America & Asian Religions – 1990s Deja Vu all over again?

Editor’s Note: At the beginning of each year, we try to write an outlook article. Our 2011 outlook article discussed the demographic change in America and its impact on presidential elections. Our points about America becoming a country ripe for distributional politics proved to be valid in the 2012 Presidential Election. Our outlook piece for 2013 focused on Civil Wars around the world. Today, we write a piece that looks out to the next 10 years, a period that will be critically important to the America-India relationship.

Remember the “yada yada” Seinfeld episode? Jerry’s dentist loved telling bad jokes. One day, he began telling Jewish jokes and when Seinfeld objected, the dentist said its ok because he had converted to Judaism. Jerry accused the dentist of converting just so that he could tell Jewish jokes. Jerry’s words “… he has got the two big religions covered … “.

The “two big religions” was a profoundly revealing term. It showed that how Islam was totally off America’s radar screen in the 1990s. The US Establishment was much worse. They had no respect for Islam then and treated it as irrelevant & beneath their own society & culture. American foreign
policy and behavior of American diplomats overseas openly exhibited this
dismissive attitude. And America remained blind to to the buildup of
resentment and anger that was building in the Muslim world.

Fast forward to today. The sad reality is that Muslim folks around the world are convinced that America is “anti-Muslim”. The American establishment is trying hard to change this image but their efforts are proving useless. Old memories and resentments run deep and new US efforts simply come across as band-aids. Unfortunately, the American establishment is
repeating its 1990s behavior again, this time against a different set of

Today only three religions are in America’s field of
consciousness – Christianity, Judaism & Islam. The rest are
dismissed as crap, novelties or anachronisms. Just look up the New
York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, and others. You will
find derogatory treatment of Buddhists, Hindus, Sikhs regardless of
whether the paper is left wing or right wing. And you can forget about
CNN & rest of TV networks. 

This reality was exhibited by Jim Cramer when he used the phrase ” there are three major religions in a financial segment on CNBC in October 2010. This to us is the counterpart of Seinfeld’s “two big religions” phrase. These two phrases demonstrate the huge strides US Media Establishment has made in accepting Islam. But they also vividly demonstrate that the basic behavior of the US Media Establishment has not changed even a bit. The old behavior is being repackaged and now directed against Asian religions. 

American society is extraordinarily tolerant, welcoming, and friendly. This is just as true of the American heartland as it is the two coasts. Unfortunately, that is not what the world sees from the outside. The reason is how the US Media Establishment behaves overseas.

1. The US Media Establishment Phalanx

From inside America, the US media seems polarized. Newspapers, TV channels, “think”-tanks, universities are different, vibrant and competitive about their “unique” brands & approaches. No one, for example, would confuse the New York Times for the Wall Street Journal. But from the outside, they appear as one phalanx in an attack formation.

Because all these entities blended into one uniform set of opinion & attacks against Islam in the 1990s. We used to see Arab “scholars” on US Television in the 1990s. Many of them were professors in US Universities. Other Muslim scholars used to write op-eds in US newspapers. US Media seemed confident that they had a good picture of what was going on in Muslim lands. Today, we know how utterly wrong these Muslim “Scholars” were.

Go back and you will realize that these Muslim “scholars” only said on TV, only wrote in op-eds what the TV & Media editors wanted them to say or write. So instead of providing a true picture, these captive paid “scholars” essentially provided a double-down on the anti-Islam bigotry of the 1990s US media.

The Muslim world saw this phalanx deployed against their religion & culture. And this phalanx became America to them. The same pattern is being repeated today.

When was the last time you saw a communist being feted in the Wall Street Journal for his views? Such left-leaning empathy is reserved for the New York Times led cohort. But these two WSJ-NYT factions unite when it comes to celebrating a self-acknowledged communist Indian writer who discusses Gandhi from a Marx & Engels viewpoint. Why? Because, this “historian” is viciously anti-Hindu.

Check out coverage of India in US Media. You see the same uniform message. You see the deep desire in US Media to convert Indian society from its Indian culture into a “European-Christian” type of culture. This drive is evident in how NYT & WSJ choose writers and direct their views into attacks on Indian religion & culture. This is why the India Editions of NYT & WSJ are so virulently against Indian religion.

