American Enterprise Institute fellow spins conspiracy theory about my criticism of Hindu nationalism

michael rubin

When I woke on the morning of 7 December 2021 to discover that right-wing think-tank American Enterprise Institute’s (AEI) Senior Fellow, Dr. Michael Rubin, had published a blistering attack on me, I was soon honored to learn that Rubin is a “neocon luminary” — that is, one of those war-hawks who interminably push an imperial policy that demands America must police and control the world — with a long, colorful history of associating with radical Islamophobic organizations, being accused of being on the “leash” of “whoever pays the most,” and, most entertainingly, being accused of “mind-boggling stupidity.”

Dr. Rubin, despite his sterling credentials as a recipient of a PhD from Yale University, has, over the years, been accused of “factual errors,” of “flimsy analysis based on innuendos, weak arguments and officially denied and false material,” of being “no more than a ‘puppet,’” and of using a modus operandi wherein he “takes a rumor and makes it appealing without bothering to support his arguments, like he did during the US invasion of Iraq.” In fact, according to a report published in Mother Jones, “Rubin is one of the neocons who led the the US to war with Iraq through misinformation and bogus intelligence.”

Indeed, Rubin appears to have played quite an interesting role in the build-up to and aftermath of the US’s illegal and atrocious invasion of Iraq.

Described as a “protégé of Cheney confidante and former Defense Policy Board chairman Richard Perle” (Perle being known as a “key architect” of the US invasion of Iraq), Rubin put his money where his mouth was by serving as boots on the ground in occupied Iraq. From 2002 to 2004 (the invasion of Iraq began in 2003), he worked for the Pentagon in the controversial Office of Special Plans which, according to renowned American journalist Seymour Hersh, “was created in order to find evidence of what [top President George W. Bush officials] believed to be true — that Saddam Hussein had close ties to Al Quaeda, and that Iraq had an enormous arsenal of chemical, biological, and possibly even nuclear weapons (WMD) that threatened the region and, potentially, the United States.” From 2003 to 2004, he was reportedly stationed in Iraq as part of the Coalition Provisional Authority — or, as founder Justin Raimondo once put it, he was assigned to be a “colonial administrator in occupied Iraq.”

In 2004, Rubin joined AEI as a senior follow.

From 2004 to 2009, he also served as the editor of the Middle East Forum’s (MEF) quarterly journal. MEF, a think-tank founded by “longtime anti-Muslim figure Daniel Pipes,” has been described by the Southern Poverty Law Center as “known for its academic approach to fomenting anti-Muslim sentiment.” According to Georgetown University’s Bridge Initiative, MEF “is a right-wing anti-Islam think tank that spreads misinformation, creates ‘watchlists’ targeting academics, and advocates hawkish foreign policy.” The initiative Islamophobia Network claims MEF is “at the center” of that network.

Incidentally, MEF, Pipes, and associates of both such as Robert Spencer — who “heads anti-Muslim organizations and is one of the leading writers who claims Islam promotes violence” — were prolifically cited in the 2011 manifesto of white supremacist terrorist Anders Breivik, who also just happened to offer glowing praise for the Islamophobia of the Rashtriya Swayamasevak Sangh (RSS), a Hindu nationalist paramilitary that has surged to dominance in 21st-century India.

Rubin himself has emerged as an occasional apologist for various aspects of India’s current Narendra Modi regime, even (implicitly) dismissing concerns about the role Modi (an RSS member) played in an anti-Muslim pogrom in 2002 as signs of “a derangement syndrome” which “predates his rise to India’s premiership and lies in animosity toward the Bharatiya Janata Party.” The BJP, the political arm of the RSS, unapologetically advocates the same Hindu nationalist agenda.

It is my ongoing and relentless criticism of the RSS-BJP — both within India and abroad — which, I am certain, led Rubin to pen his attack on me.

While much could be said about allegations regarding Rubin’s role in producing and disseminating lies and misinformation that led to the invasion of Iraq, criticisms leveled against him for being a so-called “fraud” who apparently presents himself as an expert on countries as diverse and far-flung as Ethiopia, Somalia, Iran, Iraq, Pakistan, the UAE, Turkey, Azerbaijan, China, and beyond, accusations that he has accepted tens of thousands of dollars per month to “change US lawmakers’ opinions by propounding negative propaganda” about particular countries (while, “with little knowledge of the region, he repeats his client’s arguments without fact checking”), and calls for his arrest as a “war criminal” (over his Iraq involvement) when he visited Iceland, I will confine myself to fact-checking his scurrilous, spurious, illogical, error-ridden, and (I believe deliberately) distorted narrative recently published about me for what seems to be the sole intention of attempting to defame me.

