Hindu Hate on the Internet – A Growing Concern

Vishwa Bhaarath
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Hindu Hate on the Internet – A Growing Concern

Hate on the Internet – A Growing Concern 

Starting out as a small computer network used primarily by scientists and academic researchers, the Internet has now become a revolutionary phenomenon. It is one of the most important technological achievements of the past century. The magnitude of information disseminated through this medium is well beyond comprehension as it enables the spreading of ideas to millions of people worldwide. As with any significant technological advancement, though, the Internet may also be manipulated by purveyors of bigotry and intolerance. Technology offers such individuals the unprecedented ability to communicate. In fact, the growth of hate and extremism on the Internet mirrors the expansion of its use. The Internet’s current use by al Qaeda and other Islamist terrorist organizations to celebrate attacks, inspire new recruits and, most insidiously, transmit coded messages to operatives overseas is widely known. 

In January 1985, before the Internet’s meteoric rise, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) released a report entitled, “Computerized Networks of Hate.” The report exposed a computerized bulletin  board named the “Aryan Nation Liberty Net,” which was created by and for white supremacists and which could be accessed by anyone with a home computer and modem. The report “warned that ‘complacency’ about this development ‘would be unwise’.” Though the Internet was still in its embryonic stages, what concerned the ADL so early on was the notion that an idea disseminated via the Web and spread to a large number of people could shape attitudes and opinions throughout the world. Where the activities of hate groups were once limited by geographical boundaries, the report argued that the Internet allowed even the smallest fringe group to spread hate and freely recruit members online by tapping into the worldwide audience that the Web provides. 

Although hate-mongers represent only a tiny proportion of the total Internet population, their ability to reach users worldwide gives them a voice that far outweighs their numerical strength. Don Black, a white supremacist who was once national director of the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, launched one of the first extremist hate sites on the World Wide Web called “Stormfront.” Black recognized the Internet’s power early on, telling the Philadelphia Enquirer in 1996 that, “the potential of the Net for organizations and for movements such as ours is enormous. We’re reaching tens of thousands of people who never before had access to our point of view.”

Not only is the Internet’s breadth in delivering hateful messages a concern, but so is the fact that Web “surfers” can rarely distinguish whether or not the person or organization disseminating the information is credible. As the ADL mentioned in its report, “Increasingly, web development tools have made it simple for bigots to create sites that visually resemble those of reputable organizations. Consequently, hate groups using the Web can more easily portray themselves as legitimate voices of authority.”iii The Simon Wiesenthal Center, which monitors websites of hate groups, currently monitors more than 4,000 websites which it considers “problematic” – those which contain messages of hate, racism, terrorist agendas, and bomb-making instructions. Websites extolling the Ku Klux Klan and neo-Nazi organizations with nihilistic agendas are prominently featured. 

The International Network Against Cyberhate (INACH) “calls the Internet ‘a virtual nursery for real-life crime.’” Christopher Wolf, the former chair of the ADL’s Internet Task Force and Chair of the INACH during its fourth annual conference in 2005, wrote an article in 2004 titled, “A Gay & Lesbian Legal Guide to Internet Hate.” In that he stated, “The use of the Internet to send bias-motivated messages is increasing. When one witnesses the anti-Semitic, racist, homophobic, and Holocaust-denying websites that are proliferating, and the hate mongers who are capitalizing on the Internet as a tool to spread their messages, a natural response is ‘There ought to be a law!’ … Innocent users of the Internet inadvertently may be exposed to hate online. When uninformed or easily influenced people come across hate propaganda, they can fall prey to its deceptive reasoning and adopt hateful beliefs themselves.”vi
 

Hatred Directed Towards Hindus 

Notwithstanding the considerable efforts of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), Simon  Wiesenthal Center (SWC), American Jewish Committee (AJC) and other groups such as the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) in combating online hatred, focus on hate sites against Hindus has lacked thus far. Perhaps the sole previous effort was collaboration between the SWC and the Hindu American Foundation, an effort which resulted in the inclusion of websites promoting hatred against Hindus within the SWC’s annual online hate report, “Digital Hate and Terrorism 2005.” The overall lack of focus on Hindus and Hinduism, however, is quite disconcerting given the tolerance and pluralism of Hinduism and the hate Hindus face worldwide. 

