September 17, 2005

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GIVE WELL, GIVE WISELY!
CSFH Urges Responsible Giving in the Wake of Hurricane Katrina

The Campaign to Stop Funding Hate (CSFH) stands in solidarity with all those who have suffered an immeasurable loss of life, property, and livelihood in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. We recognize that while the initial disaster was caused by a force of nature, the devastation and loss of life have been intensely exacerbated by the racist negligence of the US administration, which does not appear to care for the country's poor and marginalized communities. Once again, the conflicts that underlie American society stand fundamentally exposed while the actions of those in power reiterate that the issues of race, class and gender continue to place people in hierarchies that determine their value to the system. President Bush holidayed while New Orleans drowned, the director of FEMA sought to place the blame on the victims of the hurricane suggesting that they should have left for safer places (ignoring the fact that those who stayed mostly did so because they had no option), while Rep. Baker of Baton Rouge was reported as telling lobbyists (Wall Street Journal Washington wire): "We finally cleaned up public housing in New Orleans. We couldn't do it, but God did it."

We are heartened by the fact that millions of people across the United States have rallied to support those affected by the floods, reminding us that despite being ruled by a racist and war-mongering government, we are still bound together by our common humanity. We at CSFH commit ourselves to contributing to the efforts all across the US and the world to provide relief to the victims of the Katrina disaster.

While it is difficult at moments like this to raise a critical voice, especially against those who claim to be involved in the task of helping the victims, we would like to place on record our concerns about some troubling aspects of the relief and rehabilitation efforts.

1. CSFH has, in the past, pointed out the ways in which natural disasters have opportunistically been used by sectarian groups (especially those exploiting religious sentiments) to create long-term polarizations in society. This case is no different. We find the prominent role being played by organizations such as Pat Robertson's Operation Blessing to be extremely disturbing. Notwithstanding the fact that Robertson has been exposed in the recent past for using funds collected for refugee relief in Africa to further his own diamond mining operations, this organization has been actively promoted by the U.S. state and is listed as one of the major charities endorsed by FEMA for the Katrina relief operations.

2. For those who have been following the rise of religious fundamentalism in India, this unapologetic promotion of a sectarian religious organization by the avowedly secular Bush administration reflects the strategy used by similar groups following natural disasters in India. In the aftermath of the Gujarat earthquake in 2000, the federal government of India and the state government of Gujarat (at that time, both ruled by the Bharatiya Janata Party) used the 'opportunity' of relief work to promote the operation of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS; the violent and sectarian Hindutva organization) and its service wing, Sewa Bharati. More recently, the RSS along with its fronts in the US and UK (the IDRF, Sewa USA, Sewa UK and Sewa International) rode the tsunami to consolidate their presence in the affected areas.

3. Organizations such as IDRF, Sewa International, Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) and Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh (HSS), which are part of the violent, hate-mongering Hindutva network are also appealing for the donation of funds for the cause of hurricane relief. Given the history of these organizations, their agenda deserves careful scrutiny.

4. It is also unfortunate that this tragedy is being exploited by disaster-profiteers among U.S. corporations, just as war-profiteers are reaping the benefits of the war on Iraq (with in fact some of the same culprits such as Halliburton and Bechtel growing rich from both disasters).

The Campaign to Stop Funding Hate wishes to place on record its opposition to organizations that promote hatred in the US, India or other parts of the world. It demands that FEMA stop endorsing groups like Operation Blessing and asks socially responsible groups to ensure that charity inflow is duly monitored so that relief organizations are held accountable for the ways in which funds are being spent. We urge donors to make an informed decision about how they want their contributions channeled and ask all those committed to broad values of secularism, pluralism and justice to oppose the forces that use the pretext of relief operations to further their sectarian agendas.

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