A Religious “Caste” System in American Media & NGOs?

In the classic western, The Good, The Bad & The Ugly, several conversations of the good Clint Eastwood character with the ugly Eli Wallach character begin with “there are two kinds of people, my friend”. That’s is the theme of this article.  

We begin with a simple test question. You see two innocent people getting beaten, made homeless and even getting killed. Would you feel equally outraged about both? Most probably, yes. Now assume that the two people belong to different religions, say religion A & religion B. Would you still feel equally outraged? Again, probably yes.

Now raise the dimension of the question to two separate religious communities getting beaten up, made homeless and a few of them getting killed by other religious communities. Would you still feel equally outraged?  Depends on whether you are Good within or Ugly.

There are two kinds of people, dear readers.

  1. The Good, meaning those who feel equally outraged or at least think they should feel outraged and,
  2. The Ugly, the others who don’t.

This article is a window into a an entire class of people, an entire class of institutions who fall in the second class.

1. A New York Times Editorial

The trigger for this article is yesterday’s editorial in the New York Times titled Attacks on Muslims in Myanmar. We agree with this editorial and offer kudos to the NYT editorial board for writing it. We also include a couple of key excerpts from it:

  • “Terrifying anti-Muslim violence surged this week in Myanmar, exposing deep ethnic and religious tensions that are undermining efforts to stabilize the country and move forward with political and economic reforms. Myanmar’s democratic aspirations can never be fully realized if Muslims, who make up about 5 percent of the population, continue to be attacked and marginalized by Buddhists, the majority of the population. At least 44 people have died since March in sectarian mob violence. ….. Across Myanmar, hundreds of thousands of people, mostly Muslims, have been displaced.”
  • It will not be easy for President Thein Sein to achieve the multiethnic, multireligious vision for Myanmar that he outlined in a speech earlier this month, but that must be the goal. He has to make clear that extremism will not be tolerated and that those responsible for the violence, including security officials who refuse to protect minorities, will be brought to justice.

These are moral, ethical, sensible, and rational sentiments and we support them completely.

2. Another New York Times Article

Fortunately, the New York Times does not restrict its outrage only to attacks against Muslims. Look at the NYT article on March 9, 2013 by Declan Walsh titled Attack on Christians Follows Claim of Blasphemy in Pakistan. The article describes one such attack in detail:

  • “An enraged Muslim crowd attacked a Christian neighborhood in Lahore on Saturday, setting fire to more than 150 houses and 2 churches, in a new display of religious intolerance as Pakistan reels from violent persecution against other minorities.”
  • ““They vandalized Christians’ houses, desecrated churches and opened fire on the police,” according to a police spokesman, Multan Khan. Several policemen were hurt as they tried to intervene.”
  • “By evening, about 178 houses, 18 shops and 2 churches had been damaged by fire, said Ahmad Raza, who was leading the rescue operation.”

Kudos again to NYT & Declan Walsh for protesting so eloquently about this attack against a religious minority in that self-proclaimed land-of-the-spiritually-pure.

3. A BBC article on the same day

Ours is an American blog. Our belief is that America, thanks to the visionary wisdom of its founding fathers, is generally far ahead of Europe in its freedoms, its broader outlook and its commitment to religious freedom. We generally read American newspapers, most regularly the New York Times followed by the Washington Post, Reuters blogs, occasionally the Wall Street Journal and very occasionally BBC.com.

After reading the above Declan Walsh article on March 9, 2013, we checked BBC.com as we recall. There we found something we had not seen in the New York Times or in any other American newspaper. It was an article from a BBC correspondent from the notorious Noakhali district of Bangladesh titled Bangladesh minorities ‘terrorised’ after mob violence .

It was a rational article that described its story methodically & calmly, even more calmly than the Declan Walsh article above about attacks on minority Christians. So we looked for similar articles in the New York Times, the Washington Post etc. We could not find a single article in American newspapers about the attacks described by the BBC.

So what attacks did the BBC article describe?

