HAF Reacts to Obama-raja Newsweek Cover

Washington, DC (November 19, 2010) - Concerned members are contacting the Washington D.C. office of the Hindu American Foundation this week in reaction to the latest cover of Newsweek magazine.  The weekly chose a cover depicting President Obama in the likeness of the Hindu God, Nataraja.  Obama is shown with multiple arms balancing several policy issues while raising his left leg mimicking the cosmic dance of the Hindu deity that is considered a manifestation of Lord Shiva.
While HAF leaders drew a distinction in maintaining that they did not believe editors at Newsweek sought to offend Hindus, they did articulate concerns over the trend of caricaturing Hindu symbols and deities.
“Hinduism’s sacred images are too often appropriated in popular culture without understanding their spiritual relevance to Hindus,” said Suhag Shukla, HAF’s Managing Director and Legal Counsel.  “For Hindus, the iconography gives insight into the divine realm, and each aspect of representation is replete with profound symbolism that is lost and even debased by such attempts at humor.”
The Foundation pointed out that several media sources were displaying this lack of understanding as they referred to Lord Nataraja’s image as the God of Destruction.  Nataraja, as a form of Shiva, is more commonly worshipped as the Lord of Dance--a dynamic expression of the rhythm and harmony of life and is understood to represent the five activities attributed to Lord Shiva including creation, preservation, destruction, conquering of illusion, and divine grace and benevolence.
“Hindus have long wondered whether the incorporation of their sacred deities, whether in Burger King advertisements, Indiana Jones movies or this latest Newsweek cover, is a result of a gaping ignorance of Hinduism or an effort to demean their tradition as exotic,” added Jay Kansara, HAF’s Associate Director.  “In an era where religious literacy is an imperative, we hope that the media will respect sacred imagery, and apply the same consideration given to Abrahamic faiths, for example.”

ABC 7's Coverage: Hindus Outraged at Newsweek Obama Cover

Dr. Mihir Meghani, HAF Board Member, was interviewed by ABC 7 in San Francisco about the above press release and Newsweek cover. The video segment and article can be found online by clicking here.
The article by Lisa Amin Gulezian has been reproduced below:
A controversial cover of Newsweek magazine has prompted international outrage and led to calls of a boycott.
The cover depicts President Obama as a Hindu god and it is being met with harsh criticism from some Hindus.
"I was offended," says Mihir Meghani of the Hindu American Foundation (HAF).
It's what is on the cover that is causing problems for HAF members. It shows President Obama with six arms, standing on one leg, with a caption reading, "God Of All Things." The image is similar to the Hindu God Shiva Nataraja.
"It becomes an issue of contention for many Hindus who don't like their symbols being usurped or being used for other purposes," Meghani says.
Shiva Nataraja is the god of creation, destruction and grace. Each arm represents a different attribute. The president, who was in India recently, is shown trying to balance war, peace and the economy.
"Newsweek should have had better sensitivity," Meghani says.
The Hindu American Foundation wants Newsweek to apologize and to explain to readers what the god symbolizes, but Hindus in Malaysia are taking more drastic measures. They are demanding the government remove the issue from all of the country's newsstands.
Professor of advertising, Michal Strahilevitz, has seen the cover. She says the magazine's editors should have known better.
"I just thought, 'What a dumb thing to do,'" she says. "There are just many ways to express that there are many things he's balancing, and they could've expressed something about him being in India as well without using a deity. You can express him being in Italy without making him look like the pope."
Newsweek is a global magazine and is available is several countries. American readers meantime, had mixed reactions to this week's cover.
"I wasn't even sure if it was supposed to be about Hinduism but yeah, it looks like he's juggling," says John Ringhofer of Berkeley.
"I know they're trying to make an analogy of some kind. I don't think they're successful and I think the person who did it didn't know what they were doing," says Walter Ratcliff of Oakland.
Newsweek did not return any of ABC7's phone calls or requests for a statement.