US Quran burning by student sparks concerns over rising global Hindutva

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A screengrab from video on social media where a 16-year-old boy is burning a copy of the Quran

The burning  of Quran in Illinois by a 16-year-old high  Hindu student  raises concerns about the rising influence of India-based Hindu nationalist Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) in the US.

The roots of this incident trace back to 2021 when Hindu supremacist groups opposed the construction of a mosque in Naperville. These groups, operating both locally and internationally, flooded the city’s website with anti-mosque comments, creating an atmosphere of hostility. The same student who later burned the Quran was reported to have left a comment opposing the mosque’s construction, indicating a deep-seated bias against Muslims.

What’s even more alarming is the language used by the student, mirroring the rhetoric of Hindu extremists in India. This resemblance suggests a direct influence, with social media platforms serving as conduits for disseminating hateful ideologies. Hindu extremist groups in the US, such as the Vishwa Hindu Parishad of America (VHPA) and the Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh (HSS), have been active in Naperville, masquerading as cultural organizations while promoting divisive agendas. Events featuring notorious Hindu militant figures, like Sadhvi Rithambara, have taken place, contributing to the toxic atmosphere.

The Indian American Muslim Council (IAMC), the largest advocacy organization representing diaspora Indian Muslims in the United States, has expressed its deep concern over a recently discovered video depicting a Naperville high school student engaged in the reprehensible act of burning a copy of the Quran. This hateful act appears to be influenced by local Hindu supremacist groups with connections to extremist Hindu nationalist organizations in India.

‘Burning the Quran is unequivocally condemned by the United Nations Human Rights Council as a “religious hate act” due to its threatening, disrespectful, and deeply hurtful nature towards Muslims worldwide. The video, recorded in June, only recently surfaced on social media, showing the student holding a lighter to a copy of Quran, fanning it to make the flames spread, and then hurling it to the ground’ said a statement of IAMC.

The student has confessed to the hateful action and claimed that his reasoning for doing so was because “[the Quran] said to kill all non Muslims and it slandered other religions,” an anti-Muslim myth he claimed to have seen on social media.

Disturbingly, there is a pattern of anti-Muslim sentiment in the student’s history, seemingly influenced by Hindu supremacist ideology. In 2021, Hindu supremacist groups organized a campaign to push back against the construction of a new mosque in Naperville by leaving a plethora of opposition comments on the Naperville city website. A number of the comments were posted by people living in India as well as Hindu rightwing bots. According to the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR), the student responsible for burning the Quran reportedly left a comment opposing the mosque’s construction.

Furthermore, the language used by the student to justify his actions closely resembles the rhetoric of Hindu extremists in India, frequently disseminated on social media platforms such as Instagram, Twitter, WhatsApp, and Facebook.  Similar language has also been used by prominent Hindu far-right groups in the United States, including the claim that Muslims are “barbaric” invaders of India on the website of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad of America (VHPA), which is an offshoot of India-based militant group Vishwa Hindu Parishad.

According to Bridge Initiative at Georgetown University, VHPA’s leaders have a history of making anti-Muslim remarks, it has platformed far-right Hindu nationalists and recently has targeted American Muslim politicians and rights organizations who call attention to the persecution of Muslims and rising Hindu nationalism in India.

In 2018, Congressman Raja Krishnamoorthi (IL-08) participated in the World Hindu Congress (WHC) organized by VHPA in Chicago.

The VHPA and other American Hindu supremacist groups, notably the Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh (HSS), the US offshoot of India based paramilitary group Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) have a strong presence in Naperville and greater Chicagoland area. They often masquerade as “benign cultural organizations” by conducting children’s programs and yoga appreciation campaigns.

Last month, members of the American Hindu right organized an event in Chicago featuring Sadhvi Rithambara, a prominent VHP leader and Hindu militant icon whose hate speeches have been described as “the single most powerful instrument for whipping up anti-Muslim violence” in India’s recent past.

Last year, rightwing Hindu supporters pushed the enactment of a law that blatantly excluded Muslims from a proposed Indian American Advisory Council, which was created to “advise the [Illinois] Governor and the General Assembly on policy issues impacting Indian Americans and immigrants.”

“Given the prevalence of such overtly anti-Muslim activities in Naperville and Greater Chicagoland area, IAMC suspects it highly likely that the student was and remains influenced by the rising Hindu supremacist radicalization,” said IAMC Executive Director Rasheed Ahmed.

This incident in Naperville serves as a stark reminder of the global reach of extremist and hateful  ideology of Hindutva. It highlights the importance of addressing rising religious intolerance not only within nations but also across borders. The world must unite against all forms of hate, religious or otherwise, to ensure a future where tolerance, understanding, and respect prevail. Only through collective efforts can societies hope to eradicate the seeds of hatred and create a world where everyone can coexist peacefully, irrespective of their faith, race, or background.

Courtesy Muslim Mirror

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Disclaimer: US Quran burning by student sparks concerns over rising global Hindutva - Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not necessarily reflect point-of-view

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