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Hindu Group Accuses Southern Baptist Web Sites of Hate Speech

An organization claiming to represent 2 million American Hindus includes Southern Baptist Convention Web sites in a report citing “hatred and intolerance” toward the Hindu faith on the Internet.

A 52-page report by the Hindu American Foundation exposes what the group calls evidence of religious hate and bigotry. Modeled after efforts of human-rights groups like the Simon Wiesenthal Center, Anti-Defamation League and Southern Poverty Law Center and to monitor hate sites, Hyperlink to Hinduphobia: Online Hatred, Extremism and Bigotry Among Hindus denounces usage of terms like “demonic” and “satanic” to describe Hinduism on numerous Web sites.<?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office” />
 
“The proliferation of Web sites promoting religious hatred is an unfortunate consequence of the universality of access to the Internet,” Vinay Vallabh, lead author of the report and member of the Foundation’s executive council, said in a press release. “We must vigorously identify, condemn and counter those who use the Internet to espouse chauvinism and bigotry over the principles of pluralism and tolerance.”
 
“Though it is less well-known in this country, anti-Hindu bigotry is every bit as ugly and dangerous as anti-Semitism or racism, and every bit as present on the Internet,” Jeffrey Long, chair of the Department of Religious Studies at <?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags” />ElizabethtownCollege in Pennsylvania, wrote in his foreword to the report. “As we all know, murderous rampages have been inspired by anti-Semitic and racist Web sites. And it is not necessary for a Web site to exhort its readers to actual, physical violence for it to lead to such violence.”
 
Sites named in the report include SBCLife.Net, the online journal of the Southern Baptist Convention, and IMB.org, Web site of the International Mission Board.
 
The study faults SBC Life for “attempts to ‘reach’ Hindus by fiercely attacking Hindu beliefs.”
 
“Essays on the Web site continually refer to Hindus as ‘lost’ and the religion as ‘dark’ (for example, in an essay titled, ‘The Unfinished Task: Dispelling the Darkness’).”
 
“Continuing devotion to millions of Hindu deities, the garlanded Buddhist images in Asia and ancestral altars in Chinese homes attests to darkness still waiting for the light to dawn,” says the article from the December 2000 SBC Life written by IMB President Jerry Rankin.
 
As examples of hatred conveyed on the IMB’s own Web site, the report alleges: “Hindus are one of IMB’s main targets for evangelization and, in an attempt to convert them, many derogatory references to Hindus are found on this site. In fact, the organization launched ’12 Days of Prayer’ for Hindus during Diwali (also known as Deepavali, one of the most important festivals in the Hindu tradition, celebrating the victory of good over evil) so that they could dispel, ‘the darkness that holds more than 900 million Hindus in spiritual bondage.’
 
“A prayer booklet targeting Diwali was distributed at the Southern Baptist Convention in 1999. This booklet declares that, ‘More than 900 million people are lost in the hopeless darkness of Hinduism.’ It also states that, ‘Mumbai is a city of spiritual darkness. Eight out of every 10 people are Hindu, slaves bound by fear and tradition to false gods and goddesses….'”
 
In all the report singles out 37 Web sites by organizations and individuals accused of “sponsoring hatred” on the Internet. They include Pat Robertson’s Christian Broadcasting Network, Chick Publications and Gospel for Asia. Also listed is the Web site of the IMB’s South Asia region.
 
“Many of the Web sites described in this report claim to speak from religious perspectives,” the report says. “But is the greatness of traditions like Christianity or Islam served by denigrating Hinduism or spreading false information about it? This report is a wake-up call to all Americans to work for a society in which all religions are respected, and in which the practitioners of all religions can feel safe and included.”
 
“While in no way exhaustive, this report encapsulates the methodology commonly used to demean Hindus and their faith over the Internet–to exoticize, objectify and contemptuously discard,” it says. “The terminology alone speaks volumes: demonic, false, hopeless, satanic, cursed, evil, filthy, perverted, murderous and sinful.”
 
While several organizations exist to fight anti-Semitism, homophobia, racism and other forms of bigotry and hatred, it says, “to date, reports devoted to documenting and exposing anti-Hindu, or Hinduphobic, online content has been absent. This report is a first and vital step in critically analyzing anti-Hindu hate groups and their message.”
 
The report says hateful content included in the report “caricatures and ridicules Hindus, and threatens interfaith dialogue, mutual respect and civil discourse–basic underpinnings of American culture–at best, and ultimately leads to violence at worst.”
 
“If the ignorant defamation of Hinduism and those practicing the faith is not vociferously countered, there are tangible fears in the Hindu American community that Internet hate is at the forefront of a maelstrom of objectification and derision that can only lead down a retrogressive path to persecution,” it says. “That anti-Hindu violence is already a brutal reality in various countries around the world has been documented by the Foundation and most major human rights organizations.”
 
“Racism, anti-Semitism, xenophobia, homophobia, anti-Hindu hate, Islamophobia–whatever the name and context–must be exposed and condemned for it necessarily precludes civilizational dialogue that is so crucial today,” the report concludes.
 
“It is not the intention of the Foundation to curtail freedom of speech, but it is incumbent on a civil society to inhibit that speech which has the intent to inflame hatred and violence. Hate speech leads to real life victims. Preventing that downward spiral is the shared responsibility of all who may access the Internet.”
 
SBC Life Editor John Revell provided the following statement in response to the report:
 
“Southern Baptists have historically viewed biblical evangelism as a true act of love, not hatred.  Paul said that God’s love ‘compelled’ him to preach the Gospel (2 Corinthians 5:14).  The articles by the International Mission Board referenced on our Web site reflect the Lord’s love for the lost and Southern Baptists’ desire, driven by love, to take the Good News of Jesus Christ to all people, including Hindus.
 
“The Bible also says that the Gospel is offensive to some. It has been our experience that no matter how loving we are in our presentation of the Gospel, some will be offended.
 
“Southern Baptists showed the depth of their love for the Hindu people following the tsunami that devastated portions of South and Southeast Asia in December 2004, contributing more than $17 million and countless volunteer man hours to relief efforts among them. The love that produced such a response is the same love that compels us to proclaim the Gospel.”
 
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.