Rubin begins his article with the grandiose thesis that Pakistan’s intelligence agency is directing a global campaign to “sabotage vaccination campaigns.” Abandoning all pretense of academic integrity, Rubin — once described as the “pudgy-faced boy wonder of the American Enterprise Institute” — fails to adhere to what even the most half-baked scholar knows is a fundamental requirement for proving a thesis (especially a particularly extraordinary one): you must offer more than a single piece of evidence to prove your point. Thus, Rubin, in making his extraordinary claim, identifies, essentially, one single example of its purported truth — that I protested in June 2021 against a massive donation made to RSS-linked Sewa International.

That my protest occurred seven months ago and yet Rubin is, oddly, just now seizing on it as proof of his outlandish thesis — or that the donation to Sewa was made “to support procurement of lifesaving equipment such as oxygen concentrators, ventilators, BiPap, and CPAP machines” and had nothing to do with “vaccination campaigns” — offered no impediment to his willingness to spin my protest into an wild-eyed conspiracy theory.

“The problem for Sewa began when, at the height of India’s second Covid-19 wave, then-Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey announced a $2.5 million donation to Sewa in order to help its anti-Covid efforts in India as part of a larger $15 million donation which also benefited Care and Aid India,” writes Rubin. That, while certainly true, is one of the only sentences in his article which can be taken at face value.

