From: Radha Rajan
Date: Sun, May 10, 2009 at 9:50 AM
Subject: The USCIRF in India
THE U.S AND THE USCIRF - THERE IS NO END TO THEIR IMPERTINENCE
Sridhar Krishnaswami files a news report, featured on the front page of The Hindu dated 2nd October, 2002, titled "Designate India, Pakistan as countries of particular concern". The opening paragraph reads thus:
"The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) has recommended that the US Secretary of State, Colin Powell, designate India, along with others, as 'Countries of Particular Concern' under the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998".
According to this news report, the Commission is reacting to 'periodic violence' against the religious minorities of the country, violence which has been on the increase because of the "rise in political influence of groups associated with the Sangh Parivar, a collection of Hindu extremist nationalist organizations that views non-Hindus as foreign to India and hence deserving of attack".
My first thought was, this description of the RSS must have been given to these busybodies by Arundhati Roy or Shabana Azmi or by Sahmat or Communalism Combat or all of them 'together separately'; and my first impulse was to consign this report to the 'Garbage Bin'. And I would have, had this been the ranting of some American Southern Baptist group or some disgruntled Christian or Marxist NGO in one of their periodic diatribes against the RSS and the rising religious and political consciousness of the Hindus of this country; or the ranting of the blatantly biased American and European human rights industry. But this is the ranting of a statutory body of the U.S government, a Commission that has been constituted by law, a Commission (which is however allegedly non-governmental), whose members work closely with the American State Department. The Commission is headed by the Ambassador-at Large and he is the Special Adviser to the U.S President and to the U.S Secretary of State on International Religious Freedom. And so, the very least that a native of a developing third world nation, whose country has been stood in the dock by this "damning indictment" can do, when faced by the impertinence of foreign busybodies, is to respond to this nonsense with a modicum of seriousness.
In the first three years of its existence, from 1998 to 2001, the entire focus of the Commission is on China, Vietnam, Laos, Sudan and Burma. And these countries continue to remain on the hit list of this Commission not only because these countries are ruled either by Communist governments or by the military as in the case of Burma, but more interestingly, these countries have a marked antipathy towards Christianity and Christian missionaries. Contrary to the pious statements of this Commission that it is concerned about the lack of freedom of religion in these countries, and that their heart bleeds for the Buddhists and the Falun Gong, it is the refusal to allow Christian missionaries to operate in these countries that has incurred the wrath of this Commission.
The list then expands to include Saudi Arabia, Turkmenistan, and now Pakistan and India. Please note all of you, there is this deafening silence on the Taliban regime in Afghanistan in 1998, despite strong protests from women's groups in the USA about the Taliban's treatment of the women in Afghanistan. Of course let us all succumb to a 'willing suspension of disbelief' and believe instead that this silence had nothing to do with the fact that major American oil and gas companies were talking to the Taliban for rights to build pipelines across Afghanistan to transport oil and gas from the Central Asian republics. The alternative was Iran but then Iran would have laughed the Americans out of town. So that was ruled out. The U.S needed Afghanistan and the Taliban came as a package deal. Religious freedom? What religious freedom? (Laughter please).
THE USCIRF AND ITS RATIONALE
Now let us first look at this USCIRF. It was constituted in 1998 because the U.S had no international agenda then to project its super power status. The WTO had become a reality, the Taliban were around but the USA needed pipelines across Afghanistan more than it wanted freedom of religion from the Taliban. And September 11 was still three years down the line. The Soviet Union had disappeared, the people of Iraq were being subjected to slow and unexciting genocide by continuing U.S harassment and the U.S had no excitement that real cloak and dagger stuff can give to its national life. It was spoiling for a fight and so it discovered International Religious Freedom. The U.S passed the International Religious Freedom Act in 1998 and soon thereafter, in 1998 it also constituted the Commission for IRF by law. The rationale for the Act is best expressed by the Act itself –
"SEC. 2. FINDINGS; POLICY.
