In April of 2021, Al Jazeera, the Qatar funded news outlet known to air Islamist propaganda, ran two stories by an Indian contributor, Raqib Hameed Naik, presenting quotes from the heads of the Indian American Muslim Council (IAMC), Hindus for Human Rights, and the Federation of Indian American Christian Organizations making patently false claims that the Hindu American Foundation (HAF) (and other Hindu American groups) misappropriated COVID-19 related Paycheck Protection Program relief funds to support violence and “slow genocide” against Christians and Muslims in India.
The Hindu American Foundation filed a defamation suit against the individuals in the aforementioned organizations making false claims about HAF, as well as Rutgers-Newark professor Audrey Truschke, who amplified those claims and falsely tweeted that HAF was coordinating a campaign against her.
In what appeared to be a coordinated move to buttress false allegations, Naik then followed up with a longer attack on HAF co-founders in an Indian media outlet one month after the initial Al Jazeera articles, and nearly simultaneously, the Bridge Initiative, a Georgetown University based, Saudi Arabian wealth funded institute, released a “Fact Sheet” accusing HAF of ties to Hindu nationalism and implied that HAF was Islamophobic.
The Fact Sheet, as well as Naik’s followup article, repeated long rebutted claims originating from shadowy, and often non-existent groups comprising an online platform called the “Coalition Against Genocide.” This Fact Sheet, among other patently untrue documents were then utilized as citations to deface HAF’s Wikipedia page soon after the Foundation filed its defamation suit that remains pending in the United States District Court in Washington DC.
The Bridge Initiative has previously released similar “Fact Sheets” targeting American public servants such as former Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard and former U.S. Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom, Sam Brownback, and even Muslim reformers such as Dr. Judhi Jasser, Asra Nomani, and Maajid Nawaz, as somehow complicit in Islamophobia.
Since the “Fact Sheet” citing HAF had clear factual errors and many false insinuations, HAF wrote a detailed rebuttal to Georgetown University’s President John DeGioia and Provost Robert Groves on June 29, 2021.
Not having received a response to date despite repeated followup, this letter is reproduced here in its entirety.
June 29, 2021
Dear President DeGioia and Provost Groves,
We write to you to express serious concerns about the publication of false and defamatory statements about the Hindu American Foundation (HAF) in a purported “factsheet” released by The Bridge Initiative, an Islamophobia research project housed in Georgetown University. We urgently request a virtual or in person meeting to discuss factual inaccuracies and dubious citations in the Initiative’s document specific to HAF. We also seek your intervention in both investigating the decision process at the Bridge Initiative that led to the release of damaging and false accusations against HAF and insisting that the Initiative redact inaccurate statements.
The factsheet about the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), an organization based in India, wrongly associates the Hindu American Foundation (HAF), an independent, US-based education and advocacy organization, with the RSS. The document suggests that HAF is Islamophobic — an accusation without factual basis that ignores a nearly two decade long history of constructive interfaith engagement with individuals and institutions of every faith and none.
Equally, the Bridge Initiative’s document alleges that HAF has dual loyalties to a foreign country and is carrying out a foreign entity’s agenda in the United States. These allegations are unequivocally false, defamatory, and must be expunged.
In fact, HAF has an established track record of advocating on a range of domestic issues including equal protection and due process, free speech, voting rights, right to privacy, religious liberty, gun safety reform, women’s access to healthcare, hate crime prevention, marriage equality, immigration reform, environmental and animal protection, and hate crimes prevention. Internationally we advocate for secular democracy, human rights, and international religious freedom.
HAF also engages and partners with a broad and diverse spectrum of stakeholders on a range of issues. These include many that are lesser known and many that are well known such as the US Department of Justice, US Department of State, US Congress, Freedom Forum Institute, International Religious Freedom Roundtable, U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Committee on Religious Liberty, Anti-Defamation League, American Civil Liberties Union, Pacifica Institute, United Muslim Interfaith Alliance, amongst dozens of others. Of course, our partnership with any of these institutions or any individual in no way indicates an endorsement of all the views of such stakeholders, or that HAF agrees on all issues and all possible solutions. It does mean, however, that HAF leaders are willing to set aside differences in order to constructively work towards solutions on shared areas of concern.
With regard to the specific false and defamatory allegations published by The Bridge Initiative, please note the following:
- HAF is a wholly independent, American organization duly registered in the State of Florida as a not-for-profit corporation and a non-partisan, non-profit tax-exempt public charity pursuant to Internal Revenue Code Section 501(c)3. HAF has absolutely no affiliation or ties to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh or any other organizations or political parties either here in the US or abroad. All corporate and tax filings are publicly available and provide ample evidence of HAF’s operational and financial independence. HAF has a 2021 Platinum Seal of Transparency from GuideStar. Please see: https://www.hinduamerican.org/about#who-we-are for detailed information about our mission, guiding principles, and frequently asked questions.
- HAF co-founder and board member Dr. Mihir Meghani has no affiliation or formal ties to Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh USA, contrary to a categorical statement in the Initiative’s “factsheet.” Dr. Meghani is neither a member of Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh USA, nor is that organization one that offers membership.