  • Rubin: “The problem began when an activist named Pieter Friedrich (who also goes by the name Pieter Singh)….” I am an activist, yes, but I am also an author, researcher, and widely-recognized subject matter expert (who, despite Rubin’s differing example, does not deign to present himself as an expert on more than one region in the world). I also do not go by the name “Pieter Singh.” While I have (as explained when asked in past interviews) rarely used it as a pseudonym many years ago before I decided I was willing to commit to linking my real name to the deeply controversial issues on which I write, I do not “go by it.” But Rubin, throughout his article, suggests his inability (or perhaps it is malicious refusal) to distinguish between the past and the present.
  • Rubin: “…. posted an article to Medium, a self-publication platform.” I wrote two articles (12) on the topic, although Rubin implies that my research and publication on the issue was limited only to the one. Additionally, my two articles were published by two separate third-party media outlets, but Rubin disingenuously leaves that out, preferring to attempt to discredit the veracity of my claims by dismissing them as “self-published.”
  • Rubin: “Few considered either the weakness of Friedrich’s evidence….” The “weakness” of my evidence, as detailed below, is only so if one deliberately ignores every piece of evidence that I have presented and, as Rubin does, distorts my argument into exactly what his own article consists of: an extraordinary thesis relying on a single example as proof.
  • Rubin: “….or his militant associations.” Although my legal advisors tell me that Rubin’s piece is just subjective enough to avoid legally qualifying as defamation, his claim, stated as though it were a matter of settled fact, that I, indisputably, have “militant associations,” is (in my perspective), if not legally then certainly ethically defamatory. Additionally, aside from the lack of evidence that I now or ever have been associated (knowingly or unknowingly) with “militants,” such an association would be a violation of my own Christian faith, which teaches me to “be subject to the governing authorities” because they “have been instituted by God,” to “honor the emperor” (ie, the governing authorities), and — most movingly to me, because it was a command spoken by Jesus Christ to my namesake, Saint Peter — to “put [my] sword back in its place” because “all who take the sword will perish by the sword.” Aside from my open denunciation of militancy, in all my years and years of public writings and activities, I have never 1) advocated for militancy; 2) shared the stage with anyone engaged in militancy; 3) or even advocated for separatism, militant or otherwise. But Rubin, I’m convinced, probably knows this well and doesn’t care, since his interest is not in uncovering and reporting actual truth.
  • Rubin: “Friedrich takes a decades-old and questionable allegation and transforms it into a broad castigation….” I’ve often heard it said that the things we accuse others of doing are, if we’re not careful, often actually the things of which we ourselves are guilty . That is certainly the case throughout Rubin’s entire article, where he relies on “questionable allegations” from various eras to transform them into the broad conclusion that I am — he “suspects” — an agent of Pakistan. Additionally, this is the only point at which Rubin attempts to summarize my claims about how Sewa International is an RSS affiliate. His distortion is breath-taking.
  • Rubin: “….that suggests that the presence of a Sewa representative at a far broader community meeting — in which a Hindu nationalist was also present — makes all those groups affiliates of Hindu nationalist militias.” It is at this point that Rubin loses me entirely, for even in viewing the source he links — which was, admittedly, one of many sources (though not the primary one) that I used in my writings about Sewa — I cannot anywhere find anything about “a broader community meeting” where “a Hindu nationalist was also present” alongside “a Sewa representative.” The 2002 article he links, however, does include the report that Sewa International in the UK was registered under the charity number of the UK wing of the Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh (HSS), which is widely recognized — even by Hindu nationalist sympathizers — as an affiliate of the RSS which can accurately be described as RSS’s “international wing.”
  • Rubin: “….” From there, Rubin declines to acknowledge any other of the many pieces of evidence I have presented that Sewa International is, indisputably, linked to the RSS. To summarize, briefly, some of those evidences: 1) The third RSS chief founded Sewa Bharati in 1989 and the US branch of Sewa International openly states that it was founded as part of that “larger movement that started in India in 1989”; 2) right-wing Indian media outlets sympathetic to the RSS describe Sewa Bharati and Sewa International as both “part of the same non-profit organization affiliated to RSS”; 3) Sewa International’s global coordinator is simultaneously also an RSS leader who has been reported as head of its “foreign department”; 4) donations sent to India by Sewa International have been publicly unveiled by the RSS itself; 5) historians Walter Andersen and Shridhar Damle (Andersen being sympathetic to the RSS, Damle being an actual leader — past and presumably present — in the HSS, and both having been granted open access to conduct research on the RSS by the paramilitary itself) report that Sewa International is “managed mainly” by the HSS; 6) bearing this out is that Sewa International is chaired by the Vice-President of HSS-USA; 7) further, Sewa International’s board includes a global HSS leader who began as a full-time RSS worker in India; 8) additionally, its board includes at least a half-dozen directors and advisors who are apparently either HSS executives in the US or long-time activists with the RSS in India or both. But how could Rubin acknowledge that the evidence I presented included these various pieces of data (rather than merely a single “decades-old and questionable allegation”) without losing his argument against me?
  • Rubin: “To get attention, Friedrich then announced a hunger strike (it did not last long beyond his announcement) to protest the donation, repeating the slanderous charge that Sewa was an affiliation [sic] of ‘a violent Hindu nationalist paramilitary.’” While even a recipient of a doctorate from Yale may, in good faith, make a typo and forget proper noun declension (ie, “affiliate” not “affiliation”), one would expect such a person to at least understand the definition of “slander.” The very fact that I have not been sued by Sewa International ought to, for the skeptical, serve as initial evidence that nothing I have said about them is slanderous.
  • Rubin: “In reality, Friedrich was the extremist. In both California and in South Asian circles, he is known primarily [italics added] for gadfly efforts to cancel Mahatma Gandhi….” While my unapologetic and academically sound critical research on Gandhi may be unpopular or even controversial, only the disingenuous would term it “extreme,” particularly considering that it reflects conclusions shared by many Sikh and Dalit academics, African scholars, African-American activists, and a range of Gandhi biographers (even those who, while acknowledging the same flaws in Gandhi which I do, come to more charitable conclusions about what one should do about him in light of those flaws). Moreover, neither in California nor within South Asian circles am I, first (or probably second or even third) and foremost known for my criticism of Gandhi. With the exception, I believe, of two short speeches, it has been four years since I expended the slightest energy on the issue. In the past four years, I am far more widely known for: writing a book about Sikh history, protesting Modi’s visit to Houston, publishing extensively on former US Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard as well as other political candidates linked to various RSS-BJP entities, and much more, almost all of which connects in one way or another to various aspects of the Hindu nationalist project. Indeed, the briefest perusal of the list of articles I’ve published since 2018 reveals that not a single one of them is about Gandhi — and, generally, the only times he’s mentioned in my writings over the past several years is to point out that it was an RSS member who murdered him.
