Thursday, December 18, 2008

Calling BS on Obama #1

[#1, because I am sure there will be many opportunities over the next four years.]

Obama has chosen Rick Warren, mega-church pastor, evangelist, and CA-Prop 8 supporter to deliver the invocation at his inauguration.  Which is fine by me.  But here's Obama defending his position on GLBT rights:
Obama also said he's known to be a "fierce advocate for equality" for gays and lesbians, and will remain so.
But equality apparently does not extend to same-sex marriage:
Obama told MTV he believes marriage is "between a man and a woman" and that he is "not in favor of gay marriage."
And that's where I call BS.  Either allow same-sex marriage, or make the government recognize only civil unions for everybody, gay or straight, and let individual faiths/churches/whatever decide what "marriage" is.

Update: Actually, I now do have a problem with Rick Warren.  According to Kathryn Kolbert of People for the American Way:
But it's not just his support for Prop. 8 that is so galling to equality activists.
It's that Warren, in an interview with, has since equated allowing loving same-sex couples to get married with redefining marriage to permit incest and pedophilia.
That is just plain Santorum-level stupidity and bigotry.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Sonal Shah in the Obama team: right-wing Hindu sympathizer?

Sonal Shah is part of the Obama transition team, on leave from, and a former Clinton Treasury official. She is a member of the Technology, Innovation and Government Reform panel.
Today I saw an article on that Shah "formally severs links with the VHP." Googling around a little, Shah has been accused of being a sympathizer of the Hindu nationalist Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) by Professor Vijay Prashad of Trinity College, Hartford, CT in an article on Counterpunch.

A second National Journal on this topic prompted a fresh statement from Ms Shah, in full here. A second NJ article is here (where I picked up some of these links). Shah's statement included this nugget:
In 2002, Gujarat suffered one of the most profound tragedies in its long history, when extremist political leaders, including some associated with the VHP, incited riots that resulted in the deaths of thousands. Had I been able to foresee the role of the VHP in India in these heinous events, or anticipate that the VHP of America could possibly stand by silently in the face of its Indian counterpart’s complicity in the events of Gujarat in 2002 — thereby undermining the American group’s cultural and humanitarian efforts with which I was involved — I would not have associated with the VHP of America.

Emphasis added. Any Indian involved with politics (even stateside) should have been aware of the 1992-93 Hindu-Muslim riots following the demolition of a Muslim Masjid by a Hindu mob led by BJP leaders, and the extremism the BJP and its allies, including the VHP, are guilty of, IMO. The 1992-93 events and the surrounding "Hindu nationalism" campaign kick-started the BJP's rise to power. So this is a really weak denial, if you ask me.

An e-mail she sent her supporters apparently includes:
"I need your help," wrote Shah. "This is gaining legs as the National Journal also picked it up and likely Fox. I need to moblize [sic] people against the leftists and the right wing. There is a likely chance that they will ask me to resign as team does not need my publicity."
(National Journal story; emphasis added.)
I haven't seen any such mentions on dkos in the past month. This is not a specific targeting of Indian-leftists (even in the US), but a generic statement similar to the VHP-A's assertion (quoted below).
UPDATE: So my search criteria was a day or two less than required - I found three diaries on Nov 8/10, two questioning Shah's ties to the VHP (link1, link2), both of which received 1 "rec" and 250 comments in total - mostly saying the diarists were wrong. The third diary praised the first two diarists for raising the question and initiating a spirited discussion. Still, two diaries does not the American left make; an American such as Sonal Shah should know that "leftists and the right-wing" in the US means liberals as found on dkos, and Republicans, respectively.

For people who don't know, the VHP is part of the Hindu nationalists in India, which includes the more mainstream Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), and the parent Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS).

The trail ends (starts?) with Professor Prashad's article in Counterpunch, which goes into some historical detail about Gujarat, the site of Hindu-Muslim riots in 2002 (allegedly aided by the BJP state government). Prashad also details Ms Shah's apparently strong family links to the VHP/BJP/etc. (her father came stateside when she was very young). He describes a personal encounter in 2004:
In 2004... I questioned her links to the Hindu Right, and so asked people to be wary about her organization, Indicorps. She was furious, and we had a bitter exchange in the Green Room. But at no point did she deny her active connections to the Hindu Right... “Of course we are free to have our multiple associations, and there is no expectation that all our affiliations necessarily influence each other. That necessity is granted, although it is my understanding that the VHPA is a very disciplined organization that demands a lot from its members – notably congruence in all the work that they do. Which is why I raised the question.”

Guess who next raised the question? None other than Rick "gay marriage leads to bestiality" Santorum (talk about bipartisanship, and a Republican accusing someone of right-wing ties!) From the first National Journal article:
Santorum's Thursday op-ed piece for the Philadelphia Inquirer repeated the charge made by several others:...
"Shah should condemn the VHP and its actions soon," Santorum wrote. "If she doesn't, keeping her on -- or, more ominously, giving her a post in the new administration -- would send the message that the president-elect does not think the VHP is a radical organization."

Santorum's certainly not someone I want to associate with.