(a) FINDINGS- Congress makes the following findings:
(1) The right to freedom of religion undergirds the very origin and existence of the United States. Many of our Nation's founders fled religious persecution abroad, cherishing in their hearts and minds the ideal of religious freedom. They established in law, as a fundamental right and as a pillar of our Nation, the right to freedom of religion. From its birth to this day, the United States has prized this legacy of religious freedom and honored this heritage by standing for religious freedom and offering refuge to those suffering religious persecution.
I will come to this hilarious self-description of "pillar of our nation" in just a while but it will be interesting to see what triggered this pious decision to monitor international religious freedom. There are two major causes for the U.S' sudden love for religious freedom.
First – religion was coming back in a big way in the former Soviet Union and in Russia, Belarus, and the Ukraine, in Georgia and Armenia the Church was once again becoming a force and an influence to contend with. While all these republics were catholic, none of them acknowledged the supremacy of the Vatican. Russia, Belarus, Ukraine, and Serbia, Armenia and Georgia were all components of the Eastern Orthodox Church. They all had their own national churches and the Hierarchy too was national. Most of these republics refused to allow the Vatican or the American and European churches to open shop in their territories. Indeed, the climate was distinctly hostile to the expansionist designs of the Vatican and the American and European churches in the vulnerable soil of these fledgling nation-states. This of course incensed the U.S and the Vatican.
Second – rapidly declining numbers of their flock in the West had the Vatican and the American and European churches looking for new territories to conquer, new peoples to evangelise and convert. They all turned their attention on Asia. On Easter's eve in 1996, Pope John Paul II led 20,000 Roman Catholics in an Easter vigil at St.Peter's basilica. "In his homily John Paul II spoke specifically of Asia after having previously denounced discrimination against Catholics in Vietnam and China. He spoke of "the great desire of Christ and the Church to meet the populations and cultures of that immense continent, rich in history and noble traditions. 'You constitute in a certain way the answer of nations to the new evangelization', he said".
THE VATICAN AND ASIA
The Vatican had decided that in the third millenium the Church would plant the cross in Asia and harvest the souls of the non-Christian and non-Muslim peoples of Asia – the Hindus, Buddhists, Sikhs and peoples of other non-proselytizing faiths that originated in India. To this end, a Special Assembly of the Synod of Bishops for Asia was held in April/May of 1998 in the Vatican. The Vietnam government as early as in January 1998 had refused permission to its Bishops to attend the Synod. By April, China too had refused permission to the Bishops in China and Taiwan to attend the Synod. On May 14th, a Mass in Saint Peter's basilica brought to a close the work of the Special Assembly for Asia of the Synod of Bishops. According to 'Fides' the Vatican news agency, "At the end of his homily, the Holy Father voiced his intention to visit Asia in the near future to present the post-synodal exhortation. "This led to excited discussion among the Synod Fathers about possible places for the visit. In the end they suggested a journey with three laps: Bombay, Manila, Hong Kong. Others suggested Jerusalem, Beijing, Calcutta, Ho Chi Minh city, Tokyo or Baghdad".
The intentions of the Vatican was clear. It intended for the Pope to make a high profile visit to deliver the post-synodal exhortation in one of the Asian countries – China, Vietnam, India or Japan – countries where the majority of the population is non-Christian - Hindus or Buddhists. China of course and Vietnam too promptly refused to allow the Pope to come visiting them. In India too there was growing awareness and unease about the intentions of the churches of the world to aggressively convert the Hindus, Buddhists and Sikhs to the Christian religion and the Hindus were organizing themselves not only to expose the intentions of the Vatican and the American and European churches but also to resist, militantly if need be, any and all attempts at religious conversion.
