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Om Sweet Om

Note to Self:  The next time you want to denigrate someone’s religion, make sure that you don’t accidentally denigrate someone else’s religion.

Last week, Tea Party Express chairperson Mark Williams went on a tirade protesting a proposed mosque at Ground Zero. In said tirade, published on his website, William accused Muslims of worshiping a “terrorists’ monkey god.”

Did you just say monkey god, Mark? As in Hanuman, the beloved demigod who serves Lord Rama and fights valiantly in support of Dharma?

hanuman_mountain.jpg
Oops.


Aware of his faux pas, Williams promptly apologized to the Hindus he inadvertently offended with his monkey god jab. On his website, Williams wrote that he “was wrong and that was offensive.  I owe an apology to millions of Hindus who worship Lord Hanuman, an actual Monkey God…. To my Hindu friends I offer my sincerest apologies for my horrible
lapse and my insensitivity.  It was unintentional,  inexplicably
ignorant and I am ashamed at my offense toward you.”

In fact, the chai-mela wallah (tea party spokesman) even went as far as to glorify Hanuman’s admirable qualities:

“Moreover, Hanuman is worshiped as a symbol of perseverance, strength
and devotion.   He is known as a destroyer of evil and to inspire and
liberate.  Those are hardly the traits of whatever the Hell (literally)
it is that terrorists worship and worthy of my respect and admiration
not ridicule.”

(Side note: I wonder if Williams would still consider Hanuman worthy of his “respect and admiration” if he were to realize that Hanumanji has reportedly bringing good luck to his arch-nemisis, President Obama, since the 2008 elections.)  

obama-hands-hanuman_charm.jpgThe fact that the apology was given to the Hindus for being accidentally maligned — and not to Muslims, who were the intended recipients —  did not go unnoticed.

Several Hindus are showing their solidarity with Muslims by telling Williams and his apology to take a hike. In her articulate (and funny!) critique of the monkey god episode, Sepia Mutiny’s V.V. Ganeshanathan is emphatic:

Let me just say, I for one do not accept his apology, because it is
offered in a spirit that is completely antithetical to the Hindu faith
and the Hindu community in which I was raised, and because it demeans
Islam, a religion that is important to so many of my friends and loved
ones.

(Read the full post here.)

As a Hindu, I too don’t accept the apology, and continue to be offended.

So, here’s my response to you, Mark Williams:

First, I strongly disagree with and am disgusted by your denigration of all Muslims as terrorists and your offensive slurring of their God (who, by the way, I believe to be the same One God whom I worship).

Secondly, I take issue with the fact that you used a term like “monkey god” as a pejorative– something to be ridiculed, mocked, and (no doubt) contrasted with the “normal” religion that you and your kind follow. True, once you realized that your words insulted Hindus, you apologized. But the ease with which you use terms like “monkey god” as shorthand for “weird, evil, silly, stupid, primitive, and obviously wrong” worries me.

Thirdly, why do I get the sinking feeling that your new-found sensitivity towards the Hindu religion and Indian culture may have something to do with the historical and contemporary tensions between the Hindu and Muslim communities? I’d like to believe that your appreciation for Lord Hanuman —  whom I personally consider a hero and a spiritual exemplar — is genuine and selfless. Still, I can’t help but wonder whether that appreciation is fueled by a shrewd political motivation to leverage Hindu support against a (perceived) common foe. Do you see this as an opportunity to win favor with Hindu fundamentalists, “strange bedfellows” as they may be? (Many of the comments from other Hindus on your website seem to indicate this line of thinking, as well.)

Finally, I don’t appreciate that your stunt cheapened and spoiled what could have been an important conversation about the appropriateness of building a mosque in the  Ground Zero area. There are thoughtful people with thoughtful things to say on both sides of this complex issue. I, for one, think that building a mosque there is a bad idea. I have my reasons for that opinion, and I would love to share those reasons and benefit from learning from those who think it is a fantastic idea. Unfortunately, though, there doesn’t seem to be room for thoughtful discourse or objective exploration of ideas when you and your Tea Party agenda hijack the show. Why does it seem like gaining traction from controversy and outlandish comments is more important to you than anything, even the discourse itself?
    
If you want to apologize for anything, Mr. Williams, please apologize for that. Until then… may Hanuman help us all.

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