  • Rubin: “….accusing the Indian founding father of everything from incest….” As appears to be his preferred method of operation, Rubin embraces everything from half-truths to flat-out errors (or are they deliberate lies?). I have never accused Gandhi of “incest.” Why? Because it is not an entirely accurate term to use for the “sexual experiments” which (as widely acknowledged by Gandhi biographers) he engaged in with his teenage grandnieces (who were not actually, to my understanding, his blood relations). A more accurate term, which I have used on multiple occasions, is “sexual predator.”
  • Rubin: “….to ‘white supremacy’….” I have said that Gandhi “promoted white supremacy” while living in pre-apartheid South Africa, an allegation also leveled against him by various Black African scholars and which, aside from his extensive legacy of anti-Black writings and actions, seems (in my mind) to be indisputably upheld in Gandhi’s statement that “the white race in South Africa should be the predominating race” (an affirmation of white supremacy if I ever heard one).
  • Rubin: “…. to promoting Adolf Hitler.” I have never once claimed that Gandhi “promoted” Hitler; it is here that Rubin’s academic laziness (or dishonesty) stands particularly exposed. To “source” his accusation that I’ve claimed that Gandhi “promoted Hitler,” he links to an article in which an entirely different person from myself is quoted as claiming that promoters of Gandhi are — by virtue of the man’s commentaries about and letters to the Fuhrer — “promoting a friend of Hitler.” I am quoted in the article as saying that Gandhi “praised” — not “promoted” — Hitler, which is true. What else can one conclude from Gandhi’s remarks to Hitler applauding his “bravery [and] devotion to [his] fatherland” and about Hitler declaring that “Germans of future generations will honor Herr Hitler as a genius, as a brave man, a matchless organizer and much more”? That is, undeniably, praise. One could certainly argue, as some have done, that there is a context for it, that it fits into Gandhi’s views on pacifism, or some other such thing, but there is no way to get around the flat fact that it is “praise.” Now, have I ever claimed that Gandhi “promoted” Hitler? No. Is claiming that he “praised” Hitler the same thing as claiming that he “promoted” him? No. More importantly, have I ever reiterated this remark after the 2013 source cited? No, and in fact I chose to leave this material out of my 2017 “last word” style booklet about Gandhi specifically because, while it is noteworthy, I do not believe it fits into the most important aspects of the critical narrative about Gandhi. Regardless, Rubin — who could have reached four years back to cite my official publication on Gandhi to determine what I actually have to say about him rather than over eight years back to reference (in a twisted and inaccurate fashion) an off-hand remark that is not part of my overall Gandhi narrative — seems least interested in accurate attention to detail. Disingenuous, indeed. Most notable to me, however, is that a man who has built his entire career around being a war-hawk advocating for the endless wars of the American Empire should choose to seize on my criticism of the iconic pacifist, Gandhi, as some kind of proof of my nefarious intentions. Were Gandhi alive today, I have little doubt that AEI — and perhaps Rubin himself — would encounter the harshness of his pen.
  • Rubin: “He is also active as executive secretary of the Sikh Information Centre….” Here Rubin once again reveals how attention to detail, accuracy, and academic integrity apparently mean absolutely nothing to him. I have never been “executive secretary” of SIC. I was once “executive director,” a position I left in 2015 to pursue other endeavors. Rubin, in his verbiage, explicitly states that I am presently an SIC executive; and, as his “source” supposedly “proving” my current active participation in SIC, he cites an article from 2013.
  • Rubin: “…. in addition to his own Organization for Minorities of India.” Here Rubin phrases things so as to imply that I am also “executive secretary” of OFMI, as well as currently so, as well as that it is my organization. I have been affiliated with OFMI in years past as an “advisory director,” I am not currently affiliated and have not been so in several years, and it has never been my organization.
  • Rubin: “The two organizations are interlinked: Bhajan Singh Bhinder, founding director of the Sikh Information Centre, is also a director at the Organization for Minorities of India.” Finally, Rubin manages to write an entire sentence that appears generally factual. This is where he gets to the crux of the matter: in his narrative, I have “militant associations” because I have engaged with Bhajan Singh in past years — someone who is not and, to my knowledge, never has been a militant.
  • Rubin: “It is this connection that heightens suspicion that Friedrich’s anti-Sewa campaign is an information operation directed by Pakistani intelligence services.” Now Rubin begins making extreme leaps of logic. In his narrative, because I have collaborated with Bhajan Singh (who is not and, to my knowledge, never has been a militant and who has, in my experience and according to all documentation I have ever seen, absolutely no connection whatsoever with Pakistani intelligence services), therefore my protest against Sewa International (with which Bhajan had zero involvement) must have been “directed” by Pakistani intelligence services. This is an absurd conclusion and reveals Rubin’s inability (or, arguably, intentional refusal) to understand the way in which multiple data points must actually connect in order to prove a narrative.
  • Rubin: “Bhinder had [allegedly] attempted to ‘negotiate the purchase of assault weapons and shoulder-fired missiles for the Free Khalistan movement’ [in, a crucial detail that Rubin conveniently omits, 1992].” Rubin’s article is merely a stale recycling of a series of attempted smears of me which have been rehashed and rehashed over the past two years with singular reliance on a solitary piece of “evidence” (that is, one article published nearly 20 years ago, which itself provides no actual verifiable sourcing of its claims) alleging Bhajan’s one-time interest in purchasing weapons for the Khalistan movement (which even the sole source on which all of these attacks rely notes he chose not to do) to claim that therefore I, who was six years old when that alleged incident occurred thirty years ago, am a Khalistani sympathizer acting at the behest of Pakistani intelligence services. It does not apparently matter to Rubin, just as to any of these others who have attacked me, that I deny supporting the Khalistan movement, that I specifically state my opposition to it based on my opposition to allreligion-based States, or that not a single thing I have ever written or spoken in the entire body of my work in any way whatsoever indicates otherwise. The illogic that I — a Christian American — would want to promote a Sikh State or that I — also as a Christian American — would have any interest in collaborating with the Government of Pakistan, a country which (alongside India) is ranked as one of the top ten persecutors of Christians in the world, is clearly not an issue for these pundits. That I have no record of promoting militancy — and a long record of repeatedly denouncing it and calling for peace — also is not an issue of relevance to them. That neither SIC nor OFMI have ever even remotely promoted Khalistan or separatism of any kind (something which would have led me to disassociate from them the very first moment I saw it) is also not a relevant fact to those disinterested in the truth. That Bhajan Singh chose not to engage in militancy, has a sterling public record within the South Asian diaspora as a peaceful advocate not just for Sikhs but for all persecuted peoples, and has repeatedly and publicly shared the stage and/or interacted with federal and local law enforcement officials, federal and state elected officials, and many others — none of that matters to those hell-bent on pushing a narrative so fundamentally anti-peace that it would cause Gandhi to roll over in his (metaphorical) grave. Truth is quite apparently not the goal these pundits pursue.