Hinduism is one of the world’s oldest spiritual traditions. From its emphasis on non-violence and respect for all living entities, to its introduction of practices such as yoga and meditation, Hinduism has had a tremendous impact on the world. This makes it all the more repugnant that, through the spread of inaccurate and malicious content over the Internet, online readers are too often taught that the deities Hindus worship are demonic figures and that Hindu beliefs and practices are morally degrading. Hindus are portrayed as a condemned people destined for hell,  even as their lasting contributions in science, mathematics, astronomy, and medicine are appropriated and separated from their source. The religion is falsely described as a racist construct and such social evils as untouchability, female infanticide, and bride-burning are conflated with Hinduism. Such purposeful misportrayals are a manifestation of bigotry and chauvinism, and the unfortunate outcome of such depictions is clear to Hindu-Americans. Attacks on Hindus and their institutions are a daily reality in countries such as Bangladesh.vii
 
Last year, even within the United States, a newly completed Hindu temple in Minnesota was  desecrated by vandals that went on to destroy deities within the inner sanctum.viii The hate sites reflected in this report inspire and justify such violence. Documenting ongoing human rights problems, the Hindu American Foundation recently released its second annual report on the status of Hindu human rights titled, “Hindus in South Asia and the Diaspora: A Survey of Human Rights 2005.”ix Atrocities committed against Hindus in various parts of the world are documented in the report. In each of the regions covered, an environment of hostility and hatred towards Hindus was created in order to enable persecution and violence to take place. 

Previous Initiatives Against Internet Hate 

Combating online hate, often perpetrated by shadowy front organizations funded and inspired by irredentist or terrorist movement activists, is, of course, extremely difficult and measures taken against it by various countries are by no means uniform. Most of the attempts at curbing its spread have been observed in Europe thus far. In 2000, the United Nations held a conference in Geneva, Switzerland aimed at addressing the propagation of racial hatred around the world. Mary Robinson, then the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, was quoted as saying: New forms of communications technology such as the Internet are being used to support the dissemination of racial hatred.” Other speakers noted the legal challenges of controlling Internet content in and originating from the United States.xi However, David Rosenthal, a Swiss based information technology law expert, argued that, although the U.S. government cannot ban racist speech outright, it could impose reasonable restrictions that would ultimately curb hate speech.
 
In late 2002, the Council of Europe (comprised of representatives from 44 European countries) adopted a measure criminalizing Internet hate speech, including hyperlinks to pages that contain offensive content. The amendment banned “any written material, any image or any other representation of ideas or theories, which advocates, promotes or incites hatred, discrimination or violence, against any individual or group of individuals, based on race, colour, descent or national or ethnic origin, as well as religion if used as pretext for any of these factors.” Germany has since banned neo-Nazi proselytizing in all forms.xiv Consequently, German  Internet “surfers,” in theory, should not be able to access webpages containing anti-Semitic or  Nazi propaganda. Spain also “recently passed legislation authorizing judges to shut down Spanish sites and block access to U.S. web pages that don't comply with national laws.”
 
Canada has focused on this issue as well. In 1997, B’Nai Brith Canada held an international symposium on the issue of hatred on the Internet. Over 100 Canadian and international government and police officials, as well as experts in the fields of law, legislation, human rights, technology and education, convened to explore this problem from various philosophical perspectives and professional approaches.xvi Among the key recommendations were the application to the Internet of existing laws and international standards pertaining to hate, along with the establishment of voluntary codes of conduct by internet service providers (ISP’s).
 
While many countries have national laws criminalizing online hate messages, the United States does not. Questions of whether and how to legislate the Internet in the United States continue to be debated. Various arguments have been put forth against the restriction of Internet content, the primary one being that the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution protects an individual’s freedom of speech. Civil libertarians describe any attempts to regulate the Internet as censorship and an invasion of privacy, while some technologists claim that all such attempts are futile and that regulatory laws are virtually unenforceable. Another argument asserts that if all potentially offensive information is removed, the Internet will be reduced to just a plain, vanilla newspaper. Nonetheless, several nations have already recognized the need to balance people's freedom of expression with their right to be free from hate targeted against them.

