Opinion

After attack on Hindu community, Kentucky shows the way forward

Community members gather in solidarity to support the Shree Swaminarayan Gadi Temple in Louisville, Ky. Photo courtesy of Jay Kansara

(RNS) On a recent dreary Saturday morning in Louisville, Ky., hundreds of people from across the community arrived carrying paint supplies, ready to start a long day’s work.

They were Hindus and Christians, Jews and Muslims, working side by side.

All had come for the same purpose: to clean up hate-filled graffiti scrawled on the walls and across the sanctum belonging to the Maninagar Shree Swaminarayan Gadi Sansthan.

The vandalism occurred a few days earlier.

An intruder broke into the building and spent hours defiling the facility, spray painting messages like “Foreign B****es Whore F*** You C**!” on walls, windows and doors.  The vandal also sprayed religious messages — “Jesus Is All Mighty is everything” with a Christian cross — in the former church that had been converted to a Hindu house of worship.

At some point in the spree of destruction, the vandal stabbed a knife into a chair. The eyes of one murti (visual representation of the divine) on a poster were also blacked out with paint.

The incident traumatized the temple’s devotees and the broader community — a desecration of sacred images is especially painful for a community whose religious practices see deities as embodiments of the divine. Despite this trauma, the community was relieved that the damage was fixable and that no one was physically harmed.

Thanks to the diligent efforts of Louisville police and tips from members of the public, a suspect had already been arrested by the time I arrived on the ground in Louisville on Friday to meet with the community.

This attack might seem like an isolated incident perpetrated by a bad apple. But it is actually part of a national trend.

According to official FBI statistics published on hate crimes, those classified as “Anti-Hindu” are rising. In fact, they’ve tripled since 2015. While the number of anti-Hindu hate crimes seems trivial in comparison to numbers against other communities across the United States, it’s hardly a matter to overlook.

Hate crimes targeting Hindus, mainly immigrants or their first generation descendants from India, Nepal, and Bhutan, are often racially motivated or a case of mistaken identity (sometimes animus directed at Muslims or Arabs) — and both reasons for hate crimes are abhorrent.

But this case is not one of those.

The vandalism was targeted at Hindus and their religion. The vandal wrote that out in plain black letters for his victims to see: They worship the wrong god, and he doesn’t like that they were using a former Christian church to do it.

His hatred was etched in spray paint over the eyes of Lord Swaminarayan, the main deity of this sect. This act was the most painful for members of this congregation, a direct affront to their right to worship and practice freely in this community.

The concerned citizens of Louisville weren’t having any of this in their city. In a matter of two days, Indian and Hindu Kentuckians worked with leaders across faith and cultural backgrounds to show a united front. They worked to repair the damage done by vandals. And they denounced the hate behind the attacks.

In the hall of the temple, filled to standing room only, a Christian pastor apologized on behalf of his faith and pledged to educate this young man about the love Jesus Christ showed his neighbors. He called the gathering “bahu sundar,” or very beautiful, a Hindi phrase he learned while traveling throughout India.

Police Chief Steve Conrad pledged his full support to the Hindu community of Louisville. Democrats Nima Kulkarni (a state representative) and John Yarmuth (a U.S. congressman) and Andy Beshear (Kentucky’s attorney general) stood alongside Republican Governor Matt Bevin, who made a surprise visit to the temple.

Governor Bevin asked Kentucky to use this “as an opportunity to learn more about Hinduism.” We hope the state legislature, attorney general, and governor will now act to strengthen its existing hate crimes statutes to reflect federal laws.

The service culminated with the government leaders performing the traditional waving of lamps in front of the deities.

Louisville is certainly full of love.

As a first-time visitor to Kentucky, experiencing the love of Louisville and the genuine interest of community members to learn more about their Hindu neighbors was a silver lining to the dark cloud of hate the vandal cast over the temple.

Still, I am left with this question: How was it possible for this young man to imbibe such hate?

Was it his religious teachers or a television depicting some caricature of Hinduism? Was it a series of bad facts about ancient India that plague our textbooks, or just an environment of intolerance he may have been immersed in?

We don’t know for sure, yet.

