Now Nicolas Kristof – Another Example of Ingrained Anti-Hindu Bias at the New York Times?

When the rights of common Europeans were suppressed under centuries of royal rule, when the people of every European country remained impoverished while the royalty and aristocracy lived in opulence, it was France that lit the torch of Liberty Equality & Fraternity. France deserves a place of pride among nations for the non-conformism and the wisdom of its philosophers, its thinkers and its mathematicians. Descartes, Montaigne, Montesquieu, Voltaire, Cauchy, Fermat, Galois, LeGrange, Pascal are names any country would be proud of.

But despite this wisdom, this non-conformist spirit, this deep allegiance to the good in humankind, one corner of the French soul has remained dark, even to this day. We read about it in French writings, we hear of it from the experiences of affected Frenchmen and Frenchwomen. French society still retains its discomfort, some would say prejudice about Jews. Before the recent self-destruction of his public stature, Dominique Strauss-Kahn was reasonably open about his hurt about his treatment because of his religion.

We thought of this when we read the Test Your Savvy on Religion article by Nicolas Kristof in the New York Times. This old article was brought to our notice this week by a tweet from a national Television Anchor who called it “fantastic”. So we read it. Unfortunately our reaction was markedly different.

The New York Times is an excellent paper. We read it because it has several superb journalists who deliver insight, analysis as well as news. We tend to quote from NYT far more than from any other newspaper. But like in France, we detect a dark corner in the proverbial soul of the New York Times, a deep, ingrained bias that exhibits itself from time to time. We are not sure this exhibition is deliberate. We think the bias is so ingrained, so deeply embedded in NYT’s psyche that it’s exhibition has become subconscious. This is the bias against Hindu Ethos, against Hinduism at the New York Times.

The Test Your Religion Quiz of Nicholas Kristof

We see that in the Religion quiz of Nicolas Kristof. This is a quiz intended to convince you that Islam is neither more fundamentalist nor more extreme than other “major religions” of the world. By that he seems to mean Christianity, Hinduism, Islam and Judaism (in our alphabetically chronological order).

  • First, we abhor the concept of “major religions”. Use of terms like “major religions” is tantamount to using terms like “major” or “master” races that was common in certain parts of Europe in the 1930s or among European colonialists in Africa, Asia and Latin America.
  • Secondly, we fail to understand why Mr. Kristof did not include Buddhism (4th largest) and Sikhism (5th largest) among “major” religions. These are both larger than Judaism in terms of followers. So either Mr. Kristof demonstrated his own lack of savvy about religion or exhibited his inner religious prejudices.

We understand Mr. Kristof’s objective. It is intended to teach his readers to not get swept in the “current uproar about Islam”.  That is laudable. Unfortunately, in his attempt to be positive about Islam, Mr. Kristof manufactured a false label, a wanton tie-in to defame Hinduism. Read the 3rd question from Mr. Kristof’s quiz:

  • 3. The terrorists who pioneered the suicide vest in modern times, and
    the use of women in terror attacks, were affiliated with which major

    • a. Islam
    • b. Christianity
    • c. Hinduism

Mr. Kristof’s answer is:

  • 3. c. Most early suicide bombings were by Tamil Hindus (some secular) in Sri Lanka and India.”

We looked up the above link provided by Mr. Kristof to support his tie-in of Lankan Tamils to Hinduism. It is the FBI (Federal Bureau of Investigation) article titled Taming the Tamil Tigers. We read it carefully and we urge all readers to read it thoroughly. You will NOT find the words “Hindu” or “Hinduism” mentioned in the FBI article. The FBI article carefully and correctly describes the conflict as an ethnic (& secular) conflict:

  • “Its ultimate goal: to seize control of the country from the Sinhalese ethnic majority and create an independent Tamil state.”

Mr. Kristof deliberately and wantonly ignored the reality and manufactured a Tamil Tiger “affiliation” to Hinduism to fit the goal of his article. His parenthetical “some secular” disclaimer actually adds insult to the deliberate injury he inflicts.

In contrast, Mr. Kristof does not mention Hinduism when he should. The central message of Hinduism is tolerance and the equality of all religious paths in achieving salvation. You don’t have to go far and deep to discover this. Bhagwan Shree Krishna states it categorically in the Bhagwat-Geeta, literally the Words of God, the most widely read text in Hinduism.

But the mention of Shree Krishna is conspicuously absent in Kristof’s question number 8:

  • 8. Which religious figure preaches tolerance by suggesting that God looks after all peoples and leads them all to their promised lands?
    • a. Muhammad
    • b. Amos
    • c. Jesus

But Hinduism is included in a negative question, the very 1st one:

  • 1. Which holy book stipulates that a girl who does not bleed on her wedding night should be stoned to death?

    • a. Koran
    • b. Old Testament
    • c. (Hindu) Upanishads

We can perhaps charitably attribute Mr. Kristof’s choices in questions 1 and 8 to ignorance about Hinduism. But there is no question in our mind that Mr. Kristof deliberately and wantonly manufactured an “affiliation” to Hinduism in question 3.