THE DUPLICITY OF THE VATICAN AND THE U.S
One must see the U.S' sudden love for international religious freedom against this background – against the background of Asia's growing hostility to Western trade war through globalization and Christian missionary activities, both of which historically have always acted in tandem. Pope John Paul II succeeded to the papacy precisely because he was polish and Poland was the weakest link in the Soviet bloc – Roman Catholics like the people of Croatia and not Eastern Orthodox like Serbia or Russia. The polish Pope John Paul II succeeded to the papacy because his mandate was clear – to exert pressure on the weakest link – on Poland and bring about the collapse of communism and consequently the Soviet Union. And the calculation was, when communism fails, the west can step in with its IMF and the World bank and capitalism and free market and when the Soviet Union disappeared it would also signal the end of the already weakened and debilitated Eastern Orthodox Church and the Vatican can step in to open shop. A dream that the West and the Vatican had nurtured and pursued unceasingly for more than five decades. They succeeded only partially. Communism failed, the Soviet Union disintegrated but the Eastern Orthodox Church rose like the phoenix and reacted ferociously to the Vatican and other western churches attempting to open their industry in these territories.
One must also see the antipathy of the USA and the West and the Vatican to China, Vietnam, and Serbia in this context. While the USA passed the International Religious Freedom Act in 1998, the seeds of the Act were sown cleverly in 1995 itself, to coincide with the creation of the WTO, when Pope John Paul II was invited to address the UN General Assembly on the 5th of October, 1995 to mark the 50th year of the UN. And he devoted his entire talk to the rights of people to freedom, to human rights, to the rights of nations to come into being and to exist (the call for enabling the fructifying of movements for self-determination, the forewarning of the creation of Croatia, E.Timor). It is one of the cleverest, most cunning speeches ever made. Every sentence should be read to mean that he is talking only of Christian interests, Christian political and religious rights. Wherever he appeals for diversity, he is appealing to those nations and peoples who are non-Christian to allow the Christian faith with its missionary agenda, to exist, to grow. And for the first time, the Church and immediately thereafter, American think tanks begin to make a distinction between 'patriotism' which is in their view, positive and 'nationalism' which in their view is negative because it is synonymous with protectionism and shuts its doors on the face of religious and economic invaders. One of the reasons cited by the U.S for constituting the USCIRF is:
" Though not confined to a particular region or regime, religious persecution is often particularly widespread, systematic, and heinous under totalitarian governments and in countries with militant, politicized religious majorities".
This is an accurate paraphrase of the Pope's UNGA address in 1995 where he invents his own definition of nationalism and patriotism thus:
"We need to clarify the essential difference between an unhealthy form of nationalism, which teaches contempt for other nations or cultures, and patriotism, which is a proper love of one's country. True patriotism never seeks to advance the well-being of one's own nation at the expense of others. For in the end, this would harm one's own nation as well. Doing wrong damages both aggressor and victim. Nationalism, in its most radical form, is thus the antithesis of true patriotism, and today we must ensure that extreme nationalism does not continue to give rise to new forms of the aberrations of totalitarianism".
PATRIOTISM, NATIONALISM AND ALL THAT CRAP
Now let us apply the pope's yardstick of 'true patriotism' and 'extreme nationalism' to religion, to Christianity and the Church specifically. If the pope were indeed sincere about his call for allowing diversity to exist, about his devout respect for all cultures and traditions, he will acknowledge that all cultural values and traditions derive from the religion and faith of the people. Then he owes us all an explanation about the basis for religious conversion and the determination of the Vatican to convert all peoples of the world to the Christian faith. Will this allow for diversity, will this express respect for other cultures and traditions? Is this not an agenda for homogenization and does this not violate the principle of the right to existence of other religions and faiths? Has the pope not learnt anything from the destruction and the total annihilation of the religions of the native Americans and the Africans by the Church?
The west of course is rediscovering 'nationalism' and is now beginning to understand the need for protectionism when globalization opened the borders of their countries to immigration. Now they realise how important it is to preserve their culture and their way of life from the onslaught of third world natives. So while the USA and the West want Asians to open their borders to their capital and goods, and throw open the doors of our societies and homes to Christian missionaries, they frown upon religious and economic nationalism a.k.a. protectionism. They however want to clamp down on immigration shut their borders to Asians and Africans and rediscover what it is to be American, British, German and French.