  • “Saraswati Rani Das ran for her life with her two young children when a Muslim mob rampaged through her village in the southern Noakhali district of Bangladesh. … Mrs Das broke down repeatedly as she tried to explain how their tiny tin-roof house was destroyed and set on fire… . “We heard the mob was coming towards our house. So, we just ran away. Our house was completely burnt. They looted all our belongings, including our savings. We have lost everything,” Mrs Das says.”
  • Minority Hindu and Buddhist communities bore the brunt of the attacks as their houses and temples were vandalised and burnt down. … The village of Aladin Nagar, about 120km (75 miles) south of the capital Dhaka, was strewn with torn tin sheets, broken glass, food grain, damaged books and burnt bicycles. … Its residents have been living in fear since the attack and are afraid that they may be targeted again.”
  • “Hindu community leaders allege that the attacks were co-ordinated and widespread. So far, they say, more than 50 temples have been damaged and more than 1,500 houses destroyed in the attacks, which took place in nearly 20 districts over the last few weeks.”
  • Buddhist villages in Cox’s Bazar district also came under attack by Muslim mobs last year, when an image allegedly insulting the Koran was posted on Facebook by a Buddhist youth. Many Buddhist temples were vandalised in the subsequent violence.”.

Declan Walsh wrote an o
utraged article when 178 Christian houses were destroyed & 2 churches were burnt under the Islamabad regime. But neither he nor any of his NYT colleagues cared to write about 1,500 Hindus house being destroyed & 50 temples damaged in Bangladesh.

 (Aladin Nagarhave – 75 km from Bangladesh capital)              (Mrs. Das and her children – src BBC.com)

4. From March 9 to May 31

Declan Walsh is not alone in his journalistic negligence. In fact, we cannot recall a single article in an American newspaper about these attacks on Buddhists & Hindu communities in Bangladesh, not in the New York Times, not in the Washington Post, not in Reuters, not in the Wall Street Journal. It is as if these attacks are irrelevant or not worth attention of the American media.

And it is not as if Bangladesh was not on the radar screen of the American media. In fact, their attention had zeroed in on Bangladesh after the devastating human tragedy in which over 1,000 people died in the collapse of a factory. But that was a business story that created a human tragedy.

Just because American media covered that business story doesn’t mean they should cover attacks on Buddhist & Hindu minorities in the same country. After all, their attention span is limited and business comes first. So why should American newspapers care about Buddhists & Hindus?

But wait, why isn’t business important when it comes to Myanmar? Read what the New York Times editorial wrote:

  • “The United
    States and other countries supporting Myanmar’s transition, as well as
    international companies eager to do business there, must impress on Mr.
    Sein and his government that Myanmar’s promise could evaporate if they
    cannot control the deadly sectarianism gaining strength there.”

But this same principle does not apply to Bangladesh and the attacks there on Buddhists & Hindus, not for the New York Times, Reuters, Washington Post or the Wall Street Journal. These newspapers, though totally silent about attacks against Buddhists & Hindus in Bangladesh, have been on a sustained campaign against the attacks on Muslim Rohingyas in neighboring Myanmar. 

If you want to see the contrast in coverage, simply search for Myanmar & Bangladesh in nytimes.com. Then search for Myanmar & Bangladesh on Reuters.com. Or just click on the four links we have provided. You will see what we mean.

This doesn’t mean that NYT, Reuters and their American media colleagues are pro-Muslim in any serious way. Just hark back to the NYT article by Declan Walsh about attacks by Muslims on the Christian minority in what the NYT calls the land-of-the-spiritually-pure. Declan Walsh was so against that regime and its religious intolerance that he was literally banished by the Islamabad regime.

But wait. Declan Walsh, as far as we can recall, never wrote against persecution of Buddhists & Hindus under that regime in Islamabad. And the entire Af-Pak region has systematically attacked Buddhists and Hindus minorities. Stories about young Hindu girls have been kidnapped and forcibly converted to Muslims have surfaced and documented by Hindu organizations. But the New York Times has steadfastly deemed these attacks as “unfit to print”.

So what is the pattern here?

