Anti-Muslim Groups Unite Through Internet
By Dean E. Murphy, New York times, 2 June 2001
Web site run by militant Hindus in Queens and Long Island was recently shut down by its service provider because of complaints that it advocated hatred and violence toward Muslims. But a few days later, the site was back on the Internet. The unlikely rescuers were some radical Jews in Brooklyn who are under investigation for possible ties to anti-Arab terrorist organizations in Israel.
The unusual alliance brings together two extreme religious philosophies from different parts of the world that, at first glance, have little in common. But living elbow-to-elbow in the ethnic mix of New York, the small groups of Hindus and Jews have discovered that sharing a distant enemy is sufficient basis for friendship.
So tight is their anti-Muslim bond that some of the Hindus marched alongside the Jews in the annual Salute to Israel Parade on Fifth Avenue last month. Yesterday, several of the Jews joined a protest outside theUnited Nations against the treatment of Hindus in Afghanistan by the Taliban regime.
"We are fighting the same war," said Rohit Vyasmaan, who helps run the Hindu Web site, HinduUnity.org, from his home in Flushing, Queens. "Whether you call them Palestinians, Afghans or Pakistanis, the root of the problem for Hindus and Jews is Islam."
The budding Hindu-Jewish relationship presents a view that counters a popular perception of New York City not as an open door to immigrantsseeking a better life, but as a political way station, where some people come or stay not to make money but to engage in politics from afar.
For some of the Jews in Brooklyn and the Hindus in Queens and Long Island, their time in the United States is temporary, made necessary only because of the threat of Islam in South Asia and the Middle East. Ultimately, members of both groups said, they must leave New York to confront the enemy face-to-face.
"I would love to move back to India provided the situation improves there," Mr. Vyasmaan said. "We have made a promise to do so."
Mr. Vyasmaan, who is 30 and came to New York from New Delhi when he was 13, said matter-of-factly that he and many others expect to die in the battle for Hindu supremacy. Nonetheless, he is protective of the identities of some of HinduUnity.org's biggest financial backers.
Some of them have been implicated in Hindu nationalist acts in India and are only in the United States biding their time, he said. One of the site's major supporters on Long Island was involved in destroying an ancient mosque at Ayodhya in northern India in 1992, Mr. Vyasmaan said. The mosque was built on a site that is also holy to Hindus. The incident led to widespread rioting between Hindus and Muslims in India, and it isstill profoundly divisive.
"Now they won't let us build a temple at the site of the mosque," Mr. Vyasmaan said. "So there is more controversy. He plans to go back."
HinduUnity.org advertises itself as the official site of Bajrang Dal, a fundamentalist Hindu movement in India that has chapters throughout that country and has frequently clashed with Muslims and was among the groups blamed for the 1992 attack. The Web site also goes by the name Soldiers of Hindutva, a term that refers to the primacy of Hindu religion and culture. Mr. Vyasmaan said the Web site has 500 people affiliated with it.
The Jews in Brooklyn, meanwhile, are followers of Rabbi Meir David Kahane, the assassinated Israeli politician whose teachings advocated the expulsion from Israel of all Arabs, most of whom are Muslim.
Their headquarters in Brooklyn was raided in January by the F.B.I. as part of a federal investigation into their association with two Kahane political parties that were banned in Israel and designated as terrorist organizations by the State Department. The designations followed a series of violent attacks on Palestinians, including the killing in 1994 of 29 Muslims in the West Bank by Baruch Goldstein, a Kahane adherent who was born in Brooklyn.
Central to the Kahane message is that all Jews belong in Israel, making any Jew in the United States a temporary resident. Many of the group's biggest supporters shuttle back and forth between Israel and New York, keeping one foot in each country.
Rabbi Kahane was Brooklyn-born, as were many of his supporters, and was shot to death at a Manhattan hotel in 1990. His son, Binyamin, who took up his father's teachings, also carried an American passport but spent most of his time in Israel. He was killed with his wife when their car was ambushed in the West Bank in December.