"Our respect for the culture of others is therefore rooted in our respect for each community's attempt to answer the question of human life. And here we can see how important it is to safeguard the fundamental right to freedom of religion and freedom of conscience, as the cornerstones of the structure of human rights and the foundation of every truly free society, No one is permitted to suppress those rights by using coercive power to impose an answer to the mystery of man".
Right, right!! The irony or shall I say, the black humour of it all! The last line can be understood better if we know that the Vatican believes that the catholic faith alone is the repository of all Truth and it alone has the answer to the mystery of man. So when the Pope talks of coercive power and the use of coercive power to impose an answer, he is referring to regimes and governments, which have refused the Vatican and Christianity even a toe-hold in their countries – China, Vietnam, Japan, and Burma and of course the Asian Islamic nations of Malaysia and Indonesia where to proselytize and distribute Christian propaganda material is a crime. What the pope is in fact demanding is the Christian right to propagate, evangelise and carry out individual and mass conversions in Asian countries with very large non-Christian populations.
THE DEEP POCKET OF HUMAN RIGHTS
So, the seeds for an intrusive and aggressive foreign policy eroding national sovereignty are being sown as early as in the late 1980s and in the 1990s with the USA, the West, the Vatican and the European churches acting in tandem. Concrete shape for renewed aggression by the USA against the nations of Asia is given through the inequitable WTO and the designing of the deep pocket called 'human rights'. It is a pocket deep enough to yield several agendas demanding unilateral or multilateral interference into domestic national affairs. Human rights can accommodate right to freedom of conscience, freedom of religion, women's rights, children's rights, rights of labour, right to self-determination, right to….the list can be made as endless as the U.S wants. But the striking absence of right to freedom from racial discrimination, and the right to participatory democracy has not been noticed it would seem. The U.S is yet to begin the process of participatory democracy. The highest offices of this land of the brave and the free is reserved for the white/christian(protestant)/male. As long as women, African-American Christians and Muslims, native Americans and Jews and the minorities do not qualify to be elected to the White House, the USCIRF should deny itself the luxury of pointing fingers at India. By this single act of commission alone, the U.S is guilty of several counts of human rights abuse.
The U.S owes us an explanation now. Is the USCIRF empowered to monitor religious freedom only in the rest of the world or is it empowered to monitor systemic denial of religious rights which includes right to practice of rituals, within the USA too? Because there are enough documents to prove denial of the right to practice the rituals of their faith by native American students in the universities of the USA. The U.S also owes the world an explanation on its silence and its polite looking the other way when the Taliban incarcerated the women and the children of Afghanistan in their homes. Now is the time to deal with the "pillar of our nation" joke. All of you, who are not averse to waging this intellectual war against our adversaries, must read without fail two books – "A Little Matter of Genocide – Holocaust and Denial in the Americas 1492 to the Present" by Ward Churchill and "American Holocaust – The Conquest of the New World" by David E. Stannard. Once you have read these two books, it is difficult to listen to or read anything the Pope or the USA is saying about freedom and human rights and democracy and pluralism without rolling on the ground, clutching your stomachs in laughter.
"RELIGIOUS FREEDOM – THE PILLAR OF OUR NATION"
What was that again? "The right to freedom of religion undergirds the very origin and existence of the United States. Many of our Nation's founders fled religious persecution abroad, cherishing in their hearts and minds the ideal of religious freedom. They established in law, as a fundamental right and as a pillar of our Nation, the right to freedom of religion". Yeah right! Now just see what these noble nation's founders, 'who fled religious persecution abroad', did to the native Americans in the name of the Church and Christianity, in the name of religion. There is an encyclical by the Pope in the 15th century severely condemning the genocide of native Americans. The pope says, that as long as these barbaric natives are fit to receive the message of Christ, their lives should be spared and should be elevated into the service of Christ. From then on begins the savage christianising of the native Americans. They are driven like so much cattle into Christian missions and there they are put to hard labour by the priests who think hard labour is good for the soul of the native Americans. They thought the same thing about the Africans whom they transported into North America later. Hard labour is always good for the non-white, non-Christian peoples of the world particularly if the labour is for furthering the trade and economy of the white Christian nations. In the words of Ward Churchill:
"In actuality, the missions were deathmills in which Indians, often delivered en masse by the military, were allotted an average of seven feet by two feet of living space in what one observer described as 'specially constructed cattle pens'. Although forced to perform arduous agricultural labour by the priests from morning to night, six days a week, the captives were provided no more than 1400 calories per day in low nutrient foods, with missions like San Antonio and San Miguel supplying as little as 715 calories per day.
