Mahatma Gandhi’s legacy is an inspiration in dealing with intolerance in the United States and around the world, the White House said today, a day after President Barack Obama stated that acts of intolerance experienced by religious faiths in India in the past few years would have shocked the peace icon.
“Mahatma Gandhi’s legacy is one we look to for inspiration in dealing with intolerance in the United States and around the world,” Mark Stroh, a spokesman for the White House National Security Council, said.
The assertion came after Obama in his address to the high-profile National Prayer Breakfast yesterday said the “acts of intolerance” experienced by religious faiths of all types in the past few years in India would have shocked Mahatma Gandhi.
Stroh said, “In India and at the National Prayer Breakfast, the President’s message was that freedom of religion is a fundamental freedom, and that every nation is stronger when people of all faiths are free to practice their religion free of persecution and fear and discrimination,” he said.
“The President (in his speech) was clear that this is not unique to one group, nation, or religion,” he said.
The US President, who has just returned from India, in his speech yesterday referred to violence against followers of various religions in India in the past few years.
Obama, however, did not name any particular religion. In fact he said that religions of all faiths have been attacked in the past few years.
“Michelle and I returned from India — an incredible, beautiful country, full of magnificent diversity — but a place where, in past years, religious faiths of all types have, on occasion, been targeted by other peoples of faith, simply due to their heritage and their beliefs — acts of intolerance that would have shocked Gandhiji, the person who helped to liberate that nation,” Obama said.
“This is not unique to one group or one religion. There is a tendency in us, a sinful tendency that can pervert and distort our faith. In today’s world, when hate groups have their own Twitter accounts and bigotry can fester in hidden places in cyberspace, it can be even harder to counteract such intolerance. But God compels us to try,” he said.
During his India visit in a US-style Town Hall address in New Delhi on January 27, the last day of his trip, Obama had made a strong pitch for religious tolerance, cautioning that India will succeed so long as it was not “splintered along the lines of religious faith”.
The White House on Wednesday had strongly refuted allegations that Obama’s remarks on religious tolerance were aimed at the ruling
Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), saying the speech in its entirety was about the “core democratic values and principles” of both the US and India.
Obama, in his address to the National Prayer Breakfast, said, “First, we should start with some basic humility. I believe that the starting point of faith is some doubt — not being so full of yourself and so confident that you are right and that God speaks only to us, and doesn’t speak to others, that God only cares about us and doesn’t care about others, that somehow we alone are in possession of the truth.”
“Our job is not to ask that God respond to our notion of truth — our job is to be true to Him, His word, and His commandments. And we should assume humbly that we’re confused and don’t always know what we’re doing and we’re staggering and stumbling towards Him, and have some humility in that process,” he said.
Obama asked people to speak up against those who would misuse God’s name to justify oppression, or violence, or hatred with a fierce certainty.
No God condones terror. No grievance justifies the taking of innocent lives, or the oppression of those who are weaker or fewer in number, he asserted.
Obama stressed that another thing one needs to uphold is the distinction between the faith and governments.
“Between church and between state. The United States is one of the most religious countries in the world — far more religious than most
Western developed countries. And one of the reasons is that our founders wisely embraced the separation of the church and state. Our government does not sponsor a religion, nor does it pressure anyone to practice a particular faith, or any faith at all,” Obama said.
“The result is a culture where people of all backgrounds and beliefs can freely and proudly worship, without fear, or coercion — so that when you listen to Darrell talk about his faith journey you know it’s real. You know he’s not saying it because it helps him advance, or because somebody told him to. It’s from the heart,” he said.