Back in the late 1980s & early 1990s, US Private Wealth Management industry discovered Indian wealth. So they rushed to find their own “Indian” to try to tap this wealth. Whether the hires were “real” Indians or not was immaterial. Whether they knew how to speak to traditional Indian money was immaterial. Managers in every firm wanted to show to their CEOs that they also had their own “Indian” broker.

We have seen this pattern repeated in US “think”-tanks in the last couple of years. Every think-tank had to have their own “India” presence in the form of an “Indian scholar”. So the rush was on in US “think”-tanks to find their own captive ‘Indian”. Today, you see these “Indian scholars” in every major US think-tank, people whose knowledge is superficial & who generally parrot the views preferred by their organizations.

Like US “think”-tanks, American Universities have begun India centers dedicated to “Advanced Study” of India. Such advanced studies are generally a cover for whatever mission their founders want & what their “captive” Indian scholars are hired to pursue. And like “think”-tanks, these academic India centers are also fund-raising machines to pay other Indians to visit America and parrot the center’s viewpoints. The director of one such center told us that the US State Department was happy with their “work”. So much for
academic independence & freedom of thought.

This is exactly how the US media establishment built its anti-Islam machine in the 1990s, a machine that ended up corroding the US establishment itself. As a result, America was totally unprepared for the burst of anger that eventually exploded against America in the Muslim world.

This story is being repeated today against Asian religions. You can see the same US phalanx of Newspapers, TV, US “think”-tanks, US Universities & of course, the “human-rights” activists & NGOs, the special forces of this phalanx, all deployed against Asian religions.

2. An Example

Bangladesh & Myanmar are neighbors and similar in many ways, poor, undeveloped, and trying to welcome US investment to better the lot of their people. These countries are also homogeneous in their cultural & religious orientation. The main difference is that Bangladesh is mainly Muslim & Myanmar is mainly Buddhist.

  • Muslims in Bangladesh have attacked, forcibly converted & killed Buddhists, destroyed Buddhist temples for decades in a drive to cleanse Bangladesh of Buddhists. The Bangladesh government has ignored this violence and at times actively supported it.
  • A couple of years ago, Buddhists in Myanmar attacked & killed Muslims and destroyed mosques. Buddhist-Muslim tensions are not new but the pattern of militant Buddhists becoming violent is relatively new.

Look how the US media phalanx covered these virtually symmetric patterns.

  • The US media remained virtually silent about attacks on Buddhists in Bangladesh. Not one “human”-right group called for a boycott of US investment in Bangladesh. Not one US “think”-tank either wrote or lobbied for US pressure to protect Buddhists in Bangladesh. No one demanded US action against the Bangladesh regime.
  • On the other hand, the US media exploded in viciously vituperative articles against Buddhists in Myanmar with titles like Krystallnacht in Burma comparing Buddhist attacks to German Nazi attacks against Jews. US “human rights” groups rose up in passionate outrage to demand action against the Myanmar regime.

This is a visible demonstration of how the US media establishment has progressed from Seinfeld’s “two big religions” to Cramer’s “three major religions”. Islam is now major while Asian religions are not. The US media is now determined to be more sensitive to Muslim feelings. And how do they do that? Very simply by promoting Muslims into the second tier of the US Media’s Religious Caste System.

3. Breakout from a long base?

You see, the US media has put Buddhists in a box, a “Dalai Lama box” as it were. Buddhists are to be patronizingly patted on the head & admired while they stay within the pacifist nonviolent spiritual box. But when they break out into a militant violent retaliation, then the
y have to be severely reprimanded, especially when that reprimand serves the new obsession of US media phalanx to undo their prior anti-Muslim behavior.

The reality is that Buddhists were never as pacifist or nonviolent as the Dalai Lama symbolism box made them out to be. Buddhism spread globally due to the power of Ashok, one of the greatest emperors in world history. Tibetan Buddhists reached their pinnacle of power with the Mongols, especially with Kublai-Khan. With the Mongol bow & arrow, Tibetan Buddhists became a power in China.

But several centuries ago, Buddhists went into a shell, defeated and isolated while much of old Mongol land became Muslim. And Buddhists have remained in this box or in a range defined by the pacifist nonviolent image.