An "open letter" to Shah by members of the Indian-American community says: no time during this terrible period [Gujarat 2002 riots] are we aware of any statement from you dissociating yourself from these dreadful acts of VHP and RSS, especially given your proximity to these organizations:

And according to a Q&A with the general secretary of the VHP-America,
Q. She gave a statement where she says she does not identify with the ideology of the VHP. Does that hurt you?
No, everybody does not have to stand up for everything. You have to see the forces running against you. There is something called wisdom. It is very clear what is going on. Known characters from the Left. Leftist, Communist, Marxist well-known Hindu baiters, Hindu haters are coming out of the woodwork. So you do not have to fall in their trap. No matter what you tell them they are going to sing the same song so I think what Sonal has done is correct.

[Rick Santorum's a Marxist?!]

Full disclosure: I *hate* the BJP and its cohorts. Anyway, my point here is not to say one way or the other whether Sonal Shah is deeply tied to right-wing, Hindu nationalist nutjobs. I don't know. I repeat: I DON'T KNOW. But Shah has accused "leftists" of spreading lies and rumors, just like the VHP (even though Shah's part of the American left, i.e. Democrats!), and her denial is very weak; so I have to ask the question.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Indian reactions to the Mumbai terrorist attacks

A couple of articles on Rediff caught my eye this morning:
1. Muslim leaders are coming out against the terror attacks, saying (a) they are Indians first and don't want outside help to avenge the Babri Masjid demolition and other communal attacks against Indian Muslims; (b) terrorism blemishes the concept of Jihad; and (c) "terrorists and communalists are cousins."
2. The Bombay Metropolitan Magistrate Court's Bar Association passed a resolution saying none of the over 1000 members would defend the lone terrorist captured live, Kasab.  Some say since he has been captured red-handed, and given the crime, nobody would defend Kasab.
That is just  stupid.  Do they not understand the concept of "everyone is allowed to mount a defence, and given a lawyer to help mount said defence"?  That is one of the basic underpinnings of a free society; what differentiates us from them.  I can't think of a credible defence for Kasab; but I also know that someone's terrorist is another's freedom fighter, no matter how twisted and tortured (pun unintended) that logic. [That's probably why I will never be elected to public office, if I ever did run.]
3. An online petition is being circulated that urges certain "minimum actions" that the Government of India must apparently take.  I urge folks NOT to sign this petition; I did not, and here's my response to the various "action points" detailed therein:

1 - "Destroy internal terror network" - this is easily taken to put away all sorts of people, particularly minorities. I hear the most prisoners under POTA were captured in... Jharkand! Alleged Naxalites. [Naxalites are like anarchists, calling for violent overthrow of the government.  Far-left extremists.]
2 - "All training camps outside should be destroyed" - this is a declaration of war against Pakistan. The US can afford to do this with targeted missile strikes, though not even that these days given the Iraq/Afghanistan situation, but not India. Any such missile strikes inside Pakistan will be a declaration to war, which will only help Al-Qaeda and LeT.

If War with Pakistan and state terrorism of minorities is the "minimum action required" - thanks, but no thanks.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Renaming cities and countries, and Hitchens

I was reading Christopher Hitchens' latest article in Slate, where he says the US must come out more openly in support of India and against Pakistan-based terrorists.  That is a good read, though it might follow Hitchens' known tendencies against religion, particularly Islam.
In the article, Hitchens decries the renaming of Bombay to Mumbai, claiming that to be the work of Hindu chauvinists, and comparing it to the "fake name Myanmar" for Burma.  The latter article - also by Hitchens - riles against the renaming of Ceylon to Sri Lanka, as the work of Buddhist/Sinhala nationalists and apparently against the wishes of the Tamils.

I agree with Hitchens partially - that the renaming of Bombay to Mumbai was the result of an incredibly restrictive sons-of-the-soil policy implemented by a right-wing party, the Shiv Sena.  [A class-mate once said the Shiv Sena is not communalist, it is opportunist.  True.  At one point, it was anti-Communist/labor union; once anti-South Indian, now anti-North Indian.  And in the past 15 years, anti-Muslim.]

However, Hitchens fails to mention that both Bombay and Ceylon are Anglicized versions of Portuguese names.  The Portuguese were NOT the original residents; they were colonizers.  So neither the residents of Bombay/Mumbai, nor, probably, the natives of Sri Lanka/Ceylon, have a vested interest in the name, other than being used to it for many generations.  That's why I continue to refer to Bombay as such.  But the name Lanka is Sanskrit in origin, apparently meaning "island."  The Hindu epic Ramayana refers to Lanka, AFAIK.  So is it against the wishes of the Tamils?  I seriously doubt it - the Portuguese were not good rulers; colonizers never are.
[Of course, one could argue that Sanskrit and the Ramayana are impositions by Aryan invaders and thus Lanka is against the wishes of native Dravidians/Tamils... But what did the Tamils call it?  Definitely not Ceylon (before the Portuguese).]

Anyway.  The point of this post is to point out where Hitchens is seriously wrong - the renaming of Bombay and Ceylon may be the work of native "nationalists," but they at least were the work of natives (even if of a particular political/ethnic persuasion).  But the deposed names themselves are the imposition of colonizers - Roman Catholic Europeans of Mediterranean stock - and so are NOT native to the land.

Disclaimer: I am a native of Bombay, though from South India a couple generations back.  So to the Shiv Sena, I'd be a foreigner... I am also Tamil.  But I am really a Bombayite - that where I was born, brought up, and what I call home.