AHAD Disappointed at CPWR Withdrawal from Co-Sponsorship of World Without Borders

AHAD Joined Coalition to Express Disappointment at Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religions withdrawal from Event Commemorating Chicago’s World Parliament of Religions, “World Without Borders”

September 22, 2013

Dear Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religions Trustee,

We the undersigned write to express our profound disappointment with the Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religions’ (CPWR) withdrawal from co­sponsorship of the “World Without Borders” event to be held in Chicago on September 28, 2013. We respectfully request specific actions to not only bring together our communities in furtherance of our larger shared goals for interreligious understanding, but to heal relations with the Hindu and Indian community, and restore confidence in CPWR as an institution tasked with fostering inter­religious harmony. Please give full consideration to the points raised below before your meeting on Monday September 24.

The response from the community to join this voicing of collective concern has been tremendous ­­ from religious figures, political figures, organizations, and leaders in the community to ordinary Hindus across a broad and diverse spectrum, including prominent interfaith leaders ­­ all have expressed a resounding willingness to join. Due to urgent need to send you this communication in time for Monday’s meeting, we have not been able to include the many signatures that have come after the 24 hour deadline provided. However, we hope this demonstrates the importance of not only the effect the CPWR’s decision to withdraw has had, but also what the resolution will as well on so many well beyond this list of over 300.

The individuals entrusted with guiding the Council have acted in a way which has jeopardized the reputation and credibility of CPWR by demonstrating a lack of respect and professionalism towards the organizers, the Hindus serving on the CPWR Board of Trustees, and by extension, the broader Hindu community.

In particular, we are deeply troubled by the following:

1. The individuals responsible for the decision to withdraw did not exercise common courtesy of directly informing the organizers of any issues or of the withdrawal itself. More importantly, the organizers were not provided the opportunity to respond to any allegations of their “promoting controversial political positions.”

2. Anant Rambachan and Anju Bhargava, the only two Hindu trustees on the CPWR, were not consulted before the withdrawal decision was made nor were they informed after the decision but before the withdrawal decision was announced. This is especially disturbing because it disregarded Dr. Rambachan’s and Ms. Bhargava’s service to the CPWR, but also missed an opportunity for the CPWR to gain better understanding of the Hindu community that only Dr. Rambachan and Ms. Bhargava could have immediately offered. It is difficult to imagine a scenario in which Jewish trustees would not have been consulted about potential Jewish partners accused of “promoting controversial political positions,” or other religionists about their co­religionists.

3. CPWR appears to have made the decision to withdraw without consideration of its commitment to the core principles of inter­religious understanding, dialogue, and engagement, especially because the decision was made without an inclusive process based on those core principles.

4. Had the individuals responsible for deciding to withdraw researched the backgrounds of the complainants, they would have found that the complainant, “Coalition Against Genocide” (CAG) is an online portal which is hosted by another online portal calling itself, “The Forum of Indian Leftists” (FOIL), both of which promote arguably “controversial political positions.” FOIL describes itself as “’a clearinghouse for radical Indian activists in the United States, Canada and England.” FOIL has created a web of online portals or “organizations,” including CAG and many of its “members,” a number of which promote “political positions” which fall into a variety of categories including, Hinduphobic, pro­separatist (primarily in India), anti­religion, anti­Israel, anti­India, and anti­American.

5. Chairman of the Board of Trustees, Imam Abdul Malik Mujahid and a Dr. Shaik Ubaid have cofounded or worked together in a number of organizations, including but not limited to CAG, Muslim Peace Coalition, and Burma Task Force ­ USA. Given that Dr. Ubaid is extensively quoted on behalf of CAG in a number of media outlets commending and welcoming the withdrawal merits an explanation to the organizers and the trustees left out of the process on the decision making process and how potential conflicts of interests are handled. Furthermore, it demonstrates the need for transparency.

6. The CPWR has, in effect (regardless of intentions), chosen sides without explaining or defining who or what it deems “controversial,” and without dialoging with those who have been accused of “promoting controversial political positions.” CPWR needs to develop clear protocols on such questions as the following, so that the CPWR is consistent in its engagement with religious communities throughout the world: What does the CPWR consider “controversial political positions”? Is being opposed to gay marriage controversial? If so, will CPWR avoid attendance or sponsorship with Catholic or Mormon organizations which may be lobbying against marriage equality? How about a mosque, a few members of which have run away from their families and joined Al­Shabbab? Should such an organization be alienated or engaged in interreligious dialogue? What about those organizations which Hindus find controversial because of their use of humanitarian aid as inducement to “save souls,” ie. engaging in predatory proselytization? Would the CPWR capitulate to Hindu demands to withdraw sponsorship from such organizations?

