Appearing on Hugh Hewitt’s radio talk show Friday, columnist Charles Krauthammer launched into a devastatingly hilarious riff on President Obama’s infamous National Prayer Breakfast speech last week. Obama, of course, invoked the Crusades and other ancient grievances lest Christians get on their “high horse” over the recent savagery of Islamist extremists. Krauthammer’s take:
“This is a combination of the banal and the repulsive. The banal is the adolescent who discovers that, well, man is fallen and many religions have abused their faith and used it as a weapon. This is what you discover when you’re 12 or 17 and what you discuss in the Columbia dorm room. He’s now bringing it to the world as a kind of revelation. And he does it two days after the world is still in shock by the video of the burning alive of the Jordanian pilot, as a way of saying: Hey, what about Joan of Arc?”
But Krauthammer was particularly taken aback when Obama’s sanctimony abruptly swerved eastward: Obama inexplicably called out India for supposed (and unspecified) acts of religious intolerance. “What the hell is he doing bringing India into this?” Krauthammer wondered aloud.
That question was certainly on the minds of many Indians. Obama had recently returned from a visit to India, where he received a hero’s welcome. Alas, India’s love for Obama appears to be unrequited.
Krauthammer strongly defended India’s honor:
“Here he is essentially insulting [India], and it’s because it’s a Hindu country. It’s not Muslim. I mean, he’ll say [people committed terrible deeds] in the name of Christ. He won’t say in the name of Muhammad and in the name of Allah. He won’t use those words. And then he goes after India, which is probably our strongest, most stable, most remarkable, democratic ally on the planet, considering all the languages and religions that it harbors. It has the second-largest Muslim population on Earth. And yet he goes after it as a way of saying hey, everybody here is at fault. They are not at fault.”
It’s good that India is on Krauthammer’s radar. Krauthammer is probably America’s most respected conservative opinion leader. With a weekly column in the Washington Post and a daily platform on Fox News’s excellent Special Report panel, Krauthammer continuously injects his wise insights directly into the political discourse.
Krauthammer is also a strong supporter of Israel. He may not be aware of a rather counterintuitive conclusion that I reached in a recent column: No country has more supporters of Israel than India. That includes the U.S. and, in terms of absolute numbers, it even includes Israel. To be sure, the Islamist and leftist brands of anti-Zionism are predictably well represented in India. But the widespread affinity for Israel in India, especially among the Hindu majority and most particularly within Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s base, is something that’s not sufficiently appreciated in the U.S. or in Israel. Much of that affinity derives from India’s shared experience with Israel as a prime target of Islamist extremism. With its large population and burgeoning economic clout, India will be a key ally to both Israel and the U.S. in the coming years. For Israel in particular, Modi’s India can provide an enormous exception to the Jewish state’s isolation in the developing world.
In his National Prayer Breakfast remarks, after talking Christendom down from its high horse, Obama turned his attention to his recent hosts. After paying condescending lip service to the fact that India is “an incredible, beautiful country, full of magnificent diversity,” Obama proceeded to his actual purpose: calling out India for religious persecution, “acts of intolerance that would have shocked” Mahatma Gandhi.
Had he been so inclined, Obama might have added: “Many of those acts of intolerance have been perpetrated by missionaries and NGOs from our own country.” Few Americans are aware of the coercive, deceptive and abusive tactics used by some American missionaries, funded by stateside religious groups, to convert Indian Hindus to Christianity. The worst offenders go well beyond the open exchange of religious ideas, and are appallingly disrespectful of Hinduism and Indian culture. This is perhaps the primary sticking point in what I believe is a natural alliance between the GOP and the BJP (Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party). However, it is a sticking point that can be overcome with education: I am certain that most Christian conservatives in the U.S. are not aware of the abuses committed by some American missionaries and would not approve of them. (This, by the way, is another bond between India and Israel: Jews and Hindus generally do not proselytize, and generally do not wish to be proselytized.)
When Obama lamented the supposed “acts of intolerance” in India, of course, he did not have American missionaries in mind. According to the narrative espoused by Indian leftists — who, in an ironically colonial way, crave the validation of Western leftists — Hindus are oppressing India’s minority religions. I would bet that certain Indian leftists have Team Obama’s ear. Many Hindus, for their part, feel besieged by Muslims and Christians aggressively trying to increase their numbers through conversion. If you think it implausible for Hindus to feel besieged in a Hindu-majority nation, consider the case of the Pandits, a Hindu community from the Muslim-majority Indian state of Kashmir. Islamists drove them out of Kashmir a quarter century ago with a murderous terror campaign. They now mostly live in internal exile in other parts of India. (There are poignant commonalities between the Kashmiri Pandits, a very learned and accomplished community, and the Jews.)
As I have written before, there appears to be an organized effort to portray Christians as a persecuted minority in India — perhaps to induce interference from the West. Obama appears to have been influenced by that effort. But a little perspective is in order: Of all the countries in the world where Christians are a minority, few are more hospitable to Christians than India. That is why over 25 million Christians choose to live in India, almost 10 times the number in neighboring Pakistan. Given the large number of countries where besieged Christian minorities are in constant mortal danger, it shows a distinct lack of moral judgment to single out India for its supposed persecution of Christians. India, like Israel, has a vastly better human rights record than any of the Islamist-run countries in its neighborhood, but like Israel, is typically held to unacknowledged higher standards — read double standards — on that score.
If it seems ungracious of Obama to have “dissed” his Indian hosts so soon after accepting their hospitality, consider that he did so even before he left the country. On the last day of his visit, Obama gave a speech that, while laced with patronizing flattery of India, was widely interpreted as a lecture to Modi about religious tolerance. Obama then promptly flew to Saudi Arabia, his urge to pontificate about tolerance having apparently been quenched prior to landing.
So how have Obama’s self-righteous sermons gone over in India? In at least some circles, not well. One Indian pundit blasted Obama for his “colonial rantings.” According to conservative author Dinesh D’Souza (who just so happens to be an Indian-American Christian, by the way), Obama’s driving force is his anti-colonialist ideology. But now, thanks to his insufferable (and selective) preaching, he is being perceived as a colonialist. That’s gotta hurt. And it serves him right.
David B. Cohen served in the administration of President George W. Bush as U.S. Representative to the Pacific Community, as Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Interior, and as a member of the President’s Advisory Commission on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. He is the author of Left-Hearted, Right-Minded: Why Conservative Policies Are The Best Way To Achieve Liberal Ideals.