Faisal Khan profiles high-flying democrat Tulsi Gabbard. What does she stand for? What does she believe in? And who funds her?
In January 2019 Tulsi Gabbard announced she will be running for President in 2020.
With her glamour, mid-30s youth and charm as the first Hindu member of Congress, Gabbard has a powerful appeal beyond her native Hawaii and is considered a ‘rising star’ in the Democratic ranks. She has apparently won the confidence of, and is close to, Bernie Sanders and his wife: often considered a powerful vote of approval in the Democratic Party.
Tulsi’s family moved to Hawaii in 1983 and her father Mike Gabbard soon entered politics. He is well known in Hawaii for his trenchant opposition to homosexuality and gay rights. Her family soon became involved with the Science of Identity Foundation (SIF): a bizarre Hare Krishna spin-off cult led by a gentleman called Chris Butler.
While Tulsi speaks positively of her experience in the SIF, many ex-members have testified about it was a cult-like experience. The organisation has allegedly had a significant impact on Tulsi’s outlook and politics.
At the age of 21, Gabbard entered politics when she ran on a democratic ticket for the Hawaii State of representatives. In this earlier phase of her political career, she espoused several conservative positions.
In 2003, for example, she voted against a bill to ‘provide emergency contraception immediately’ to survivors of sexual assault. She also supported government surveillance efforts, warning that the ‘demand for unfettered civil liberties’ could make the country vulnerable to terrorists and she joined her father’s battle against what she called ‘homosexual extremists’.
In the same year, she joined the National Guard when her brigade was shipped to Iraq she decided to go. Her time in the Middle East appears to have led to a political reformation and by the time she returned and ran for Congress in 2012 her views had evolved to more conventional progressive positions.
Liberal at Home, Authoritarian Overseas
However, while espousing broadly progressive positions at home, Gabbard appears to have had no issue with supporting aspects of repressive and authoritarian regimes overseas. She has, for instance, expressed support for Egypt’s dictator Fatah Sisi for “taking on…. extreme Islamist ideology” (and arranged for him to speak at a Joint hearing in Congress), and expressed support for Putin’s actions in Syria bombing “terrorists”.
Further, she controversially met Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad twice and reinforced the regime view that it was mainly foreign ‘terrorists’ who were responsible for the resistance against him. Assad, of course, has been accused of slaughtering up to half a million Syrians and creating some 11 million refugees.
Gabbard’s trip was widely regarded as a disaster; she was criticised for her support for Assad, and after reporters discovered the trip had been funded by Lebanese-American businessmen with ties to a pro-Assad political party, Gabbard agreed to repay her travel costs.
Despite the backlash, Gabbard has remained firm in her support for Assad. After a sarin gas attack in April 2017 in Syria, Gabbard said that she was “sceptical” of claims that Assad’s government was to blame. Further, Tulsi voted, predominantly with Republicans, for a bill that effectively blocked 10,000 Syrian refugees from re-settling in the US.
Her Hindu faith is not all that she shares with the current strong-man prime minister of India Narender Modi. Modi came to power as leader of the BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party) a Hinduvta which espouses Hindu supremacy.
As Chief Minister of Gujarat, Modi was allegedly responsible for facilitating a massacre of over 1,000 Muslims including women and children. He was boycotted by the US, EU and the UK for some time afterwards for his alleged involvement.
Gabbard is close to Hinduvta and BJP elements in the US and according to analysis carried out by the journal Intercept those of Hinduvta persuasion have donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to Gabbard’s campaigns since 2011.
Speaking to the Byline Times, Shay Chan Hodges, a former political opponent of Tulsi Gabbard’s and Hawaii native says: “She has never been forthcoming about the nature of her connections to the Science Identity Foundation, though her involvement in it is common knowledge in Hawaii. “She has a history of Islamophobic and homophobic legislative actions-and those are also in line with the beliefs of SIF.”
Bi-Partisan or Playing Both Sides?
While Gabbard portrays herself as a moderate or progressive and beyond partisan politics, generally her ‘bi-partisan’ actions serve GOP interests such as restricting Syrian refugees or reducing gun control further Chan Hodges added.
High-profile US lawyer and activist Stanley Cohen, who has observed Gabbard’s career, believes Gabbard is an “Islamophobe and homophobe who touted conversion therapy about a decade ago”. He told the Byline Times that Gabbard is close to Modi and his Hindu supremacist party – and a staunch supporter of Israel and Netanyahu.
Gabbard has addressed and apologised for her past homophobic remarks and campaigns. ‘In my past, I said and believed things that were wrong, and worse, they were very hurtful to people in the LGBTQ+ community and their loved ones,” Gabbard has acknowledged. “I’m deeply sorry for having said them. My views have changed significantly since then.”
Cohen notes she also received support from the likes of David Duke, Steve Bannon and other supremacists. He is of the view that while Gabbard claims to be anti-imperialist, this stance doesn’t seem to extend to Kashmir and Palestine. For him, she is a ‘total fraud’.
Writer and academic Idrees Ahmed, who has written extensively on the Syrian genocide, told the Byline Times that, as far as he’s concerned, “Tulsi Gabbard has terrible politics and dreadful associates. She is an awful person who has supported fascists and religious extremists in India, Egypt, Israel and Syria.”
While celebrated as a rising star in the US Democratic party, Gabbard’s alliances and statements make her more aligned with authoritarian regimes than open democracies.