Arun Venugopal is a reporter and the creator of Micropolis, WNYC’s multi-platform series examining race, sexuality, religion, street life and other issues that define New York City. He has been with the station since 2005, and has covered a wide range of stories, including the death of Sean Bell, the controversy over the Park 51 mosque and community center and Occupy Wall Street .
Hindu Activists Broaden the Fight Against Islamic Extremism
Wednesday, March 09, 2011
For years, men like Arish Kumar Sahani have spoken out about the abuses suffered by Hindus in Muslim-majority countries, as well as how Islamic extremism affects Hindus in India. Their concerns didn't often travel outside the Indian-American community, which has fiercely debated the rights of Muslims in a Hindu-majority India.
But the furor over Park 51 and more recent controversy over Congressman Peter King's hearings on Muslim radicalization have provided a mainstream platform for Hindu-American activists, while simultaneously diversifying the ranks of anti-Islamic protesters.
"We're requesting all Muslims: If you don't help us, we have no other option," said Sahani on Sunday, speaking at a demonstration about what he considers inadequate Muslim-American cooperation with law enforcement agencies. "We have to stop immigration of all Muslims - that should be our ultimate solution. God bless America!"
His proposal drew cheers from the crowd of about 35 supporters of Peter King in midtown Manhattan. Just a couple weeks earlier, the retired insurance agent from Queens was in Long Island, at another rally in support of King.
Sahani was born in India before Partition, in what is now Pakistan. He calls America "heaven on earth," and thinks Muslim immigrants are benefiting from their adopted country without giving back. The United States, he argues, needs to be aggressive in fighting Muslim forces.
"I don't want this country to become just like Pakistan, Bangladesh, and India, which is becoming a soft nation for Islamic appeasement. We don't want this country to appease Islam."
At the rally, Sahani was joined by about ten other Indian-American men, most of them Hindus, as well as a couple Sikhs.
"The country should be made secure," said Pabitra Chaudhury, a Hindu activist. "We can't go to the airports without waiting in the line. And if it takes profiling of the people, what is the harm?"
One of the most prominent of the activists is Narain Kataria, a 76-year-old retiree from Queens. He helped establish the Human Rights Coalition Against Radical Islam, which includes four Indian, Sikh and Hindu groups, as well as the Zionist Organization of America and Americans for a Safe Israel.
"I have been watching Islam destroying everywhere," said Kataria, who has been active in Hindu nationalist groups in the U.S., including the Overseas Friends of the Bharatiya Janata Party, which raised funds for the BJP (Indian People's Party).
The BJP is one of India's most powerful political parties and rose to prominence on a platform of Indian national security, conservative social policies and a controversial campaign favoring the removal of a mosque in India to make way for a temple dedicated to the Hindu god Ram. The mosque, considered by some Hindus to have been built on Ram's birthplace, was destroyed by a Hindu mob in 1992, an episode that precipitated waves of Hindu-Muslim violence.
"Americans can learn lot of things from our experience," said Kataria, "because whatever we have seen, the way Islam operates, they believe that Islam is a peaceful religion, but there is no peace in Islam anywhere."
Not all Indian-Americans side with Kataria, and in past years political divisions within the diaspora -- between Hindu conservatives on one hand and a coalition of secular activists, human rights groups, Muslims and others -- have broken out into the open, with competing street protests and sharp exchanges in the press.
For their part, some Indian-American activists have vigorously opposed Peter King's hearings or marched in support of Park 51. Many of them argue that the heightened rhetoric, post-9/11 and more recently, have prompted hate crimes against not only Muslim Americans but a number of Sikhs as well.
Biju Mathew, an associate professor at Rider University in New Jersey and self-described leftist with the South Asia Solidarity Initiative, has frequently gone to battle with Kataria and his allies.
"Their sole focus is a particular kind of virulent bigotry against Islam," said Mathew. "I'm extremely concerned that something like this continues to happen."
Mathew argued that Hindu activists -- what he refers to as "the extreme right fringe" -- don't have the same clout in India as before, owing to shifting political structures. But he worried that even a few Indian-American activists at a demonstration would be interpreted by media outlets as stand-ins for the larger community.
Many Hindu activists, he said, find common cause with pro-Israel activists who also speak against the threat from Islamic extremism.
"The extreme Hindu right see themselves as an axis between America, Israel and India," he said.
Pamela Geller, the primary organizer behind the anti-Park 51 protests, said she had "a wonderful working relationship with Indian-American freedom fighters," some of whom have spoken at her events.
"They show that our resistance to Islamic supremacism is not born of racism or xenophobia," she said. "We welcome immigrants, and are proud to stand with Indian-Americans in our common struggle to defend freedom. They know firsthand what Islamization of a society means, and as such have an important message for the American public."
Kataria in turn said he was happy to work with Geller and her partner, Robert Spencer of JihadWatch.org.
"Pamela Geller, Robert Spencer, they are my friends," he said. "We have been advising them that the big danger is coming here also, so be careful."