Saturday, January 26, 2008

A Gandhi falls to McCarthyism 2.0

Yesterday, Arun Gandhi, founder of the M.K. Gandhi Institute of Non-Violence housed in the University of Rochester in New York, resigned from the board of the institute after a post written by him criticizing Israel in a Washington Post online forum drew outrage and condemnation from various quarters.

Here is the complete story. Tucked away in some corner of the Washington Post website is a forum called "On Faith" where the Post invites guest panelists to write on religion and spirituality. Arun Gandhi is one of the regular panelists. On January 7, Gandhi posted a piece titled Jewish Identity Can't Depend on Violence, wherein he strongly criticized the way the Jewish identity has been structured around the Holocaust.
Jewish identity in the past has been locked into the holocaust experience -- a German burden that the Jews have not been able to shed. The world did feel sorry for the episode but when an individual or a nation refuses to forgive and move on the regret turns into anger.

Any nation that remains anchored to the past is unable to move ahead and, especially a nation that believes its survival can only be ensured by weapons and bombs. We have created a culture of violence (Israel and the Jews are the biggest players) and that Culture of Violence is eventually going to destroy humanity.
This is highly abridged. Read the complete post here.

The outrage over the post was phenomenal. There were 400+ responses to the post, most of them highly critical of Gandhi. Abraham H. Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, announced "I think it's shameful that a peace institute would be headed up by a bigot". The Rochester Democrat & Chronicle, a local newspaper, said of him, "..it's hard to imagine Gandhi being able to function with credibility again in this community".

On January 10, Gandhi offered an apology "for my poorly worded post". The Washington Post also issued an apology, calling the initial post regrettable. But nobody was in a mood to listen by then. The president of the University of Rochester expressed disappointment with Gandhi and said that the apology failed to explain his views. The Rochester Democrat & Chronicle squawked ceaselessly in the days following the episode about Gandhi's "deep moral flaw" and the need for the University to dissociate itself from Gandhi.

On January 17, in a nation that prides itself on the freedom of thought and expression, the hounded Arun Gandhi finally turned in his resignation from the Institute. The resignation was accepted yesterday.

I read Gandhi's post again and again and found it sorely in need of literary finesse, but could not find anything that would justify branding him as morally flawed and a bigot. What do you think?

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