President Trump used a big bully pulpit — his historic first address to the U.S. Congress — to condemn the shooting of an Indian computer engineer on Feb. 22 in Kansas that the FBI said Tuesday it is investigating as hate crime.
“We may be a nation divided on policies, we are a country that stands united in condemning hate and evil in all of its very ugly forms,” Trump said, speaking of both the Kansas attack and the vandalism in Jewish cemeteries and other anti-Semitic attacks in recent days. Earlier in the day, the White House gave its first direct comment on the Kansas attack calling it “an act of racially motivated hatred.”
Critics on social media reacted quickly — praising Trump for addressing the issue, but wondering why it took so long.
“Finally, Trump condemns the hatred in Kansas and elsewhere. Finally,” author Anand Giridharadas said in a tweet.
Trump’s high-profile denunciation came after nearly a week in which several prominent former State Department officials and others criticized the White House, including the former U.S. ambassador to India, Richard Verma, and Nisha Biswal, the former assistant secretary of state for South and Central Asia.
On Tuesday, Biswal thanked the president for “doing the right thing” by condemning this “act of terror.”
“Now stop the policies and rhetoric that fuel this hate,” she said in a tweet.
Thank you for doing the right thing Mr President by condemning this act of terror & hate. Now stop the policies & rhetoric that fuel hate. https://t.co/lOMEDkrBxq
— Nisha Biswal (@NishaBiswal) February 28, 2017
Yet “sound of his silence” has already spoken volumes, the Kolkata writer Sandip Roy wrote in a column for the Huffington Post shortly before the president’s speech. He noted that Trump was quick to denounce terror acts in Paris and Florida but also said nothing when a white supremacist attacked a mosque in Canada.
On Tuesday, more than 200 people attended the cremation service for the slain computer engineer, Srinivas Kuchibhotla, in the southern Indian city of Hyderabad, after an emotional day for the slain man’s family. His weeping mother told The Washington Post that she had begged her other son not to return to the United States, where he also lives, and politicians turned up waving signs that said “Down With Trump.” The attack has stoked fear among Indians that thousands of friends and relative living in the United States are not safe given its racially charged political climate of recent months.
Kuchibhotla was shot and killed by a drunken attacker in an Olathe, Kan., bar who shouted “Get out of my country” and may have mistaken him for a person of Iranian descent, authorities have said. Another Indian national was also injured in the attack, as well as a bystander who tried to intervene.
Now, the pressure may build for India’s prime minister, Narendra Modi, to comment, as well. The prime minister was quick to tweet about the Orlando gun massacre last year, the opinion website DailyO noted in an opinion piece, but remained “eerily silent over an issue that directly relates to the well being of Indians residing in Donald Trump’s America.”
Was he hesitant in calling out xenophobia because it would draw “immediate and strong parallels to what’s happening in India,” the piece wondered. The article referred to the violence and riots that occurred when “bigotry got the better of majority Indians” — including the killing of a Muslim man over rumors he had eaten beef, which is sacred to the Hindu faith, and rowdy acts of a right-wing Hindu group on college campuses.