In essence, a terrible boating accident in Lanikai is being used by some people in Hawaii as an excuse to unleash a torrent of hate and bigotry upon members of a religious minority within our community. I’m sorry to say I’ve seen evidence of this disease in our community many times in the past, but I’ve never seen this intensity and directness of hate before, including multiple physical threats, hate-speech graffiti scrawled on sidewalks and mailboxes, explicit calls for violence against members of this religion, etc. As a follower of the spiritual practices of Vaishnava Hinduism (Krishnaism), I feel compelled to stand up for innocent people in our community.
Our own President Obama, who was raised in Hawaii and embraces the spirit of aloha, recently gave these remarks at the President at Islamic Society of Baltimore:
“We have to understand an attack on one faith is an attack on all our faiths. And when any religious group is targeted, we all have a responsibility to speak up.”
President Obama went on to say:
“We have to be consistent in condemning hateful rhetoric and violence against everyone. So none of us can be silent. We can’t be bystanders to bigotry. And together, we’ve got to show that America truly protects all faiths.”
The bigoted attitude I’ve seen in the social media, in online news commentary, etc. is completely against the spirit of aloha that makes me so proud of Hawaii. Where is the aloha? The aloha spirit of tolerance and love? I don’t believe that we should judge people based on their religion; I believe we should look at how a person treats other people and how much aloha they have in their hearts. Yet sadly, in our community people are being targeted precisely for their religious and spiritual beliefs.
Tragic accident unleashes waves of hate towards Hindus in Hawaii
What is the incident I’m referring to? According to local news reports, on January 9th there was a tragic boat accident in Lanikai. Everyone in our community is saddened by it.
Terrible accidents happen every day involving people of all walks of life, including different religions, races, ethnicities, sexual orientations, etc. However, never in modern times have I heard of an entire group of people being vilified and persecuted solely on the basis that someone who they knew, or who was of the same religion, was involved in an accident. I have never heard of a Christian or Buddhist congregation being targeted because a Christian or Buddhist might have been involved in an accident. Yet somehow this accident in Lanikai has turned into exactly that: an excuse to unleash years of fear/hate/dislike towards a small community of Hindus on our island. I am genuinely shocked to see how many people in our community have thrown their intelligence and aloha to the wind and jumped on this bandwagon of bigotry.
Condemning all Vaishnava Hindus because one Vaishnava Hindu gets into a boating accident is absurd
If a Muslim in our community were in an accident and people started fomenting and spreading hate against all Muslims in Hawaii, it would never be tolerated. Yet somehow because one Krishna devotee was in an accident, people think it’s ok to make physical threats, publish people’s pictures and addresses, spread false gossip and hateful accusations against not only the person who got into an accident, but against all Vaishnava Hindus in the community. This is just blatant bigotry and these people need to be called out on it. I’ve even seen prominent members of the Oahu community jumping on the bandwagon and helping spread the misinformation and hate.
Sadly, many people spouting hatred in this instance excuse their reprehensible bigotry by saying “It’s a cult—and it’s okay to denigrate cult members!” Just as we saw in the Deep South of the past, bigots always find an excuse to justify their bigotry. And don’t bother them with facts! People toss around the word “cult” without even knowing what they’re talking about in an attempt to add an aura of legitimacy to their bigotry.
What is a cult anyway? It’s an epithet. Anyone can call any “minority religion” a “cult.” Some people call Mormonism a cult; other people call Catholicism a cult. Hope Chapel is considered a cult by some people, while others call Jehovah’s Witnesses a cult.
“Cult” is a prejudicial word designed to elicit fear, disgust, and dislike. The baseless use of the word “cult” is no different than the derogatory words that have been used to describe blacks, homosexuals, or other minorities by bigots hoping to justify their bigotry and hatred.
“One person’s religion is another man’s cult.” – Philip Seymour Hoffman
Use of Epithets to Denigrate Hindus
The website ReligiousTolerance.org, has the following quote about “cults”:
“My working definition of a cult is a group that you don’t like, and I say that somewhat facetiously, but at the same time, in fact, that is my working definition of a cult. It is a group that somebody doesn’t like. It is a derogatory term, and I have never seen it redeemed from the derogatory connotations that it picked up in the sociological literature in the 1930s.” J. Gordon Melton.
The same website, ReligiousTolerance.org, says this about the use of the term “cult”:
“We recommend that the word ‘cult’ never be used in reports, articles, essays, sermons, etc…The negative associations linked to the word are so intense that its use will automatically lead to confusion and misunderstanding…Of course, if you are an author, public speaker or teleminister who wants to direct public fear and hatred against a new religious group, then ‘cult’ is an ideal word to use. But the use of the term may be irresponsible and immoral, depending upon your system of values..some internet web sites intentionally use the term ‘cult’ for manipulative purposes. They hope that their visitors will bring with them fear and loathing…”
What Religioustolerance.org is describing is exactly what I and many others have been experiencing in terms of people labeling Krishna devotees and Vaishnava Hindus in our community as “cult members.” These Hinduphobic people gossip and spread baseless rumors with the explicit purpose of instilling fear, suspicion, and hatred.