Newsweek Offends Hindus with Obama Cover

By Susan Brinkmann, OCDS
Staff Journalist

Many Hindus in the American Indian population are offended by the latest cover of Newsweek Magazine, which features President Barack Obama as the Hindu deity known as Lord Shiva.

Fox News is reporting that the weekly magazine has run afoul of Hindus for what they consider to be an offensive portrayal of one of their gods. The cover shows Obama balancing on one leg with six arms and a different policy issue in each hand. The headline reads: “God of All Things: Why the Modern Presidency May be too Much for One Person to Handle.”

The god known is Lord Shiva who is one of three pre-eminent gods in the Hindu hierarchy of gods, ranking alongside Brahma and Vishnu. Shiva is considered the destroyer of the world which must be ended in order for it to be reborn as a more universalistic place. This same god is also depicted as Lord Nataraja, who has multiple arms and is shown dancing while balanced on one leg, which represents the rhythm and harmony of life.

Fox reports that Rajan Zed, president of the Universal Society of Hinduism in Nevada, told Sify News in India that Nataraja is highly revered and meant to be worshipped, not indecorously thrown around. He said it is not acceptable to use Hindu concepts and symbols for profit or self-serving purposes.

Suhag Shukla, managing director and legal counsel of the Washington-based Hindu-American Foundation, told that her group doesn’t believe Newsweek was being malicious or trying to offend Hindus.

“Hinduism’s sacred images are too often appropriated in popular culture without understanding their spiritual relevance to Hindus,” she said. “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.”

She said the images are often used in media as caricatures because of a fundamental lack of understanding about their very complex religion.

Because it’s impossible to retract the image now, the Hindu-American Foundation told Fox they plan to contact Newsweek on Monday about the cover.

Newsweek did not respond to requests for comment, but the image was not posted on the magazine’s website as of Sunday.

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