In our opinion, Mr. Kristof’s action is utterly reprehensible and we throw a flag at him for flagrantly foul journalistic misconduct.

Sideswiping Hinduism – A New York Times Practice?

Frankly, there was no need for Mr. Kristof to include Hinduism in his quiz at all. His article is addressed mainly to an American audience that, according to him, has been subjected to the “current uproar about Islam”. So questions about Christianity and Judaism should have sufficed. Both Mr. Kristof and his readers are far more conversant about tenets of Christianity and Judaism than they are about Hinduism. 

It is a journalistic practice to highlight what you want to praise by contrasting it with something negative. Sometimes when you can’t find anything negative, you manufacture it. That is how Hinduism tends to be be used in the New York Times.

Several months ago, in a nice positive article about the Holy Golden Temple in Amritsar, Lydia Polgreen of the New York Times gratuitously sideswiped Hinduism. It was an article about Sikhs and there was no need, no need whatsoever to even mention Hinduism. Yet, Ms. Polgreen couldn’t resist the temptation to insert a defamatory line in her article about Hinduism. (for more detailed analysis, read our article Why Does a Nice Positive Article in the New York Times Carry a Deep Bias Against Indian Dharma?)

We use the verb “sideswiped” to illustrate our meaning. Imagine driving a car in the dead of night on a solitary road without any traffic. You see someone walking down the road ahead of you. There is no one else around. You simply drive closer to the pedestrian and sideswipe him for no reason except that you can do so without any fear of getting caught. You would only do this if you have no respect whatsoever for the life or well-being of that pedestrian and if you have a dark corner in your heart.

This is exactly what Nicolas Kristof did to Hinduism in his Religion quiz above and what Lydia Polgreen did in her article in September 2010. Hinduism is an easy victim. There is no organized religious structure and Hindus are complacent people used to religious persecution for the past 1,200 years. And the New York Times editors seem to have no respect for Hinduism judging from the frequency of anti-Hindu bias in NYT articles.

Directed comments against Hindu Ethos in the NYT

NYT articles don’t stop at sideswiping Hinduism. Sometimes, they get very blatant. Let us give you a couple of examples from India Ink, the India-portal of the New York Times.

  • Remember the worldwide Muslim riots because of Danish cartoons about Prophet Mohammed? Compare that coverage to the case of the famous Indian Muslim painter. He never painted anything that would hurt Muslim beliefs or feelings. His particular fetish was to paint nude paintings of revered Hindu Goddesses, the images that are deeply revered in virtually every Hindu household. The NYT writers saw nothing wrong or weird about this setup. Instead, the NYT writers blamed the Hindus who protested the painter’s actions.
  • This February, a couple of NYT-India-Ink writers condemned the painter’s Hindu critics as hardline Hindu zealots. The writers took this opportunity in the midst of their anguished coverage about the inability of Salman Rushdie (because of Muslim protests) to speak at an Indian conference.
  • So in an article about protests by religious Muslims against a Muslim Salman Rushdie, NYT’s India Ink writers found a way to insert one line heaping scorn on “hardline” Hindus simply because they were against nude paintings of Hindu revered figures. Yes, we kid you not. This actually happened at the New York Times India Ink group. Some rational NYT editor presumably saw this and removed this offensive statement from the web-edition the next day.
  • Earlier this year, Muslim clerics in New Delhi issued a fatwa forbidding young Muslim girls from wearing lipstick and other beauty-enhancing cosmetics. NYT’s India Ink remained conspicuously silent. In contrast, on this past Valentine’s day, a NYT India Ink writer used the label “Hindu Extremists” when describing the lack of protests against Valentine Day celebrations. In other words, some Hindus were labeled as “extremists” in the New York Times when they didn’t even protest while Muslim Clerics avoided such labels or any coverage even when they issued fatwas against lipstick!

These are just examples from February of this year.  We sometimes get tired of noticing such behavior and writing about it. But the NYT writers don’t stop. They must be avatars of an anti-Hindu energizer bunny.

Reaching out to the New York Times

Earlier this year, we contacted Heather Timmons of NYT’s India Ink and India Bureau, to ask if she would meet with us on an informal, off-the-record basis. We also made the same request of one of her colleagues. Ms. Timmons did not even bother to respond to our email. Her colleague pleaded difficulty due to a heavy travel schedule. 

So we reach out today to Ms. Jill Abramson, the executive editor of the New York Times. We are virtually neighbors, Ms. Abramson and fellow residents of the greatest city in the world that is a bastion of humane liberal thinking. Would you be willing to meet with us to exchange views? We simply don’t understand how a great paper like yours can exhibit the bias that we see in it. Or should we simply be resigned to our “Hindu” treatment from your writers? 

Mr. Kristof, we appeal to you as well. What we have written about your article is what we perceive in your article. If you think we are wrong, please tell us candidly. We take criticism well. You can tell us privately or publicly. We commit to publish any on the record response from you.

Editor’s Note: Below are our previous articles about the anti-Hindu bias at the New York Times:

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