7. Please understand that for Hindus worldwide, the Parliament is synonymous with Swami Vivekananda and his legacy. That the CPWR withdrew from an event celebrating his 150th birth anniversary, and that too in Chicago, only amplifies the lack of understanding and respect demonstrated by the CPWR.

We therefore respectfully ask that the CPWR:

1. Reverse the decision to withdraw, and not only continue as a co­sponsor, but actively participate in the event.

2. Publicly apologize to the organizers and to CPWR trustees Anant Rambachan and Anju Bhargava.

The issue here is not of supporting or not supporting any organization allegedly promoting controversial political positions, but one of the CPWR’s role in the world of interreligious engagement and its treatment of Hindus in particular. The way in which the CPWR failed to equitably handle this situation unfortunately calls into question the ability and will of the CPWR to meet its mandate to “cultivate harmony among the world’s religious and spiritual communities and foster their engagement with the world and its guiding institutions in order to achieve a just, peaceful and sustainable world.”

There is still time, however, to undo a wrong and move towards constructive engagement and the healing of wounds. We ask that the above­ mentioned requests be addressed immediately.

American Hindus Against Defamation
Bihar Foundation WC. California
Bhutanese Community in California (BCC)
Global Hindu Heritage Foundation
Hindu American Foundation
Hindu Association of West Texas
Hindu Charities for America
Hindu Jain Temple, Pittsburgh, PA
Hindu Mandir Executive Council of Southern California, PSPA
Hindu Temple of Indiana
Hindu Temple of Rochester; Pittsford, NY
Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh
India Awareness Foundation
Om Temple, Inc., Carlisle, MA
Parashakti Temple, Detroit, MI
Shrishti Canada
Sunnyvale Hindu Temple; Sunnyvale, CA

Individuals (Titles are for identification purposes)

Bharat Barai, M.D.
Munster, IN

Raj Bhanot
Treasurer & Cofounder, Sunnyvale Hindu Temple; Sunnyvale, CA

Ramesh Bhutada
CEO, Starpipe Products

Jaydeep Chaudhari
Research Scientist, Western Transportation Institute (WTI), Montana State University

Philip Clayton, Ph.D.
Claremont School of Theology

Rajen Giri
President, Bhutanese Community in California (BCC)

Jutin Khanna

Harish Kotecha
Founder, Hindu Charities for America; Austin, TX

Ramdas Lamb, Ph.D.
Associate Professor, Department of Religion, University of Hawaii

Jeffery D. Long, Ph.D.
Professor of Religion and Asian Studies, Elizabethtown College, Elizabethtown, PA

Barbara A. McGraw, J.D., Ph.D.
Professor, Social Ethics, Law, and Public Life
Co-author of Many Peoples, Many Faiths: Women and Men in the World Religions
Affiliate of the Harvard Pluralism Project
Member of the Bar of the U.S. Supreme Court

Mihir Meghani, M.D.
Hindu American Foundation Co-Founder and Board Member; Fremont, CA
Board member, Silicon Valley Interreligious Council

Ved Nanda, Ph.D., JD
Founding President Hindu Temple of the Rockies

Vijay Pallod
Director of Public Relations, Hindus of Greater Houston

Gautam A. Prakash
Managing Director, Monsoon Capital LLC; Bethesda, MD

Ajay Shah, Ph.D., MBA
Convener and Director, American Hindus Against Defamation; Danville, CA

Dhiru Shah
President, India Awareness Foundation; Atlanta, GA

Nick Shroff, M.D.
Chair, Council of Trustees, Hindu Association of West Texas

Suhag Shukla, Esq.
Hindu American Foundation Executive Director and Legal Counsel

Shrinivas Tilak, Ph.D.
Doctorate in History of Religions, McGill University, Canada

Sthaneshwar Timalsina, Ph.D.
Professor of Religion, San Diego State University

Prasad Yalamanchi
Chairman, Global Hindu Heritage Foundation; Addison, IL

Prakasa Rao
President, Global Hindu Heritage Foundation; Dallas, TX

Ram Suchdev

Jeevan Zutshi
Founder, Indo American community Federation (IACF)
Founding Member, Indo American Kashmir forum
Founding Member, Federation of Indian Organization of Northern California