As the process proceeds against the young man accused of this crime, Hindu Americans must be prepared to proactively respond to show this young man love and grace, not retaliation. Temple spokesman Rajesh Patel set the tone when he quoted from his sect’s seminal scripture demanding forgiveness for the attacker and praying for his well-being.

Simultaneously, the prosecution of this case cannot be weak. A hate crime conviction for this case can send a message to the commonwealth’s citizens that bigotry has no home in the Bluegrass State.

Much work remains to be done to replace xenophobia with celebration, and the Hindu American Foundation pledges to be there with Hindus in Kentucky every step of the way.

I often tell Hindu community leaders to remember that Ras malai (an Indian treat pronounced rus ma – lie) is just as American as apple pie.

So is their worship.

“Your temple is just as American as any church down the road.”

Jay Kansara is director of government relations for the Hindu American Foundation. The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily represent those of Religion News Service.

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  • “Still, I am left with this question: How was it possible for this young man to imbibe such hate? Was it his religious teachers or a television depicting some caricature of Hinduism? Was it a series of bad facts about ancient India that plague our textbooks, or just an environment of intolerance he may have been immersed in?”

    It was his religious teachers in our culture, of course. People who merely do miscellaneous profanities as vandalism do not also do “Jesus is All Mighty” without help from those whose religion is solely defined by an aspiration to act “mighty” themselves.

  • “a Christian pastor apologized on behalf of his faith” the twit. Christ turned the tables over, when they worshipped money in the temple.
    “When the Philistines captured the ark of God, they brought it from Ebenezer to Ashdod. 2 Then the Philistines took the ark of God and brought it into the house of Dagon and set it up beside Dagon. 3 And when the people of Ashdod rose early the next day, behold, Dagon had fallen face downward on the ground before the ark of the Lord. So they took Dagon and put him back in his place. 4 But when they rose early on the next morning, behold, Dagon had fallen face downward on the ground before the ark of the Lord, and the head of Dagon and both his hands were lying cut off on the threshold. Only the trunk of Dagon was left to him. 5 This is why the priests of Dagon and all who enter the house of Dagon do not tread on the threshold of Dagon in Ashdod to this day.” 1 Sam. 5:2
    Christ broke their idol.
    Now, I don’t condone what this young person did, but, to apologize for it is ludicrous!

  • You describe Christian theology as it is. The difficulty is that textbooks don’t present your point of view; thus we are not able to articulate clearly our objections to freedom of conscience.

  • Thank you, but, if the pastor is reading his Bible, he would/should know these things and is misleading – possibly misleading the elect

  • Well, the pastor is in a bind. His theology tells him that infidels are following Satan; on the other hand, his eyes tell him that infidels are a decent lot. It is this bind that we are not able to draw attention to.

  • Really? What kind of Christianity do you follows that condones someone breaking into another’s space and spraying hate filled graffiti on the walls. The pastor did the right thing.

  • If I misunderstood your comment, I apologize but I’m unclear as to why you don’t believe the pastor’s apology (which I see as a kind gesture) is ludicrous.

  • I did claim in the last sentence what the boy did was wrong. The prophets in the Bible were always breaking down shrines and idols. As I showed Christ broke them when they were near the Ark. There is precedent set to show they should be broken – now, do I condone going into their assemblies to spray paint and write stupid things, no. That said, breaking their idols will teach them nothing without an explanation of how they are useless.
    Apologizing to them is helping them to maintain the dignity of something the Lord considered filth –

    Isaiah 37:19 ESV And have cast their gods into the fire. For they were no gods, but the work of men’s hands, wood and stone. Therefore they were destroyed.

    Hosea 8:4 ESV They made kings, but not through me. They set up princes, but I knew it not. With their silver and gold they made idols for their own destruction”
    And that twit of a pastor is apologizing washing down Christianity to a lower level. He should have kept his mouth shut

  • Is this kid a prophet or Christ or just delusional? The physical idol is also no more their God than an Icon hanging in an Orthodox church or statues of Joseph and Mary in a Catholic Church. Breaking the idols taught them nothing besides except that they might need better security. The pastor is right to apologize for the foolishness of the kid and created good will by doing so.

