Is the great American dream over? Rising religious intolerance shows the dark side of US



By Gaurav Sharma

Racial discrimination in the US is not a recent development. Its roots extend to an era when White Americans enjoyed special rights and privileges over the Native Americans.

And it did not stop there. Leaders like Martin Luther King, Jr had to toil long and hard and, pay with their blood to annihilate the malicious white supremacy in the nation. There emerged a whole wave of revolutions– the counter-culture movement to stem the flow of ruthless war against Vietnam, black nationalism involving leaders like Malcolm X, along with a lengthy bout of the sexual liberation movement.

With such a rich history, the US came to be recognised as the epitome of a liberal society. Throngs of people–from myriad social and cultural backgrounds, pledging allegiance to their own religion started immigrating to the US, in search of a better way of life– in pursuit of the “American dream”.

Lately, however, the image of America as an accommodative, tolerant nation has taken a battering. Especially when it comes to racial and religious tolerance, people are starting to view it from a vantage point of suspicious glances. The spate of hate crimes that have sprung up in the US in recent months, have cast a leery light upon its status as a ‘harbinger of equality’.

The vast majority of these violent attacks have seen Indians–whether from the Hindu background or from other religious denominations–at the short end of the stick. Over the past couple of years, the string of attacks, particularly on temples or places of worship have increased manifold.

In August, last year, an idol of Shiva at the Vishwa Bhavan Hindu Mandir in Monroe in the state of Georgia was desecrated with black paint.

Back in January 2012, Molotov cocktails made from Frappuccino bottles were used to bomb the Imam Al-Khoei Foundation mosque, in the Jamaica neighborhood of Queens, and a Hindu temple housed in a private residence in Hillside.

Just last month, the windows of the Hindu temple in Kent were smashed and the word ‘Fear’ was smeared on its walls.

The ugly side of America was again brought to the fore when 57-year-old Sureshbhai Patel was attacked by a police officer in Madison in Alabama state and left partially paralysed. The officer was later dismissed from the police force.

The tragic and horrific incident managed to grab international headlines, prompting the US lawmakers to include Sikh, Hindu, and Arab American communities in the Department of Justice’s hate crimes tracking effort.

Speaking to reporters, member of the US House of Representatives, Ami Bera said, “Since the September 11th attacks, too many Americans, especially Sikh, Hindu and Arab-Americans, have been wrongfully subjected to hate crimes and discrimination, including the shooting of two Sikh Americans in my own city”.

“Religious tolerance is a fundamental value of our nation and we must do everything we can to prevent these crimes motivated by bias against a victim’s religious beliefs,” he said.

Taking a step in the right direction, The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) recently updated and operationalized its hate crimes database and FBI training manual in order to start tracking hate crimes committed against these groups.

However, in spite of all the judicial reform and investigative activism, the outbursts against other communities do not appear to stall.

In the most recent of offensives against Hindus, the North Texas Hindu Mandir in Lake Highlands suburb of Dallas, was vandalised,  painted with symbols of 666 or devil worship on the temple’s door. The insignia left by the attackers seemed to suggest their association with Marca Salvatrucha, an international gang based in El Salvador, currently active in the US.

Ironically, the heightened attacks against the Hindus comes at a time the US President Barack Obama is preaching India to move beyond the shadows of religious intolerance (while making his departure address from India).

In light of the continuous, consistent and unabating attacks on Hindus the “cultural training” suggestion by the Hindu American Foundation assumes greater significance, if one is to foster better understanding of  the attitudes and behaviours of culturally and linguistically diverse people.

A truly inclusive society requires a change in mindset, which calls for fomenting knowledge and understanding of the ‘other people’.