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American evangelist attacks Hinduism

May 07, 2010 11:30 IST
A prominent American evangelist attacks Hinduism and Islam. Aziz Haniffa reports from Washington, DC on the controversy.

Activists of the Indian-American community and the Hindu American Foundation have denounced Reverend Franklin Graham, the son and heir apparent of celebrated evangelist Reverend Billy Graham, for maligning Hinduism during an interview where he largely continued his attacks on Islam.

In an interview to the USA Today newspaper on May 4, Graham -- whose father is affectionately known as 'America's Pastor' -- renewed his attacks on Islam, which he had done a day earlier with the conservative media outlet Newsmax, saying, 'Muslims do not worship the same "God the Father" I worship,' and then took a nasty swipe at Hinduism's many manifestations of God.

'None of their 9,000 gods is going to lead me to salvation. We are fooling ourselves if we think we can have some big kumbaya service and all hold hands and it's all going to get better in this world. It's not going to get better,' Franklin Graham said in the controversial interview.

Ohio attorney Subodh Chandra, who in December 2000 had debated evangelist Reverend Pat Roberston when he had ridiculed Hinduism, said of Graham's remarks that "multiple-handed Hindus would have to sanitise their hands were they to hold Mr Graham's anyway."

Suhag Shukla, managing director and legal counsel, Hindu American Foundation, told rediff.com, "Graham's hate-filled stab at Hindus represents the worst of Christian bigotry and thankfully the fastest-waning segment of Christian-Americans."

She noted that "surveys have shown that Americans, a majority of whom are Christian, are increasingly subscribing to a more Hindu-like worldview. Well-regarded surveys like Pew and Harris have found that 65 percent of Americans, 37 percent of whom are white evangelicals, believe that many religions can lead to Eternal Life and 24 percent believe in reincarnation."

"These findings combined with the continued exponential rise in popularity of Hindu spirituality and yoga, I believe, shed better light on the true nature of Graham's statement," Shukla said, adding, "that they are more desperate cries of a shepherd trying to recapture a fleeing flock than a representative voice of Christians in America."

She acknowledged that "Graham is definitely correct that 'some big kumbaya service' is not going to make all our problems go away, but fails to recognise the role that his brand of narrow-minded Christianity as well as other fundamentalist interpretations of the world's religions have played in not only many of our nation's problems but those of the world, including terrorism, wars, violation of civil rights, human rights, atrocities and annihilation of entire cultures and communities."

Graham, who attended the April 25 meeting between his father and President Obama, told Newsmax that afterwards he had raised his frustration with Obama over being disinvited by the Pentagon from a National Day of Prayer event last month.

The Pentagon canceled Franklin Graham's appearance because of his previous attacks on Islam as 'an evil and wicked religion', arguing that it was 'not appropriate' to have someone like him at a prayer service which would be attended by armed services personnel of all faiths, including many Muslim servicemen.

Graham told Newsmax that after his conversation with Obama complaining about the disinvite by the Pentagon, the president told him he 'was going to look into it.'

But sensing that Obama was not going to overrule the Pentagon's action, Graham in his Newsmax interview on May 3, accused Obama of 'giving Islam a pass,' and asserted that the revocation of his invitation was 'a slap at all evangelical Christians.'

Arguing that Islam was being given special treatment by the Obama administration, Graham said, 'I just don't understand why the president would be giving Islam a pass. We certainly love the Muslim people. But that is not the faith of this country. And that is not the religion that built this nation.'

'The people of the Christian faith and the Jewish faith are the ones who built America and it is not Islam,' Graham declared.

Chandra told rediff.com that "actually, Mr Graham apparently missed the fact that much of America's high-tech industry was built by Hindus, and its railways were built by Buddhists. Perhaps he ought to 'crusade' through Silicon Valley."

"Fortunately, President Obama respects all faiths and refuses to reach his hands out to those who continue to preach hate and division," Chandra said, and pointed out that "Mr Graham's father was caught on President Nixon's White House tapes, bitterly denouncing Jews. It came to light a few years ago."

"Apparently," Chandra said, "bashing other faiths remains fashionable in some circles. But with the Obama presidency, it too will increasingly become a fringe activity and a relic of the past."

"The real issue now is whether other politicians will ostracise Mr Graham in the way he so richly deserves or whether they will continue to court the hate-mongers," he said, and challenged, "Let's see if Republican politicians will stay away from Graham; most will not, I fear."

"I hope Indian American Republicans care and are paying close attention," Chandra said. "We need them to speak up and about the politicians who associate with Graham, the hate-monger."

Shukla noted that "President Obama ushered in a new age of inclusion when he stated in his inaugural address that America was a nation of 'Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus, and nonbelievers.'"

"The Hindu American Foundation commends the Department of Defence (the Pentagon) for following suit and recognising that a divisive National Day of Prayer can only serve to hurt our nation's military," she added.

"American pluralism is a reality and the sooner Graham and those like him accept it, the sooner we'll be able to move on and address the pressing issues facing our nation, regardless of all of our different colours and creeds."

"Franklin Graham's egregious comments about Hinduism and Hindu beliefs will undoubtedly and unfortunately resonate with and further incite predatory Christian American missionaries on their 'harvest of souls' in India," Shukla reiterated, "leading to religious conflict and exacerbating tensions between religious communities."

Aziz Haniffa in Washington, DC