Approaches to Blocking Content on the Web

In an article in the “OECD Observer” in March, 2001, Dr. Ulrich Sieber, a professor of criminal law, information law, and legal data processing in Munich, Germany discussed approaches  European countries have used in attempting to block online hate. Sieber wrote that countries wishing to limit access to Web material deemed hateful and inciting of violence appeared to attempt to protect themselves against the illegal content by either blocking it on their territory, or extending their own criminal jurisdiction to the territory of origin of the material. He stated  that “the first approach was tried in Germany when CompuServe Deutschland, an internet company, was required to filter out child pornography coming through to German users from the United States...The second approach was tried in France…in which a French judge demanded that … Yahoo!, Inc. control access by French users to American sites selling Nazi memorabilia, such as by blocking IP numbers coming from France.” Also, in a decision by Germany’s  Federal High Court on December 12, 2000, “an Australian citizen was convicted for publishing  Holocaust lies and hate speeches on a website hosted on an Australian server. The person was acting only in Australia, but was arrested while on a visit to Germany.”

However, due to the lack of uniformity in laws against Internet hate, coordinated international legal regulation seems virtually impossible. This is not to say that nothing can be done. For instance, in 2000 the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) called on Yahoo!, one of the Internet's most popular sites, to remove dozens of hate groups which had established “clubs” in plain view on Yahoo!'s servers.xxi The aforementioned Christopher Wolf, ADL’s Internet Policy Committee Chairman at the time, wrote that, “In this case, ADL and Yahoo! were able to work together to pull the plug on these individuals, resulting in the company's removal of some of the most offensive clubs because they stood in violation of Yahoo!’s terms of service agreement, which clearly prohibits hate speech.”
 
Due to the large volume of data carried on the Internet, its encryption, and the potential necessity of real-time control of the material transmitted, it is impossible for network and access providers to control and block all content sent over the Internet. Effective solutions require, therefore, the cooperation of hosting providers who may unwittingly be storing hate material over long periods. Hosting providers are companies that maintain and run Web servers which rent space for websites. They may be required to check disturbing content and either remove it or make it inaccessible. In fact, it is these providers that are generally viewed as the most effective means to combat online hatred. Under European Union regulations, the hosting providers are not required to take active measures to control the material but only to accept responsibility once they know they are providing illegal data. In the United States, some providers “require subscribers to sign contractual terms of service which prohibit using their facilities to promote hate”, although “they are not legally liable for the content of the sites they host.”
 
Also, several NGO’s have taken action. The Southern Poverty Law Center is one of the foremost monitors of hate group activity on the Internet. The Simon Wiesenthal Center (SWC) has led the way in tracking hate groups and their activities. In fact, the SWC publishes an annual report documenting hateful content on the Internet. The American Jewish Committee has taken an active public role on this issue as well. Also, the ADL tracks existing hate sites on the Internet and focuses on educating people about the dangerous consequences of such sites. In addition, the ADL, in conjunction with Cyber Patrol, provides hate filter software. This software acts as a gatekeeper to block websites of individuals or groups that advocate hate, bigotry or violence and, therefore, empowers individuals to fight hate that can enter their home.

Overview of this Report 

The focus of this report is to identify and analyze websites that target Hindus and their religion in  the firm conviction that, if left unchallenged, such websites perpetuate hatred at best, and breed violence at worst. It exhibits a myriad of websites found to contain hateful content towards Hindus and their beliefs and also reveals the individuals and groups sponsoring these sites. This report is intended to serve as just the beginning of an annual campaign by the Foundation to highlight hatred against the Hindu community. While this report focuses on online hatred, future versions will also encompass hatred exhibited in other media, such as television, print, and recordable media. 

The methods generally used to degrade Hinduism are: 
1) categorizing Hindu rituals and traditions as “devil worship,” a characterization used time and time again in order to promote a fear of Hindus and their beliefs; 
2) portraying Hindu practice as profane and morally repugnant, i.e., depicting Hindu deities as perverse and lurid caricatures; and 
3) falsifying Hinduism’s teachings and principles in order to claim the religious superiority of other traditions. The ultimate outcome is the same – another unfortunate blow to tolerance and pluralism. 

The websites listed are not arranged in any particular order within the report and are but a small sample of what currently exists on the Internet. At the time of print, all such websites were active, however, due to the ever-changing and unpredictable nature of the Web, the Foundation cannot ensure that all such websites will continue to be active after publication of this report. A brief overview of each website’s content and purpose is provided along with specific quotations substantiating the hate exhibited. Though the intolerant nature of the remarks and depictions are thought to be evident independent of further commentary, a “Frequently Asked Questions about Hinduism” section has been included in the appendix for those readers who seek a better understanding of how the content demeans the Hinduism. The appendices also contain information of the individuals and organizations responsible for the websites, definitions of common Hindu terms used frequently within the sites, and an index of those words most commonly used against Hinduism within the websites profiled.

....HAF

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