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US presidential candidate's bigotry shocks Hindus

January 28, 2012 10:45 IST

Hindu Americans have said that they are appalled by the recent comments made by Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum -- the darling of the conservative evangelicals -- on the eve of last month's South Carolina primary that the concept of equality did not come from Islam or 'eastern religions', but rather from the "God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob."
Leaders of the Hindu American Foundation that had previously worked with Santorum when he served as a US Senator from Pennsylvania and even commended his past work on human rights, were outraged by Santorum's remarks.

Dr Aseem Shukla, Minneapolis-based physician, who is a co-founder and board member of HAF, said, "Senator Santorum's presidential campaign is now playing to the lowest common denominator of religious bigotry and prejudice by attacking Eastern religions and Islam."

"His comments not only demonstrate a disregard for America's great history of pluralism and religious diversity, but also show a profound ignorance of the teachings of Dharma spiritual traditions, such as Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, and Sikhism," Shukla, who blogs regularly in the Washington Post's Inter-faith Forum, said.
Santorum, who addressed a crowd of over 200 people at the Clock Restaurant in the small town of Boiling Springs, further declared that Americans should live "responsibly in conforming with God's laws," since their rights and equality come from God.

Shukla said, "For Santorum to present himself as a 'true conservative' is to defame the conservative movement that should never allow itself to be conflated with his intolerant message."
Despite his last-minute appeals to South Carolina voters, the former Pennsylvania Senator finished in third place with 17 percent of the vote, behind both Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich, who received 27.8 per cent and 40.4 per cent respectively, with the former House Speaker Gingrich who was more than 10 points behind Romney a week before the primary, galloping to victory with strong debate performances and with the support of the Tea Party conservatives who ditched Santorum for Gingrich.

Jay Kansara, HAF's DC-based associate director, said, "Hinduism, the world's oldest spiritual tradition, has long advanced the concept of equality that transcends humanity and is inclusive of the entire creation that is a manifestation of an immanent and omnipotent God."

Thus, he said, "Santorum would do well in joining the millions of Americans who have actually read and drawn inspiration from the Bhagavad Gita and other Dharmic, or Eastern, scripture before making such divisive and ill-informed statements."

Another Hindu American activist, Rajan Zed also pilloried Santorum pointing out that 'Hinduism is the world's oldest religion and in Hinduism, equality is a fundamental truth'. 

Zed, who is the president of Universal Society of Hinduism, stressed that ancient Hindu scripture Shvetashvatara Upanishad 'told us that God dwelled in the hearts of all creatures: He is this boy, he is that girl, he is this man, he is that woman, and he is this old man, too, tottering on his staff.'"

He further noted that the Rig-Veda, "the oldest existing scripture of mankind still in common use, has pointed out: 'May the thoughts in our mind be always harmonious and tolerant towards others.'"

Zed suggested that Santorum study Hinduism and other eastern religions as the United States of America being a diverse society, someone aspiring to be President should know at least the basics of the religions of all Americans.

He said, if asked, he or other Hindu scholars stood ready to "enlighten Santorum about Hinduism." 

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Aziz Haniffa in Washington, DC
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