5. A hierarchy of religions, perhaps?

What you see above and what we have felt & experienced for a long time, is a classic pattern of coverage in the New York Times, Reuters, Washington Post and other American newspapers. It is as if there is a defined and accepted hierarchy of religions in the American media:

  1. Religions practiced by Europeans – Christians & Jews,
  2. Religions practiced in the Middle East – Muslims,
  3. Religions practiced in Asia – Buddhists, Hindus, Sikhs…

When a lower ranked religious community attacks a higher ranked religious community, that is very big news and American media covers it aggressively. But when a higher ranked religious community attacks a lower ranked religious community, that’s just par for the sociological course and not worth the ink or web-space in an American newspaper.  

Notice something interesting in the above rankings? They also fit the European-American hierarchy of color. Europeans are fairer than Middle Eastern people who are also generally fairer than Asians. And religions ranked 1 & 2 are collectively people of the book, to quote that great religious thinker, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran. And religions ranked 3 are outside the collective people of the book.

Think about this and you will see that this hierarchical model is a great fit to the historical practices & conceptual framework of American media. This is important because it takes the morality of Declan Walsh, morality of New York Times, morality of Reuters out of the discussion.

So when Declan Walsh writes about attacks on Christians by Af-Pak Muslims and when he studiously ignores the attacks on Af-Pak Buddhists & Hindus by Af-Pak Muslims, he is not being morally decrepit. No, he is just following the religion-hierarchy model of the American media.

Similarly, when the NYT Editorial Board writes against attacks by Buddhists against Muslims in Myanmar, we should not expect them to write against attacks by Muslims against Buddhists & Hindus in neighboring Bangladesh. Because that would be against the above religion-hierarchy model of American media, which they lead.

But hierarchy of religions is too much of a mouthful. What is a simpler, more familiar word for this concept of hierarchy? A Religious Caste System, perhaps?

That would be our vote.

6. What about American NGOs, Human Rights NGO?

Perhaps we should use the singular because the only one we know of is New York based Human Rights Watch (HRW). We have tried to approach them via Ken Roth, their head honcho, and via a couple of their Directors. The response is deafening silence just like the response from our friendly editors at the venerable New York Times.

On April 22, 2013, HRW declared attacks by Buddhists against Muslims in Myanmar as “Ethnic Cleansing”. According to Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director of HRW,

  • “The Burmese government engaged in a campaign of ethnic cleansing against the Rohingya that continues today through the denial of aid and restrictions on movement,”.

We do not object to this characterization. But we do point out that HRW has never accused the NonPakistani regime or the Bangladeshi government of ethnic religious cleansing against Buddhists & Hindus. We don’t have specific figures about how many Buddhists have been “cleansed” out of Bangladesh, a neighbor of Myanmar.

But thanks to the BBC article, we do have a figure of the number of Hindus “cleansed” out of Bangladesh, their ancestral home for 25 centuries:.

  • In 1947, Hindus constituted around 30% of the population,” says Subroto Chowdhury, a Hindu community leader in Dhaka.
  • Now it is less than 10%. Hindus are being warned to leave so that locals can take over their land and houses.
  • “This is our motherland and we have been living here for 25 generations. We cannot imagine of leaving this land. This is our country.”

10% of today’s roughly 150 million = 15 million and 30% of 1947 popula
tion of roughly 70 million = 21 million. So 21-15 = 6 million Hindus have been “cleansed” out of Bangladesh in the past 65 years.

Six million is the rough number used for Jewish victims of the Nazi Germany holocaust and six million is the rough number of Hindus attacked, beaten& driven out of Bangladesh. Yet, HRW refuses to call this a “religious cleansing”!

Look, HRW and their sister NGOs are honorable institutions. Their refusal to touch human rights crimes and “religious cleansing” of Buddhists & Hindus in Bangladesh & Af-Pak is not because they lack morals or basic human values.

It’s just that they seem to follow the religious caste system model. And according to that model, Buddhists and Hindus are the lowest or the untouchable caste of that religious caste system. So who among the highest religious caste care about what happens to religious untouchables?

Certainly not HRW, New York Times, Reuters or any of their media, NGO cohorts. At least, not in our experience.

Editor’s Note: The above opinions have been based on articles published by the various news organizations and on the tweets of NGO executives. We seek and welcome feedback or response from NYT, Reuters, HRW and any organization referenced above. We will publish all responses verbatim. 

Send your feedback to editor@macroviewpoints.com Or @MacroViewpoints on Twitter


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