- Dr. Mihir Meghani’s response to the essay he purportedly authored was published in India Abroad in 2006 and is now available on the HAF website. It says in part, “It has been claimed that I wrote an essay for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) entitled, “BJP: The Great Hindu Nationalist Ideology.” As a history major at the University of Michigan in the early 1990s, I did write an essay that reflected my personal thoughts on the Hindu nationalist movement that was sweeping India. This essay was neither for public distribution nor written for the BJP. I have no knowledge of how a similar essay with my name was later published on the BJP website nor can I verify that similar versions appearing on the web have not been altered or modified. The BJP did remove my name from the essay on its website per my request as I do not stand by what is written….I am but one member of a large team of dedicated Hindu Americans at HAF. The essay I wrote nearly fifteen years ago representing some of the views I held as a teenager cannot be held up as representative of my views now or the views of the Hindu American Foundation. The recent personal attacks against me are false and are clearly meant to divert attention from real issues facing the community today such as terrorism, social problems, human rights, and the portrayal of our culture, religions, and history.” Any writing or statements attributed to a co-founder prior to HAF’s founding — falsely, in this case — or even after, are not representative of HAF and are being maliciously used to misrepresent a diverse organization by the Initiative.
- HAF board member, Mr. Rishi Bhutada, served as a spokesperson for the Howdy Modi event held in Houston, TX. The event, attended by a bipartisan U.S. Congressional delegation, was a community summit hosted by US based Texas India Forum (TIF) for Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and then President of the United States Donald Trump on Sunday, September 22, 2019 at the NRG Stadium in Houston, Texas. Over 50,000 Americans attended the event organized with the support of more than 1,000 US-based volunteers and 650 Texas-based Welcome Partner organizations of diverse religious, linguistic, and civic backgrounds — not the RSS as claimed in the Bridge Initiative factsheet. HAF was not an organizing partner for the event, and any claim to the contrary is categorically false. Additionally, HAF board members are diverse stakeholders involved in a variety of causes, and their interests and activities do not necessarily represent the HAF organization.
- HAF has been at the forefront of improving the accuracy of how Hinduism is taught about in K-12 public schools for well over 17 years. Leading scholars of Hinduism and educational and cultural proficiency professionals have attested to the fact that Hinduism as presented to public school students is plagued with outdated colonial theories, racist stereotypes, and inaccurate depictions of the religion. HAF has, over the years, worked with a broad coalition of interfaith and community groups, state and federal elected officials, and leading academics urging several state boards of education to make improvements. Contrary to the factsheet, HAF works with scholars and professionals towards accuracy, not “chauvinistic political agendas.” Please see: https://www.hinduamerican.org/california-textbooks-overview for a comprehensive detailing of our work in textbook reform in California.
- HAF did facilitate and host several speaking engagements in 2019 by Aarti Tikoo, an award winning veteran journalist. At the time, she served as the Senior Assistant Editor at the Times of India, the third-largest newspaper in India by circulation and largest selling English-language daily in the world. Ms. Tikoo also testified before the US House of Representatives’ Foreign Affairs Subcommittee hearing on ‘Human Rights in South Asia’ upon the invitation of Chairman Brad Sherman (D-CA). In addition to being a victim of ethnic cleansing herself, as a member of the indigenous Kashmiri Pandit community, she is a well-respected and seasoned journalist who had covered Kashmir for nearly a decade. The views expressed by any individual or institution we work with do not necessarily represent the views of HAF. The conflation of Ms. Tikoo’s social media posts with HAF’s activities is lazy at best and academically dishonest at worst.
- The authors of the factsheet cite dubious sources to allege dual loyalty. One in particular, Organization for Minorities of India, had its corporate status suspended by the State of California. Its founder and spokesperson was the subject of an undercover United States Customs Service investigation for trying to purchase explosives, military rifles, grenades, rocket launchers, and missiles in support of the Khalistan terrorist movement in India. That individual also has alleged ties with a US Department of State designated terrorist organization under E.O. 13224.
- The suggestion that HAF is Islamophobic is false. Yes, one of our mandates is to stand up for the rights of Hindus and other minorities around the world which does require us to highlight current and historical discrimination, subjugation, and violation of human rights committed by members of other religious communities. This does not mean we are against other religions or their adherents. We are actively involved in constructive work on a variety of critical issues related to civil and human rights through various roundtables, committees, and coalitions with Muslim Americans and people of other faiths. We’ve also condemned Islamophobia and anti-Muslim violence here at home and in abroad. These are just two examples from the recent past: Tarrant County, Texas, GOP Votes Down Religious Litmus Test for Political Officeholders; No religious or political justification possible for Delhi’s communal violence: HAF Executive Director.
HAF’s values align with Georgetown University’s commitment to free expression, academic freedom, and academic integrity. Unfortunately the Bridge Institute’s factsheet not only falls short of the rigor associated with Georgetown University, but contains false and defamatory allegations and harmful insinuations of dual loyalty targeting individual Hindu Americans and an American organization giving voice to and serving the needs of a religious and ethnic micro-minority in the US.
This factsheet, carrying the imprimatur of Georgetown University, ignores the basic values of transparency, objectivity, impartiality, and integrity of scholarship that Georgetown University expects from all of its students, staff, and faculty. As written, the Initiative’s document is causing great harm to HAF and HAF’s ability to serve our community effectively. As such, we seek your immediate attention and intervention to address the concerns articulated herein.
Suhag A. Shukla, Esq., Executive Director
Samir Kalra, Esq., Managing Director