The ‘Indian’ religion?

There's been a lot of political coverage lately of Nikki Haley and the South Carolina gubernatorial primary. That race has been rife with religious ghosts ever since a state senator called Haley, a former Sikh who converted to Christianity, a "raghead." Ever since then, supporters of her primary opponent Gresham Barrett have been trying to raise the issue of her religion in a rather slimy fashion. But Haley's high-profile race is just one part of a larger story. Until I saw this AP story, I had no idea that there was a "Record number of Indian-Americans seeking office." No doubt this story could use some analysis, as it's sure to be a crucible of religion and politics.

Unfortunately, it pains me to say that the AP story on this story is, well, less than good. The story does contain some good information, but it is plagued by some key oversights and unjustifiably vague statements. These three paragraphs are a pretty good idea of what I'm talking about:

Christianity is a more critical issue for white Republicans than other groups -- could a Hindu who worships multiple gods, or a turbaned Sikh who doesn't cut his hair, survive a statewide Republican primary in the Bible Belt?

Vidya Pradhan, editor of India Currents magazine, thinks not.

Haley and Jindal "were really ambitious about their politics, and they could not do it being Hindu or their old religion," Pradhan said. "I do think it was a political move. They felt that not being a Christian would hurt them."

Um, "Christianity is a more critical issue for white Republicans than other groups" -- says who? How do, for instance, black Democrats feel on candidate religiosity? I have no idea but it shouldn't be that hard to substantiate or quantify what the reporter is casting about in generalizations.

Then we get to Pradhan's statement. It is provocative at best, unfair and inflammatory at worst. The article gives little to no context here to rebut Pradhan's suggestion that Haley and Jindal's conversions were political calculations. Haley is currently rebutting nasty campaign rumors she's not really a Christian, and I'm not sure the AP should be entering the fray here without being more careful. Haley and Jindal both declined to be interviewed, but it still seems egregious to throw that in there without more counterbalancing information or perspective.

Especially since the only way Pradhan could accuse Jindal of being insincere about is faith is if he's completely ignorant of his biography. Jindal is a convert to Catholicism, and if anything, has been criticized by the left for being too devout. There was a minor controversy when Jindal ran for governor over an article he wrote in 1994 about his powerful reaction to witnessing an exorcism.

The Louisiana Democratic party actually ran attack ads trying  to portray him as some kind of religious nut as a result. And yet, the article says nothing about Jindal's religious background beyond "He converted to Catholicism as a teenager."

Frankly, the whole article just seems haphazard and sloppy around the edges. Take this bit about an Indian running for Congress in Kansas:

Goyle worships at an Indian temple.

What? Does he worship at a temple in India? The word "Indian" confers place, not religion. And there are Sikh, Christian, Jain, Muslim and Buddhist adherents in India, just to name a few major sects and religions on the subcontinent.

I have no standing to be a grammar Nazi, as my better half will be glad to tell you,  but I wonder if the problem was that this story simply didn't get looked at closely by an editor:

Now her [Haley's] choice of names, marriage to a white man and Methodist conversion is raising similar questions.

Finally, I will note that the credit on the bottom of the story is this:

Jesse Washington covers race and ethnicity for The Associated Press.

While this story undoubtedly has strong racial elements, I can't help but wonder if this story wouldn't have been better served if had been written with a religion reporter.

Please respect our Commenting Policy