News & Politics

Gov. Bobby Jindal Is One of the Top Republican Islamophobes -- and Also a Religious Extremist

Jindal may be against Islamic extremism, but his moves as a fervent Catholic promotes a religious agenda.

Today Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal is in London, to give a speech about how to address Islamic extremism at the conservative Henry Jackson Society. While this topic has little to do with his current job, hysteria about Muslims is a rising topic among the crop of Republican presidential contenders, and the speech is a way for Jindal to court the Islamophobia among GOP primary voters.

But Jindal is perhaps the most ironic figure to address religious extremism, given his own background. He has been a fervent convert to Catholicism, and has engaged in borderline abusive practices himself; as governor, he expanded the role of religion in public schools, blurring the divide between church and state. If anything, Jindal should take a look at his own messianic religiosity before criticizing others'.

A Fervent Young Convert, Leaving His Heritage Behind

Jindal's family emigrated to the United States in 1970, when his mother came to complete a graduate degree in nuclear physics at Louisiana State University. Born Piyush Jindal, he changed his name to Bobby when, as a child, he grew to like one of the characters of The Brady Bunch. Somewhere between high school and college, he left his parents' Hinduism behind and was baptized as a college student, becoming a Catholic.

Both these moves – changing his name and his religion – have become rhetorical rallying points for Jindal. In the remarks given today, he boasts that his family came to the States to become “not Indian Americans, simply Americans.” This language is a signal to primary voters – ignore my skin color and my strange last name: I'm one of you.

The College Exorcist

Whatever his motivation for making his conversion, Jindal took to his new Catholicism very seriously. More seriously, in fact, than most would realize.

In 1994, he wrote an article for the New Oxford Review about performing an exorcism on his friend Susan during college. The article, titled “Physical Dimensions of Spiritual Warfare,” explains how he suspected Susan was acting strange after one of her close friends from home committed suicide. While none of what Jindal described was atypical behavior for someone who has lost a close friend, he began to describe distinct odors which he said others identified as sulfur, something he associated with demons.

He worked with a group of United Christian Fellowship (UCF) students to surround Susan, hold her, and go through a long series of prayers in an attempt to drive her out of demonic possession. Jindal describes Susan trying to leave the situation, and how UCF students held her back and prevented her from leaving. At some point, they believe the exorcism to have worked and Susan acts as if she did not remember the past few hours, and she is allowed to leave.

Jindal has never directly addressed his 1994 article or the experience he claims to have been a part of. When asked about it in 2012, he released a statement saying “I wrote a lot of stuff in high school and college. While other kids were out partying, I was reading and writing. I'm sure some of that stuff is goofy. I just hope they don't review my grade school work.” It's not clear whether Jindal has changed his view on exorcism or is he trying to avoid admitting complicity in what would be abusive behavior.

Smashing The Barrier Between Church And State In Louisiana

Jindal's religious convictions aren't limited to the personal arena and bravado on the campaign trail. He has made them a centerpiece of his policy agenda. In the spring of 2012, Jindal signed into law a series of education policy changes that included an exhaustive school voucher program that opened up millions of taxpayer dollars to subsidize private schools, including religious private schools that are very popular in Louisiana (in 2000 Louisiana had the highest percentage of kids in private schools of any state).

When the voucher financing began, a college sophomore did some research and found that at least 19 of the schools participating in the program taught creationist theory in their science programs; some of these schools used textbooks that taught that dinosaurs and humans co-existed in history, or that the Christianist Ku Klux Klan was a force for “reform.”

Ironically, some of the objection to Jindal's subsidies to religious schools came from the far-right, which was concerned taxpayer dollars would eventually not be limited to just Christian organizations. Republican Rep. Valarie Hodges worried that the new law would “open the door to fund radical Islam schools...I do not support using funds for teaching Islam anywhere here in Louisiana.”

My Extremism, Not Yours

Hodges summarized the Jindal philosophy: my religious extremism is good, and yours is bad. There is little threat of radical Islam actually taking over the United States, but as Jindal has shown, you can use taxpayer funds to spread extreme Young Earth Creationism Christianity, and openly admit to an abusive “exorcism” you once performed, and it might just actually help you with Republican primary voters.

Lost among Jindal's quest to court the Christian far-right are the people of his state. Louisiana's institutions of higher education have lost $673 million since 2008; rather than seek new revenues, Jindal is expected to call for as much as an additional $300 million in cuts for next year. As many as fifteen colleges may end up closing altogether. Meanwhile, more than half of Louisiana's families can't meet their basic costs, according to a report put out by Loyola University.

Amidst this climate of collapse, Jindal may very well be hoping he doesn't have to stick around for the consequences. The speech in London may be his exit strategy – a way for him to pioneer a new platform based around being a fervent convert to both Christianity and Americanism, ready to combat migrants that refuse to assimilate, especially those of the Muslim faith. Pay no mind to the disaster he presides over in Louisiana.

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Zaid Jilani is an AlterNet staff writer. Follow @zaidjilani on Twitter.