  • Sorry Mark, I got this far, “Is this kid a prophet or Christ or just delusional?” and decided the comment was too silly to answer,

  • Glad to have groups like the Hindu American Foundation and leaders like Jay Kansara working for us. Glad that the leaders and people of Kentucky came together to support the community.

  • Is a cross an idol? Or a statue of jesus an idol? Do you worship wood or stone? Its just a representative symbol to pray to God. When a church is desacrated would such ignorance and holier than though attitude questioning the validity of Christianity be accurate?

  • Today’s lection “Judges 3:7-11 New International Version (NIV)
    Othniel
    7 The Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord; they forgot the Lord their God and served the Baals and the Asherahs. 8 The anger of the Lord burned against Israel so that he sold them into the hands of Cushan-Rishathaim king of Aram Naharaim, to whom the Israelites were subject for eight years. 9 But when they cried out to the Lord, he raised up for them a deliverer, Othniel son of Kenaz, Caleb’s younger brother, who saved them. 10 The Spirit of the Lord came on him, so that he became Israel’s judge and went to war. The Lord gave Cushan-Rishathaim king of Aram into the hands of Othniel, who overpowered him. 11 So the land had peace for forty years, until Othniel son of Kenaz died.”

    “Deliverer” is Hebrew root for “Jesus”.https://lectionary.library.vanderbilt.edu/daily.php?year=C#id110

  • This is a false equivalence between Dagon and Hinduism implying the desecration is justified according to your scripture, covered in a thin vaneer condemning a criminal and hateful behavior.

  • Using hate so often causes people to simply dig in and pile higher the sandbags around their entrenched position. That is why Jesus preferred compelling with love and understanding with occasional miracles.

    Such love is explained in John 3:16 “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth on him should not perish, but have eternal life.”

    Graffitiizing “Jesus Is All Mighty is everything” together with “Foreign B****es Whore F*** You C**!” inside a Hindu temple definitely sends mixed messages. If a Hindu was interested in making a decision for Christ, they would not likely want to discuss it with the author of said messages.

  • Could be some misguided response to an increase on attacks, desecrations and murder of Christians in India:

    “Religiously motivated violence included desecration of churches and the killing of a pastor from south-east India whose murder by hanging in January provoked protests from the Christian population.

    With Christians suffering increased persecution from extremists, the bishop said Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has been backing militant Hindu groups.

    A senior Church figure in India has praised Christians for refusing to resort to violence when protesting against a growing wave of attacks by religious extremists who support the ruling nationalist party.”

    https://catholicherald.co.uk/news/2018/06/05/christians-protest-amid-surge-in-hindu-nationalist-attacks-in-india/

  • Your passion for Christ is commendable but it could also be tempered if we knew more about the perpetrator. The age to start with could indicate whether or not it was just plain ignorant vandalism by a fifteen year old, as opposed to a true hate crime by an older person with a phobia. As for me, I am going to get me some of that Ras malai to see what I have been missing.

  • The is like in the old South when a black man committed a crime, some knuckleheads would go into the black community and take it out on a few people to instill fear in the whole community.

  • Your objections to freedom of conscience??????
    And where is it that you live?

    In the US, we respect the right of people to believe as they will. Sadly, it appears that there are too many who never learned that.

  • Freedom of conscience was an important step in the history of the West. Freedom of conscience enabled Westerns to migrate from the Catholic denomination to some or another Protestant denomination, and even to atheism.

    However, freedom of conscience does not actually reform Christian or Islamic theology. These theologies continue to have the following cluster of concepts: exclusive truth claims, Satan, conscience, freedom of conscience, proselytization. Therefore these theologies are compelled to generate an unfriendly discourse about idolators.

    Us idolators would like the foregoing cluster of concepts to be removed from Christian and Islamic theology.

  • Somehow I doubt these guys are aware of much outside Kentucky. But thanks for the sneaky whataboutism.

  • Those wrongs don’t excuse the WRONG this man did. Tit for tat retaliation is senseless. My mother told me, more than once, just because someone else does something doesn’t mean that it is ok for you to do it. There is also the phrase ‘two wrongs don’t make a right.”

    South Pacific, the musical by Rogers and Hammerstein had that great song about children must be carefully taught, by the time they are seven or eight.

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