President Obama as with any national leader comes in for criticism and attack. The duties of office require the navigation of many conflicting and contradictory interests. However a large proportion of this has degenerated into conspiracy theories which bring out the worst in racial and cultural stereotypes.
The recent massacres in France over the publication of cartoons by Charlie Hebdo created debate over the use of what are deemed offensive imagery to minority groups, religious sentiment and non-western cultures. However just over two years ago in 2012 Glenn Beck, formerly of Fox News, decided to combine his hatred of Obama with his colonialist and racist view of Indian culture in his talk radio show.Now because of his father Obama is often accused of being a secret Muslim, sometimes even an open Muslim, and having sympathy with groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood and even ISIS. Beck however goes further and claims that Barack Hussein Obama actually worships Hindu god Shri Hanuman. He constantly referred to him as the “undefeated monkey god”. Now one can forgive ignorance but this was just exploiting down to the lowest common denominator.
It was not his only brush with prejudice.In 2010 Beck fulminated against India’s health care system because many of his fellow Americans felt it was more economical to go to India to get treatment which they could not afford in their own country (where health care employs a large number of Indian doctors). To Beck this was like buying a fake Gucci handbag off a New York street corner for $4. He mockingly referred to the Indian university of “Gujeran Raja”, an obvious racist mocking of how Indians speak. He then claimed that the River Ganges sounds like the name of a disease and unlike India, the Americans have flush toilets.
In reality it is Beck who is arrogant and whose incendiary muck raking brings to life a very sinister and totalitarian part of his nation’s past. Names of football teams like the ‘Braves’ and ‘Redskins’ are named after native peoples such as the Sioux, Cherokee, Seminole and Apache who were annihilated through broken treaties and land confiscation to satisfy the land hunger of white immigrants and the unrestrained juggernaut of burgeoning American capitalism. Before the 1970s Hollywood depictions of Native Americans were almost wholly negative, as subhuman savages who had no right to exist. It was this genocide that found admiration in Hitler’s Mein Kampf and inspired his treatment of Slavic peoples in Nazi Germany’s Total War on the eastern front.
Hitler was also inspired by the implementation of ‘Progressive’ policies in many American states which promoted sterilisation for those deemed racially unfit. Hence until the 1930s America was ahead of Germany in the use of eugenics. Along with portrayals of Native Americans, Hollywood also showed blacks as slothful, dim-witted and blockheads. Black and white minstrel shows used whites in blackface to parody African-Americans. After being freed from slavery, blacks were re-enslaved through peonage, convict labour and chain gangs. Lynch mobs, the Ku Klux Klan and state sanctioned terror known as ‘race riots’ enhanced this racial caste hierarchy.
Beck is indeed proud heir to this hallowed tradition of American values which he is so keen to defend. He himself is a convert to Mormonism, a church which until 1978 banned blacks from being members of its priesthood (apparently the cosmic dictator which Beck worships changed his mind after that). As a recovering victim of drink and substance abuse, a self-confessed borderline schizophrenic and unhealthy obsession with conspiracy theories are just his personal issue.But when you have prominent Americans of Asiatic Indian descent such as Piyush (Bobby) Jindal and Nimrata Kaur Randhawa (Nikki Haley) feeling the need to embrace Christianity in order to be accepted, perhaps this tirade against Obama for showing respect to Shri Hanuman needs to be understood in the relevant context. A culture that despite its diversity, is evidently intolerant of Hindu beliefs.
How incredible that while President Obama lectured India on the need for religious pluralism and tolerance during his visit last week, he should perhaps pay attention to what is happening in his own backyard where religious fundamentalists, Bible thumpers, media demagogues and cult leaders of all types thrive in the nation that purports to be a beacon of light.
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