During his last visit to New York, two weeks before his death, Binyamin Kahane reminded a gathering of several hundred supporters in Brooklyn of their obligation to settle in Israel.
The Brooklyn group runs a Web site, Kahane.org, that aims to keep the Kahane movement alive despite the political crackdown in Israel and the terrorist designations in the United States. The site's manager, Michael Guzofsky, said the Jewish-Hindu relationship in New York is a practical one that reflects a common suffering at the hands of Muslims. The alliance is born from adversity, he said, and transcends the differences in their religious traditions, which, he acknowledged, the two groups have never addressed in detail.
"I definitely understand their pain even if I don't know much about their faith," Mr. Guzofsky said of the Hindu fundamentalists. "Their Web site isa little more militant than ours, but an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth kind of speech is something you can find in the Old Testament. I am not going to judge people who have been oppressed by others and who fight back."
The Hindu Web site is up and running only because Mr. Guzofsky and other Kahane backers came to its rescue. Several weeks ago, the company that ran the site's Internet server, Addr.com of Greenwood Village, Colo., notified Mr. Vyasmaan that it was canceling its contract.
Matt Johnson, a representative of Addr.com, said that the company had received complaints about offensive content on the site, which contains historical accounts about Hinduism and the centuries-long conflict between Hindus and Muslims in South Asia. This week, a commentary on the site called on Hindus "to stand up and take arms" against Muslims in India,urging them to "exterminate and banish" them. The site also urged Hindus to "Fight if you must! Die if you must!"
Mr. Johnson said representatives from HinduUnity.org contended that the Web site was informational and did not advocate violence. But after three days of telephone calls between New York and Colorado, Mr. Johnson said, the company decided to pull the plug, saying that HinduUnity.org was a hate site.
When Mr. Vyasmaan got word of the decision, his first call was to Mr. Guzofsky's office at the Hatikva Jewish Identity Center in Brooklyn. Mr. Guzofsky had run into a similar problem in December, when he was forced to find a new server because of complaints about the Kahane site. Mr. Guzofsky was in Israel, but he returned the phone call within hours and quickly set out to solve Mr. Vyasmaan's problem.
The solution came by means of a businessman in Annandale, Va., Gary Wardell, who designs and services Web sites and who branched out into the server business last year. Mr. Wardell offered to help Mr. Guzofsky in December when he read about kahane.org's problems, eventually taking on the job as the Kahane site's host. Although Mr. Wardell said he is converting to Judaism from Christianity and has taken an avid interest in the teachings of Rabbi Kahane, he said his motivation in assisting Mr. Guzofsky was as much financial as religious.
"I am a small business and I need customers," Mr. Wardell said. "Sometimes when you have bills to pay, that takes the focus of your attention."
Early last month, when Mr. Guzofsky told him about HinduUnity.org, Mr. Wardell agreed to a similar business relationship for the same bottom-line reasons, he said.
Mr. Guzofsky said his group had not officially endorsed the views on the Hindu Web site, but they support the right of the Hindus to express them. For that reason, there is a link to HinduUnity.org on the Kahane Web site and, Mr. Guzofsky posted an announcement this week about the Hindu protest outside the United Nations.
"It is a core issue of free speech," Mr. Guzofsky said. "We have made it clear to the folks at HinduUnity.org that if their site ever comes down again, we will offer them a mirror site with ours so people can be updated concerning their events. I would hope they would do the same for us."
Mr. Vyasmaan said there is no doubt that the favor would be returned. Already, he said, Hindus associated with the Web site have written to Congress urging that the two Kahane political parties be removed from the State Department's list of terrorist organizations. It is a cause very dear to Mr. Guzofsky, who said he was recently asked by the authorities to submit fingerprints and handwriting samples for use in their investigationinto his Brooklyn operations.
Mr. Vyasmaan said doubters of the Hindu-Jewish commitment need to look no further than his home in Flushing, where he displays a large picture of Rabbi Kahane.
"He was a great man," Mr. Vyasmaan said. "It almost appeared as if he was speaking for the Hindus."