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

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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’.

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Video- USA Gears Up For Its Midterm Elections

Trump and Obama may never appear as opposing candidates on a ballot together, but they are facing off in a closely watched proxy battle in this year’s midterm campaign.

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MIdterm Elections
Former U.S. President Barack Obama speaks at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign in Urbana, Illinois. VOA

For former U.S. president Barack Obama, it must seem like old times. Obama has started to hit the campaign trail on behalf of Democrats ahead of the November midterm elections, setting up what amounts to a proxy battle with the man who succeeded him, President Donald Trump.

Trump already has been a fixture on the campaign trail on behalf of Republicans, convinced that aggressive efforts in Republican-leaning states will protect Republican majorities in both the Senate and the House of Representatives.

Obama’s initial foray into the 2018 congressional campaign came at the University of Illinois where he urged young Democrats to keep up the fight for social and economic justice.

“Each time we have gotten closer to those ideals, somebody somewhere has pushed back,” Obama said. “It did not start with Donald Trump. He is a symptom, not the cause. He is just capitalizing on resentment that politicians have been fanning for years.”

Get out the vote

Obama also campaigned in California on behalf of several Democratic House candidates, where he urged activists to turn out and vote in November.

“When we are not participating, when we are not paying attention, when we are not stepping up, other voices fill the void,” Obama told a Democratic gathering in Anaheim. “But the good news in two months, we have a chance to restore some sanity in our politics.”

Obama now finds himself competing against the man who succeeded him, President Trump, and who has vowed to undo much of what Obama did during his presidency.

Midterm Elections
Former U.S. President Barack Obama speaks at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign in Urbana, Illinois. VOA

Touting the economy

For his part, Trump has been eager to get out on the campaign trail and has promised a vigorous effort to energize Republican voters to keep their congressional majorities in November.

“This election is about jobs. It is safety and it is jobs,” Trump said at a recent Republican rally in Billings, Montana. “Thanks to Republican leadership, our economy is booming like never before in our history. Think of it, in our history. Nobody knew this was going to happen.”

Trump also is stoking fear among his Republican supporters that a Democratic takeover of the House of Representatives in November could lead to his impeachment.

“We will worry about that if it ever happens,” he told the crowd in Billings. “But if it does happen, it is your fault because you did not go out to vote. OK? You didn’t go out to vote.”

Midterm Elections
Supporters hold signs as President Donald Trump speaks during a rally Aug. 21, 2018, in Charleston, W.Va. VOA

Referendum on Trump

Midterm elections are historically unkind to sitting presidents. But unlike many of his predecessors, Trump has embraced the notion that the November congressional vote will be a referendum on his presidency.

Political analysts said that strategy carries both risk and reward.

“The enthusiasm on both sides of the aisle is really related to the president,” said George Washington University political scientist Lara Brown. “I think the last numbers I saw were that more than 40 percent of people who said that they would be very likely to vote were going to be either voting for the president or against the president in this midterm.”

Trump and Obama already have jousted over who should get credit for the strong U.S. economy. At his rallies, Trump touts economic growth and job creation numbers since he took over the presidency, arguing that the national economy is “booming like never before.”

Obama has offered some pushback on the campaign trail.

Midterm Elections
President Donald Trump speaks at a fundraiser in Fargo, N.D. VOA

“Let’s just remember when this recovery started,” Obama said in his Illinois speech, highlighting job growth during his White House years as part of the recovery from the 2008 recession.

Head-to-head battle

Like Trump, Obama also has proved to be a lightning rod for voters. The 44th president was effective in two presidential campaigns at turning out Democrats but was a drag on the party in his two midterm elections, spurring Republicans to turn out against him.

During this year’s midterm, Obama is likely to focus on mobilizing women, younger activists and nonwhite voters, key parts of the Democratic coalition that helped him win the White House in 2008 and 2012.

Also Read: Trump Needs Obama For Dealing With North Korea, Said Jon Wolfsthal

“That enthusiasm is there throughout the Democratic Party and across demographic groups,” said Brookings Institution scholar John Hudak. “And for the first time many voters are going to see options on their ballot that look and sound and talk about issues in different ways, and that is always something that is appealing to a voter base.”

Trump and Obama may never appear as opposing candidates on a ballot together, but they are facing off in a closely watched proxy battle in this year’s midterm campaign where party control of Congress is at stake. (VOA)