We now see Buddhists breaking out of their base building range to use a modern asset class term. The first was Sri Lanka that decisively broke through their centuries old box in a very violent manner. Now the Sri Lankan Buddhists are taking on Muslims in Sri Lanka. Myanmar is the second Buddhist society to break out of its pacifist box.

We don’t know whether these two Buddhist breakouts will be long term or material for the rest of Asia. But we do see that America is positioned wrongly for this breakout just as America was positioned wrongly against the Muslim breakout we saw more than a decade ago.

4. The “westernized” Gandhi Box

Nothing inflames the US Media phalanx as the turn in Indian society. The American left has set its hearts & minds on India turning into a “modern progressive” society with its economic progress, a lite or subordinate version of a “european-christian” type society. This is a reason why WSJ & NYT celebrate an Indian “historian” who interprets Gandhi with Marx & Engels rather than from his Hindu Dharma spirit. They want to see a society that turns away from what they see as “retrograde” Indian culture into a lite European version where religion, especially Indian religion, becomes more and more irrelevant.

To their horror, just the opposite is happening. As Indians become more prosperous & secure, they are becoming more Indian in their outlook. They are turning towards Indian history and Indian culture. And they are becoming more proud and assertive of their own religion. In short, Indians are escaping the Gandhi box that the US media phalanx has built around an Indian society of their dreams.

The US media has for decades considered Indian religion & culture as utterly retrograde, anachronistic and beneath modern civilization. The best India could do, the only India they could tolerate was the India within a Gandhi box. Look at all the Indians who have been given literary prizes, look at Indian social & political science professors who have been given awards, look at the Indians who are invited to serve in US “think”-tanks & academic India centers, look at all the Indians who are invited to write in NYT, WSJ & other newspapers and you will see one common factor – they are all required to ignore or better put down Indian religion.

The reality is that core Indians see this and feel this. This is why anger against America is building in India. It is tragic because Indians who know America from within, the students who come to America, the people who work & live in America, people who work in real American companies in India understand the true tolerant, welcoming nature of American society. But these people are a mere fraction of Indian society.

The majority of Indians only see of America what NYT, WSJ, CNN show them with their behavior. What behavior? The virulent contempt of what US media calls Hinduism, continuous attacks on Indian epics, the deliberate diminution of Hindu Avatars by using “god” with small “g” while every Christian saint are written with large “S”. They see utter contempt of Indians when a female Indian diplomat is stripped naked and cavity searched in New York in a pay dispute. They see what America thinks of them when Hindu women are raped and forcibly converted to Islam in countries that America calls as “allies” without any comment from NYT, WSJ and CNN while Hindus are described in venomous terms for a fraction of the same offenses.

This is what Indians see and feel. We have heard this before but now the tone is getting very angry, deeply angry. And the entire US establishment is deaf and blind to this buildup just as they were in the 1990s against the buildup of anger and rage in Muslim societies.

5. Fast Forward 10 years

Regardless of what happens in the next couple of years, India will become one of the top economies in the world by 2025. That India will also have a blue water navy, a strong air force with a long reach and a large military. It will be a market that no global multinational will be able to ignore. It will be an India that the UN Security Council cannot afford to keep out if it wants to remain a viable global body. And it will be an India that has decisively broken out of its 1,000 trading range of defeat & subjugation, an India firmly rooted in Indian religion and culture.

Unfortunately, that India might also be a society with deep anger against what it perceives as America’s contempt and hate of Indian religion and culture. An India with long term grievances against America.

This is a very disturbing statement for us. Our overriding interest is to see a strong partnership between USA & India. Our basic posture is that the two countries are similar in their basic inherent values and they are natural partners on an equal basis. Five years ago, we were confident about the future of the US-India relationship.

Today we are not. Because we see the US media and its phalanx making the same disastrous mistakes about Asian religions as they did against Islam in the 1990s. Bigotry and contempt, utter arrogant contempt, towards Hinduism cannot be the foundation of any relationship with India, let alone a partnership.

The opinions above are not what you would read in any US newspaper, or what you read in any report put out by a US “think”-tank or US university. Those guys are paid to write what they write and they have to conform to what their paymasters want. We are an independent voice that is dedicated to a strong friendship between America and India.

And candor, unemotional candor logically expressed, it is the first & foremost responsibility of a friend.

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