War in American life suggests that nothing has changed, insofar as the U.S. remains on course in exercising its ruthless dominance over the rest of the world.”

In Lal’s view, the current War on Terror is nothing more than a fraudulent concoction of the U.S. government, which he accuses of having exploited the 9/11 attacks as a pretext for military action — motivated not by a quest for justice and security, but rather a lust for empire. “[President] Bush diverted his energies after the events of September 11 towards the creation of an ‘International Coalition against Terror,’” said Lal shortly after 9/11, “but this is much ado about nothing: all too often the U.S. has declared that it will act unilaterally when it must, and much like the coalition of a decade ago [in 1991], when Saddam Hussein was the villain of the piece, the present coalition means little more than the partnership of the U.S. and its dependent mother, Great Britain, with various errant vassals and truant children cajoled, bribed and threatened into cooperation.”

Professor Lal sees many similarities between George W. Bush and Osama bin Laden, characterizing both as rogues who egotistically invoke God’s blessings for their unworthy causes. “Bush and bin Laden have much more in common,” he wrote. “… If anything, bin Laden’s parochialism is slightly less offensive: whereas Bush concludes his addresses to the nation with ‘God bless America,’ as though God should care about nation-states or has earmarked America as especially deserving of His approbation, bin Laden is content to observe, ‘God is great, may pride be with Islam.’ The fundamentalism of fanatical conviction knows no boundaries; rogues do understand each other.”

Lal sees the horrors of 9/11 as a type of karmic justice visited upon the United States for its past transgressions. He sneers at “America’s discovery that it is no longer inviolable, and that it may be susceptible to the very suffering that it has so cavalierly visited upon others.”

Lal’s view of the U.S. is of a nation obsessed with violence and conquest, always in search of new pretexts for making war — in large part, the professor claims, because war is a lucrative enterprise for corporate America. . . . No modern power has so consistently been at war with such a wide range of political regimes; no other culture has so elaborate a mythology of guns, so profound an affection for the right to own guns . . .  Politicians and the much-feted ‘American public,’ whose ‘compassion’ and ‘values’ are tirelessly trotted out at every turn, recognize that war is good for America. That, alone, raises the most terrifying prospects for the future of humankind.”

Lal has authored a number of books, including: Introducing Hinduism (2005); The History of History: Politics and Scholarship in Modern India (2003); Empire of Knowledge: Culture and Plurality in the Global Economy (2002); Of Cricket, Guinness and Gandhi: Essays on Indian History and Culture (2003); He co-edited (with Ashis Nandy) The Future of Knowledge and Culture: A Dictionary for the Twenty-first Century (2005); and he edited Dissenting Knowledges,Open Futures: The Multiple Selves and Strange Destinations of Ashis Nandy (2000).

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