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Sun Aug 26 19:12:54 IST 2007


26 August 2007

Issue: 1

Welcome to Friends of the South Asian American Communities


Was the US Senate Attack on Hinduism an isolated Instance?

Article by: Rajiv Malhotra,

The US Senate has a long tradition of opening with Bible prayers, occasionally extending
a symbolic courtesy to prayers of other faiths. For the first time in its history
a Hindu priest was invited to conduct the opening prayer. Indian-Americans, having
contributed immensely to America, naturally felt proud to be afforded equal respect
alongside other American religions. But the Hindu prayer was attacked as an "abomination"
by hate-filled heckling that resulted from an organized mobilization by civic groups
such as the American Family Association attempting, to demonize Hinduism as heathen,
immoral and dangerously un-American. The President of the Family Research Council
mobilized Americans to block the Hindu priest, saying, "There is no historic connection
between America and the polytheistic creed of Hinduism." David Barton, one of the
scholars informing the attackers, declared that Hinduism was "not a religion that
has produced great things in the world," citing social conditions in India as proof
of its primitiveness.
The denigration of Hinduism influences the way Americans relate to Indians. Andrew
Rotter, an American historian, in his book on the US foreign policy's tilt against
India and towards Pakistan during the Nehru era, cites declassified documents revealing
US presidents' and diplomats' suspicions of Hinduism. They regarded "Hindu India"
as lacking morality and integrity, and its "grotesque images" reminded them of previous
pagan faiths conquered by Christians, such as Native Americans. American ideas about
India are intertwined with stereotypes about Hinduism.
There are domestic implications concerning the diaspora as well. The great American
meritocracy has enabled us to succeed as individuals, and many Indians see American
Jews as a role model. But it took the Jews over half a century of organized lobbying
and litigation by organizations such as the Anti-Defamation League, to establish
 their religious identity in public life. The lesson Jews had learnt in the European
Holocaust was that their individual success could easily be used against them if
 their civilizational identity was defamed. Indians also faced hate crimes in New
Jersey when the Dotbusters targeted Hindus. Recent rants by Pat Buchanan and Lou
 Dobbs generate xenophobia against Indians for "stealing" jobs from "real" (i.e.
 white Judeo-Christian) Americans. As Indian-Americans stand out for their individual
success, while US economic standards deteriorate, we may one day regret having neglected
the projection of a positive civilizational image. Unlike many other ethnic and 
religious groups, we have not adequately engaged US universities, schools, media
 and think-tanks deeper than the pop culture layer of cuisine, Bollywood and fashions.
On the contrary, many Indian writers have fed the "caste, cows, curry" images of
Hindu-Americans need to be educated on the history of American public religion and
the "American way" of claiming one's religious identity across the spectrum of liberals
and conservatives. In fact, even liberal Americans have always been a very Christian
people. Hilary Clinton's devout Christianity has shaped her liberalism. She told
 New York Times that her Methodist faith has been "a huge part of who I am, and 
how I have seen the world and what I believe in, and what I have tried to do in 
my life." She carries a Bible on her campaign travels and confidently quotes from
St. Augustine, Thomas Aquinas and John Wesley, the father of Methodism. Another 
liberal, Barak Obama, proudly projects his Christianity and delivers many of his
 key campaign speeches before church congregations. It comes as a surprise to many
secular Indians that the very liberal President Jimmy Carter describes himself as
a Bible evangelist, and asserts that his Christian faith provided the moral compass
to guide his presidency.
Liberalism in America is about egalitarian economic and race policies, and is not
a rejection or even a departure from the nation's majority religion, i.e. Christianity.
The equivalent scenario would be for India's CPM leaders (the liberal/left equivalent
of Obama, Clinton and Carter) to quote Hindu sacred texts and deliver campaign speeches
in major Hindu temples. While American labor unions have always been very deeply
 rooted in Christianity, India's labor unions are encouraged to discard the Hindu
identity. Unlike in Europe, American public life has never abandoned its deep rooted
Christian foundations. America's separation of state and church affects only formal
institutions, and does not imply de-Christianizing the leadership or the national
Indian intellectuals have misunderstood America's Christian psyche because the Indian
notion of secularism in India is very different to that of the American. Indian 
secularism requires distancing from the majority religion, i.e. Hinduism, by one
 or more of the following ways: by espousing a "generic spirituality" without any
specific religious identity, by condemning any Hindu identity as a mark of communalism
with BJP links, or by explicitly blaming Hinduism for all sorts of human rights 
problems. The equivalent situation would be to blame the Bible for all the US abuses
in Guantanamo and in its domestic society, and to de-Christianize America into a
 sort of generic spirituality. While Hinduism, like all other world religions, does
have social problems, it also has internally generated reformations, as well as 
immense resources to deal with the human condition.
Unraveling this requires understanding Hinduphobia's nexus in the American academy
and seminaries. This is the subject of a well-researched eye-opening new book, titled,
Invading the Sacred: An analysis of Hinduism Studies in America. (See: www.invadingthesacred.com
for details.) The book exposes influential scholars who have disparaged the Bhagavad
Gita as "a dishonest book"; declared Ganesha's trunk a "limp phallus"; classified
the Hindu Devi as the "mother with a penis" and Shiva as "a notorious womanizer"
 who incites violence in India; pronounced Sri Ramakrishna a pedophile who sexually
molested the young Swami Vivekananda; condemned Indian mothers as being less loving
of their children than white women; and interpreted the bindi as a drop of menstrual
fluid and the "ha" in sacred mantras as a woman's sound during orgasm. To understand
the hatred spewed at us by the Senate hecklers one needs to understand the systemic
creation and distribution of such one-sided "data" by an army of "scholars" whose
mission is to bolster the image of Hinduism as a danger to the American way of life.

Kevin Kaul
Friends of the South Asian American Communities

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