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The attacks on me may discourage other Hindu Americans from running for office: Tulsi Gabbard

The debates are very helpful to increase national name recognition — which really is what polls are measuring — and convey my positions: Tulsi Gabbard

Oct 13, 2019, 09.05 AM IST
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(This story originally appeared in on Oct 13, 2019)
By making it to October 15’s presidential election debate, Tulsi Gabbard, a Congresswoman from Hawaii who identifies herself as Hindu American because of her practice of Vaishnava Hinduism, stays in the race to win a White House nomination. She speaks to Chidanand Rajghatta about the race, her faith, and US foreign policy

Congratulations on making the debate cut and staying in the race, but how do you get the momentum to go past the 1-2% support you are polling?
The debates are very helpful to increase national name recognition — which really is what polls are measuring — and convey my positions. Right now, you have Vice President Biden who was in office for eight years, and Senator Bernie Sanders who just ran for president in the last election, as leading candidates. So you’re talking about people who already have 100% name recognition across the country that I don’t have. So, the debates are a helpful platform to increase my visibility and outreach.

You identify yourself quite strongly as a Hindu American. Is that a handicap? Did I hear you say there is an element of Hinduphobia in the US?
I would not say it’s coming from many people, but certainly from some political opponents and some in the media who don’t like the message that I’m delivering. They are resorting to these Hinduphobic attacks and smears. I don’t see it as a handicap. I am who I am. If you look at the vast majority of voters and people in this country, they are open and welcoming and treat one another with respect in the spirit of unity. Frankly, we need more of that in this country to be able to heal some of the wounds and divides of race, ethnicity, religion, orientation and politics.

I did hear one interview where you were questioned quite aggressively about your religious beliefs. Does that bother you?
I just did a long-form podcast interview with ABC called journeys of faith and we actually spoke in detail about my own spiritual practice of Vaishnava Hinduism, how it has impacted and influenced my life. It was a very good conversation with someone who was sincere and looking for the answers. But you contrast that with some of the other things that you’re hearing where people already have an agenda and they’re pushing it in a very divisive and destructive way. While the questioning doesn’t bother me personally, what concerns me is that it may discourage other Hindu Americans from running for office. It discourages them from being able to celebrate being who they are — a part of the beautiful unique fabric of diversity that is the United States of America.

What is your sense of the support you’re getting from Indian Americans? Is it just Hindu Americans or is there broader support?
It is a broad cross section of support from people of all different religious backgrounds, and from people who are first generation immigrants. Some are supporters of BJP, some are supporters of the Congress, some are agnostic… so it’s a broad cross section.

You missed the Howdy Modi event in Houston. How do you view such rallies and the expression of what some people see as an upsurge of Hindu nationalism and Hindu pride? Imran Khan for one has compared Hindu nationalism to events in Nazi Germany to suggest it is dangerous.
I could not attend because of prior Presidential campaign commitments. Hindu nationalism is a term that many people are using frequently without being specific about what they mean by that. Why is expressing pride in one’s religion a bad thing? If you take out the word Hindu and you replace it with Muslim or Catholic or Jewish, then what do you end up with? There is an unfortunate Hinduphobic approach taken to Hindus who are expressing their pride.

You’ve served in the military and spoken a lot about futile wars and the need to bring back US troops home. What is your sense of the Afghan war and Pakistan’s role in it?
I have been very outspoken about how our troops should have come home from Afghanistan long ago. We went there in the wake of 9/11 to find terrorists who carried that out, and to defeat them. Our leaders over time have used that attack to begin a series of these wasteful regime change wars. It should have been very focused about going in, defeating them and leaving, rather than this long-standing occupation and nation building that we’ve seen in Iraq and in Syria now. These decisions have cost us tremendously in American lives and trillions of taxpayer dollars that we need for our schools, our healthcare system, our infrastructure etc. They have weakened our national security and strengthened terrorist groups like ISIS. As for Pakistan, I have long been concerned about the role that they have played in both directly and indirectly supporting terrorism, both within their country as well as with the Taliban in Afghanistan.

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