By process of such illogic, Rubin reaches this conclusion: I criticize Hindu nationalism, I have been associated with Bhajan Singh in the past, Bhajan Singh allegedly considered — although swiftly decided against — pursuing militancy when I was six years old, and therefore, 30 years later and years after I disassociated from any active involvement in the groups Bhajan Singh has founded, I must, consequently, be a tool of Pakistani intelligence agencies and, since I protested a donation to Sewa International (which was for COVID relief, not vaccination campaigns), this thus must serve as rock-solid proof that Pakistani intelligence campaigns are running a global campaign to “sabotage vaccination campaigns.”

I finally begin to comprehend why Rubin has, in the past, been described as “mind-bogglingly stupid.” And, finally, I am convinced that it is no coincidence that this 7 December attack — which invokes a seven-month old issue — follows immediately on the heels of a 6 December attack by RSS-BJP mouthpiece OpIndia that was also (partly) aimed at me.

What are your motivations, Rubin? Are you working for someone we don’t know about? My suspicion is heightened.

I demand that AEI retract Rubin’s article and issue me a public apology. That, however, he reportedly has such a long track-record of “flimsy analysis based on innuendos, weak arguments and officially denied and false material” leaves me little hope that they will do so.

Nevertheless, I extend to Rubin my hope that, if he is ever hungry, thirsty, a stranger, naked, sick, or in prison, he will consider making me his first contact. We are called to love our enemies, which is exactly what it seems Rubin wants to project himself to me as. I forgive you, Rubin, for being both a liar and purveyor of twisted, distorted half-truths — as I believe I have clearly demonstrated you to be in your treatment of me — and extend to you a hand of peace.

I cannot, however, offer such forgiveness on behalf of those millions of Iraqis (and possibly others) who have suffered due, in part, to your deplorable promotion of unjustifiable and illegal wars, invasions, and occupations — which is so bizarrely in conflict with your criticism of me for criticizing the so-called “Apostle of Peace,” Gandhi. Their forgiveness is something you will have to pursue independently of me and, if failing to do so, one day reckon with God.

All I know is that the answer to the meaning of your name, Michael (which means “who is like God?”) is “not you.” But then, neither am I, though I hope and pray to become more and more like Him. Considering that “God is Truth,” you ought to be asking yourself if you do also want the same as me.

Go in peace, to advocate aggressive foreign policy that leads to the bloodshed of innocents no more.

Pieter Friedrich is a freelance journalist specializing in analysis of South Asian affairs. He is the author of Sikh Caucus: Siege in Delhi, Surrender in Washington and Saffron Fascists: India’s Hindu Nationalist Rulers as well as co-author of Captivating the Simple-Hearted: A Struggle for Human Dignity in the Indian Subcontinent. Discover more by him at


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