A few days ago, for the first time in India, the Salafi televangelist Zakir Naik has been detected as the inspirer of jihadist attacks. This speaks volumes about the casual approach of the Indian Republic in general and the Narendra Modi regime in particular towards the menace of Islamism. This also underlines the limits of symbolism in tackling any problem.
First off, we should recognize a simple fact. Whatever else may Naik may be blamed for, he can scarcely be accused of concealing his vile, Salafist agenda. He has refused to criticize Osama bin Laden: “If bin Laden is fighting enemies of Islam, I am for him… if he is terrorizing America—the terrorist, biggest terrorist—I am with him.”
And, if Naik is to be believed, America has such fondness for violence that sometimes it inflicts pain on itself—as it carried out the 9/11 attacks. Naik said on Peace TV in July 2008, “It is a blatant, open secret that this attack on the Twin Towers was done by George Bush himself.” Evidence? Not required, for “even a fool will know” that the strike was “an inside job.”
In such an unjust world, in which anti-Muslim forces are strong and vicious, Naik’s message to his coreligionists is simple: “Every Muslim should be a terrorist. The thing is that if he is terrorizing the terrorist, he is following Islam.”
The guy favors sex slavery, wife-beating, execution of apostates, and other practices that have either been discarded by mankind or are frowned upon. Everything is said openly, no dog whistles. Of course, being a devout Muslim, he often practices Taqiya or Islamic dissimulation; to keep clear of the law, he takes recourse to the out-of-context subterfuge. But, on the whole, his views are regularly aired and well-known.
And well-known for quite some time. Rishi Majumder wrote in the July 10, 2010, issue of Tehelka, “Ask Naik why he wants capital punishment for homosexuals, and he quotes from the Hadith, the Quran, and the Bible. Ask him why he said it is okay for a man to beat his wife, and he quotes the Quran again: ‘The Quran says to beat your wife as a last resort, and to do it lightly, as if tapping her with a hanky. And you cannot leave a mark.’ What about capital punishment for ex-Muslims who’ve converted? He plays with words: ‘There is provision for capital punishment in the Hadith—but it depends on the circumstances’.”
The point to note here is that all this appeared in Tehelka, a Left-leaning magazine, which found Naik an abomination. But the very nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, which has ruled the country since May 2014, has never found much fault with Naik and his loathsome propaganda. Had one of the attackers of the recent Dhaka bakery massacre not made his admiration for Naik public, the televangelist would have continued in his nefarious activities.
Before Dhaka too, he had inspired jihadists. One of them was the chief of Hyderabad group of ISIS, Ibrahim Yazdhani. Then there was Afghan-American Najibulla Zazi who was accused of conspiring to bomb the New York subway in 2009. Dr. Kafeel Ahmed, who attacked the Glasgow airport in 2007, and the Mumbai 7/11 serial train blasts accused Rahil Sheikh were also his admirers.
Naik’s notoriety and potential for mischief have been recognized all over the world; the UK, Canada, and even Muslim-majority Malaysia banned his entry. The BJP government, however, is still wavering and hiding behind legal niceties like “we don’t ban individuals, we ban organizations.” Minister of State for Home Affairs Kiren Rijiju told a news channel, “We have to have evidence to produce before court for arresting him.”
Well, Mr. Minister, haven’t you been able to gather any evidence in the last two years? You can’t ban individuals, but you can surely throw them behind bars if the need be. This is not to say that free speech should be curbed. I have always maintained that the right to freedom of expression should be absolute; it can be limited when it directly and unambiguously hurts somebody. There is a mountain of evidence to hint at Naik’s role in spreading the vicious jihadist message: he believes in the most vicious form of Islam, the form that many Muslim clerics are opposed to; for this, Saudi Arabia, which implements Salafism, awarded him with the King Faisal International Prize; Naik glorifies Osama, terrorists; and yet he continues his activities without much hindrance. On the other hand, filmmakers, artists, and others are hauled over the coals inconsequential issues, even non-issues. What has prevented action against the Mumbai-based medical doctor-turned-jihadist? Incompetence, cowardice, or both?
This also brings into question the role of the National Commission for Women (NCW). Salman Khan makes a stupid, vulgar remark, and the NCW goes after him. But here is a preacher who routinely degrades women by justifying and propagating wife-beating and sex slavery, and not a word of protest from the supposed champions of women! Are celebrity-chasing and publicity-seeking their primary occupations?
That Naik flourished during UPA rule is understandable, for the Congress-led coalition was shamelessly placating Muslims. But the BJP, which has consistently protested against minority appeasement, was expected to do better. It couldn’t because it equated symbolism with action. Changing the name of Aurangzeb Road and making sanctimonious speeches about the nation are no substitute for fight against jihad.