By David Franklin
I’m proud of my Aryan brothers and sisters. A small band of people who spread out from western Central Asia to conquer far and wide. The Aryans have left their DNA, languages, and cultures onto continents that were already rich in languages and cultures. The religions that they promulgated have guided billions of people over the millennia and enrich us to this day. The Aryans are one group of humans who have joined the whole human family with their gifts and their thefts, their wisdom and their foolishness, their strengths and their weaknesses, their sweetness and their bitterness. In short, the Aryans are one component of mankind, like the woodwind section in the Symphony of Humanity. They are just as essential to the magnificence of our species as are the other components; not less, not more.
How would or how could such an invaluable branch of the human family lend its name to some of the most egregiously evil ideologies that have been visited upon our planet in the past century and a half? The irony is that it was not the Aryans that provided the nomenclature itself to movements that advocated the very suppression of the true Aryans.
What is the origin of the term Aryan? It is from an ancient Sanskrit word, arya, which means a noble or honorable person. The Persians, or Iranians (Iran is itself a derivative of the word aryan) took the word to describe themselves. These are Indo-Europeans who spread east from Persia and settled most of the territories of Afghanistan, Pakistan, Nepal, northern India, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka.
This particular branch of the Indo-European peoples are most closely related to the Baltic and Slavic peoples of Eastern Europe. Indeed, modern Lithuanian is the closest living language to Sanskrit, which has a high number of recognizable words to ancient Sanskrit. The second closest language to Sanskrit is Latvian, the other living Baltic language.
The usurpation of the term Aryan to designate a mythological super race of people, was the offspring of conflating two distinctly different disciplines, genetics and linguistics. This is somewhat understandable, since ethnically related peoples mostly speak related languages, e.g., German and Dutch, Portuguese and Spanish, Arabic and Hebrew, Mandarin Chinese and Cantonese, isiZulu and isiXhosa, etc. This totally ignores the possibility, actually a reality, of dominant ethnic groups imposing their languages on vassal ethnic groups. This latter scenario has occurred frequently and globally since humans developed different languages, and pursued imperialistic ventures.
The impetus for this term to be applied to the racist theories and memes that developed over the past centuries started with the discovery in India of Sanskrit and its relationship with other Indo-European languages. In 1786, an English scholar in India, Sir William Jones, delivered an address that stated his strongly supported research that the ancient Indian tongue Sanskrit was obviously a relative of Classical Greek and Latin. This began a widespread desire in European academic circles to explore all the aspects of this phenomenon, including its origin. There grew a number of hypotheses and theories from where this language had arisen.
One of these hypotheses was that the Proto-Indo-Europeans had come from Northern Europe, perhaps Scandinavia, thousands of years ago. This theory was based on the racist belief that the Indo-European people, also known as the Indo-Germanic or Indo-Aryans, were a race of blond, blue-eyed, physically and mentally superior beings. The propagators of this hypothesis, most Germans, preferred the term Aryan. They believed that the original Aryans had come from the reputed continent of Atlantis and had settled in northern Germany and Scandinavia.
Unfortunately, this theory found a great audience in the United States as a justification for slavery. In Britain, it was also widely popular as an apologia for imperialism, as it was also in France. Perhaps the most widely noted and articulate proponent of this theory was Arthur de Gobineau. The most infamous disciple of Gobineau’s discredited theory was the Nazi leader, Adolf Hitler. This theory formed a major basis of Nazi Germany’s official ideology. Subsequently, this led to the phantasmagoric horror of the destruction of populations across Europe, most notably against the Jewish population, but included others as well: Roma or Gypsies, Slavs, physically and mentally impaired citizens of all ethnicities, and homosexuals.
These primitive and unsophisticated pseudoscientific racial theories were not extinguished after the defeat of the fascist troglodytes in 1945, but have lain dormant (and no longer so dormant) in Western societies. Rightwing fringe groups in the U.S., such as the American Nazi Party and the Ku Klux Klan have clung to them for their justification of racial superiority. Psychological studies have indicated that members of such groups are largely motivated by a feeling of isolation and powerlessness. Generally, these are those from the non-college educated working class, who have seen their once secure economic status greatly reduced. Other factors show a tendency to violence and narcissism that has been exacerbated by feelings of disenfranchisement over civil rights and affirmative action legislation. This latent infection was brought to the surface with the election of Donald J. Trump.
The great irony is that immigrants and refugees from Aryan backgrounds, coming to the West from the lands of southern Central Asia and South Asia (notably Afghanistan and India), are classified as people of color. They face the risk of encountering the bigotry of ill-educated hooligans and thugs who proudly proclaim themselves as Aryans. The Aryan Brotherhood, which recruits in prisons, has grown to an estimated 15,000 – 20,000 membership with several million dollars in assets. Other racist hate groups, as well, refer to themselves as Aryans. Their very lack of awareness of this ignorance is testimony to their undeveloped education and literacy.
Yes, I am proud of the Aryan peoples, as I am of all my other brothers and sisters in the troop of Homo sapiens. Whether they are Austronesian, or Semitic, maybe Nilotic, or Khoi-San, Latin/Celtic, or Sino-Tibetan, it makes no difference. A person is distinguished by character and appreciation of our common humanity. Our very existence as a species is in an existential crisis with the looming climate change challenge. We have no time to distinguish among ourselves for the most petty of reasons. We must reject the idiocy of racial mythological tropes. Our common future rests upon our common purpose to survive together. We must reject the pernicious bile of racism, nationalism, or any notions of ethnic superiority, and forge an alliance of all of our species to save ourselves. This is an imperative that we cannot ignore.
David Franklin currently lives and teaches in Saudi Arabia. He is a Linguist with a background in Slavic Linguistics and has an MA from the University of Pennsylvania.