Probably most remarkable in this regard is Fray Junipero Serra in charge of the northern California mission complex during its peak period and a man whose personal brutality was noteworthy even by those standards (he appears to have delighted in the direct torture of victims, had to be restrained from hanging Indians in lots, a la Columbus, and is quoted as asserting that the entire race of Indians should be out to the knife). Proposed for canonization as a saint by the catholic Church, Serra's visage, forty feet tall, today peers serenely down upon motorists driving south from San Francisco along Highway 101 from its vantage point on a prominent bluff. Another statue of Serra, a much smaller bronze which has stood for decades before San Francisco's city hall is being moved to a park. Officials denied requests from local Indians that it be placed in storage, out of public view, however offering the compromise of affixing a new plaque to address native concerns about the incipient saint's legacy. (Hindus of India and Jews of the world please note, 'Mother' Teresa and 'Hitler's pope' are both all set to be canonized as the new saints of the twentieth century in the catholic pantheon, a gesture of gratitude for services rendered in the cause of furthering the catholic Church in difficult times and in difficult climes). Church lobbyists however have undermined even that paltry gesture preventing the inclusion of wording which might have revealed something of the true nature of the mass murder and cultural demolition over which Serra presided. Both man and mission, the Vatican insisted, were devoted to ''mercy and compassion".
In passing this Act on International religious Freedom the U.S is basing its case on the noble founders of the nation, on 'the pillars of our nation' - a nation that was built on the blood and sweat of genocide and slavery – both of which were practiced in the name of the Christian faith!!
WHAT IS RIGHT FOR YOU, IS RIGHT FOR ME
The U.S has set several precedents post September 11 – precedents worthy of emulation. The right to revenge, the right to pre-emptive strikes when faced with threats to national security, the right to demonstartive nationalism/protectionism. The U.S must ask itself why other religious minorities in India, the Parsis, the Sikhs, the Buddhists and Jains never face the problems that Christians and Muslims in India face at the hands of 'Hindu extremists? Why did the normally gentle Hindus take to extremism? Why did the U.S carpet bomb Iraq and Afghanistan? National security is threatened not only when our borders are threatened by foreign invaders in conventional war but when our homes, communities and societies are threatened by religious invaders and terrorists. Christian missionaries and Islamic terrorists threaten Hindus and Hindu society. The right to revenge is as much the prerogative of Hindus as it is of the U.S. So USCIRF or ABCDEF, the U.S cannot preach to India what it has never practiced. Enough of this impertinence USCIRF. Care for your backyard before you venture into other nations.
And one more thing, this constant harping on rising Hindu extremism threatening the secular, democratic fibre of the country and all that crap. The Indian State is democratic and secular. The Indian nation is not. The Indian nation like most nations of the world, is religious. And the rich diversity and pluralism which you keep harping about, it has existed for over two thousand years, when the first Christian and Muslim missionaries/traders/invaders begin to appear in our country, not because of the USCIRF or the U.N or the Indian Constitution or the Human rights industry. It has existed for centuries because the nation was Hindu. The Hindu thought is assimilatory not exclusivist like the Abrahamic faiths. And it is this nation which is being threatened by the missionary activities of the Christian fundamentalists and the secessionist activities of Islamic fundamentalists. The Hindus have survived 600 years of Muslim barbarism, 200 years of savage colonialism. We survived violent partition in 1947, and we are living through the problems in J&K and the North-east. Hindus have the right to exist, the right to protect their faith, the right to territory, the right to protect and defend their women and children, the right to revenge and the right to pre-emptive strikes against their aggressors.
(Written in October 2002)