Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Hindu Fundamentalism Does Not Exist

Some things do not exist. For example, there are no active volcanoes in Belgium. Just as there is no ocean front property in Wyoming. Also there is no liquid water on the surface of Pluto. Nor are there any living veterans of the American Revolutionary War.

Question: Does "Hindu Fundamentalism" exist?

The word "fundamentalism" itself comes from debates among Protestant Christians in the United States during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. In those debates, far from being some kind of slur meant to conjure up visions of proto-fascist preachers whipping their flocks up into a xenophobic frenzy, it was a badge of honor proudly worn by self-defined "fundamentalists".

The idea that fundamentalism is a pathological condition to with all religions are equally prone and of which they are all equally guilty is a very recent development. But does this idea have any basis in reality?

In a very thoughtful article (first published back in June of 2010) over at the Patheos website, David Frawley poses the question: Is There Hindu Fundamentalism?

The short answer to that question, according to Frawley, is: "No." The long answer is: "Unequivocally, no."

Here is an excerpt:
No Hindus -- including so-called Hindu fundamentalists -- insist that there is only one true faith called Hinduism and that all other faiths are false. Hinduism contains too much plurality to allow for that. Its tendency is not to coalesce into a fanatic unit like the fundamentalists of other religions, but to disperse into various diverse sets and fail to arrive at any common action, historically even one of self-defense against foreign invaders.

Fundamentalist groups insist upon belief in the literal truth of one book as the Word of God, on which they base their behavior. Muslim fundamentalists insist that the Koran is the Word of God and that all necessary knowledge is contained in it. Christian fundamentalists say the same thing of the Bible. Again even orthodox or ordinary Muslims and Christians often believe this.

Hindus have many holy books like the Vedas, Agamas, Bhagavad Gita, Ramayana, and so on, which contain a great variety of teaching and many different points of view, and no one of these books is required reading for all Hindus. Hindus generally respect the holy books of other religions as well. What single holy book do Hindu fundamentalists hold literally to be the word of God, upon which they base their behavior? Christian and Islamic fundamentalists flaunt their holy book and are ever quoting from it to justify their actions. What Hindu Bible are the Hindu fundamentalists all crying, quoting, and preaching from and finding justification in?

The "Tidal Wave" Of Islamophobia That Wasn't

In 2009, hate crimes against Muslims accounted for 1.6% of all hate crimes: 128 out of 7,789 "offenses" in the FBI hate crime database (link to 2009 stats). According to newly released data this ticked up to 2.4% (168 out of 7,699) in 2010 (link to 2010 stats).

In other words, there was a very small increase (both in absolute numbers and in relation to hate crimes as a whole) in anti-Islamic hate crimes in 2010. Meanwhile, religiously motivated crimes against Muslims in America continued to pale in comparison to attacks against African Americans (34% of all hate crimes), gay people (19%), and Jews (12%).

Flying bravely in the face of reality, Mark Potok of the Southern Poverty Law Center claims (link) that these same data actually show that there was "a dramatic spike in anti-Muslim hate violence":
Anti-Muslim hate crimes soared by an astounding 50% last year, skyrocketing over 2009 levels in a year marked by the vicious rhetoric of Islam-bashing politicians and activists, especially over the so-called "Ground Zero Mosque" in New York City.
This is like saying that in the runup to the New Hampshire Republican primary Michelle ("Cazy Eyes") Bachmann (at 2.3% in the polls) is doing "dramatically" better than Rick ("the frothy mix of lube and fecal matter that is sometimes the byproduct of anal sex") Santorum, who languishes at a mere 1.8% (stats from RealClearPolitics here). But most people readily understand that what these numbers really mean is that both Santorum and Bachmann are completely irrelevant and safely ignored.

I don't think religiously motivated crimes should ever be ignored, no matter how few in number they (thankfully!) are. All hate crimes should be condemned, and those who commit them should be treated as the worst kind of criminals. But the simple fact is that the 2010 Ground Zero Mosque brouhaha did not "unleash a tidal wave of Islamophobia", and those who hoped that this would be the case are now exposed as either cravenly cynical propagandists or delusional blowhards.

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[Pie charts were made using the ahndy tool found here: http://nlvm.usu.edu/en/nav/frames_asid_183_g_1_t_1.html (The National Library of Virtual Manipulatives).]